The Anglo-Protestant churches of Manitoba and the Manitoba School Question

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Hackett, Christopher
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The Manitoba School Question was one of the most contentious issues in the history of both Manitoba and Canada and it has received considerable attention from historians. However, there has been insufficient research into the climate of popular opinion in which decisions concerning the introduction of a national school system in Manitoba were made. This gap has had important consequences particularly in the long running controversy over the origins of the school question. This thesis attempted to remedy this neglect by examining the actions and attitudes of the three major Anglo-Protestant churches in Manitoba towards education and minority rights between 1870 and 1890. The clergy and laity of these churches wielded considerable influence in Manitoba society in general and over education in specific. The thesis focused on the three largest of these churches, the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church and the Church of England. In the past, these Protestant churches have been treated as homogeneous but the present work found that this assumption was inaccurate and potentially misleading. Each church emerged with its own distinct view on the role of religion in education and minority rights and on the policies of the Greenway Government. Despite the differences, common themes among the churches were identified which highlighted the changing attitudes towards religion and education in the Province between 1870 and 1890. The influx of Ontario clergy and laity had major repercussions for the churches as well as the society around them. For the churches, it meant that new policies were developed often at the expense of traditional perspectives, with secular concerns taking priority over theological issues. In general, attitudes toward education altered such that the importance of religious instruction in the public schools became secondary to the cultural assimilation of non-English minorities, particularly French Roman catholics. The thesis supports the contention of recent literature that the school question was part of a long term pattern of co-option of the social and public institutions of the province by the post-Confederation Ontario born Protestant elite rather than a brief period of demagogic anti-Catholicism. The success of the Protestant majority in passing legislation to adapt the schools to meet their own cultural agenda demonstrates the danger of a parliamentary majority when it is not bound by a strong constitution which recognizes individual and group rights.