Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

Recovering a Missing Trail in Canadian Baptist Footprints in the Northwest: Stories of Chinese Baptists in Western Canada

Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

Recovering a Missing Trail in Canadian Baptist Footprints in the Northwest: Stories of Chinese Baptists in Western Canada

Article excerpt

The religious history of Canada is intertwined with the socio-cultural history of the nation.

From a historical perspective, Canadian society and Canadian Christianity were inherently bicultural in nature--French and British; Catholic and Protestant. The landscape of Canadian Protestantism has been characterized by diversity, if not pluralism, denominationally and culturally, from its earliest stage of development.

Denominationally speaking, resentment against one "privileged" or dominant religion in Canada emerged almost like a "built-in" genetic trait as illustrated by the Clergy Reserves Controversy. (1) Culturally speaking, the Canadian society can be described as a mosaic.

Canada has no ethnic majority. The cities and countryside are populated by people who represent the races and cultures of the whole world. More than a hundred languages are spoken daily in Canadian homes and on the streets. Multilingualism and multiculturalism are facts of life in the central and western provinces of Canada. (2) Christian churches in Canada, regardless of denominational differences, recognized that this fact of Canadian life implies a vast opportunity as well as responsibility for missions at their doorstep. (3)

Ethnic ministries have been woven into the tapestry of Canadian Baptist home mission work in Canada; over time, this feature became an essential part of Baptist identity in Canada. In an article written for the Women's Baptist Home Mission Board of Ontario West, J. Kaczowka, a Polish pastor who served in the All People's Mission, made a plea to Christian churches that they "should be interested in study of manners, customs, habits, and moulds of thought of these different people in order that they may understand them better and thus have a better access to their hearts." (4) However, when tracing the footprints of Canadian Baptist work among different ethnic groups, the East Asian trail seemed to be missing as mainline Baptists in Western Canada expressed: "when it comes to ministering to Orientals in Western Canada, we must confess that denominationally there is little to report." (5) This paper seeks to recover the missing trail of Chinese Baptists in the Canadian Baptist footprints in the Northwest.

Overview of Canadian Baptist Work in the Northwest (6)

In 1869, the Regular Baptist Missionary Convention of Ontario sent two representatives, Thomas Davidson and Thomas Baldwin, to ascertain the condition of Western Canada for mission work. The western territories of Canada consisted of Manitoba (1870), Saskatchewan (1905), Alberta (1905), and British Columbia (1871). (7) Davidson and Baldwin came back and reported on the severe weather, limited resources, and presence of native inhabitants, conditions that made the convention hesitant about sponsoring mission work in the West even though the Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Methodists had already gained a foothold in these regions. (8) Finally, the convention commissioned Alexander McDonald (1837-1911), later known as Pioneer McDonald, as the first missionary to the West. He arrived at Winnipeg in 1873. (9)

McDonald established preaching points in conjunction with ministers of other denominations. (10) An independent Baptist congregation, the First Baptist Church of Winnipeg, was established on February 7, 1875, with fourteen founding members. The new church adopted the New Hampshire Confession of Faith. (11) Despite the difficulty in connecting a water supply into the church building, McDonald insisted on installing a baptistery in the new chapel, just a few feet from the pulpit. He was convinced that "the facility for the distinctive ordinance must be in plain view from the beginning, a constant announcement of early expected use, in this the First Baptist Church of Winnipeg and the great North West." (12) The first believer's baptism by immersion in Western Canada was conducted in this church a year later. …

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