The number of Quakers in Canada is now down to 1000. Their belief in the "Inner Light," - meaning the equality of men and women, regardless of colour, creed or race - has been seen as their most difficult to follow. In order to believe that the inner light is within everyone, it is also necessary to believe that it is within your enemy as well. If this is the case, then to strike an enemy is to strike the face of God. Therefore, Quakers are pacifists, and it is this pacifism that led the Quakers to migrate in great numbers, first to the thirteen colonies of America, and after the War of Independence, to Canada. The Quakers not only had to face the huge obstacles involved in trying to etch a living out of the wilderness, they had to deal with how their unwillingness to fight made them an easy target for both the French and English. This harassment escalated in times of war, in particular the Seven Year War between England and France, and the American Revolution.
The Quakers traveled north to Canada after the American Revolution, along with the Loyalists. They were hoping to set up a peaceful colony, free of harassment. To prove that they had remained neutral during the American Revolution, the Quakers refused to accept any land from the British that might be interpreted as being a reward for their Loyalty.(10)
The land which the Quakers did accept had conditions attached. Like any other settler at that time, Nicholas Austin received a grant because he agreed to meet certain conditions in terms of clearing the land, building roadways, bringing settlers in and building a community. In trying to clear a virgin isolated forest, and attract settlers to meet the very tight deadlines, Nicholas faced immense obstacles. A settler who was able to clear 10 acres of this land in a year was considered to have had a remarkable year.
Although the Quakers had been seeking a Peaceful Kingdom in Canada, their beliefs in the inner light was put to the test almost immediately with the declaration of war between the expansionist United States and the colony of Canada. Quaker settlements in the Niagara and Toronto regions were torn between their strong beliefs in pacifism, and the invading American army.
Settlements that were struggling to clear the land and build the infrastructure of their community faced the additional punishment of being heavily taxed for their refusal to fight in the War of 1812.(11)
On June 21st, 1812, while war was raging, Canadian Quaker, David Willson, had a vision of a half-naked lady standing in a river holding a newborn child. Willson believed that this vision was telling him to create a new religion, "The Children of Peace". He was able to convince several hundred Quakers to join him and they moved to Sharon, Ontario, where they built a replica of the Temple of Solomon.
Division among its own ranks has continuously plagued the Quaker religion in North America, with the key division occurring in 1828. In that year, the charismatic Quaker preacher, Elias Hicks, had a fundamental disagreement during the annual meeting. This disagreement led to Hicks branching off and following his own path and interpretation of what Quakerism was. Almost half the Quakers in North America followed him. The year 1828 became known in the Quaker faith as the year of the "Great Separation." Those who followed Elias Hicks became known as "Hicksites," while those who stayed were known as "Orthodox."(12)
The divide was complete and bitter and led to years of disagreements between the two sides, weakening the religion in North America. It was not until 1955 that a joint annual meeting was held with both the Hicksites and the Orthodox Quakers in attendance.
Today, the Quaker community continues to be active, although small in numbers. Their influence can be felt in many areas of social reform. The greatest obstacle facing the Quakers today is to keep the membership up and to attract new, younger members to the religion.