LAURENCE FRANK WILMOT, B.A. & L.Th. (Man.), M.C., B.D. (Man.), D.D. (Hon. Causa, Trinity), M.A. (Man.), D. Phil. (Oxon), D.D. (Hon. Causa, Man.), M.A. (Man.)
Laurence Frank Wilmot was born on a farm seven miles northwest of Clanwilliam and 10-12 miles north of Minnedosa, Manitoba in the Crocus Hill School District on April 27, 1907. His mother, Fannie Charlotte Campbell, was born in a Belfast hotel while his father, Thomas Herbert Wilmot, grew up at the edge of the Sherewood Forest and later named his Manitoba farm in honour of his Nottinghamshire birthplace. Thomas came from England to Clanwilliam, MB in 1895. Laurence attended Crocus Hill elementary school (a three-mile walk from his uncle's home, where he lived). Wilmot subsequently attended the Bethany Consolidated School, from which he graduated in 1925. He trapped and hunting in order to earn money for school fees and personal expenses.
In the fall of 1925 Wilmot enrolled at the University of Manitoba. He spent one year in the pre-engineering program but half-way through his first year Wilmot made the decision to enter the minister. He transferred to St. John's College and changed his major to Arts and Theology. In this first year of theological training the Diocese of Brandon sent him on a summer placement in 1926 which involved being responsible for four parishes. His remuneration was $40 per month; travel was by horse and buggy. By the summer of 1930 Wilmot had a brief change of work; he wanted to work outside for health reasons and found himself on a CPR survey crew.
He was active in sports. During his early theological training, Wilmot was pitcher for the Grosse Isle baseball team, played soccer for a city church league, played rugby, basketball and football for St. John's and University of Manitoba. At St. John's College, he was a member of the Students' Council. He graduated from St. John's in 1931 with a Bachelor of Arts and a Licentiate in Theology.
Wilmot was ordained as a deacon in 1931 and served the next 11 years in rural missionary fields of Manitoba. For the first four years, during the heart of the Great Depression, Rev. Wilmot served a six-point charge in the Pembina Hills area of southwestern Manitoba at the parishes of Pilot Mound, Crystal City, Clearwater and La Riviere.
1932 was a momentous year. Wilmot was ordained priest by the Bishop of Brandon and that August was married at St. Alban's, Winnipeg, to Edith Louise Hope Littlewood (born June 10, 1905 at Newburg, ON), a Winnipeg teacher, whom he had first met in Deloraine where she was teaching and he was replacement minister. Their first child, Laurence Sidney Herbert was born in June 1933. Young Laurie was joined in succeeding years by two sisters, Frances Mary Louise in October 1934 and Hope Fairfield in February 1940.
After four years in Pilot Mound, Rev. Wilmot was appointed Rector and Rural Dean of Swan River and Chaplain of St. Faith's Mission, an Anglican mission at The Pas in 1935 (with this appointment, he became responsible for 35 congregations). In 1939 he was named Travelling Priest in the Northern missions of the Diocese of Brandon. The Hudson's Bay railway was part of Rev. Wilmot's field. He held this post until his 1942 enlistment in the Canadian Army as a chaplain. Earlier, during his St. John's College student days, Rev. Wilmot had earned both his lieutenant's and captain's designations in the Canadian Officers In Training Corps. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, he volunteered to become a military chaplain but was not called into service until two years later.
After serving in military camps in Canada and Great Britain Rev. Wilmot spent the last two years of the war in Italy and North West Europe with the West Nova Scotia Regiment. He provided spiritual counsel and conducted church services and other religious ceremonies for the men in his regiment, many of whom would not survive the bitter struggle to advance up the Italian peninsula against an entrenched and determined foe.
Rev. Wilmot himself was often exposed to enemy fire and on at least one occasion he narrowly escaped with his life when a German shell exploded over a spot that he had just vacated seconds before. During one episode he was shot at, the bullet entering one side of his helmet and exiting the other. His organization and personal leadership of the evacuation of wounded soldiers from a minefield at the Foglio River Crossing (on Italy's Adriatic coast) on 31 August 1944 resulted in his being awarded the Military Cross.
When the war in Europe ended Rev. Wilmot was transferred to Canada en route to a posting in the Pacific Theatre. The sudden Japanese surrender allowed him to remain in his home country until he received his discharge in November 1945. In later years he served as militia chaplain to the Winnipeg Grenadiers. A special honour came in 1953 when he was named Protestant chaplain to the Army section of the Canadian Armed Forces contingent attending the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and received the Coronation Medal.
After his discharge Rev. Wilmot spent the next 16 years in Winnipeg, licensed by the Bishop of Rupert's Land. He taught English and history for the Department of Education in a Veterans' Vocational School in Winnipeg which was established to prepare veterans for university entrance. In 1945 he began a Master of Arts degree in the philosophy of religion and metaphysics. In 1946 he accepted an appointment as Central Western Field Secretary for the Anglican General Board of Religious Education and, in preparation for his new assignment, attended the fall semester at Yale Divinity School where he took several religious education courses. In 1948 Rev. Wilmot received from St. John's College the Bachelor of Divinity he had begun in 1937.
Rev. Wilmot served as a Field Secretary until 1949 when his increasing frustration over what he termed the "domineering policies at the head office" caused him to resign. In his correspondence he accused his superiors of placing undue restrictions on his activities and ignoring the reports and recommendations that he and the other field secretaries had been submitting. He was particularly upset when an ambitious attempt to start up the Knights of the Cross, a proposed lay order designed to encourage men to become more involved in Church leadership, was summarily halted after a promising beginning.
After his resignation as field secretary Wilmot served for a year as Rector of St. Mary Magdalene Church in St. Vital. His term at St. Mary Magdalene happened to coincide with the disastrous 1950 flood and most of his summer was spent helping parishioners cope with the task of repairing damaged homes and replacing lost possessions.
On November 1, 1950 Rev. Wilmot was installed as Warden and Vice-Chancellor of his alma mater, St. John's College, as well as Honorary Canon of the Diocese of Rupert's Land and Archbishop's Examining Chaplain. At the time of Rev. Canon Wilmot's installation the College's future was not promising; financial difficulties and a declining enrolment at its downtown campus had forced it to cut numerous programs. During Rev. Canon Wilmot's eleven years as warden, St. John's experienced a dramatic reversal in fortune that culminated in 1958 with the move to a new set of buildings on the Fort Garry campus of the University of Manitoba. One of his colleagues would later say that Wilmot had transformed the college "from a feeble, spiritless vestige at the point of death, into a thriving community of students and academics." In 1958 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Trinity College, University of Toronto.
At the end of the 1959 school year Rev. Canon Wilmot was able to announce that the size of St. John's faculty was greater than what the total enrolment had been when he first assumed his office nine years before. During his time as Warden of St. John's he also lectured there in philosophy and theology. Rev. Canon Wilmot spent the summer of 1960 studying philosophy at Harvard University.
Unfortunately, Rev. Canon Wilmot's years at St. John's were also marked by difficulties with the Church hierarchy. In his second year as warden he submitted his resignation, citing the Chancellor's wilful lack of co-operation as the reason. This resignation was suddenly withdrawn after an apparent reconciliation between the two parties was reached. Rev. Canon Wilmot continued to face what his colleague would later describe as "discouragement, episcopal opposition and downright malevolence" from the archbishop and church council. Finally, after a series of stormy meetings in the spring and summer of 1960 he announced his resignation in October, saying that it would be "in the best interests of the college". Despite the widespread support of the faculty and the student body he stepped down at the end of the 1960-61 academic year.
After his resignation Rev. Canon Wilmot went to England where he researched and studied contemporary philosophy and Patristic Theology (concentrating on Fourth Century church fathers) for two years at Keble College, Oxford. Rev. Canon Wilmot had in 1953 completed course work for a Master of Arts in Philosophy but the demands of administrative duties at St. John's forced him to postpone the thesis. He wrote his thesis at Oxford and finally received the M.A. in 1963 from the University of Manitoba. His thesis was entitled "The Idea of God in the Most Recent British Philosophy: An Enquiry into the Possibility of Significant Theological Discourse Today".
In 1963 he also was appointed Teaching Fellow and Sub-Warden of St. Augustine's College in Canterbury, the central college of the Anglican communion. Rev. Canon Wilmot lectured in Historical Theology and conducted seminars in contemporary theology to classes consisting of Anglican clergy from around the world. Also in 1963, he was greatly moved when Oxford University conferred upon him an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy.
In 1965 Rev. Canon Wilmot was named Acting Warden of St. Augustine's and served in that capacity until June 1967 when the college was closed as a result of a decision by the Anglican Consultative Committee.
He then accepted an invitation to become a Pastoral Theological Fellow and enter the clinical pastoral education program at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Texas. There he spent a year acquiring clinical pastoral experience and training. In 1968 Rev. Canon Wilmot moved to Washington, D.C. to train as a resident in the chaplain's department under Dr. Ernest Bruder at St. Elizabeth's, a large federally-operated psychiatric hospital. That year Rev. Canon Wilmot was the recipient of another Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa), this one from St. John's College.
In the summer of 1969 Rev. Canon Wilmot took a supervisory course in clinical pastoral education at Toronto's Queen Street Mental Health Centre. He received his clinical pastoral supervisor certification and in August of that year was appointed Protestant Chaplain and teaching supervisor of Whitby Psychiatric Hospital, east of Toronto. Rev. Canon Wilmot remained at Whitby until 1972 when he reached the mandatory age for retirement. During his stay at Whitby he conducted numerous training seminars and workshops on clinical pastoral education and took an active interest in training clergy to deal more effectively with patients in mental health institutions.
In 1972 Rev. Canon Wilmot returned to Winnipeg and accepted the posts of Coordinator for Continuing Education for the clergy of the Anglican diocese of Rupert's Land and Director of Field Education for seminarians at St. John's College. After an 11-year absence, Laurence and Hope Wilmot appreciated the return to their home on University Crescent. He also made time to work two days per week as chaplain at Victoria Hospital, as well as acting as priest-in-charge of St. John the Baptist Parish (later Life Honorary Assistant to the rector at St. Paul's, Fort Garry and assistant priest-in-charge at St. Helen's Mission, Winnipeg). In 1975 he was elected Chairman of the Manitoba Region of the Canadian Association for Pastoral Education and has served a three-year term on the Board of Directors of the University of Manitoba's Alumni Association.
Rev. Canon Wilmot officially retired in 1976 in order to devote more time to a book based on his post-graduate study of the later writings of the British process philosopher and theologian Alfred North Whitehead. The completed manuscript, Whitehead and God: Prolegomena to Theological Reconstruction , was published in 1979 by Wilfrid Laurier University Press.
Rev. Canon Wilmot returned to school and in 1979 at the age of 72 was awarded a Master of Arts in history from the University of Manitoba. He titled his thesis "The Christian Churches of the Red River Settlement and the Foundation of the University of Manitoba: An Historical Analysis of the Process of Transition from Frontier College to Provincial University". An essay written during this period, "Alexander Morris and the Creation of the Office of Premier: An Historical Analysis of the Evolution of Responsible Government in Manitoba," received the Margaret McWilliams Medal from the Manitoba Historical Society in 1978. St. John's College continued to honour its former warden. Rev. Canon Wilmot was made an Honorary Fellow in 1980 and Warden Emeritus in 1990.
Rev. Canon Wilmot maintained an active life throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Apart from his research and writing on early Manitoba history he devoted a considerable amount of time to issues concerning the elderly. He was a member of the 1980-81 Diocese of Rupert's Land Task Force on Ministries To and With the Elderly and in 1981 he participated in the Anglican Church Project on Elders and Ministry. Rev. Canon Wilmot also became heavily involved with Creative Retirement Manitoba, serving on its board of directors and personnel committee until 1992 and helping to organize lectures and seminars on a variety of topics.
Rev. Canon Wilmot's experience as a member of both the board of directors and the advisory committee of the Society of Self-Help, Inc. in the late 1980s was not so positive. The SOS, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping outpatients from mental institutions integrate themselves into the community, was plagued by incompetent (and possibly corrupt) management. A series of financial setbacks had, by 1990, left SOS near death and Rev. Canon Wilmot was obliged to take on the desperate task of reviving it. His efforts to stave off bankruptcy were apparently not appreciated by some of the other officers (possibly friends of the former director) and in August 1990 he was effectively forced out as the Society's coordinator.
Hope Wilmot died in July 1986 after a long struggle with heart disease and was buried at St. John's Cathedral Cemetery. After eight years as a widower, Rev. Canon Wilmot remarried in St. John's College Chapel 21 January 1995 to a widow, Grace Nunn. He was in his 88th year at the time of his remarriage, a fact that was duly reported in the media. To celebrate his 90th birthday in 1997, Laurence and Grace Nunn Wilmot enjoyed an extensive tour of Greece.
At over 90, Rev. Canon Wilmot remained active moderating church conferences, attending meetings, writing scholarly theological works, his autobiography and collecting his papers for archiving.
He died on December 13, 2003 and was buried in St. John’s Cemetery.