St. John's College

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St. John's College

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The forerunners of St. John’s College were privately owned boarding schools. Reverend Jones established the Red River Academy in 1833 at Upper Church. When it merged with John Pritchard’s private school, the Academy became the sole source of secondary education available to the Protestant Community in the Northwest. Through the aid of Hudson’s Bay Co. Governor George Simpson, Jones enrolled 17 boys and 16 girls in his two-storey wooden structure that consisted of two wings joined by a covered walkway. Jones undertook the post of headmaster while his wife supervised the girls until her untimely death in 1836.

Regrettably the Academy remained elitist drawing the majority of its enrolment from the families of the executives of the Hudson’s Bay Co. By the late 1840s registration was in decline owing to no educational facility for young women and a growing perception that Macallum’s teaching methods were too harsh. In an odd development Macallum died the very day that the first Bishop of Rupert’s Land landed at Red River.

Bishop David Anderson had intended to make his new headquarters at the new stone church at St. Andrew’s. The death of the schoolmaster at Upper Church left the Red River Academy in a state of dissolution. Anderson hastened to Upper Church with a goal of melding the settlers interest in higher learning with those of the Church Missionary Society. Anderson undertook supervision of the school with the aid of his sister. He hoped the school and ultimately the Theological College that he was planning would become a permanent administrative and training centre for the Church’s work in the Northwest. Bishop Anderson named the parish a Upper Church in commemoration of St. John the Evangelist. He renamed the Academy St. John’s Collegiate School with the proposed theological college to be called St. John’s College. He chose for a school motto “In Thy light we shall see light”. (Psalm 36 verse 91)

The St. John’s Collegiate School endeavoured to educate Indigenous peoples, supported by the Church Missionary Society, fee paying settlers son as well as the Academy’s previous clientele. No provision was made for educating girls but a Miss Mills began a Girl’s School in a house known as St. Cross recently vacated by the Reverend William Cockran. The Collegiate School academic program was more rigorous than the Academy. John Macallum’s interest in the classics was continued as well as the addition of modern languages. Bishop Anderson deemed modern language important in mission work. Intellectual development was stimulated with the foundation of an 800 volume library financed by friends of the School, the Society for Propagation of Christian Knowledge and the Bishop’s own personal collection.

In 1850 Bishop Anderson began teaching theological subjects to candidates for the ministry among them Thomas Cockran and the Indigenous catechist Henry Budd. The Bishop organized a Board of Trustees in 1855 as “ guardians of the property connected with the Collegiate School and the keepers of the Diocesan Library. All library books and property under the Board were to “bear the stamp, device, and motto of St. John’s College.”

The role of St. John’s as a theological college was unparalleled in the Northwest. The Roman Catholic Church made no attempt to train native clergy and relied upon Eastern Canada and France for priests. Bishop Anderson ordained twenty clergymen between 1849-1864, nine were born in the Northwest. Eight were products of the mission schools and St. John’s College. Four graduates, Henry Budd Sr., James Settee, Henry Cochrane and Henry Budd Jr. were Indigenous while Thomas Cook, and three future Archdeacons, Robert MacDonald, Thomas Vincent and John A. Mackay were half-breed sons of Hudson’s Bay Company employees.

By 1855 other duties had begun to infringe on Anderson’s work at the College. Despite poor health, Thomas Cockran remained a Master of the Collegiate and College tutor after his ordination. He ran the College in 1856 when Bishop Anderson returned to England on an appeal for funds. The Bishop returned to find enrollment declining but with no respite from his own workload little was done to redress the College’s problems. Finally in 1859 Thomas Cockran left to join his father Archdeacon Cockran at Portage la Prairie. With no competent successor to take his place, Bishop Anderson reluctantly closed the doors of the College and Collegiate.

On June 24, 1865 Robert Machray was consecrated Bishop of Rupert’s Land. The graduate of King’s College, Aberdeen and Cambridge, would play a pivotal role in the revival and subsequent development of St. John’s College over the next four decades. Upon his arrival at the Red River Settlement on October 13, 1865, Machray became acutely aware of the need to re-establish an Anglican college. The quality of education provided at Pritchard’s and Miss Davis’s schools needed to be enhanced and more native clergy were required to advance the faith amongst the Indigenous missions. Machray was appalled at the general lack of knowledge of the rites of the Church of England exhibited at the Red River Settlement. He wrote to Prebendary Bulloch, of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel on November 10, 1865, in the hope of garnering financial aid to resurrect the College. Machray’s appeal was a success and he was joined by an old school friend the Reverend John McLean, who became the first Warden of St. John’s College. Samuel Pritchard agreed to merge his school with the College in return for a teaching position within the Collegiate. He would become the College’s first registrar. The Church Missionary Society agreed to pay Archdeacon McLean’s salary as well as supporting four or five students. Archdeacon Cowley and Reverend W.H. Taylor, the two remaining members of Bishop Anderson’s 1855 Board, met with Bishop Machray to turn over the authority for the library and dilapidated school house. Renovations were begun on the school while the Warden prepared to move into the St. Cross residence that twenty years earlier had been home to William Cockran and most recently housed Mrs. Mill’s School. McLean’s quarters would house some of the boarding students with the remainder dwelling with Mr. Pritchard in a nearby house.

St. John’s College re-opened on November 1, 1866. The trio of instructors offered a wide and varied selection of subject matter. The theology students learned Ecclesiastical History and Liturgiology from the Bishop, while the Warden taught Systematic and Pastoral Theology. Pritchard taught the boys English, bookkeeping and arithmetic. The Bishop taught five boys higher mathematics while fifteen learned Greek from the Warden. Seven boys including three Indigenous were part of the Warden’s Junior Divinity course.

A constitution was drawn up in early 1867. The College’s four aims were enumerated: First - to train fit persons for the Sacred Ministry and for discharging the duties of Catechists and Teachers in Parishes or Missions within this diocese of the Church of England; Second - To provide instruction in the higher branches of education usually taught in Universities, for such students as may be desirious of the same; and thought fit for usefully prosecuting them; Third - To combine with these primary objects such kindred efforts, including a Preparatory College or Collegiate School, as may be found desirable and expedient; Four - To perform such acts, matters, and things as are incidental or otherwise conductive to the attainment of the before-mentioned objects of any of them.

Enrollment in the College improved rapidly. The rapid development did little to improve the already cramped living quarter and lack of classroom space. Bishop Machray launched a campaign for endowment funds with the hope of providing independent support for the warden’s wages and sufficient funds for further building at the College. A trip through Minnesota and the northern missions raised 500 pounds for the endowment of the Warden’s Chair of Theology. A depressed economy brought on by locusts and poor hunting condition conditions shelved the idea of further expansion. The Red River Rebellion and its political uncertainties further conspired to postpone the Bishop’s plans. He feared annexation by the United States but was more concerned with the prevention of bloodshed at the Settlement. Both he and Warden McLean counselled the Canadian Party not to launch a military campaign against Riel and his supporters for control of the Upper Fort. The quelling of the Rebellion and the subsequent formation of the Province of Manitoba brought stability and optimism for further expansion within the Settlement.

St. John’s College had its first graduates from the University of Manitoba in 1881. W.T.B. Kennedy and R.F. McLennan garnered degrees from the three year Bachelor of Arts program while S. P. Matheson, George Mackay, Robert Machray and James Flett received the first Bachelor of Divinity degrees. Three years later a new College building was opened on Main Street at Church Avenue. The three and a half storey brick building provided spacious classrooms and room for living accommodations for 20 students.

In 1913 increased enrollment at the College brought about the need for the hiring of the first full time Warden in forty years. Reverend J.J. Robinson a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin relieved Archbishop Matheson of the roll. In 1917 the University Amendment Act broke the concept of the “Republic of Colleges”. The church colleges maintained an affiliation with the University and were free to teach any subjects but no longer held any control over the University. A Board of Governors nominated by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council assumed the full responsibility of directing University expenditures and planning.

In 1932 the Machray Defalcation comes to light all but ruining the College. Any thought to moving to the new University Site of St. Vital (Ft. Garry) is replaced with a solemn battle for survival. The decimation of the endowment funds, the loss of Church and College property forced St. John’s to exist solely on student fees. The traditional relation between the College and Cathedral was altered in 1938 with the appointment of a Rector of the Cathedral replacing the “collective ministry” of theology professors that had operated since 1874.

In 1945 the College received an offer from United College (formerly Wesley) to combine their arts instruction and hold their classes in the centrally located United College building. It was proposed that St. John’s build its own theological building and perhaps others in the Portage Avenue locale of United. Fearing that this course of action might lead to absorption St. John’s rejected the offer. The College decided on a stop gap measure while they awaited the move to the Ft. Garry Campus and purchased the Music and Arts Building located at the corner of Broadway and Hargrave Street for $70,000. To help finance the move the College sold the Annex building to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for $35000. The College School remained on Main Street until 1950 when the amalgamated with Ravenscourt School in Fort Garry to become St. John’s Ravenscourt. The St. John’s Council made a definite decision in 1955 to sell its Broadway Avenue site and move to the University campus. The College accepted a building site on Dysart Road and the initial fund raising drive was kicked off with the Hey Day Celebration. The College and University signed a 99 year lease agreement for the nominal sum of one dollar. The agreement was signed October 4, 1957.


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Created by Michelle Rydz (2005). Revised by N. Courrier (December 2019).




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