Paul Laverdure. Sunday in Canada: The Rise and Fall of the Lord's Day. Yorkton: Gravelbooks, 2004. xxiii + 253 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-9688813-5-4.
Reviewed by Terence Fay (Department of History, Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto)
Published on H-Canada (April, 2006)
Secularizing the Sunday in Twentieth-Century Canada
Should Sunday in Canada and the western world be protected or abandoned? Should the Sunday holiday be repressed to accommodate industry and a seven-day work week? Should the Sunday rest at home be secularized for the efficiency of the industrial system? Paul Laverdure reflects on these larger questions as he presents a detailed history of Sunday in Canada. At the same time, he also cautions us not to presume that secularization means dechristianization. Rather for Laverdure, moving toward a secular society means moving toward a more tolerant religious society. This study is a unique piece of Canadian social and religious history.
The Lord's Day Alliance was formed by Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists in 1888 to protect the sacredness of Sunday in Canada. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Alliance sought federal legislation to make the Sunday rest mandatory. With adept organizational skills, energetic Protestant leaders, also called Sabbatarians, strove to gain uniform legislation to protect the sacredness of the Sunday in Canada as if Christian life depended on it. Their earnest effort tells us something of Christians today who are striving to protect the traditional marriage and family life as if Christian life depended on it. As arduous as the struggle was, these religionists found it hard to agree on the goals they were seeking, that is, honoring the Sabbath as did the Presbyterians and Methodists, keeping holy the Sunday as did most Christians, or taking a day of rest for working people (p. 5).
Different Canadian provinces also had differing views on how Sunday should be observed. Newcomers having their own ideas about Sunday were often resented as foreigners who lacked the Protestant mentality for the Sunday rest. The Sabbatarians resented ethnic groups, such as the Irish, French Canadian, and Amerindian Catholics, as they did not fit into the Anglo-Saxon mold. Their misgivings also touched the "Greeks, Italians, Austrians, Bulgarians, Finns, Chinese, and, of course, Jews" (p. 77). The Seventh-Day Adventists and Jews were also hoping that the Sabbath along with the Sunday observance might be encased in Canadian law. The attitude of the Lord's Day Alliance was not so much to accommodate foreigners but to Canadianize them into the Protestant Sunday observance. The determined advocates of the Lord's Day Alliance, the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists hoped to have Sunday enshrined in Canadian law. Not so enthusiastic were Anglicans, Catholics, and Baptists who walked several paces behind their evangelical brothers and sisters. The Sabbatarians hoped to gain legislation enforcing the Sunday observance which would halt the noise of railways and streetcars, entertainments and sporting events, and shops and businesses.
By way of implementation, federal politicians found the Sunday rest an explosive issue and passed the responsibilities for legislation to provincial politicians, and provincial politicians to city councillors, and in turn, the city councillors passed them back to provincial or federal jurisdictions. Canadian federal politicians gradually saw the benefits of accepting the responsibility to formulate legislation for Sunday observance and thus keep Protestants at bay and businesses humming.
The highpoint of the Lord's Day Alliance was the Laurier government's passage in 1906 of an Act Respecting the Lord's Day. The legislation succeeded in reducing Sunday work and business, halting Sunday entertainments, games, shooting, and keeping newspapers off the street. At the same time, numerous exceptions were meted out to keep the economy running smoothly and the business community happy. Large businesses had the resources to guarantee the regularity of their production, whereas small businesses felt persecuted. Catholics and Anglicans believed that religious minorities needed protection and favored a Jewish exception to the law, but Methodists and Presbyterians were opposed. The success of the Sabbatarians peaked in 1907 with 40,000 supporters. Their triumph was short-lived for the long-term government policy was the secularization of Sunday.
During World War I, the Sabbatarians, to improve morale, urged Sunday observance upon war workers and soldiers in training camps. The Sabbatarians, nevertheless, had to tread carefully in likening Sunday worship to defending Christian democracy. The effort to promote the Sunday observance during wartime intensified inter-provincial stress. In Quebec before the war, the federal government enforced the Sunday observance when the province did not. When the federal government left the law in abeyance during the war, Quebec enforced the Lord's Day Act. British Columbia, which generally kept religion on the back burner before the war, saw little reason during the war to enforce the Sunday observance. Nova Scotia took the opportunity during the war to ease the enforcement of Sunday legislation to promote trade and entertainments. Americans were resented in the border communities for promoting secularism and not being participants in the war. But it was during wartime that the federal government took firm control to assume moral leadership of the country. The government took the high road to rally wartime workers and soldiers who were going to the front. Its moral leadership moved away from the mundane to an elevated Canadian vision of urgency. The Sunday observance had now to be part of the larger vision of the good of Canada and the world.
During the interwar period, when United Church of Canada was being formed in 1925, the Lord's Day Alliance was undermined by the loss of the Presbyterian and the Methodist leaders and their church revenues. Church people at this time put their creative energies into the formation of the United Church of Canada leaving little time or funds for the promotion of the Sunday observance. Later the United Church personnel assumed the leadership and renewed activities of the Alliance.
In the Depression, the Sabbatarians looked once more to the federal government to enforce Sunday observance. The government was more concerned with restarting the economy and sloughed off Sunday enforcement to the provinces and the municipalities. At this time the police were more interested combating Communists in Canadian labor unions and ethnic clubs than supervising Sunday activities. As officers of the Lord's Day Alliance retired from this struggle to keep the Canadian Sunday sacred, its influence dwindled.
When the Second World War broke out, the Canadian government mobilized labor, took control of the economy, and expanded the social network. While the Alliance grew weak and ineffective, the government grew more powerful. The government's leadership was cosmetically Christian, but its goals were utilitarian. In 1986, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the Lord's Day Act of 1906 as being a discriminatory "form of coercion inimical to the spirit of the Charter" of Rights (p. 188).
Paul Laverdure has raised for us the intriguing question of whether Sunday leisure is an inherent Canadian value which should be preserved, or could be sacrificed in the name of efficiency. By his careful primary research, Laverdure has placed in historical context that Christians and organized labor were the interested parties in preserving the uniqueness of Sunday in Canada. He found that business groups on both sides of the issue were likely to cooperate as long as the observance did not interfere with the basic operations of the economy. As a result of his reasoned study, Laverdure found it was the administrators and parliamentarians who ended up being the mediators for the religionists between business and labor, and thus, their moral goal became secularized. The lawmakers worked out the balance between Sunday rest and commercial activities. On the cover, the volume has an absolutely beautiful painting, After High Mass, Berthier-en-Haut, by Kathleen Moir Morris. The contents of the study will be of great interest for social and religious historians.
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Terence Fay. Review of Laverdure, Paul, Sunday in Canada: The Rise and Fall of the Lord's Day.
H-Canada, H-Net Reviews.
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