The Legacy of Benjamin Cronyn

Benjamin Cronyn, missionary
Benjamin Cronyn (as played by Rev Nick Wells)
travelling around southwestern Ontario.

Benjamin Cronyn at London, Ontario Garrison
Benjamin Cronyn preaches to the London military
as Chaplain of the Garrision.

Benjamin Cronyn's election as bishop
Benjamin Cronyn's election. Bishop Strachen is on left and Archdeacon Bethune on right.

Bishop Cronyn meets with his clergy
Bishop Cronyn meets with his clergy in the early days of the diocese

Photos from the DVD
Huron Our Story
Huron, Our Story: The Legacy of Bishop Cronyn   (33 min.)
produced by
Zach Melnick and Yvonne Drebert, Pixeldust Studios.


Charles Henry Mockridge's
1896 accounts of:
Benjamin Cronyn

John Strachan
first Bishop of Toronto

John Travers Lewis
first Bishop of Ontario

John Horden
first Bishop of Moosonee

Thomas Brock Fuller
first Bishop of Niagara

Charles Hamilton
first Bishop of Ottawa

The Diocese of Huron was constituted in 1857 by the separation of the thirteen western counties of Ontario from the Diocese of Toronto.   In July of that year, a meeting of the clergy and lay delegates resident within the proposed Diocese was held in London, under the Presidency of Bishop Strachan.   There were present 42 clerical members, and 69 lay representatives of the various parishes.   The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Cronyn, Rector of St. Paul's Church, London, and the venerable Dr. Bethune, afterwards Bishop of Toronto, were the candidates proposed, and for whom ballots were cast.   Dr. Cronyn was elected on the first ballot, by a narrow majority, and was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury the same year.   This was the first instance of an untrammelled Episcopal election in any part of the English Church, for many generations, and it was the very first election in the Canadian Church.

Bishop Cronyn was born at Kilkenny, on the 11th July 1802.   He graduated at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1822, was ordained priest in 1827, and came to Canada in 1832.   It is wonderful on what small and apparently accidental occurrences the whole after history of a Church or a country depend.   The following account explains how Mr. Cronyn came to settle in London.   His settlement in London has greatly affected the history of the Church in Western Ontario, and indeed throughout the whole Province ever since.

"On a dull, chill November evening, in the year 1832, along the bush road which followed the Indian trail between the Niagara and Detroit rivers, just south of where the present city of London stands, there toiled in a rough lumber-wagon a weary, travel-stained family of emigrants, consisting of the Rev. Benjamin Cronyn, then just thirty years of age, his wife, and two young children.

"Circumstances and surroundings more depressing could hardly be conceived.   After a seven weeks voyage in an ill-found sailing-vessel from Dublin, they had arrived from Quebec, and were now pursuing their weary way to the Township of Adelaide, to bring the ministrations of the Church to the settlers there, who had been represented to Mr. Cronyn before leaving home as numerous and wholly without the services of an ordained minister.   For days this solitary wagon-load had jolted along the narrow, devious track through the woods, the light of heaven only reaching them through the rift in the branches overhead, made by the newly cut-out road; far from home and friends, in the midst of a wilderness, strangers in a strange land, night falling fast, and no apparent shelter near, the father's heart was sorely anxious for his delicate wife and little ones.   From a solitary traveller they happened to meet, he inquired whether any shelter for the night was to be found in the neighbourhood, and then for the first time heard of the village of The Forks (London), distant about two miles to the north of where they were.   Thither they made their way, and put up at a primitive hotel, designated by the title of the Mansion House.

"So utterly worn-out was Mrs. Cronyn, that it was decided to rest there for a time.   The arrival of a Church of England clergyman soon becoming known to the inhabitants of the hamlet, all were summoned to service on Sunday in a farm building which served the purpose of the district courthouse.   The first house had been erected in London in 1827, just six years previous.   On Monday a deputation of the inhabitants waited upon Mr. Cronyn, begging him to remain with them as their clergyman.   Immediately on this came entreaties from many couples in the neighbourhood to be married; some of them had long lived together as husband and wife, but had never had an opportunity of marriage by an ordained minister.   Guided by one Robert Parkinson, familiar with the bush, they followed for days on horseback the blazed lines through the woods, stopping at the settlers' shanties, 'the parson' performing many marriages, and oftentimes uniting the parents and baptizing their offspring at the same time.   Among the early settlers in the township of Adelaide were many of education and refinement, whose antecedents unfitted them for the rough life in the bush, consequently great distress soon prevailed amongst them; and during the first winter, on one occasion, Mr. Cronyn, with his friend Col. Curran, started on foot from London to Adelaide, twenty-six miles away, carrying a quarter of beef strung on a pole between them, for the relief of a friend amongst the settlers there.   For the first few miles they made light of the load; but it soon grew heavy, necessitating frequent stoppages for rest.   Night came on, and the wolves, numerous, fierce, and daring in those days, scenting the raw beef, howled uncomfortably near.   To add to their troubles they lost the trail in the dark, and were about to abandon the beef and endeavour to retrace their steps when they saw a light, and making for it found it proceeded from a chopper's shanty, where, stretched on the floor, with feet towards a huge log fire, the choppers slept.   They hospitably made room between them for the tired travellers, who lay down and rested there for several hours; but were again on the march long before daylight, furnished by the choppers with a lantern.   This for a time showed them the trail, and kept the wolves at a distance; but soon the lantern went out, and they again lost their path, and the wolves howled dangerously near, when they were discovered by some settlers who were on the look-out for the expected succour.

"Soon after his arrival in London, Mr. Cronyn was appointed to the parish of London, and in 1836, on the creation of the Rectory of St. Paul's, London, and St. John's, London Township, was appointed by Patent from the Crown, Rector of both. The latter he resigned in 1842, and that of St. Paul's in 1866.

"A fearless horseman, he almost lived in the saddle in the early years of his ministry, endeavouring to compass the work of his almost boundless parish; and being an expert swimmer himself, he would, if the weather was not too cold, boldly swim his horse over swollen streams that crossed his path. Naturally observant, he had acquired a wonderful store of general knowledge, and by example and precept he did what he could to improve upon the prevailing slovenly system of farming; his knowledge of agricultural chemistry enabling him to demonstrate what could be gained by the judicious application of manures to the soil. As a judge of livestock he had few equals, and by his introduction of purebred cattle, sheep, and pigs, he greatly improved the stock of the district, and added to his personal influence with the farmers. He had sufficient knowledge of architecture and building in all its branches to enable him to plan and construct any ordinary building; and he was no mean engineer, which oftentimes proved most useful in assisting in the construction of bridges in these early days. Many times he accepted the position of path-master, in order to improve upon the ordinary mud roads of the country.

"The first St. Paul's Church, London, was a frame-building, erected in 1835, and is thus described in a book published in 1836--'The Episcopal Church, if we except the spire, which is disproportioned to the size of the tower, is one of the finest, and certainly one of the neatest, churches in the Province.'

"It was destroyed by fire on Ash Wednesday, 1844, and the foundation-stone of the present edifice was laid by the Right Rev. John. Strachan, Bishop of Toronto, on St. John's Day of that year, the military turning out in force, and the Artillery firing a salute of twenty guns. Pending the completion of the new building, the congregation worshipped in the old Mechanics Institute, a frame-building then standing on the Court House Square. It was during service in this building on a Sunday, in April 1845, that the cry of 'Fire!' announced the commencement of the great fire, whereby 150 houses were destroyed.

"Chief Justice Robertson (afterwards Baronet) was present; the Psalms of the day were being read. The only exit from the hall was by one rather narrow staircase. On the alarm the people near the door began to go out. Mr. Cronyn kept on reading, the Chief Justice responding in clear, deliberate tones, until nearly the entire congregation had quietly withdrawn. Thus, by the presence of mind of the Rector and the Chief Justice, doubtless a panic and probable serious accident was averted. The fire had commenced in the Robinson Hall, the principal hotel at that time, just across the square from where they were at service at the time. The Chief Justice's quarters were at the hotel, and his unselfish conduct in endeavouring to avert a panic nearly cost him his baggage, which he had barely time to secure, and at some risk. With a squad of Artillerymen under him, the Rector all day, until late into the night, worked at emptying the houses of their furniture ahead of the fire, which pursued them with relentless fury, alas! in many instances licking up the piles of furniture which the salvagers thought they had left at a safe distance from danger. At nightfall the Rector reached his house, utterly tired out, with his Sunday suit ruined from the rough work in which he had been engaged.

"This most seriously affected the progress of work very near the Rector's heart at that time, viz. the rebuilding of his church; so many of his people suffered by the fire, and were thereby disabled from contributing to the building-fund, that work on the church was almost discontinued for a time. Nevertheless, the edifice was brought to completion, and opened the following year.

"Soon after, Mr. Cronyn was appointed Rural Dean of all west of London to the Detroit River, no mere sinecure with him, for he exercised an active super vision of all the churches in the district." (Contributed.)

As the village grew into a town, and the town into a city, the character of his work gradually changed from that of extended itinerancy into the routine work of a settled city parish. Mr. Cronyn had, however, established a sort of patriarchal jurisdiction among the men who came in to relieve him, first of one part and then of another of his extended mission. He was a man of grave yet genial manners, overflowing with native Irish wit, and as a consequence was very popular amongst the settlers everywhere.

On his election to the Episcopate, he had, according to the traditions of that time, to repair to England for consecration. Naturally he visited his "Alma Mater" in Dublin, and had the degree of D.D. conferred upon him jure dignitatis.

The first Synod of the new Diocese was held in June 1858, and a constitution was adopted, which was a rescript in most particulars of that of the Diocese of Toronto.

The new Diocese addressed itself at once, under the leadership of its Bishop, to grapple with the missionary needs of the district. The 13 counties composing this Diocese now contain 142 townships, 4 cities, 12 towns (32 incorporated), and a large number of other villages. Its eastern boundary, which was determined by the county lines, is very irregular, and ought to be readjusted in any future subdivision of Dioceses.

When the Diocese was first founded, a large section of it lying to the west and north of London - the See city - was only beginning to be settled. Whole townships were still almost wholly covered with their primeval forests, and the roads were very much in the condition described in Bishop Strachan's journal quoted above.

The writer, whose mission embraced several townships in the northeastern part of this Diocese, had to drive through ten and twelve miles of unbroken forests to reach some of his stations, and to travel stretches of corduroy road for four continuous miles. Railway travelling was then limited to the southern part of the Diocese. In 1857, the entire population of the Diocese of Huron was 360,000, 70,000 of whom were members of the Church of England. When Dr. Cronyn was consecrated, there were 43 clergymen in the Diocese, but of these only 40 were in active service. The number of constituted parishes and missions was 46, and there were 59 churches in the whole Diocese. The regularly organized parishes were situated in the southern and central counties. The northern parts of the Diocese were almost wholly destitute of the ministrations of the Church, there being but one parish - that of Owen Sound - in the vast territory lying between Stratford and the Georgian Bay.

From: History of the Church in Eastern Canada and Newfoundland
by By John Langtry, M.A., D.C.L. Rector of S. Luke's, Toronto, and Prolocutor of the Provincial Synod of Canada
published in 1892 by Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge