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Religion and social development in Canada

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            In the years 1000- 1800, Canada was characterized by a lot of immigration from Europe and America. The reasons Europeans migrated to Canada and settled there varied. Some individuals migrated to the region because they recognized it to have plenty of economic opportunities which needed to be exploited such as timber. Others were traders who bought things from this land and took them back to Europe for sale. Most British and French nobles settled in this region because they desired to colonize and make it one of their territories.

Scottish and Irish immigrants migrated to Canada in search for better life as they looked to escape from the oppression they suffered back at their homeland (Conra & Finkel, 2002). Other Europeans were however missionaries and went to Canada merely to spread Christianity. Either way each of these groups of immigrants each had their own religion which played a great role in influencing the social development in Canada from the year 1000-18000 (Simpson, 1999). Religion differed among the immigrants as some were Roman Catholics while others were Protestants.

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The indigenous communities also had their own religion that was different from that one of the immigrant groups. The differences between these religions sometimes resulted to conflicts among the immigrants or with the native communities. In the absence of conflicts however, religious groups engaged in activities that had very positive impact on social development in Canada.

            Canada in spite of its vastness and physical diversity has also had a small population. Its constitutional monarchy was confederated under the title ‘dominion’ which was religiously inspired in 1867 (Blumstock, 1993). Canadian religion has its own unique characteristic due to the country’s geography and history of its people’s and the land which is unique. It however also is characterized by the many patterns that are typical of religious practices of contemporary societies that are post-industrial. In spite of the importance and impact of Canadian religion being ignored over the years by historians, its role in the development of the nation which was very crucial is being recognized. Canada, since its beginning has been a strong religious nation (Blumstock, 1993). The forms and values of the country’s society are as a result of its early diverse religious organizations, convictions and experience that have over the years shaped this society. Religion particularly Victorian Christianity has greatly influenced and shaped the nation’s character and identity. Most of the features of current Canadian life which includes the political system, the country’s foreign policy goals, the state’s welfare and its law and order that is distinct originate largely in religious attitudes, structures and ideas that were implemented in the years. This paper hence seeks to discuss the influence of religion on social development in Canada from 100-1800 as the impact of these influences is what shaped the Canadian society to what it currently is.

            One of the main characteristics of a colonial society was religion that was organized. In Europe, the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches were the common religious faiths which were very aggressive in pursuing converts and influencing their adherent’s behaviour. This was attributed to the fact that religious affiliation was a crucial political issue especially after the Reformation. In the Canadian provinces and particularly the Maritimes that had just been discovered and were being settled, while the pursuit for conversion was an integrative force for some communities, it resulted to divisions that were reflected in various aspects of the country’s colonial life. It will be worth to note that during this period, Canadian provinces were either under the French or British rule (Conra & Finkel, 2002). The Maritimes for example were under the British which held protestant faith, the Roman Catholics in this territory though allowed to acquire land, vote and worship in public by the 1780’s could not hold public offices just as it was in England. This period was hence characterized by political emancipation of the Catholics as by 1829; all restrictions were removed allowing them to fully practice their civil rights.

            This period was also marked by evangelicalism movement in which the members concentrated on personal conversion, individual piety and having direct communication with God. The views of evangelicalism deviated from the hierarchical and social order ideologies that were advocated by the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian churches that had already been established. This movement supported the need for more democratic consent and personal freedom that had been expressed in the French and American revolutions. Evangelical spirit called its followers to a personal transformed life (Conra & Finkel, 2002). These individuals who were referred to as ‘saved’ were expected to lead lives that outwardly showed the manifestation of their spiritual reformed state. This fired the evangelicals to turn their zeal to transforming the society which caught the already established churches unaware. The result was personal behaviour, education and charity as areas that were dominated by the church being turned to arenas and forums of public controversy.

            Religion influenced education in Canada during the stated period. The missionaries built schools alongside the churches so that those converted could attend schools that were under the churches and prevent them from joining other faiths in the event they attended schools built by other churches. The schools built by different churches mainly offered formal education where the basics of writing, cyphering and reading were taught (Conra & Finkel, 2002). Those were persuading members of the society to join evangelicalism however offered more than just the basics of reading and writing in education. To evangelicals formal education included offering to its members a structured way of how morality as well as civic virtues could be imparted. Religion therefore increased literacy in Canada as a variety of institutions most of which were sponsored by both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches had sprang up by the 19th century.

            In the Maritimes, the Church of England used the Madras school system in which older students were used in tuition of the younger ones. The Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches however preferred the Sunday school movement in teaching young children. By mid 1800, reformers attempted to have a common education system that was state-supported established so that education was uniform like it was in Ireland and other places. These efforts however proved to be futile as there was massive opposition due to fear of cost and consequences on the culture of this move. The attempt however resulted to more grants being given to the local schools than before as politicians feared to impose the suggested central education system on their constituents who were reluctant to embrace it (Conra & Finkel, 2002). Religion hence contributed to the development of local schools expanding education in Canada during this period. The churches also played a very major role in promoting higher education in Canada. In the Maritime colonies for example, at least six universities had been laid down by mid 1800. Efforts to have a university that was state-supported at Halifax were however also opposed by conservatives during the period. This religious role resulted to more individuals being educated increasing the competitiveness of the country. As more individuals got professional training so did the country develop both socially and economically. Currently there are very many educational institutes that bring individuals with diverse backgrounds together as they come to seek knowledge. This social development is largely attributed to the role played by the religion in the country during the early years of 1000-1800.

            Religious denominations in Canada during this period also took it upon themselves to be vessels of information to  the society on matters that happened in the world through print media. In the 1800, most religious churches and denominations had their own newspapers that apart from reporting what was happening, debated religious questions and, both local and global political events (Conra & Finkel, 2002). In regard to this, it can be argued that religion in Canada during this period laid foundation for the media industry that currently plays a very crucial social role in the Canadian society which includes creating public awareness on critical issues that need to be addressed amongst many other roles.

            Churches also played a major role in addressing poverty and disaster issues that were  characteristic of the Canadian society at the time. Churches responded to these concerns by dispensing contributions through charity (Conra & Finkel, 2002). In urban centres where these issues were more rampant, the religious bodies took it upon themselves to sponsor the construction of institutions such as orphanages, shelters and hospitals. Religious charity work hence contributed to helping the poor, sick, orphans and other disadvantaged individuals in the society live a more comfortable life. This move by the religious groups helped eliminate cases of street children in the urban centres and in a way tried to create some equality within the society such that members did not live lead lives luxurious lives while others suffered. It created an avenue for those who were privileged to contribute towards helping those who were not as privileged as them. Currently, there are many charity organizations in the country which provide those who are not economically privileged and the orphans with an education and a place they can call home. This has helped eliminate cases of destitute children and individuals in the society hence improving the  Canadian society.

            Evangelical churches pioneered mission work which involved sending individuals to spread the move both at home and overseas (Conra & Finkel, 2002). Mission work involved taking Christianity to places that were not familiar with the religion. This move prompted the other churches such as the Roman Catholic, the Presbyterian and protestant churches to follow suite hence influencing the spread of Christianity worldwide. The significance of mission work in social development came to be recognized decades later in the form of World Council of Churches amongst several other Christian movements that unite Christians globally and which play very important role in the society by advocating for peace, resisting and protesting against any forms of injustice and violations against human rights.

            The churches, especially the evangelical denominations during this period were the focus for many reform movements in the society (Conra & Finkel, 2002). The temperance movement is one of the successful movements that was started and encouraged by churches during this period and which influenced social development in several ways. The evangelical churches emphasized to their followers to practice temperance and totally prohibited them from indulging in alcohol which was perceived to be the source of all the society’s ills. The religious groups that advocated for temperance perceived alcohol to cause excessive violence in the society particularly in families. Excessive drinking was argued to be undermining to family life, a total waste of money and detrimental to hard work. As much as the Roman Catholic and the Church of England did encourage temperance amongst their followers, they did not use of alcohol beverages or cigarette smoking. The temperance movement was however very successful and contributed to social development especially in family areas for those who adhered to it evangelically.  This is because it helped reduce cases of violence that were attributed to alcohol. It also improved the productivity and hence quality of life of those who adhered to it. The influence of this movement on social development in Canada still is evident and can be recognized by observing the lifestyle of most of the Canadians and comparing it with for example that one of their closest neighbours in the United states. Canadians lead a much simpler life that is satisfying.

            The influence of religion on social development in Canada from the year 1000 to 1800 was however not all positive. Some influences such as religious conflicts had a negative impact on social development. Religious conflict manifested itself in several forms during this period. The church was considered to be one institution everyone in spite of their gender, age, race and socio-economical status met and had fellowship together. It was perceived to be one place where everyone was equal. This was however not true as most churches revealed the status of their congregation in ways that were not subtle and could easily be observed. Most churches for example still had pews arranged in a way that allowed the wealthy to sit closest to the pulpit while the common people sat further behind. Other churches had different sections reserved for women to sit in church (Conra & Finkel, 2002). Churches during this period were also characterized by racism such that people of colour were never considered whenever decisions were being made, they were in fact set apart and not allowed to attend some churches. Blacks who were Baptists in Nova Scotia were for example, were never accepted by their white counterparts in the church. This caused them to form other churches that were separate but with the practice under leadership of men who had trained in ministry. Racism and inequality in churches during this period hence resulted to a lot of conflicts and eventually splitting of the churches. Religion during this period hence greatly contributed to the intense discrimination that was directed towards people of colour and the poor in the society. These practices were detrimental to social development in Canada and particularly racism. This is because the discrimination people of colour faced in the society in terms of job and education opportunities could allow them to develop both economically and socially. This consequently resulted to the country not developing as a whole as its development was pulled down by the underdevelopment of the individuals that were being discriminated against such that they had no ability to compete for the economic opportunities that would improve their quality of life.

            Another negative influence of religion during this time to social development of Canada was the conflict between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants (Conra & Finkel, 2002). The differences between these two groups were as intense and wide as those that separated races in the country. Tensions between the groups more than often erupted in ugly violence that left scores dead. In areas that had one religious group larger in numbers than another, the minority individuals were discriminated against to the point of not being allowed to vote, to worship in public or even to hold places public positions (Cuneo, 1996). This applied particularly to areas that were controlled by the British who mostly were Protestants. In areas that had both groups in equal numbers, the religious factor had to feature in politics as each group struggled to gain control. There was never harmony between these two groups. Differences also existed within the individual groups in terms of ranks.  In the Presbyterian Church for example, there existed difference between the Church of Scotland that was already established and other secessionist groups due to struggle for power/rank. These divisions are said to have been so serious that a wall had to be erected in order to separate the two groups and prevent them from killing each other. The Roman Catholics also had divisions that were mostly along ethnic lines due to difference in languages (Beyer, 2000). The religious conflicts hence disrupted social developed in Canada as individuals could not work together due to their different religious alienations. These differences also formed the foundation for the current differences that sometimes erupt in the country as a result of its diversity in religion (Beyer, 2000). Traces of racial discrimination in the country also have their roots in the religious practices of this period.

            Religion during the years 1000 to 1800 had a great influence on social development in Canada.  Religion had both positive and negative influences on this development. While its influence on education, charity work, health, mission activities and reform movements was positive on social  development, the conflicts between the two Christian groups (Roman Catholic and Protestant), and within the individual churches had a negative effect on social development in the country. It can therefore be argued that these influences are what shaped Canada to what it presently is which is  evident from studies done by historians and sociologists on the country’s present social systems in relation to influence of religion on social development in country from the year 1000-1800.


Beyer, P. (2000) “Roman Catholicism in Contemporary Quebec: The Ghosts of Religion Past?” in W.E.             Hewitt, ed., The Sociology of Religion: A Canadian Focus. Toronto: Butterworth’s.

Blumstock, R.,(1993) “Canadian Civil Religion” in W.E. Hewitt, ed., The Sociology of Religion: A             Canadian Focus. Toronto: Butterworth’s.

Conrad, M., & Finkel, A., (2002). History of the Canadian Peoples: Beginnings to 1867. Fifth ed.             Toronto: Addison Wesley Longman.

Cuneo, M. W. (1996). Catholics Against the Church. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Simpson, J. H. (1999). “Religion and the Churches” in J. Curtis and L. Tepperman, eds., Understanding             Canadian Society. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Cite this Religion and social development in Canada

Religion and social development in Canada. (2016, Nov 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/religion-and-social-development-in-canada/

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