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John Strachan

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John Strachan

Dr. John Strachan (April 12, 1778November 1, 1867) was an influential figure in Upper Canada and the first Anglican Bishop of Toronto.

Strachan was one of six children born to a quarry worker in Aberdeen, Scotland. He graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1797 and was also a schoolteacher in Aberdeen from 1794 to 1799, when he emigrated to Upper Canada to tutor the children of other British immigrants in Kingston. In Kingston one of his students was John Beverley Robinson, future attorney general of Upper Canada. In 1803 Strachan was ordained as a minister in the Church of England and moved to Cornwall, where he taught at a grammar school and married Ann Wood in 1807. He moved to York just before the War of 1812, where he became rector of St. James' Cathedral and headmaster of the Home District Grammar School. During the Battle of York in 1813 he negotiated the surrender of the city with American general Henry Dearborn.

After the war he became a pillar of the Family Compact, the conservative elite that controlled the colony. He was a member of the Executive Council of Upper Canada from 1815 to 1836 as well as the Legislative Council from 1820 to 1841. He was an influential advisor to the lieutenant governors of Upper Canada and the other members of the Councils and Assemblies, many of whom were his former students. Those who shared his fierce loyalty to the British monarchy, his Toryism, and his hatred for slavery and republicanism were known as the "Family Compact."

Strachan supported a strict interpretation of the Constitutional Act of 1791, claiming that clergy reserves were to be given to the Church of England alone rather than to Protestants in general. In 1826 this interpretation was opposed by Egerton Ryerson, who wanted the reserves to be given to Methodists as well.

Much of Strachan's life and work was focused on education. He wanted Upper Canada to be under Church of England control, in order to avoid American influence. He tried to set up annual reviews for grammar schools to make sure they were following Church of England doctrines, and tried to introduce Andrew Bell's education system from Britain, although these acts were vetoed by the Legislative Assembly. In 1827 Strachan chartered King's College, an Anglican university, although it was not actually created until 1843. In 1839 he became the first Anglican bishop of Toronto, and principal of Upper Canada College. He founded Trinity College in 1851 after King's College was secularized as the University of Toronto.

In 1835 he was forced to resign from the Executive Council, and he resigned from politics in 1841 after the Act of Union. He continued to influence his former students, although the Family Compact declined in the new Province of Canada. Strachan helped organize the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 1867 but died before it was held.

In the summer of 2004 a statue of John Strachan was erected in the quadrangle of Trinity College so that he may watch over the actions of the students of his College.

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