Canadian History

In 1888 Harriet Ann Boomer of London, Ontario, wife of the dean of Huron Diocese, started the first Mothers’ Union branch in Canada at Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church in that city. This branch lapsed at her death around 1912 but was revived in 1921. Meanwhile, Mrs. A. C. Frith, who had been enrolled in England before moving to Canada, started the first western branch at All Saints Church in Winnipeg. Their first enrollment was on Lady Day, 1905. The first Diocesan Council was formed in 1909 in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land.

The first Dominion Council (now known as The Canadian Council) was formed in Winnipeg in 1928 with Mrs. S. P. Matheson as the first president. Mothers’ Union continued to spread during the following decades. Many Mothers' Union members also belonged to the Woman’s Auxiliary to the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada (W.A.) Both societies with their different aims complimented each other and enriched the life of the church.

Many changes took place in the church after the Second World War. One major change in Canada was that the Church of England was renamed the Anglican Church of Canada. In the 1960’s the W.A. and all other church women’s groups were asked to come under one “umbrella” and became part of a larger fellowship called Anglican Church Women. Mothers’ Union agreed and came into the new society with the understanding that it would keep its name, overseas commitment and right of enrollment. This was not universally understood and caused some unnecessary branch closings.

In 1925, in England, the Mothers’ Union added a clause to their membership rule stating that no divorced women could be enrolled in Mothers’ Union. During this period in history this was not considered a narrow ruling, as the Church of England did not remarry divorced persons.

By the 1960’s, feeling was growing within the society that marriage breakdown was not an unforgivable sin and that women in this situation needed the strength and comfort that Mothers’ Union offered. In 1968, in England, a special commission was appointed to study this question and after five years a whole new vision opened up for Mothers’ Union worldwide, with a new membership rule which accepted any baptized Christian. There was a complete structural revision culminating in a new Royal Charter in 1974.

In the meantime, The Anglican Church of Canada voted to remarry divorced persons in the Church and the Canadian Mothers’ Union felt they must follow the direction of the Canadian Church. This split the Canadian Mothers’ Union officially from the worldwide Mothers’ Union. The Dominion Council seriously wondered if Mothers’ Union could or should continue or if they should consider disbanding at the end of their term of office in December, 1970. At this final meeting in Winnipeg in 1970, the Dominion Council voted to suspend itself until the future was clearer. One diocese refused to consider this course and they were supported by a number of branches across Canada who agreed ‘that Mothers’ Union still had a ministry to offer to the Canadian Church’. These members felt that as Canada had a vested interest in the Commission on Membership, Mothers’ Union branches in this country had a duty to stay active until the findings of that Commission were published, discussed and finally put to the vote. They had faith that changes would come and that faith was vindicated.

At Worldwide Council in 1973 the present membership qualifications and the Five Objects of the society were accepted. In 1970 an interim Canadian Representative, Mrs. Elspeth Newton from Niagara Diocese, was elected and given the power to appoint a small committee. Their mandate was to keep the then existing forty-two branches in touch with Central Council in England and with each other. This committee promised to promote the work of Mothers’ Union in Canada in every possible way until the Canadian Mothers’ Union was once again a fully legal part of the worldwide fellowship.

In the autumn of 1973, a small conference of representatives from surviving Canadian Diocesan Councils and branches met in Guelph, Ontario. With the blessing of the Canadian Primate, The Most Reverend Ted Scott, and the Central President in England, Mrs. Susan Varah, these representatives voted to continue and rebuild Mothers' Union in Canada. The newly named Canadian Council (formerly called the Dominion Council) was re-established with Mrs. Elspeth Newton as president, for a three-year term of office. In 1974, autonomy (independence) was sought and granted. During the period between the 1973 Conference and the Canadian Centennial Conference in 1988 the number of branches had increased from thirty to eighty-five. There was also a re-establishment of several diocesan councils and a steady growth in membership. At year-end 2010 eleven dioceses had branches, but the number of branches and membership declined nationally, there being 693 paid-up members in 54 branches.

Debbie Fice
Debbie Fice
Historian
info@canadianmothersunion.ca