Documenting the work in Canada is difficult. The 1973 Yearbook and Penton's Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada both lack detail. Both are dependant on a report done by three members of the Canadian Branch Office of the Watch Tower Society.
Above is a very scarce photo of one of the early workers, William Brookman, and what follows is some of the history of the work in the 1880's. Much of this was new to me. I'm sure it will be new to most who read my posts. This is part of a chapter entitled "In all the Earth" that details the work in international fields.
Cite this material as: B. W. Schulz: The Development of Ecclesia Among Readers of Zion's Watch Tower: 1879-1887, as retrieved from truthhistory.blogspot.com
[Rough draft; comments appreciated]
The Work in Canada
There was interest in Canada during the Barbourite era. Some from Canada attended the Worchester Conference in 1872. Russell’s booklet Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return saw circulation in Canada. A profile of his work done when he died said: “Many students of the Bible throughout the United States and Canada responded to the information derived from that book, and his correspondence became voluminous.”
It is very likely that Canadians were on the original subscription list, but not certain. Russell felt no need to send special representatives of Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society to Canada to circulate Food for Thinking Christians, so there must have been sufficient pre-existing interest upon which he could rely.
The two most significant examinations of Watch Tower history in Canada both gloss over the 1880’s, and the writers seem to have not seen the period as worthy of extensive research or they simply lack the resources. Almost exclusively documentation of the work in Canada is found in the pages of Zion’s Watch Tower. Finding other documentation is very difficult, and the lack of thorough treatment of the period is understandable. Almost the only external reference to preaching in Canada is the letter sent to the editor of The Rainbow mentioned in the section on the United Kingdom.
The earliest correspondence from Canada noted in The Watch Tower is a letter from Ontario published in the January/February 1882 issue. The writer is, as was usual, unnamed. He thanked Russell for sending “the papers,” asked to be entered as a regular subscriber and asked, “Will you kindly advise me in regard to severing my connection with the church of which I am a member?” He explained that they should no longer attend their previous church “because it would be consenting to their teaching, which I do not now believe.”
While tracing interest among Canadians during the 1880’s is difficult, there are hints of it. In October 1883, Paton included a notice in his magazine that he couldn’t use Canadian postage for subscription payments. Since most of Paton’s early readership came from those who also read Zion’s Watch Tower, this notice presupposes Canadian interest.
A “Pastor Brookman” appears in the pages of Zion’s Watch Tower first in 1886, as on of the principal evangelists associated with the Watch Tower movement. He attended a meeting of evangelists in Allegheny held in connection with the Lord’s memorial meal in April that year.
William Brookman, originally an Anglican clergyman, was born in England. After living in “the East Indies” for a period, he immigrated to Canada in the late 1840’s. He is listed a Gazetteer published in 1869 as a traveling agent for The Upper Canada Bible Society. One source claims an association with Methodism from which he separated “on the eternal torture question,” and another with a Baptist congregation. The connection to Methodism is a misstatement. Brookman, balding and with a huge fluffy beard, was briefly pastor of the First Baptist Church at Brantford.
Brookman organized “a purely undenominational organization, no possessing any distinctive appellation” in June 1881 “when about thirty of the present members with their families nearly all of whom had seceded from the Yorkville Baptist Church formed a new congregation, unattached to any religious sect.” The history just quoted says:
Previous to the separation—which was based upon the rejection of the doctrine of endless life in misery being the punishment for sin—Mr. Brookman had been in charge of the above-mentioned church for about a year, and prior to that again had ministered in the Church of England for nearly a quarter of a century. The main features of the belief professed by this little congregation, which numbers only fifty-six members [in 1885] , are, in addition to that already mentioned; the adoption of the great central truth of life only in Christ; the acceptation of the Word of God as the sole rule of faith and practice, and, whilst holding alone to the immersion of believers as true baptism, practicing loving-fellowship with all who love the saviour.
The exact date of Brookman’s introduction to Watch Tower theology is unknown, but it was at least near the time he and those with him started their independent chapel. He continued his association with Russell into at least the 1890’s and maybe to his death in 1907, but he also corresponded with Paton and wrote an occasional article for The World’s Hope. The earliest article from him seems to be the one entitled “Eternal not Endless” printed in the January 1884 issue of The World’s Hope.
It is likely that the small congregation led by Brookman were responsible for the circulation of Food for Thinking Christians in Toronto mentioned in the Rainbow article. Certainly Brookman was circulating Watch Tower material by 1886 as noted. He attended the annual Lord’s Supper in Allegheny, April 18, 1886, and on the following day spoke on the Ransom doctrine. Russell found his sermon interesting and edifying.
The morning of the memorial gathering, Brookman and others active in the work “in a more or less public way” related “how they each found the work to progress in their hands, and the methods they found most successful in their efforts to ‘preach the Gospel to the meek.’”
A brief letter addressed to Brookman from “one of the Toronto brethren” appears in the same issue of Zion’s Watch Tower that reported his presence in Allegheny for the memorial and conference. It suggested a certain amount of hesitation on the part of some to accept both the invisible presence views and Russell’s belief in the heavenly resurrection of the saints.
Little more is heard from Brookman. A member of the Toronto group wrote Russell in 1891 that “Bro. Brookman is very desirous that you should be with him at his hall.” Russell spoke to the group “by urgent request” on February 22, 1891. No hint is given either as to the urgency.
Russell addressed a public meeting twice before speaking to Brookman’s congregation. Four hundred heard him speak on Restitution and on the Kingdom of God. That evening he spoke to the Toronto Believers at there meeting place, Jackson Hall at the corner of Young and Blood streets. No topic is mentioned, but from comments made by S. D. Rogers, a colporteur working in Toronto, the church there was suffering under some form of opposition:
While the harvest work is thus progressing, and the wheat is being gathered, we cannot expect that the tares will all be gathered into bundles for burning without some resistance, and so we are not surprised to find some gnashing of teeth and gnawing of tongues. And this will no doubt be seen more and more as the servants of the Master are the more faithful and enterprising in proclaiming the message of present truth. The "hirelings" say: It is all right for you to hold these views but you should not go about telling them to others. The Good Shepherd says: "Feed my sheep." And the more we feed the sheep so much the more will the false shepherds complain. In Canada, as well as elsewhere, some of the would-be shepherds are speaking all manner of evil things against the messengers of the truth. They do not understand us a bit better than the Jews understood our Lord and his little band of disciples. Light hath no concord with darkness. At least two nominal ministers in Ontario have publicly burned the MILLENNIAL DAWN, and heaped all kinds of reproach on the author and those who are circulating this peculiar book.
The last reference to Brookman is in the September 1, 1892, Watch Tower where appears an article by him entitled “Future Probation for the Dead.” Certainly not all of the Toronto Believers were favorably disposed toward the Watch Tower. The memorial report for 1899 returned a figure of twenty-one who participated. One is tempted to speculate that the urgent request for Russell’s presence in 1891 had been the fragmentation of the Toronto Believers into those who were favorable to the Watch Tower message and those who were not.
The little congregation in Toronto had the same difficulty finding a suitable name as did the rest of those associated with The Watch Tower. Eventually they adopted the name Church of the Baptized Believers. It was dissolved by his request when he died on April 2, 1907.
Brookman and others were active in Canada from an early period. Even if the period is poorly documented, the activity of small groups and individuals can be presupposed. Russell mentions no extraordinary efforts in Canada, probably because he had a small but active base of fellow believers.
1. Biography, The Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, December 1, 1916, page 357.
2. View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, January/February 1882, reprints page 312.
3. See the notice in The World’s Hope,October 1883, page 8.
4. Finley, Mike: Mount Pleasant Cemetery: An Illustrated Guide, Canada, no date, page 51.
5. McEvoy, H.: The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory, Robertson & Cook, Toronto, 1869, page 478.
6. Methodists: C. Pelham Mulvany: Toronto Past and Present: A Handbook of the City, W. E. Caiger, Toronto, 1884, page 184. Baptists: History of Toronto and County of York, C. Blackett Robinson, Toronto, 1885, volume 1, page 318.
7. Shenston, Thomas S.: A Jubilee Review of the First Baptist Church: Brantford 1833-1884, Bingham & Webster, Toronto, 1890, pages114-115. He served them from April 3 to May 6, 1880.
8. History of Toronto, pages 317-318.
9. Brookman, W.: Eternal Not Endless, The World’s Hope,January 1884, pages 57-60.
10. See: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1886, page 1; Blessed Dying—From Henceforth, same issue, page 3
11. See: Extracts From Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1891, page 30, and see the announcement Meetings in Toronto that follows.
12. The article is on pages 282-285 of that issue.
13. Memorial Widely Celebrated, Zion’s Watch Tower, April 1, 1899, page 95.
14. Finley, Mike: Mount Pleasant Cemetery: An Illustrated Guide, Canada, no date, page 51.