Two related issues formed the impetus of Shields’ fight with Roman Catholicism in Canada. The first was the theological and spiritual danger of Roman Catholicism which we have previously considered. The second was the Roman Catholic monopoly that separated Quebec from the rest of Canada and obstructed national unity. Donald Wicks presented the issue very succinctly; “Shields concluded that Canada’s problem was Quebec and that Quebec’s problem was the Roman Catholic Church.”[1] To understand this it will be necessary to review the history and development of Canada as a nation within the British Empire.[2]

For this, we need to go back to the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). This war was essentially a struggle for world domination and for the British, it was “the most dramatically successful war they ever fought.”[3]Among the many global spoils of the Seven Years War was New France, which was brought under the control of the Protestant British Empire in the Treaty of Paris in 1763. This region would become known as British North America, then, after Confederation in 1867, The Dominion of Canada, or simply Canada.

The downside of conquering large parts of the world from their European rivals, the French and Spanish, was that some of those parts had already begun to be populated by European Catholic settlers. In the Conquest of New France, for example, the British inherited 70,000 French Catholics, which would prove to be problematic for the Protestant Anglophone Empire.[4] Alongside this inflexible French Catholic population of Lower Canada (Quebec) developed a strong British Protestant imperialism in Upper Canada (Ontario). This imperialism, which developed stronger in Ontario than in any other part of the Dominion was a deeply rooted awareness of the historic British and Protestant tradition, a quest to maintain Canada within a “Greater Britain” or the united British Empire and to oppose what was viewed as Britain’s traditional religiopolitical enemy; the Church of Rome.

Between 1815 and 1845 half a million Irish immigrants landed on the shores of British North America. They constituted 60% of the total inflow, and the vast majority of them were from Ulster and other Protestant areas of Ireland.[5] By 1850 Protestantism was the dominant demographic in Canada, and the most successful effort in transplanting this in the New World was the Orange Institution—a religiopolitical organisation established in Ireland as a patriotic defence of the Protestant religion and the continuance of a Protestant British crown. The city of Toronto was so Orange that, by 1850 it had become known as “The Belfast of Canada” a title it maintained until the 1950s.[6]

With the British conquest, the Anglican Church was established as the State Church. As a gesture of goodwill, however, the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec was permitted to continue as it had been, with the established protective measures regarding language, culture and religion maintained. Further concessions were made under the English governors, James Murray and Sir Guy Carleton. The Quebec Act of 1774 guaranteed the freedom of religion and the practice of the Catholic faith in Quebec. Also, in the Quebec Act, any reference to the Protestant faith was removed from the oath of allegiance to the British crown, and the right of the Catholic Church to impose tithes was restored, effectively making it “if not an established church, at any rate, an endowed one.”[7]

Emboldened by the generous spirit of a Protestant British Parliament, Quebec became a stronghold of Ultramontanism and Catholicism “extended its dominion over all aspects of Quebec life—schools, hospitals, social clubs, politics, labour unions, and the media.” This French Catholic bloc became impenetrable, Protestants were marginalized and persecuted.[8] French Canada became “very much closed to any form of faith that was not Roman Catholic—least of all, to English Protestantism.” [9]

It was from this Quebecois nuanced Roman Catholicism that the religious tension originated in Canada. Thousands of Irish immigrants had landed on the shores of Canada between 1725 and 1850 many of them were Catholic and settled in Ontario. Tens of thousands more came to Canada to escape the Irish potato famine. While there were anti-British elements among them, for the most part, these Irish Catholics assimilated into the Canadian way. Towards these, Shields showed no bigotry. He was not ignorant of the fact that on the Protestant side there were those “whose Protestantism consisted of anti-Catholicism … only because they had been trained in prejudice.”[10] But Shields had no sympathy with this attitude. Two years before the formation of the CPL, Shields stated his view on immigration, Roman Catholics and the unity of the nation. “All differences in our national life,” he said, “should be forgotten or submerged and freely and entirely subordinated to the cause of national unity.”[11]

His first public attack on Roman Catholicism of this period came in the form of a sermon titled “Hepburn’s Alliance with Rum and Rome.” Like many of his social and political addresses at the beginning, this was delivered on a weeknight at JSBC.[12] This address, given on Friday, March 1, 1935, appears to be a watershed in Shields’ ministry in his fight against Roman Catholicism and was clearly a shift from theological discussions and social issues to political concerns. Clearly Shield was conscious of some sort of shift as he began that evening, and he embedded a number of caveats as he introduced the subject. Bracing himself it seems for combat, his first words betrayed a consciousness of controversy in the subject; “No man has any right to engage in controversy of any sort who is not willing, in good spirit, to receive as hard blows as he gives.” And Shields was prepared to give some hard blows. “This evening,” he said, “I am forced to discuss, not so much the religious as the political aspect of Roman Catholicism.” He also defended his Christian liberty, as a British citizen and a Non-Conformist—”to proclaim what one believes, and second, the right to discusswhat others believe.” And he made the distinction, as he always did, between the Roman Catholic system and the individual Roman Catholic.

By 1940 he was aware that a political emphasis was trending in his pulpit ministry. In a Gospel Witness editorial on August 1, 1940, he addressed the subject of “The Pulpit in Wartime,” in which he defended his preoccupation with Rome in his Jarvis Street pulpit.[13] Shields’ political activity was a settled reality with the formation of the C.P.L. at the end of 1941. Through numerous Protestant rallies drawing thousands to JSBC, Massey Hall, and other Churches in the city, and with four tours to the West Coast and once to the Maritimes, he raised thousands of dollars for the CPL. In 1945 he also attempted to establish a political party but was unsuccessful.[14]

He was also aware that with his strong opposition to Roman Catholicism, he had been long-armed by many and that he was outside the mainstream of Canadian Evangelical life.[15] He admitted to the CPL Executive Committee that many evangelical Christians held to the principle “we heartily agree, but don’t mention my name.”[16] He would have resigned as president of the CPL gladly and allowed the Archbishop of the Anglican Church or the Moderator of the United or the Presbyterian Church to take his place, “or anyone else who will take a stand against this evil. But it is a job that needs to be done … Someone must do it. Few people know what Rome is doing in Canada today.” [17]

Clearly, Shields was a capable man, and few men could have taken Rome on in the way that Shields did without a major disruption in their own church.[18] The ministry of Jarvis Street Baptist Church continued as it had been, and, as Leslie Tarr, Shields’ biographer, pointed out, it was not the political megaphone that the press was making of it. “Sunday by Sunday and week by week,” Tarr says, “the regular ministry of the Church was carried on…” There is no doubt that the Sunday School teachers continued their work uninterrupted by the war-time politics and that the bereaved, sick and dying found comfort in the ministry of Jarvis Street Baptist Church. There is no doubt also, that the Jarvis Street pastor, maintained the regular ministry of the Word, preaching and teaching. The testimony of others bears this up, for in the summer of 1942, while Shields was on a preaching tour of the West Coast, Rev. Gordon Brown, one of the assistant editors of the Gospel Witness, wrote,

The Sunday before Dr. Shields left for the West was a fine day in Jarvis Street Church. The evening sermon has already appeared in THE GOSPEL WITNESS. In the opinion of this writer it was one of the best sermons on the judgment of God that we have ever heard. The evening congregation more than filled the building. Seven were baptized and nine received the hand of fellowship at the Lord’s Supper which followed the regular service.[19]

So, to get back to the question; why was this anti-Catholic opposition in the 1940s so intense? How did it differ from his previous resistance to Roman Catholicism, and why did this brief part of Shields’ ministry (1941-1949) become such a defining feature of his life? What created the atmosphere in Ontario in the 1940s that called for the formation of the CPL and later the Inter-Church Committee on Protestant Roman Catholic Relations (ICC), which presented itself as a more moderate alternative?

The answer to these questions lies in the nature of Roman Catholicism emanating from Quebec. Of all the Provinces of the Confederation, Quebec was the enfant terrible. It was never able to assimilate into the life of the Dominion, lacked interest in defending the empire in wartime and all the while continued to make demands for special favour.[20] This led many Protestants to view Quebec with suspicion, not just as a cultural menace and a national threat, but also, and more importantly for many, a religious and spiritual danger.

During the 1940s these issues filled the pages of the Gospel Witness. One sermon in particular, however, constitutes a digest of Shields’ contention with the Quebecois nuanced Roman Catholicism; his 1941 response to the Rowell-Sirois Report. In another sermon preached on Sunday, December 30, 1945 after the appointment of the first Roman Catholic Cardinal to Toronto, Shields pointed out these same issues, Rome is “religiously, the most subversive influence in the world … an economic parasite … [and] politically malignant.[21]  I will limit myself to the Rowell-Sirois Report, however, for in it Shields had substantial first-hand material to draw from.

The Rowell-Sirois Report was the finding of a 1937 Royal Commission to look into the issue of the Canadian economy in relation to provincial-federal relations. This commission reported its findings at the end of 1940, and in January of 1941 Shields give his response, and published it in the January 16, issue of the Gospel Witness.[22] The full title of the address was, “The Religious Aspects of the Sirois Report: Shall the Dominion be Mortgaged for the Church of Rome.” He went through the Report with a fine-tooth comb, scrutinising every detail, and in his response, he quoted copiously from it, picking up on its incriminating conclusions. He highlighted the fact, for example, that “French Roman Catholicism produces approximately seven times as many illiterates as are found among those of British extraction.”[23]  He picked up on the findings of the Report on sources of Provincial revenue, on hospitals, orphanages and welfare agencies, on educational institutions, and he discovered that Quebec, “if the Report is to be believed” was “reduced to something little better than an emaciated political skeleton.”[24]

But it is what was behind this that interested Shields. What made Quebec different from the rest of the Dominion? Other parts of the Dominion needed help, especially in the aftermath of the Great Depression of the 1930s, particularly the prairie provinces, because of causes beyond their control. Shield argued also, that Quebec, just like other Provinces, should be helped “if the present condition is due to conditions which Quebec itself could not control.” But this was not the case; “the indisputable fact,” he said, “is that the Roman Catholic Church, like a malignant parasite, has fastened itself upon the body of Quebec, and is draining it of the last drop of its blood.”

The Report had pointed out that “the French-speaking Canadians had been established in Canada for centuries…their political connection with France had been severed 150 years before and they never formed a close sentimental attachment for republican France with its anti-clerical associations.” For Shields, this was a damning observation. “Now the whole story is out!” he said, and the basic reason for their detachment from the rest of the Dominion, was not that they were French, but “that they were primarily clericalists, or otherwise, Roman Catholic.”[25] Quebec was different, not because of racial, linguistic or cultural issues, but religious. Quebec had no attachment to France which would account for their lack of interest in helping in the war effort. Quebec’s national identity was more Italian than French. Shields and his colleagues in the CPL saw it as, “the Vatican’s Western Outpost.”[26]

“French-speaking Roman Catholic Quebec, taken as a whole, is scarcely more than Luke-warmly loyal to Britain and British institutions. That is to say, such loyalty as she has professed has always been subordinate to her predominating loyalty to a foreign prince known as the Pope.”[27]

It was this understanding of Rome as a powerful political force—that suppressed liberty of conscience, kept the people in poverty, and drained the life of the nation—that unsettled Protestant Canadians. Shields’ Protestantism was primarily a spiritual Protestantism. It was the Protestantism that originated with the Reformation, with a focus on the theological and pastoral aspects of religion. His shift in attention to a sociopolitical Protestantism in the 1940s was an attempt to safeguard the liberties won by the Reformation and established throughout the British Empire, and he was not prepared to “mortgage [Canada] for the Church of Rome,” which he defined as,

“a worldwide organization, of a religio-political character, a religious institution which does its work very largely by political means; a vast organization which has a central and hierarchical form of government, which is essentially the world’s greatest autocracy, representing more than three hundred millions of regimented souls who are expected to respond to, and yield obedience, ultimately to one will.”[28]

Shields displayed a conciliatory attitude towards his Roman Catholic fellow citizen, and patience towards the demands of the Quebecois. However, he believed that the influence of the Protestant Reformation “has so influenced our British civilisation and given it a higher moral character,” and he was prepared to fight in order to maintain that.[29] Indeed, months before the formation of the CPL, he alluded to the fact that “[he] would endeavor to inaugurate a movement” which would halt the drain on Canadian life because of the “exceptional favours” conceded to Quebec.

Nine months later, after an impulse proposal from Dr. J. B. McLaurin, for the establishment of some form of “Protestant Vigilance League,” Shield lost no time in inaugurating a nation-wide movement established for the defence of Protestant liberties under the flag of the Protestant British Empire. McLaurin was the Secretary of Foreign Missions of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, the Convention from which Shields had separated in 1927. We should not miss the fact that the “Catholic Problem” in Canada at this point was a significant enough concern to bring “Fundamentalists” and “Liberals” together again in a common cause. McLaurin, Dr. H. H. Bingham, and others in the more liberal Convention had sponsored Shields’ initial rally on September 16, 1941, in which the call for a league was first given. However, this union against Catholicism which Shields had initiated was short-lived. McLaurin, Bingham, and others were pressured to distance themselves from Shields.  Three years later, in November 1944, these same men formed an alternative organisation, the ICC, to address the same concerns.[30]

For a number of reasons, too numerous to develop here, neither the CPL or the CCI was successful in effecting significant change in the malaise of Canada’s postwar secularisation and the burgeoning ecumenical movement.



[1] Donald Wicks, T. T. Shields and the Canadian Protestant League, (Guelph: University of Guelph Unpublished Master’s Thesis, 1971), 24.

[2] Studies in the life of Shields have invariably neglected to place him in the context of the historic tensions with French-Canadian. Donald Wicks, who dealt specifically with the history of the CPL, gives less than two pages to the religiopolitical context in his one-hundred-and-fifty-page thesis. See Donald Wicks, T. T. Shields, and the Canadian Protestant League, (Guelph: University of Guelph Unpublished Master’s Thesis, 1971), 24.

[3] Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 101.

[4] Ibid, 102.

[5] Cecil J. Houston and William J. Smyth, Irish Immigration and Canadian Settlement: Patterns, Links and Letters. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 14.

[6] William J. Smyth, Toronto, The Belfast of Canada: The Orange Order and the Shaping of Municipal Culture. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division. Kindle Edition). 248.

[7] W.S. WALLACE, “Religious History”, in W. Stewart WALLACE, The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. 3, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 396p., pp. 186-191. Accessed online, September 9, 2020.

[8] W. Nelson Thomson, The Socio-Religious Context of Quebec: French-Canadian Baptist Perceptions, 1968-1914, in Costly Vision: The Baptist Pilgrimage in Canada, (Burlington: Welch Publishing Company), 167-180. Other more recent cases of persecution were reported in the Gospel Witness and addressed by the CPL when it was operating. In May 1936 for example, Shields preached on “The Idolatry of the Mass.” Just a few weeks earlier a protestant pastor in Quebec had been fined by a Quebec court for preaching on the same subject. Shields said, “it is an outrageous thing that under the British flag a man should be denied his religious freedom.” (Gospel Witness, Vol. 15, No.4 (June 4, 1936): 4).

[9] Stéphane Gagné, Henriette Feller (1800-1868) in “A Noble Company,” Vol. 12, (Springfield: Particular Baptist Press, 2019), 141-179. Gagné provides a brief overview of Protestantism in the French-Canadian context of the 18th-19th centuries and the rise of Ultramontanism. Ultramontanism is a Roman Catholic political idea that the Pope has prerogatives and power, both spirituality and temporally “beyond the mountains” ultra montes (i.e. the Alps).

[10] Gospel Witness, Vol. 17, No.2 (May 19, 1938): 6.

[11] Ibid, Vol. 18, No. 18 (September 7, 1939): 3.

[12] Ibid, Vol. 13, No. 43 (March 7, 1935): 1.

[13] Ibid, Vol. 19, No. 13 (August 1, 1940): 1-2.

[14] Although he did come close to political activism, Shields never was involved with a political party. In an address given to a gathering in 1936 against the Hepburn government in Ontario, the press reported Shields saying, “if I hadn’t a bigger job in hand I’d stand for the Legislature myself and I would delight in having the honor of meeting on the public platform the Hon. ‘Midget’ F. Hepburn himself. We have got to awaken public opinion on this question.” Gospel Witness Vol. 14, No. 49 (April 16, 1936): 5.

Some critics have claimed that he started a political party, the Protestant Party, but was beaten in the elections. Stackhouse, John G. Canadian Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century, (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1999), 34. See also, David Raymond Elliott, Studies of Eight Canadian Fundamentalists, (Vancouver: the University of British Columbia, Unpublished Thesis, 1989), 10.  This is a misrepresentation of events. The first inkling of a political party appeared in the Gospel Witness in an article by W. S. Whitcombe, Associate Editor of the paper. Whitcombe wrote, “what is the remedy? Did someone say a definitely Protestant Party? Sir. Wilfred Laurier warned the Hierarchy that ultimately that is exactly what would come to pass if they persisted in their ultramontanism. But that would be a long and laborious process. Such a party would have to build itself up; and with the present apostate condition of so-called Protestant churches as a whole, it would require years to mobilize sufficient Protestant sentiment to ensure a Dominion-wide victory. Gospel Witness, Vol. 22, No. 52, (April 27, 1944): 3.

As the associate editor of the Gospel witness and a sitting member on the Executive of the CPL, there is no-doubt that Whitcombe and Shields discussed the possibility of a Protestant Party. The Executive met on the 3, July 1944 and conducted normal CPL business. A few days later, 6, July, the executive met again for a special meeting to discuss the possibility of a political party. Shields reported that he “had been talking with the head of the Progressive Conservative Party, and learned from him that they had very little hope of doing anything. They are not making any progress anywhere” Minutes of the Executive, July 6, 1944. Canadian Protestant League Archives. It was decided at that meeting that they begin in Toronto “before going elsewhere” and that they hold a rally on July 11, in the Massey Hall to raise funds. Two members of the Executive—Mr. Brocklesby, and Dr. Herriman—were appointed to act as a committee to hold funds and in the event that the Protestant Party would not be formed, any money raised would be returned. The E