VALLEY PULPIT: Samuel Hume Blake — Evangelical Activist

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Few people today know the name of Samuel Hume Blake, a descendant of the prominent Blake and Hume families of Toronto, whose first wife was Rebecca Cronyn, daughter of Bishop Benjamin Cronyn, although some will remember his relative, the actor Hume Cronyn, husband of Jessica Tandy.

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Blake became a lawyer and judge, running the Family Law Office (now the business law firm of Blake, Cassels and Graydon), while his brother Edward Blake ran the Liberal Party. He has been called “one of the finest jurists of his generation” by historian John Blackwell. He read a lot and would today be called a “workaholic”. Interestingly, although reluctant at first, he came to support the admission of women into the profession, and Clara Britt Martin, the first female lawyer in the British Empire, worked in his office.

Samuel came from a strong Christian family, his parents being low church Anglicans. It is not surprising that he married the daughter of an evangelical bishop, nor that he led an array of organizations aimed at spiritual uplift and social reform, such as the Prisoners’ Aid Association, the Toronto City Mission, the Lord’s Day Alliance, the YMCA, the SPCA, and the Irish Protestant Benevolent Society, to name a few. In 1869 he was one of the original members of the Evangelical Association, a group which opposed the high church teachings of Trinity College, and in 1877 founded what became Wycliffe College. He was a major supporter of Wycliffe, as well as his alma mater, the University of Toronto. Additionally, he wrote about 50 pamphlets on various religious and political subjects. He was “always the worker, the crusader”. Not everyone appreciated his piety and he was nicknamed “The Hon. Psalm Blake’ (many Irish and Scots pronounce ‘psalm’ as ‘sam’). A complex man, he could be cantankerous.

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In 1904, Blake became a member of a multi-denominational committee formed to investigate religious schools for native children. In this regard, it is fascinating to read the document he addressed in 1908 to the Archbishop of Rupert’s Land, based in Winnipeg. This “letter” bears the long title: “The Red Man’s Appeal Answered by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs of the United States of America – What Will the Dominion of Canada’s Response Be?” Blake points out that it’s “humbling to learn how much higher the standard in the United States in these areas is than what we’ve set.” He then proceeds to quote extensively from this American report and encourages Bishop Matheson to do all he can to follow up on it. The US report is decidedly against “boarding schools” and in favor of “day schools”. “For a little while,” the report said, “Reserve boarding schools must stay for want of something (better); but as soon as any of them can be replaced by day schools, the change must be effected. Blake subscribes to the idea that “the most important part of education is…the home, and any school that breaks up the family by taking children, especially young children, from it, will never be able to do this necessary work.” He opposes the idea of ​​removing “the whole Indian from the Indian” in order to “turn him into a white man”. Unfortunately, in light of what really happened in Canada, Blake was a voice crying out in the desert.

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SH Blake’s final project was the construction in 1913 of the monumental St Paul’s, Bloor Street, the largest Anglican church in Canada, seating 2,500 people. However, the ecclesiastical splendor did not blind him to the worldliness of the Church and he lamented the lucrative campaigns and the decline of prayer. Shortly before his death, Blake wrote to his rector, Henry Cody, about the need for “a spiritual awakening!” Why won’t the Lord send him? At his funeral, Cody preached on 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my race, I have kept the faith.”

John Vaudry is a retired pastor, living in Pembroke.

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Barry F. Howard