The Right Rev.
Alexander Neil Bethune
, D.D., D.C.L.
(28 August 1800 - 3 February 1879)
Bishop of Niagara
Bishop of Toronto
The Bishops of the Church of England in Canada and Newfoundland
Charles Henry Mockridge
published in 1896
Alexander Neil Bethune was born at Williamstown, County of Glengarry, in Upper Canada, on August 28th, 1800. He was the fifth son of a Presbyterian ("Old Kirk") minister, who came to Canada from North Carolina with the United Empire Loyalists in 1783. Two of his sons became staunch Episcopalians and honoured dignitaries of the Church, viz-. John, who became Dean of Montreal, and Alexander, who became Bishop of Toronto. As a boy young Bethune was sent to school to Rev. Dr. Strachan, at Cornwall; and from that time there commenced an acquaintance between master and pupil destined to continue for many years.
When Dr. Strachan was appointed rector of York (Toronto), in 1811, he opened a grammar school there, and there, in 1891, Alexander Bethune joined him as his assistant master, and as a student in divinity. His journey from Montreal to Toronto was made by lumber wagon, open boat, steamer, and stage; and when he reached his destination he found it "a little town of about one thousand inhabitants, with but three brick houses in the whole place."
Mr. Bethune was ordained deacon in 1823, and priest in 1824, by Dr. Jacob Mountain, and was appointed incumbent of Grimsby. Here he married Jane Eliza, eldest daughter of the Hon. James Crooks, of West Flamboro. In 1826 Dr. Strachan, then Archdeacon of York, paid him a visit on his way to the Old Country (to take preparatory steps for founding a university for Upper Canada), and left in his charge his second son George.
In 1827 Mr. Bethune was appointed rector of Cobourg, in succession to Rev. W. Macaulay, who had removed to Hallowell (Picton). In Cobourg Mr. Bethune remained for many years. He took part in all the great public movements which agitated the period, and on which we have already dwelt in the life of Bishop Strachan. In all Dr. Strachan's battles, both as archdeacon and bishop, for the rights of the Church in the "Clergy Reserves" question; in all his struggles for the establishment of educational institutions and their endowments, as well as the endowment of the Church, the Rector of Cobourg was always his faithful abettor and assistant.
As a means of placing the rights of the Church well before the public, or at all events before her own sons and daughters, it was resolved, in 1836, at a meeting of the clergy, to establish a Church newspaper, the management of which was put in the hands of Dr. Bethune, who, in May 1837 issued a specimen number of The Church. The publication proved so far successful that it was enlarged after the completion of the first year, and again at the end of its second volume. Here Dr. Bethune could work in his most powerful way. He had the pen not only of a ready but also of a graceful writer; and, in days when periodicals were not as numerous as they are now, the weekly arrival of The Church was eagerly looked for by a large number of readers. It is pleasant to read its columns now. Several bound volumes of it still exist.
When the Diocese of Toronto was formed in 1839. Bishop Strachan appointed his friend and former pupil one of his chaplains; and in 1841 he was entrusted with the important business of training young men for the ministry. The Theological School at Cobourg soon became an important and highly useful institution. Many young men were carefully and conscientiously prepared in it for the ministry, and from time to time took missionary work under the direction of Dr. Bethune. The instructions were carried on in a small brick building which, slightly altered and added to, still stands in Cobourg. It formed, in fact, the nucleus of the divinity school in Trinity University, which was afterwards established at Toronto. Its average attendance of students was fifteen; its whole number of members, from its opening to its close, being forty-five.
When, in 1846, Bishop Strachan resigned the Archdeaconry of York, Dr. Bethune was appointed in his place. Thus was he once more an official assistant to his old master.
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