In the mid-1800's, there were roughly 7,300 Quakers living in Ontario. Today, 150 years later, 1,000 Quakers12 maintain their faith and religion by following the framework laid out by George Fox over three hundred years ago. Their dream of creating colonies of peace within Canada has not translated into reality, but there lingers evidence of the Quakers' peaceful footsteps echoing down to us through the modern age.
It was because of the Quakers'
belief in the "inner light" that many of them left the segregated
southern United States and came to Canada where they have worked consistently
for humanitarian causes. After slavery was abolished in Great Britain
and her colonies, it was the Quakers who were instrumental in the establishment
of the Underground Railroad, risking persecution and even death by helping
to bring slaves to freedom. In the 1800's, when conditions within the
prison system in Canada were intolerable, Quakers worked to improve these
conditions. Today, many are actively involved in helping political refugees
coming from war torn countries, settle in Canada.
One of the earliest Quaker settlers to Yonge St., Timothy Rogers, settled near Newmarket in 1801. The Quakers managed to keep good relations with the Native population because they treated Natives as equals. Timothy built a Quaker meeting house on Yonge St. which today is one of the oldest religious buildings in Ontario. Descendants of Timothy Rogers, Edward and his son Ted Rogers, became leaders in the this country's and the world's communication revolution.
Quakers have had a strong tradition, dating back to the 1600's, of allowing women higher education. It is not surprising then that the first woman doctor in Canada, Emily Stowe was a Quaker and a fervent champion for the cause of access to higher education for the women of Canada.
Though the Quakers did not
take sides in the Revolutionary War, the ones who came up to Canada in
the early 1800's were influenced by the changes and the spirit of independence
that had occurred in the United States as a result of the war. These early
Quaker settlers, although persecuted in the United States for not participating,
came to Canada and started advocating for reform and were against the
Family Compact. It is thought by some that the Quakers were the force
behind the Rebellion of 1837, although they had urged change through debate
The majority of Quakers now live in Ontario, and as a whole, remain forward looking and seek to make the world a better place through peace, education and by treating everybody as equals.
Though small in numbers, the Quakers have undoubtedly left a huge imprint on Canada's psyche. Canada's strong tradition since its earliest days, of peace, tolerance and compromise, can be traced to the arrival of the Mennonites and the Quakers. Both groups have consistently spoken out strongly against war, refusing to participate in military service.
Canadians, who often define themselves as "working towards compromise," not through violence but through debate, have gained a worldwide reputation since World War II for our work as peacekeepers around the world. It is this peaceful alternative, founded in Quaker beliefs, which Canadians have become famous for. This is the true legacy the Quakers have left us, and it has been men and women like Nicholas Austin , holding tightly to their beliefs, who ensured its survival.