This week in lieu of a sermon, our resident historian at St. John, David Clifford, prepared a fantastic historical overview of John McLennan, in whose memory St. John's church was erected. Sadly, the recording did not work, but David has provided the text of his presentation for your enjoyment.
Many thank to David for doing all this work!
For the 194th Birthday of John McLennan, “By the Lake” David Clifford
Everything we do here, today, is in the memory of someone or something that happened long long ago. Take a look around you. The pews you are sitting on, the books you are holding, the lights, the windows, the roof. All these things were made by people, who felt a call to create something that would help pave the way for the journey we embark upon from here. Jesus left us an ingenious monument, when after supper, he lifted up the cup and said, “whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.” Now, whenever I sit down to a meal with my family or step up to the altar here with you, my community, the message engrained in that memorial flows across thousands of years – a message of hope, of suffering, of the knowledge of the God who loves us, of all the lessons Jesus taught us – even of the promise of the eventual coming again in glory of our Lord in the new kingdom! That’s a lot to swallow, but the simple act of eating and drinking brings it to life for me every time!
Today I would like to invite you share in another sort of memorial – a birthday party, and yes, there is delicious Kellie cake waiting for you in the hall afterwards! I invite you to celebrate with me, the One Hundred and Ninety-Fourth birthday of one John McLennan, in whose memory this church was erected. That’s right: Mrs. McLennan and her daughter built this church as a monument to the glory of God and in loving memory of John McLennan. Well, who was he, and what can we remember about him? And why should we remember him?
John McLennan (no middle name) was part of the first generation of ten brothers and sisters born in Canada to a Scots Presbyterian immigrant family. It seems in this particular family, the firstborn male was always named John, which can lead to a little bit of confusion and requires some careful cross-checking when researching. He was born in Williamstown, on a cold February 26th in 1821 to the famous ‘Squire’ John McLennan and first wife, Margaret MacKenzie. Unfortunately, there are no members of the McLennan family with us any longer to tell us about him, so we must depend upon some fairly sparse historical records to find out what John McLennan was all about.
We know that he left his father’s home to seek his fortunes at an early age in what was then the commercial capital of Canada. He inherited part of the land upon which this church now stands, when his father, Squire John passed away in 1866. At that time, he was engaged with his brother Hugh, in dominating the rapidly growing export trade in prairie grain from Montreal. The Crimean war had cut Europe and especially Britain off from traditional supplies of wheat within Russia – leaving Canada (and the McLennan brothers) to fill the gap. Earlier, while young John was cutting his teeth in the banking industry in Montreal, brother Hugh had been learning the ropes of the river trade, first serving as a purser on canal ships, and then by operating docks and wharves up the St-Lawrence as far as Kingston. They joined together in 1853 and their partnership, carrying on business as J&H McLennan, eventually owned a large fleet of Great Lakes ships, barges and tugboats. They also controlled the first facility capable of trans-shipping grain into ocean-going ships during one of the golden industrial ages of Canada – the time of steamships just before the railways were built. John McLennan rose to become a vice-president of the Merchant’s Bank of Canada, which it just so happens, was Sir John A. MacDonald’s bank at the time of Confederation. At the pinnacle of John’s business career, he was elected president of the Montreal Board of Trade.
From census returns, we can learn that he was married in 1855 to Charlotte Adelaide Mair – an Anglican from Brockville and that soon after, they were blessed with a son named Duncan and a daughter named Margaret Julia. We can even see from the enumerator’s returns, that they lived among the rich and famous of Montreal’s Golden Square Mile – their next-door neighbours were the Peter Redpaths of Redpath Sugar.
In 1873, the Pacific Scandal rocked the government and led to the downfall of Sir John A. MacDonald’s Conservatives. Sir John A. had a great vision for our infant nation which was in danger of being shattered – many may know that British Columbia had been promised a railway as a condition for Confederation, and without it, our fledgling country might not have succeeded – it may have disintegrated into what John McLennan called “the proverbial bundle of sticks,” ripe for being annexed bit-by-bit by a hungry United States. All over the country, ridings were scoured for popular candidates who could help Sir John A. re-form the government and carry the Pacific Railway through and implement his protectionist National Policy. With his native roots here and his prominent business and social contacts – our very own John McLennan was persuaded by Sir John A. himself, to run for the seat in Glengarry County. John moved back to the front of Lancaster in 1876, and although unsuccessful in his first by-election bid against local Liberal Archibald MacNab, he was returned to Parliament in the 1878 landslide that marked the beginning of Sir John A. and his Conservatives being returned to power again and again over the next four Federal elections.
In Parliament, Mr. McLennan introduced several private members’ bills and rose on many occasions to enunciate his views on a wide range of topics such as protective tariffs, art, banking, industry, immigration, insolvency, shipping, railways and canals. He was a member of several standing committees relating to the banking and transportation industries. On the question of whether or not to give twenty-five million dollars and twenty-five million acres of land to subsidize the railway promised to British Columbia, John McLennan’s speech in Parliament ran to almost six thousand words and was reprinted in full by the Cornwall Reporter for all to read. Copies of this speech can now be found in many archives around the world from Australia to Great Britain, since it possibly contains the most concise, factual and eloquent justification of a government’s efforts to not only to create a railway, but to build a great nation. Please permit me to read to you a short excerpt of that speech, in which he poetically rejects assertions that the great quantity of land to be given to the railway could be quantified by any monetary value, but rather that its real worth is to the nation in its settlement, these are his words spoken in Parliament on Tuesday the 21st of December, 1880. He said,
“Land is not like the food in our larder, or the raiment upon our back, or the creation of our handiwork, that perish with use. We might as well undertake to put a price upon the light of the sun, upon the rain that falls from the clouds; we might as well undertake to put a price upon the liberty which is our birthright, upon the privilege of using our energies, and our faculties, as freemen. The value of the land is in its use by the husbandman, and its development and occupation by a free, industrious and well governed and contented people.”
At the end of just one term in office, John “By the Lake” retired from public life altogether and settled down with his wife and children on his estate here, called “Ridgewood.” He spent a lot of his time reading, traveling and collecting art, as well as speaking with the old-timers of Glengarry and Lancaster – and in the process, compiling an important history of the Scottish migrations which would be quoted by the great local historian, Judge Pringle in his definitive history of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry. He died in Montreal after a brief illness in 1893, and was buried in the family plot on Mont Royal, leaving behind an awesome legacy. His J&H McLennan had been incorporated as the Montreal Transportation Company in 1869 and later would be joined with several other firms to form today’s Canada Steamship Lines. The Merchant’s Bank of Canada would be one of many that strengthened the Bank of Montreal to form part of the resilient chartered banking system we depend upon today. The Port of Montreal, which John and his brother Hugh so determinedly laboured to promote, has continued to grow into a world-class facility that now stretches over 16 miles of waterfront and handles annually over 2,000 ships from all over the globe – year-round. When John McLennan died, he left amongst other things, $20,000 worth of shares in the Bank of Montreal (remember that was par-value in 1893), almost all 200 acres of Lot 30, Concession 1, several substantial houses as well as an important collection of works of art and literature. His wife and children were able to live on at Ridgewood in style, vacationing annually in Europe until World War One broke out.
When John McLennan passed away, the nearest Anglican presence at that time was in either Cornwall or Montreal, but the rapidly expanding movement of the Church of England led to the establishment of the Diocese of Ottawa in 1896. Raised as an Anglican, and with several friendly neighbours and estate employees who also were Anglican, Mrs. McLennan petitioned the first Lord Bishop of Ottawa, Charles Hamilton, for a priest. She sweetened the deal with a promise of $500 to build this church and a further pledge of $300 annually to support the rector and by 1898, her efforts paid off . The priest arrived, the ground was broken, and on January 29th, 1899 our little church was consecrated in a great ceremony presided over by the Bishop himself.
Now this was not the case of a fantastically rich person simply writing a cheque and presto! a church rises from the ground. Mrs. McLennan had to work hard at it – she canvassed all of her friends and relatives and held grand receptions both at the manor house and in Montreal to secure all the furnishings and funds to build this. The bells, the stained-glass windows, the decorations are all an example of this. This church is as much a monument to the efforts of Charlotte Adelaide Mair McLennan, her daughter Margaret Julia, and all who followed them, as it is to the memory of John.
Now I ask you to contemplate – every time you step into this place – what message is she sending us with this monument? An Anglican Church dedicated to the memory of a Scots Presbyterian? Is it a house of Light, built by a Lady, to fondly remember the passage of Light through her own life? Can we find a parallel in the namesake of our waterfront place of worship? St-John, an ordinary boy who left everything, with his brother to answer a call to a greater good – the brothers who were nicknamed by Jesus the “Sons of Thunder,” and he who living to a great age, wrote the greatest Revelation of all? Is it a memory of a man who, it can not be found with any certainty to have been a church-goer at all, but who did preach voluminously and at length on the virtues of that great highway of steel to the Pacific coast that would stitch together a nation, and who did his own small part to help build the wonderful country we now know?
I respectfully submit to you, these bare facts of history, and leave it for each and every one of you to decide just what is the meaning of the message on that brass tablet hanging on the south wall, that says: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of John McLennan.”