Fonds MSS 122 - Laurence Frank Wilmot fonds

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Laurence Frank Wilmot fonds

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7.9 m of textual records and other materials [Includes 346 photographs; 43 audio cassettes; 5 audio reels.

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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.

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Scope and content

The papers in the collection range from the early part of the 20th century to the 1990s and reflect the rich and varied life of Rev. Canon Laurence Wilmot.

The collection contains over 50 appointment diaries and journals covering the years 1946 to 1992 as well as a collection of Warden's notebooks, correspondence, speeches yearbooks and calendars from Rev. Canon Wilmot's years at St. John's College.

The rest of the papers are organized into series corresponding to Rev. Canon Wilmot's various occupations and activities. The series' includes his personal correspondence and the notes and papers he amassed as a student in a variety of educational institutions. These include notes from his years at St. John's in the late 1920s, notes and assignments from the 1946 fall session at Yale Divinity School, papers and tests from Harvard Summer School in 1960 and various papers and notes from the University of Manitoba's M.A. program in the 1970s.

Materials relating to Rev. Canon Wilmot's time as an army chaplain during World War II make up the second series. The military records, notebooks, letters and other documents included in this series provide a detailed picture of the daily activities and routines of a chaplain attached to a regiment engaged in active combat. Not only is there a terrific collection of letters sent from overseas to his wife in Canada - on a daily basis - but also her replies, as well as transcribed versions of same. Also included in the war correspondence is a collection of letters sent to Wilmot by relatives of the unit's casualties. Also included are several letters written by wives requesting divorces.

One section of the collection contains the papers generated by Rev. Canon Wilmot's clerical duties, including correspondence with church officials, collections of sermons and devotional talks and a few miscellaneous items.

Another series is made up of documents relating to Rev. Canon Wilmot's stint as a field secretary for the Anglican Church's General Board of Religious Education from 1946 to 1949. His correspondence from this period indicates the frustrations he experienced in trying to introduce some much needed innovations in the face of opposition from the head office. Several of the files contain material relating to the Knights of the Cross, the men's lay organization Rev. Canon Wilmot was in the process of getting off the ground before the General Board put a stop to it.

Documents relating to Rev. Canon Wilmot's time as a college administrator and lecturer, both at St. John's College in Winnipeg and at St. Augustine's College in Canterbury, England, are included in the collection. The material on St. John's should be of particular interest since it reflects Rev. Canon Wilmot's difficult relationship with the church hierarchy as well as his impressive accomplishments. His correspondence and activities on behalf of the College extend into the 1990s.

The collection also contains the papers generated by Rev. Canon Wilmot's career as a hospital chaplain in Houston, Washington, D.C. and Whitby, Ontario from 1967 to 1972. All of his patient interview notes, student assignments and correspondence from this period are included.

The "writer and researcher" series consists of documents relating to his 1979 book Whitehead and God and to his writing and research on various aspects of early University of Manitoba history and Manitoba history in general.

The final series includes papers from the various organizations and committees with which he became involved upon his return to Manitoba in 1973. Among them are the Continuing Education Committee of the Diocese of Rupert's Land, the 1980-81 Anglican Task Force on Ministries To and With the Elderly, Creative Retirement Manitoba and the Society of Self-Help, Inc. (SOS). The SOS papers' depiction of a charitable organization destroyed by incompetent (and possibly corrupt) management and childish power struggles is of particular interest.

Included in the photograph collection (PC 132) is a significant number of images dating back to the late 1890s (but mostly onward from the mid-1920s) and many photographs which document Rev. Canon Wilmot's war experiences as a chaplain in Italy and The Netherlands (over 200 photographs and negatives of this period).

The cassette and reel-to-reel tapes are largely from the 1970s and 1980s and include a few personal messages, some family history, some sermons and talks and a sizable number of religious conferences, discussion groups and lecture series. One of the tapes contains a 1968 talk on ethics by the noted American anthropologist Margaret Mead.

On October 1, 1996, John Richthammer, Don Kroeker and Rev. Canon Wilmot worked together at his home to select important, representative photographs depicting Rev. Canon Wilmot's life. Photographs collected span the 1890s to the 1990s.

Additional documentation in the form of manuscripts, degrees and commendations (university, army, community), as well as both original and typewritten correspondence between Rev. Canon Wilmot and his wife Hope during W.W. II, were obtained in order to compliment the Collection.

Complimentary collections located in the Archives & Special Collections include the collection (MSS 56) of Rev. Charles William Gordon (Ralph Connor), a well-known Manitoba minister and highly-successful Canadian novelist, whose collection is one generation earlier than Wilmot's. The collection (MSS 63) of Rev. John Mark King (Gordon's father-in-law) is yet another generation earlier. As well, the St. John's College Collection might be consulted by those wishing to correlate Wilmot's collection to the material in the St. John's Collection.

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This collection is organized into 17 series.

Personal Correspondence
Pastorate Records
Military Service
Early Post-W.W.II Church Work & Teaching
Post-W.W.II Diaries
Sermons, Speeches & Talks, 1937- [199-?]
St. John's College: Student Years & Later Teaching
Divinity School at Yale and Harvard Universities
Teaching & Studying at St. Augustine's College, Oxford, England
Psychiatric Hospital Chaplaincy in the United States and Canada
Later Education & Scholarly Works
Historical Essays for Conferences & Publication
Records of Work With Senior Citizens, 1970-1990
Oversize Documents
Photograph Collection (PC 132)
Tape Collection (TC 84)

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A finding aid can be downloaded from the fonds-level description by clicking on the “Download’ link under “Finding Aid” on the right hand side of the screen.

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Finding aid created by John E. L. Richthammer (1997) & Lewis St. G. Stubbs (2003). Encoded by Julianna Trivers (June 2002) and Lewis St. George Stubbs (November 2004). Revision History: July 26, 2005 - MSS 122, PC 132, TC 84 A2004-09 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
Revised by N. Courrier (April 2020).

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