STRACHAN, JOHN (1778-1867), first bishop of Toronto, son of John Strachan and Elizabeth Finlayson his wife, was born at Aberdeen, Scotland, on the 12th of April 1778. His father died in 1 79 2 from an accident in the granite quarries of which he was. an overseer. Thus from an early age young Strachan bad to depend upon his own resources and even to assist his mother, whom he loyally aided till her death in 1812. He managed, by undertaking private teaching and with the aid of a bursary, to go to the university of Aberdeen, where he took his M.A. degree. He attended some of the divinity classes at the university, where also he formed a lasting friendship with two of his fellow students, well known afterwards as Professor Duncan and Dr Chalmers. In 170,9 he emigrated to Canada, having been recommended to the Hon. Richard Cartwright, of Kingston, Upper Canada, as suitable for tutorial work. Strachan went to Canada a Presbyterian. His associations there, however, were almost exclusively with Episcopalians, including Mr Cartwright and the Rev. Dr. Stuart, for a time the only clergyman in the district. Moreover, special provision had been made in the Constitutional Actof 1791 for the liberal endowment of the Protestant religion, then identified in the official mind with the Church of England, through what were afterwards known as the Clergy Reserves, being one-seventh of the lands of the new townships opened for settlement. Having decided to enter the Episcopal Church, Strachan was ordained on the 22nd of May 1803, and was 1 immediately afterwards appointed to the parish of Cornwall. Thither he removed his school, which soon became the most noted educational institution in the country. There many future leaders of public and professional life in Canada came under the influence of Strachan's vigorous personality. In 1807 he married the youthful widow of Andrew McGill, a wealthy merchant of Montreal, and brother of the founder of McGill University. In 1811 he received the honorary degree of D.D. from his alma mater, Aberdeen University. During the same year Dr Stuart of Kingston died and was succeeded by his son George O'Kill Stuart, incumbent at York, the capital of the province. Through the influence of Lieut .-Governor Gore, supplemented by that of Sir Isaac Brock, Strachan was prevailed upon in 1812 to transfer himself to York, where he was soon deeply involved in civil and ecclesiastical politics.
During the War of 1812 he was of special service to the executive government and the citizens of the town when the American troops captured York and burned the public buildings. He was chiefly instrumental also in founding the Loyal and Patriotic Society of Upper Canada, which raised funds for the relief of the wounded and the assistance of the widows and orphans of the slain. On the urgent recommendation of Lieut. - Governor Gore he was appointed to the executive council of Upper Canada in 1815. A man of great force of character and much ability, of keen ambitions and unusual shrewdness, though not remarkable for breadth of mind, he attained to great influence in the executive government and was soon the leading spirit in that dominant group known in Upper Canadian history as the Family Compact. In 1820 he was appointed by Sir Peregrine Maitland a member of the legislative council in order that the governor might have a confidential medium through whom to make communication to the council. At the instance of the lieutenant-governor he went to England in 1824, to discuss various colonial questions with the earl of Bathurst, then colonial secretary. Strachan had no difficulty in convincing Lord Bathurst of the justice of his claims on all essential matters, the most important of which was the exclusive right of the Church of England in Canada to the Clergy Reserves. Though in favour of selling a portion of these lands to provide a fund for the existing needs of the Church, he secured the defeat of the proposal then before the government to dispose of the Clergy Reserves to the Canada Company. He took much interest in the educational affairs of the province, and in 1807 was instrumental in having provision made for the establishment of the first grammar schools. In 1824 he secured the passing of an act providing assistance for the public schools of each district. During his second visit to England in 1826-1827 he obtained a royal charter for the university of King's College, with provision for its endowment out of the crown lands. It was, however, to be entirely under the control of the Church of England. In 1827 Strachan became archdeacon of York.
The break-up of the Liverpool ministry in 1827 interrupted the successful development of Strachan's plans for placing virtually the whole of the government endowments for religion and education under the control of the Episcopal Church. The storm of protest of the other religious denominations caused the colonial office to undertake an investigation of the whole question, the result of which was presented in the report of 1828. After a long silence in the face of severe and persistent criticism, Strachan made a general reply in a very able speech in the legislative council in March 1828. When the storm had subsided the Clergy Reserves and university questions remained dormant until 1836, when the attempt to apply the Reserves to the endowment of rectories renewed the trouble and contributed largely to the crisis of 1837. Adverse criticism and a suggestion from the colonial office that he should cease from active participation in political affairs led to his resignation from the executive council, but he declined to give up his seat in the legislative council.
On the death of Bishop Stewart of Quebec the Canadian see was divided, and Strachan was made bishop of Toronto in August 1839. He energetically opposed the act of 1840, which sought to settle the Clergy Reserves question by dividing the proceeds among the different religious denominations, the larger share still remaining with the Church of England.
The university of King's College was finally established, with certain modifications of its charter, in 1843, Bishop Strachan being the first president. The renewed agitation finally resulted in the elimination of all religious tests by the act of 1849, which also changed the name to that of the university of Toronto. Strachan at once took steps to found another university which should be completely under the control of the Episcopal Church, hence the establishment of Trinity University, which was opened in 1852. Bishop Strachan also raised once more the question of the disposal of the Clergy Reserves. After several strong appeals and counter-appeals to the British government, the Canadian parliament was allowed to deal as it pleased with the question, with the result that the Reserves were completely secularized in 1854, provision being made for the life-interest of the beneficiaries at the time. Bishop Strachan devoted the latter years of his long life entirely to his episcopal duties, and by introducing the diocesan synod he furnished the Episcopal Church in Canada with a more democratic organ of government. He died in November 1867.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)