The Christian Heritage of Canada

Its landscape is covered with snowy mountain peaks, broad open plains, shimmering, pristine lakes and mighty roaring rivers. It is the land of endless forests, the land of the beaver, and the land of the maple leaf – Canada. It stretches 5,500 kilometers from the Yukon Territory and the Alaska border to Cape Spear, Newfoundland. Yet with all of its grandeur, only ten percent of its land mass is permanently settled and populated. Those who settled this great land and country were a mixed sort. They came from different countries and even different continents; they came from different social backgrounds; they came from different language groups. However, they all came to a virgin land which was too large for any one person or group to subdue. It would take a united effort to form what is now The Dominion of Canada. It would also take more than human effort or ingenuity. It would take God and a living faith in God to lay solid foundations for this young country. From its beginning to its present, God has been very active in Canada. Likewise, there are many in Canada’s history who had such faith in God as to lay down proper foundations. Canada has drifted from these foundations, but the final chapter of her history has not yet been written. In this article, we will trace some of our steps backwards in time to the faith-filled lives of some early Canadians.

Before Canada was even organized into a nation, God was moving in and through the lives of people on its native soil. Immediately prior to the United States War of Independence (1776), many British Loyalists moved North and settled in the area of Nova Scotia. They were fleeing the tumult of a war which was about to break out, but did not know that they were stepping into a revival! A Congregationalist, named Henry Alline, ministered in that region and carried a strong evangelistic message. Hundreds of souls were saved in what became known as The New Light Revival. The revival began to spread to other Atlantic provinces. One minister who preached in Saint John, New Brunswick, said of that city; “…one can hardly go through the streets of this city without hearing the voice of praise or seeing the young men assembling together for prayer.”1

Just as God was moving in pre-Confederation Nova Scotia, and other provinces, He was also moving through missionaries in Labrador close to the same time. In 1752 the Moravian missionary, Christian Erhard, and some helpers, came to the Eskimos of Labrador. Unfortunately, they were killed by them. Erhard was followed by another missionary, Fens Haven, who worked this pioneering field. By the end of the 18th century the gospel was well established in Labrador.

Just as Erhard and Haven were committed to sharing the gospel with pre-Confederation Canada’s natives, so was the great explorer and map maker, David Thompson. Thompson, famous today for his maps of western Canada, (some of which are still in use today), suffered great hardships in his frontier exploration. What was his motivation? He wanted to share his faith with natives, so he carried his Bible with him into the bush and held services. When asked why he endured the difficulties of such a life, he said; “…so that these physically impenetrable barriers may be traversed and the Gospel be spread.”2

While David Thompson endured hardship in sharing his faith with natives in western pre-Confederation Canada, the missionary, Henry Bird Steinhauer, did the same in the Hudson Bay Territories. Steinhauer, a native himself, raised in a Methodist school, became a great minister to his own people. In 1843 he moved to Norway House at the northern tip of Lake Winnipeg. He began reaching out to the Cree Indians but his mission was not easy. All around him was starvation, the deaths of children, smallpox and tribal war. However, he persevered and his faith made a real impact. He died in December of 1884. When a rebellion sprung up the following year, to honor his friend, Steinhauer, “the man of God who taught peace”, one native chief did not involve his tribe in the conflict.3

Erhard, Haven, Alline, Thompson and Steinhauer were men whose lives were godly examples for others to see and follow. Their pre-Confederation witness was followed and many others had deep experiences of Christian faith that carried over into the Confederation period. One such person was Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley. Tilley was a committed Christian. He was also the premier of New Brunswick and a Father of Confederation. When the Fathers of Confederation were discussing the drafting of the British North America Act (1867), they spent time discussing what the new country should be called. After reading Psalm 72.8, which says; “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River unto the ends of the earth.”, Tilly was drawn to the word dominion. He proposed calling the young country The Dominion of Canada. Enough of the other founding Fathers liked this, and The Dominion of Canada was agreed upon.

Just as Tilley wanted to see God have dominion over Canada, so did Egerton Ryerson (1803-1882). Ryerson was a Methodist minister, but he was more than a minister. He has been called the “Founder of Public Education in Ontario.” He wanted “…a common patriotic ground of comprehensiveness and avowed Christian principles.”4 He was the first principal of Victoria College in Coburg, Ontario. Upon being inaugurated to that position, he said that the school would have “…a balanced curriculum, infused with the ‘fundamentals of Christian theology…’”5 He said that the Ontario school system was to be a “Christian public school system.”6

Some years later, The 1896 Ontario Public School Act stated; “…it shall be the duty of every teacher of a public school to teach diligently and faithfully all of the subjects in the public school…to maintain proper order and discipline in his pupils in the pursuit of learning; to include, by precept and example, respect for religion and the principles of Christian morality and the highest regard for truth, justice, love of country, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, purity, temperance and all other virtues.”7

I have listed a number of examples of early Christian leaders who had godly influence upon Canada in Canada’s past. Many examples could be given of modern Christian leaders who have influenced Canada. I will mention one, Ernest Manning (1908-1996). Manning was a fundamentalist lay-preacher who helped William Aberhart (“Bible Bill”) to found the Social Credit Party, a party which won Alberta’s provincial election in 1935. When Aberhart passed away in 1943, Manning filled the position of premier. As well as being the premier of Alberta, Manning was the host of a Christian radio program called Back to The Bible Hour. During the 1950s and 1960s the program was broadcast, not only in Alberta, but across Canada. Manning was very evangelistic and told his audience of their need to be born again. After his broadcasts, he would sign off as “The Premier.” Some did not like the way Manning combined his faith with politics, or the way he signed off as “The Premier.” However, the fact still remained that Manning was a Christian and he was the premier. Manning’s program was hugely popular and reached an estimated peak of between 20,000 and 25,000 households. In 1961 the radio program was rated number one in Halifax.

From Erhart and Haven to Alline and Steinhaurer, many pre-Confederation Canadians stood for God and for the Christian faith. Their legacy continued into Confederation as leaders, like Tilly, had a public burden for Canada to be under God’s dominion. Even the public school system in Ontario, at one time, reflected godly principles and values. Also, Christian spiritual and political leaders, such as Manning, did what they could to turn Canada back to the Bible. Our generation of Canadians has much ground to regain from the erosion of our nations early days of faith. May the Lordship of Jesus Christ be recognised once again, and may Canadians shout with one voice that God shall have dominion from sea to sea.

Shawn Stevens

Kryskow, Faytene C. Stand On Guard : A Prophetic Call & Research On The Righteous Foundations of Canada. Vancouver: Credo Publishing, 2005.
Van Die, Marguerite. ed. Religion and Public Life in Canada : Historical and Comparative Perspectives. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.
Communications Division of Statistics Canada. Canada Year Book 1999. Altona: Friesens Corporation, 1998.

1 Joshua Marsden, quoted in Rev. Barry P. Boucher, Canada’s Spiritual Heritage,, retrieved December, 2004.
2 David Thompson, quoted in Canada: Portraits of the Faith website,, retrieved February, 2004.
3 Michael Clarke, Canada: Portraits of the Faith, (1998), 47.
4 Canada: Portraits of the Faith website,, retrieved February 2004.
5 Michael Clarke, Canada: Portraits of the Faith, (1998), 45.
6 Canada: Portraits of the Faith website,, retrieved February 2004.
7 Ibid


Most Canadians are unaware that, when singing Canada’s national anthem today, they are singing an abbreviated version of the original song. Our national anthem was written as a poem by Robert Stanley Weir in 1908. With the exception of the phrase God keep our land glorious and free, which was added in 1980, it read:

O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command;
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The true North, strong and free
From far and wide, O Canada
We stand on guard, for thee.
God keep our land,
Glorious and free,
O Canada, we stand guard for thee.
O Canada! Where pines and maples grow,
Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow,
How dear to us thy broad domain,
From East to Western sea,
Thou land of hope for all who toil!
Thou true North, strong and free!
Canada! Beneath thy shining skies,
May stalwart sons and gentle maidens rise,
To keep thee steadfast through the years
From East to Western sea,
Our own beloved native land!
Our true North, strong and free!
Ruler Supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
Hold our Dominion in Thy loving care,
Help us to find, O God, in Thee,
A lasting, rich reward,
As waiting for the better day
We ever stand on guard.

Taken from Stand on Guard

Reference :
Kryskow, Faytene C. Stand On Guard : A Prophetic Call & Research On The Righteous Foundations of Canada.
Vancouver: Credo Publishing, 2005, page 196.

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