Friday 16 May 2014

Records of the Week: Queen Victoria and the Archdiocese of Toronto

Queen Victoria wearing her small diamond crown.
Photograph by Alexander Bassano, 1882
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This coming Monday is Victoria Day, a uniquely Canadian holiday, which was enacted to remember the “Mother of Confederation.”

Queen Victoria was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until her death in 1901. Her reign spanned the episcopates of the first five ordinaries of the Toronto see: Bishop Michael Power (1842-47); Bishop Armand de Charbonnel (1850-60); Archbishop John Joseph Lynch (1860-88); Archbishop John Walsh (1889-98); and Archbishop Denis O’Connor (1899-1908).

The statutory holiday is celebrated on the last Monday before May 25, in honour of Queen Victoria's birthday (May 24, 1819).  Victoria's birth was noted by Rev. William P. MacDonald, a Roman Catholic priest who came to Upper Canada in 1826 and eventually became Vicar General of the Diocese of Toronto under Michael Power. In his papers at ARCAT, we have a letter from Lieutenant General Wetherall, on behalf of the Duke of Kent, thanking the Rev. MacDonald for his congratulations concerning the Duchess:

May 27, 1819: Letter from Kensington Palace regarding the birth of Alexandrina Victoria (Queen Victoria).
Sent on behalf of “the Duke of Kent to acknowledge Rev. MacDonald’s very obliging letter of
congratulations on the safe confinement of the Duchess…

Macdonell Fonds, M AE 13.02 
Similarly, the birth of Queen Victoria's heir prompted a congratulatory letter from the same Rev. MacDonald:

January 20, 1842.: Rev. MacDonald, then pastor of the Hamilton parish writes to the Queen: “I have presumed to forward…my most heartfelt congratulations, on the birth of a son, and heir to the British Throne; and to express my fervent wish and prayer that Your Majesty, with your amiable and illustrious Consort, may live long and prosperous, to bless the many millions of your happy, and loving subjects with your mild and wisely directed Sway
Macdonell Fonds, M AE 04.08 

During the Victorian period, the Diocese of Toronto was created, incorporated and elevated to an archdiocese:
September 15th, 1842: A letter to the first bishop of Toronto,  Michael Power, from the Chief Secretary’s Office conveying
the authority of the Queen for recognizing you in the character of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Toronto.
Power Fonds, P AB 10.02 

The Act to Incorporate the Diocese of Toronto on March 29, 1945,
enacted by the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty.
Statutes of the Province of Canada, 1845. An Act to Incorporate the Roman Catholic
Bishops of Toronto and Kingston, in Canada, in each Diocese (pp. 499-502).

The number of Catholics in predominantly-Protestant Toronto also expanded exponentially with the influx of Irish Catholics fleeing the Great Famine (1845-52). The Queen and her government’s handling of the famine did not ingratiate the monarch to Irish emigrants.   Many saw themselves as dispossessed, forced from Ireland by starvation, which they blamed on Britain's slow reaction to the calamity.

These sentiments are captured in our records concerning preparations for the Queen's Jubilee in 1887 and the Catholic bishops' decision to boycott the celebrations:

June 29, 1887: In preparation for the Queen’s Jubilee, the Toronto City Clerk’s Office asks Bishop Lynch if he will
be kind enough to order the bell in your church to be rung at 11 o’clock sharp on the morning of July 1st next...
Lynch Fonds, L AH 32.73

In a separate letter, Bishop Lynch of Toronto writes, “I don’t intend to take any notice in the Church of the Queen’s Jubilee. I presume that the other Bishops of the province will let the festival pass. If we ordered the people to come to mass, we would have an almost empty church. The brutal acts of her government in her Jubilee year have set Irish hearts from rejoicing.”
These ‘brutal acts’ probably refer to events leading up to Bloody Sunday.
Lynch Fonds, L AD 07.245

Bishop Walsh of London writes to Bishop Lynch,
I don’t intend to have any Jubilee celebration….
We might, it is true, pray for her conversion and that the reign of injustice may speedily end.”
 Lynch Fonds, L AD 03.49

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