The following essay is part of Northern Dawn’s Symposium for Canada’s 150th anniversary. The theme is Canada: Who Are We? We hope these studies of Canada’s heritage will inspire readers to consider its future, and the broader civilization of which it is a part. Those who rule must know what they are ruling.
The following essay is by Ron Dart. In addition to regular contributions to the journal Clarion, he has written and taught widely about the High Tory tradition, its religious and cultural heritage, and its impact on Canadian life. His most recent book is The North American High Tory Tradition, reviewed here.
The publication of Gad Horowitz’s “Conservatism, Liberalism, and Socialism in Canada: An Interpretation” in 1966 created an immense flurry and stir amongst political theorists and activists. Most had assumed that Canadian conservatism was just a variant of American conservatism and, in the USA at the time, the Goldwater-Kirk combination of conservatism would be much the same in Canada.
However, the publication of George Grant’s Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism in 1965 made it abundantly clear, that Canadian Toryism could not be equated with American conservatism. Horowitz had argued in his lengthy article, later published as the lead article in Canadian Labour in Politics in 1968 that there was a Tory touch in Anglo-Canadian political thought and action that would and could not be absorbed into the Anglo-American conservative matrix. Horowitz tracked and traced this Tory touch in his article, and many were the positive and negative reactions to it. It should be noted that Grant factored large in clarifying the Tory touch.
Horowitz replied to many a critic of his plough to soil article, and, in 1970, his article, “Red Tory”, in William Kilbourn’s A Guide to the Peaceable: An Anthology, linked the Tory touch to Red Toryism (the connection had been made earlier, though). Can the Tory touch be equated with Red Toryism? Horowitz thought it could, Grant did not. Additionally, what did Horowitz miss in his main thesis? It is significant that Kilbourn’s article in A Guide to the Peaceable Kingdom was “Tory Ontario”. There are differences to note between Horowitz and Kilbourn in their read of Toryism and Grant. It is significant that Horowitz never dealt with Stephen Leacock and, more to the poignant point, the High Toryism of religious-political thought in 19th century Canada, in any depth or detail. Such was the needful task of a meticulous historian that grounded his thinking as much in theory as in historic fact.
S.F. Wise is, without much doubt, one of the finest historians in Canada; the publication of God’s Peculiar Peoples: Essays on Political Culture in Nineteenth Century Canada grounds, in many ways, the thesis of Horowitz and Kilbourn in much firmer and more solid soil. This is not theory cut loose from historic events or historic facts bogged down in micro details delinked from larger political philosophy. And, to the telling point, Wise was keen to illuminate how the Tory touch has substantive historic reality in Canada, in opposition to Canadian historians and political theorists who only see Canada as a smaller version of the American liberal fragment. There was, as Wise articulates in his multilayered essay tome, a distinctive Toryism in Canada with predictable religious grounding. Wise is acutely aware that to do political theory from a purely secular perspective does a serious in injustice in interpreting 19th century Toryism in Canada.
God’s Peculiar Peoples places arrow in bow and hits the bull’s eye again and again in his twelve chapters: 1) “Sermon Literature and Canadian Intellectual History” (most Canadian historians simply ignore this genre), 2) “God’s Peculiar People”, 3) “Canadians View the United States: Colonial Attitudes from the Era of the War of 1812 to the Rebellions of 1837” (a chapter not to miss in which the Tory touch emerges in its fullness), 4) “The Rise of Christopher Hagerman” (oft neglected yet needful to know about), 5) “John Macaulay: Tory for All Seasons” (again, much to ponder in Macaulay that Horowitz ignores), 6) “Tory Factionalism: Kingston Elections and Upper Canadian Politics, 1820-1836” (which makes it clear Toryism was not a homogenous tribe), 7) “Canadians View the United States: The Annexation Movement and Its Effect on Canadian Opinion, 1837-1867” (a superb companion article to chapter 8) “The War of 1812 in Popular History” (not to be missed for a read of Toryism), 9) “Upper Canada and the Conservative Tradition”, 10) “Conservatism and Political Development: The Canadian Case”, 11) “Liberal Consensus or Ideological Battleground: Some Reflections on the Hartz Thesis” (quite pertinent for the Horowitz argument and those who oppose him) and 12) “The Ontario Political Culture: A Study in Complexities”.
Each of the chapters in God’s Peculiar Peoples goes to historic places Horowitz did not go; Wise, unveils and reveals, in a multidimensional and step-by-step way, the layered nature of Toryism (not necessarily “red”). He focuses on 19th century central Canada and, to the foremost point, the close connections between religion and politics at the time. This is an area Horowitz had little or no background in, given his more secular approach to political thought. Wise rightly realized that 19th century life in Canada emerged from a religious vision; such a vision had political consequences, and 19th century Toryism was deeply suspicious of the liberal American experiment to the south. In short, God’s Peculiar People had more than just a Tory touch, but such a Tory touch could not be reduced to a homogenous notion of what Toryism is in the 19th century. There is a tendency to equate conservatism and Toryism in Wise’s tome (and many do the same), but the distinction, when rightly understood, does make a difference.
It would have been of much use and value if Wise had probed more deeply and further the Anglican Toryism of Bishops John Strachan (Ontario) and Jacob-George Mountain (Quebec) to get a fuller sense of Anglican catholic High Toryism in the 19th century. Many of the Maritime bishops and priests were considerably impacted by the Oxford movement in England in the 19th century, and they shaped much of Anglican political life in the Maritimes at the time. The much respected catholic Anglican poet, F.G. Scott, stands very much within a long line and lineage of 19th century High Tory Anglicans. It is somewhat remiss of Wise and Kilbourn to miss and ignore such significant High Tory Anglicans in 19th century Canada. It is quite understandable, though, why Horowitz would be blind to such realities given his more secular approach and ideological leftist tendencies when interpreting Toryism. George Grant held Bishop John Strachan high in his roll call of 19th century Anglican leaders in a book review of Saint James’ parish (where he attended in the 1960s-1970s when teaching at McMaster University).
I might also add that Thomas Haliburton (1796-1865) has often been omitted from the list of important Canadian High Tories. Haliburton is a legend of sorts in Canada and he is often viewed as the first Canadian novelist who did well in the larger literary ethos of the time. Haliburton was much remembered for his Clockworker series that elevated the American entrepreneur, Sam Slick, to an ambiguous level. Sam Slick took to front stage in a variety of Haliburton’s novels published in 1836, 1838, 1840, 1843, 1844 and 1853. Haliburton playfully sports with the American Sam Slick, at times nodding towards his aggressive sale gimmicks and skills, at other times seeing such an approach to life as seriously problematic and demeaning. But there can be no doubt that Haliburton, the Nova Scotia High Tory, via his many portrayals of Sam Slick, built into the Canadian psyche a certain notion of Americans as slick entrepreneurs and a distinctive Canadian attitude to the “Sam Slick’s” across the border. Stephen Leacock would, a few decades later, draw much from Haliburton and the Sam Slick tendencies that Canadians should be wary of.
There can be no doubt that the United Empire Loyalists cannot be merely equated with High Tory Anglicanism, as Norman Knowles has rightly noted in Inventing the Loyalists: The Ontario Loyalist Tradition & and the Creation of Usable Pasts (1997). But there is, nonetheless, a distinctive High Tory Anglican heritage that needs attention beyond the liberal caricatures of it. Donald Creighton, probably, the finest High Tory Canadian Anglican of the 20th century, argued that the liberal “authorized read” of Canadian history tends to distort and demean the High Tory heritage for substantive ideological reasons. Such an approach by the liberal mandarin and family compact class in Canada has, for the most part, clear cut and levelled the Tory tradition by describing such a way in mostly negative terms. This pro-liberal and anti-Tory approach in Canadian history has served the liberal ruling class well, but has produced a dishonest Orwellian rewrite of Canadian history. Hopefully, in this the formal 150th year since Confederation, wiser and more balanced reads of Canadian history will emerge. A turn to the historic insights of both Wise and Creighton would illuminate much and go beyond Horowitz’s rather reductionistic approach to defining Canadian Toryism.
It is somewhat irritating that the most recent history of Anglicanism in Canada, Seeds Scattered and Sown: Studies in the History of Canadian Anglicanism (2008), never really probes or substantively discusses High Tory Anglicanism in any depth or detail—such again is the impact of liberal ideology both within the Anglican Church of Canada and the broader Canadian historic community. It is therefore to Wise’s credit that he, more than most, has walked the extra mile to bring the Toryism of the 19th century to light in a thoughtful and far reaching manner. Indeed, there is more than a Tory touch that needs to be covered and such High Toryism cannot be equated with blue conservatism or the later concept of “red toryism”.
There has been an unfortunate tendency to assume that the gender hierarchy of High Toryism historically relegated women to a merely docile role. An attentive reading and interpretation of 19th century Toryism in Canada contradicts such a notion. Two of the most significant women of the 19th century were Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill. Both women played a significant role in pioneering 19th century literature in Canada and demonstrated great competence within the social order they inhabited. Gentle Pioneers: Five Nineteenth-Century Canadians, although dated in some ways, tells the uncanny tales of Susanna-John Moodie, Catharine-Thomas Parr Traill and Samuel Strickland. The women in this timeless work of 19th century pioneer history emerge as creative and engaged leaders in the far-from-cultured setting they were raised and bred in.
I was fortunate, when younger in the 1950s, to spend summers in Stephen Leacock country. Leacock, as a young man, lived in the Lake Simcoe area. A leading lady of the time, and a dear friend of Leacock’s mother, was Susan Sibbald. The Sibbald home, Eildon Manor, was a centre of much High Tory life in 19th century in Ontario. Bishop John Strachan would often make trips to Eildon Manor to visit the Sibbalds and Susan Sibblad’s Memoirs tell a graphic and poignant tale of Tory Anglican life at such a period of time. Georgina: A Type Study of Early Settlement and Church Building in Upper Canada illuminates much about the historic and extended Sibbald family and their Tory leaders (and opposition to the rebellion). Eildon Manor was a centre, salon and fount of Anglo-Canadian Toryism. Susan Sibbald, like Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill were at the forefront of leadership in such a Tory ethos and setting.
Mazo de la Roche is buried close to Stephen Leacock at St. George’s parish in the Sutton area by Lake Simcoe. The parish was built by and supported by the Sibbald family. Mazo de la Roche was a 20th century woman, but her sixteen novels on the Whiteoaks of Jalna (the finest epic series in Canadian literature) deals, for the most part, with 19th century Ontario. The final novel in the series, Breakfast at Jalna, was set in the 1860s, when the American Civil War was at its most intense and heated. The American Civil War that raged from 1861-1865 in which an estimated 620,000-750,000 were killed (and many others seriously injured or refugees to the north) had an impact on De la Roche’s literary imagination. The North and South were violently destroying one another and the Tory Whiteoaks were in the thick of the fray. It is pertinent to note that Adeline Whiteoak (the matriarch of the family) both brooded over the family and set the agenda. Adeline was certainly no passive observer, compliantly taking a backseat to the leadership of others. Mazo de la Roche, like Susan Sibbald and Catherine Parr Traill, was a literary leader in Canada, and many of the women in her chronicles of the Whiteoaks give the lie to the notion that women lacked influence in the Tory social order.
The American War of Independence in 1776 forced many a British subject to make difficult decisions. Would the break from England and the forming of a new country be a way forward or would such a severing wrench too much from the mother country? There were those, obviously, for a variety of reasons, who were convinced the umbilical cord had to be broken. There were others who thought such a decision unthinkable. The latter group, the United Empire Loyalists, came to Canada in droves. Education was, as many soon settled in their new home, central to their growing national and cultural lives. Bishop Charles Inglis was one of the leaders of the northwards trek (his biography, The First Bishop: A Biography of Charles Inglis, tells his journey well and wisely) and he played a pivotal role in establishing, what has become, the oldest chartered university in Canada and the first English-speaking university in the Commonwealth outside the United Kingdom.
The University of King’s College was founded in 1789 by both Loyalists and Tory refugees of sorts that sought a more ordered and peaceful life north of the 49th, and education was foundational to their forward looking pathway. It is significant to note that University of King’s College, to this day, has one of the finest programs in Canada in grounding students in classical texts that have shaped western culture and civilization. The Foundation Year Programme (FYP) grounds students in the time tried wisdom that has been thought, said and done. The catholic and Tory Anglican ethos that pervades such a learning context has done much to preserve the ancient insights that are, again and again, being eroded by modern and postmodern education. The University of King’s College (initially in Windsor, Nova Scotia and now in Halifax, Nova Scotia) continues to incarnate some of the best of Tory Anglican education.
Likewise, Trinity College in Toronto has a history of catholic Tory Anglicanism at its root and source. I have mentioned above the pivotal work of Bishop John Strachan. Strachan, with other Anglican Tories, hard on the heels of the Oxford Movement on 1832 in England and the Rebellion of 1837, started Trinity College in 1852. The aim of Trinity was to raise up a generation of leaders in Canada through an educational setting in which theology, philosophy, ecclesial, literary and High Tory culture would be maintained and carried into the future. Needless to say, there was many a challenge to such an educational vision, but for many a decade Strachan’s vision persisted.
The fate and history of King’s and Trinity have gone in somewhat different directions since then, but when probed further and deeper, there still lingers an older vision of faith and education (and its perennial relevance to our time) at King’s and Trinity. The Tory touch, indeed, was and still is more than merely a touch.
I have, in this short essay, highlighted the fact there is much more to Canadian Toryism than either “Red Toryism” or merely a “Tory touch”. The role of educational institutions such as Kings and Trinity, leadership by women such as Mazo de la Roche (Chronicles of Whiteoaks), Susanna Moody and Catharine Parr Traill, Susan Sibbald, C.F. Wise’s God’s Peculiar Peoples: Essays on Political Culture in Ninteenth Century Canada (and Donald Creighton), and Thomas Haliburton’s Sam Slick portrayals, all reveal areas of Toryism in the 19th century that few have integrated or synthesized. Such a tradition cannot be merely dismissed as pettily reactionary or quaintly dated.
There is much to this way of being that lingers deep in souls longing for depth, wisdom and insight in an age in which most landmarks have been destroyed, history clear cut and the foundations undermined. The Hegelian form of progressive liberalism that has so come to dominate most areas of Canadian culture, education and religion has serious blind spots and weaknesses. Many of the most insightful in our time are searching for a centre that will hold and the classical Canadian Anglican Tory way has still much to offer for those who have grown weary of the tepid and vapid waters of ideological liberalism.
Referenced edition: God’s Peculiar Peoples: Essays on Political Culture in Nineteenth Century Canada Edited by A.B. McKillop and Paul Romney S. F. Wise Carleton University Press, Ottawa Canada: 1993