A religious community of political dissenters that once existed near Delburne is the subject of the book The Covenanters in Canada.
New Brunswick author Eldon Hay tracked this Reformed Presbyterianism movement from when it first appeared in Canada in 1820. His book attempts to shed light on the minority group that wanted a clear separation between church and state.
The Covenanters were originally persecuted in Scotland for opposing interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church. To escape religious intolerance, many Covenanters fled to North America, where they advocated for separation from Great Britain and often fought in wars of independence.
The Covenanters were also early anti-slavery advocates. They were a grassroots, “bottom-up” movement, said local historian Michael Dawe, who believes the group had a strong Christian fundamentalist viewpoint with an emphasis on individual religious responsibility.
Dawe knows a Covenanters’ group formed in Delburne in 1910. “They were well respected people” who appeared accepted by the rest of the community, although the congregation remained small — only 30 to 40 people who met at the Wood Lake School east of Delburne.
By 1940, the group of local Covenanters had disappeared — not due to religious intolerance, but because of rural depopulation. Dawe said many farm people at the time were moving to larger centres and, as a result, many rural congregations did not survive.
The Covenanters in Canada, Reformed Presbyterianism from 1820 to 2012 outlines the early trials and tribulations of Covenanters’ missionaries in the Maritimes, Upper and Lower Canada and the West. “Despite fierce opposition from other denominations and secular society,” the minority group carries on, said Hay, a retired religious professor at Mount Allison University.
The book is available for $39.95 from McGill-Queen’s University Press’s website at mqup.ca.