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Memorable Manitobans: Egerton Ryerson Young (1840-1909)

Teacher, missionary, lecturer, author.

Born in Crosby Township, Upper Canada on 7 April 1840, son of the Reverend William Young and Amanda Waldron. On 25 December 1867, he was married at Toronto, Ontario to Elizabeth Bingham of Bradford, Ontario. They had eight children, of whom four daughters and one son survived infancy. He died at Bradford on 5 October 1909 and was buried in Bowmanville, Ontario.

His relation to his namesake, Methodist leader and educator Egerton Ryerson, was religious and cultural, not genealogical. Both his father and his mother’s brother Solomon Waldron were itinerant Wesleyan Methodist preachers and “cotemporaries” of the Ryersons and William Case. His mother having died in 1842, Young was brought up by his stepmother, Maria Farley. After completing school in Bond Head, he may have begun teaching in the late 1850s. During 1860-61 he pursued a strenuous course of study at the Toronto Model School, learning to teach almost every subject. In 1861 Young received charge of the school at Madoc, becoming the sole teacher of 105 students. In May 1863 he completed duties at Madoc and then went on the preaching circuit. In 1866 he moved to Port Dalhousie.

Ordained in June 1867 at Hamilton, he was called to the pastorate of the First Methodist Church there. Early in 1868, his superiors invited him to become a missionary to the natives of Rupert’s Land. He and his wife joined a group of Wesleyans including George Millward McDougall as guide and George Young and family. They left Hamilton to journey by steamer, train, and cart to the Red River settlement. The Youngs then travelled by York boat to Norway House to succeed Charles Stringfellow and his wife in charge of the Rossville mission. In 1869 Young initiated mission work among the Cree at Nelson House and, in 1873, among the Saulteaux of Berens River. After a winter’s leave in Ontario, the Youngs settled at Berens River with their children, Egerton Ryerson and Clarissa Maria Lilian, both born at Norway House. In 1876 Young went to Port Perry, Ontario. Three years later the family moved to Colborne, and then to Bowmanville and Meaford.

In 1888 Young, unhappy with the pastorates offered him in Ontario, made an extended lecture tour of the eastern United States. Its success was repeated in the British Isles the next spring and thereafter in other cities across North America. In 1890 appeared the first of over a dozen books based on his mission experience, By Canoe and Dog-Train Among the Cree and Salteaux Indians, which went through numerous editions. Its illustrations, with other images from many sources, provided the basis for a large collection of lantern slides to stir audiences and promote missions. Among his later works were animal stories and tales of adventure for juveniles, several of which were reprinted more than once. In 1904-5 Young and his wife made a trip around the world, lecturing and distributing his books in Australia for several months. Afterwards, he resided at the family home, Algonquin Lodge, in Bradford, preparing a history of North American Indian missions and other works.

Contemporary accounts of Young’s preaching and character emphasize his enthusiasm, energy, and humour. Controversial at times, he engaged the Reverend John Chantler McDougall in bitter debate in the pages of the Christian Guardian over alleged errors in his Stories From Indian Wigwams and Northern Camp-fires (1893); when the argument became too unchristian for the Guardian, McDougall printed his final Criticism on his own. There was no winner, but it is fair to say that Young, to enliven his popular writings and talks, took dramatic licence with his materials and drew uncritically on culture-bound images of Native peoples that resonated with Victorian audiences. His private papers and relationships, however, reveal close ties with Native colleagues such as Sandy Harte (a Nelson House Cree adopted for a time by the Youngs), the Reverend Edward Paupanakiss, and others.

More information:

Letters of Egerton Ryerson Young edited by Harcourt Brown
Manitoba Pageant, Volume 17, Number 1, Autumn 1971.

Egerton Ryerson Young, Dictionary of Canadian Biography XIII, 1,121-22 by Jennifer S. H. Brown.

Sources:

This profile was prepared by Jennifer S. H. Brown.

Page revised: 7 September 2009

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