Crossroads of Culture 200 Years of Canadian Immigration (1800-2000)
Introduction Objects Photos & Papers Themes Kids & Teachers


New France's leaders were its military, bureaucrats and Catholic clergy. Those who shaped British North American life were its imperial appointees, army officers and Anglican bishops. After Confederation in 1867, governments relied heavily upon religious orders to build hospitals, educate children, provide charity and set moral standards for all classes.

French priests established missions to convert Aboriginal peoples as early as 1626. Nuns opened hospitals in Quebec City and Montreal within the next decade. Catholics and Anglicans established missions at Red River, Manitoba (1818-1820). Clergy led the Ontario temperance movement of the 1850s. Methodist minister, J. S. Woodsworth wrote Strangers within Our Gates in 1909, a scathing account of immigrant living conditions in Winnipeg.

Because most immigrants who arrived in Canada up to the 1980s came from Europe or the United States, they had Christian roots. Religious denomination was more important to some than to others, but generally there was cohesion on matters of faith, dogma and hierarchy among Catholics and Protestants, respectively. The surge of immigrants from the Third World after 1960 changed the picture of Canada as a Christian country. Canada became a multicultural nation of many faiths. Ironically, while organized religion faded among Protestants and Catholics, it was among the strongest bonds holding newcomers together.

It is easy to track the paths of religion in Canadian history. The priests, monks, nuns and higher orders of each faith are educated and trained to record their thoughts, activities and parishioner's lives. Those records - letters, registers, books, sermons, lessons - fill many archives.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization is a treasure house of religious icons, vestments, liturgical items and missionary material. It has a collection of church silver from early Quebec, but more impressive yet is St. Onuphrius Ukrainian Catholic Church, which has been fully restored and is now integrated into the Museum's Canada Hall. This humble wooden rural structure was photographed, measured, disassembled and crated at its original site at Smoky Lake, Alberta, in 1996 by professional heritage architects. Originally built by Father Ruh in 1913-1914, it served its congregation until the 1960s. Then, too small for most services, it was nonetheless preserved intact. Individual parishioners safeguarded its contents until the building and everything else was donated to the Museum.

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