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Apr 24 1923

[The Hamilton newspapers of April, May and June 1923 provide accounts of the many church meetings held to discuss the proposed "Church Union" of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational Churches in Canada. A special women's meeting of the Women's League of the Presbytery was advertised for April 23, 1923, at 3 p.m. On April 24, The Hamilton Spectator reported on the afternoon meeting under the headline:]

Women Score Union:

Rev. Dr. Brown [from the West] made a stirring speech.1 He paid a glowing tribute to the work of women in the church, declaring that they were conservative regarding their home and religion, which explained their suspicions of church union.... He declared that the general assembly was not the whole church--that the people were the church, and that the men were not sportsmen or they would give women a voice in the assembly. Rev. Mr. McClung protested one of Rev. Dr. Brown's statements 'Is a man going to make such statements to an audience of women and not be challenged?' he asked.2 A lady at the front retorted 'not by a man at a women's meeting.' Mrs. McQuesten made the most impassioned speech of the meeting, and in fighting terms denounced the Men of union. She urged doing as Rev. Dr. Brown had informed the meeting had been done in Montreal: that is, having agents send out literature and canvassing every household. She laid special stress on the serious condition of the foreign missions. One reason for this was, perhaps, she said that last year after the women had collected the foreign mission money, the men had attempted to dictate that it should not be spent in that way. The idea of merging the Presbyterian Church into obscurity was a proposal both insolent and impudent, she said. Mrs. McQuesten asserted that it was time to stop the nonsense of government of the church by men. They had time to go to the Canadian Club banquette, to the golf clubs and other places, but when asked to attend important church meetings, they are too busy. 'If we women can't get into the general assembly and have a vote, we are going to show them that we can do something to block this church union.3' 4

1 Rev. Dr. W.G. Brown was from the West. Like Dr. Drummond on "Church Union" he "hoped that a federation of churches might create the desired unity" and tried to "discontinue negotiations. . . . Dreading the very real prospect of disruption, he argued for more discussion." He also "represented the traditional middle of the road conservative" and advocated more emphasis on "welfare programs" and "social action" (Moir Enduring 204, 207, 235, 238).

2 Rev. John McClung (1844-1924) Knox College 1870-73, ordained 1874, was a retired Ontario minister. He served at Ancaster and Alberton 1888-89 where in 1925 the congregations voted overwhelmingly against union. He also served at many other Ontario churches for periods of three to eight years. He retired to Hamilton in 1915 (BDKC 149). I have been unable to establish a relationship with Nellie McClung or her husband, Robert Wesley McClung (CE 1256).

3 Mary was seventy-five years of age at this time. Mary and Tom both made impassioned speeches at meetings, with the result that the Hamilton vote was negative on Union and it was the only Presbytery in Canada which unanimously opposed union. Tom determined to take the fight to parliament but despite his pleas the Union Bill was passed; however, he did win some concessions which preserved the Presbyterian Church in Ontario, settled property disputes and ceded Knox College to the anti-unionists (Best 33-34). In 1925, when the United Church was formed, many congregations were fractured by the vote; however MacNab lost only 70 members, including six elders.

The debate caused some dissension in the McQuesten family. Rev. Calvin was in favour of union and in "complete opposition to the stance taken by other members of the family. Following a shouting match with his brother, Tom, at a congregational meeting on the subject," Calvin was chastised by some members of the congregation. He was reconciled to the family and "in later years graced MacNab Sunday by Sunday with his presence, his gifts and his prayers."

The Spectator of April 28, 1979 reported on a pageant [which] re-enacted incidents in history--an occasion when two MacNab brothers quarreled and engaged in fisticuffs over the issue of Church Union in what became the United Church of Canada.

Rev. Calvin became a United Church minister and semi-volunteer chaplain of the Hamilton Sanatorium from 1920 to 1950 (Johnson, Strong Wind Blowing 28; Moir Enduring "Entering a New Age" 170-96 and "The Long Crisis" 197-223; McNeill 203-07, 248-89, 253, 260-61; see also W5283, W6446).

4 For examples of Mary Baker McQuesten’s Presbyterian Missionary Society and Public Addresses, see W7172, W7181, W7193, W7203, W8422, W8432, W8447, W0127a, several others are illegible.

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Copyright 2002 Whitehern Historic House and Garden
The development of this website was directed by Mary Anderson, Ph.D. and Janelle Baldwin, M.A.
Please direct questions and comments to Mary Anderson, Ph.D.

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