MASSEY, SAMUEL, social worker, writer, and Church of England clergyman; b. 30 Dec. 1817 in Wincham, England, son of Samuel Massey, ship carpenter, and Ann Moreton; d. 10 June 1897 in Montreal.
Samuel Massey was born in a country cottage. Ivy, honeysuckle, and roses overspread the façade; polyanthus, primroses, and daisies lined the garden path; a “Rosidendrum” tree, bursting with purple flowers, graced the gable end; and, out front, a sturdy oak mounted guard over this idyllic scene. Within, young Samuel grew up under the steady Christian influence of a quiet, prayerful mother, who, he wrote later, “regarded religion as an every-day business.” Rarely venturing outside his native Cheshire, he received his formal education at an academy in Lostock Gralam and supplemented it by extensive reading and private tutoring. He first worked as a miner, and then for about eight years taught in village schools at Helsby and Poynton. On 31 July 1840, in Chester, he married Mary Fryer, the illiterate daughter of a salt-works agent; the couple would have eight children. Early in the 1850s, leaving behind his peaceful rural existence, Massey became a missionary for the Manchester City Mission run by the Young Men’s Christian Association. In 1853 the Manchester YMCA received a request from its Montreal counterpart for a city missionary; from 70 candidates it chose Samuel Massey.
The Montreal YMCA, the first in North America, had been organized in 1851. Initially, members had met principally for literary and devotional purposes, but in 1852 they decided that greater efforts should be made to bring young men under Christian influence. These efforts included the employment of a city missionary, and in October 1853 Massey arrived to take up the duties. At first he focused his labours on seamen and immigrants in summer and on young men and the poor in winter. He worked alone with sustained diligence despite many rebuffs and unpleasant experiences. As the YMCA’s report for 1856 put it, “few men meet with more filth, disease and vice.” In time his work increased in scope and volume. Each year he made thousands of visits to the poor of Griffintown (Montreal), comforting the sick, finding clothes, food, and employment for the needy, and distributing tracts, many of which he wrote himself, on religious and other subjects. He visited hospitals, jails, and asylums, started Sunday schools and dayschools, and held regular temperance meetings. His visits to stores and other places of business, primarily to encourage young men to shun the taverns for the facilities of the YMCA, ultimately enabled him to perform a rudimentary employment service by bringing together unemployed young people and job openings. His district prayer meetings put him in touch with refugee slaves from the United States, many of whom he assisted. And, by meeting ships as they docked, he alleviated the distress of many confused and destitute immigrant families. Among the seamen from hundreds of ships each year he became known as the “Sailors’ Missionary,” and in 1862 he helped to found the Montreal Sailors’ Institute, which provided reading materials, recreation, refreshments, lectures, and worship services.
By the early 1860s the Montreal YMCA was experiencing financial difficulties and, probably because of them, Massey left in 1864 to become one of two missionaries engaged by the newly created Montreal City Mission. It had been organized by nine evangelical congregations “on catholic principles” primarily to provide spiritual ministrations and financial relief to those who had no church connection. Support for the mission dwindled quickly, however, and by 1866 much of its work in Griffintown had been assumed by the American Presbyterian Church, which, that year, purchased a house and engaged Massey to carry on mission work in the district. So successful was he that by 1870 a large new stone church, seating 400 and containing rooms for school and Bible study classes, had been erected on Rue Inspecteur. He also organized free day-schools, soup kitchens in winter, aid to victims of the frequent spring floods, during which he would sometimes spend days in boats distributing food and other necessities, and regular temperance meetings for working men that became known throughout the city. By 1866 he had become concerned about the deplorable sanitary conditions in many parts of Montreal, and on the suggestion of social reformer Philip Pearsall Carpenter* he helped to form the Montreal Sanitary Association “to collect and diffuse information, and take action on all matters relating to the public health.” With characteristic vigour, he threw himself into the task, forming district committees and speaking to them and other groups about practical sanitary measures. The association led eventually to the establishment of an effective board of health in the city.
In 1877, to the regret of his congregation, Massey decided that the time had come to transfer his labours to Montreal’s east end. He moved to Salem Chapel, a Methodist church having fewer than a dozen members, on Rue Panet. Within a year he had renovated the building, increased the congregation to several hundred, built up a Sunday school of more than 150 pupils, made visits throughout the east end, started regular temperance meetings, and initiated work among sailors from ships at nearby wharfs.
By this time Massey was known as the Reverend Samuel Massey, but he had never been ordained or formally appointed as a clergyman. In 1881 he was described as a “practical man, intensely earnest,” whose theological views “untrammelled by any denominational creed . . . may, in a certain restricted sense, be termed liberal” and whose “creed, if he has any, is that of ‘faith working by love.’” As a preacher, he was “serious, clear and forcible,” and he pleased at least one listener because “he always stuck to his text, and gave over when he had done.” Around 1884 Massey decided to regularize his position, and he left Salem Chapel to seek ordination in the Church of England. In this decision he was probably influenced by a growing respect for Bishop William Bennett Bond*, whose practical skills and pastoral concerns for the clergy would have been most appealing to him. For a few years he took services at St John’s, a German church on Rue Saint-Dominique, while studying at the Montreal Diocesan Theological College. Bond ordained him deacon in January 1888 and priest that December. From the latter date until late 1895 he carried on his service to the poor as the incumbent of St Simon’s Church in the Saint-Henri district. He was priest-in-charge of the Richmond Square Mission of the Church of St James the Apostle in 1896–97 and for some years chaplain to the Sixth Battalion of Infantry (Fusiliers), of which his son was colonel.
Samuel Massey was possibly the first urban community service worker in Canada in the modern sense of the term, yet his roots lay in a traditional rural English background. Recalling his idyllic childhood, and, no doubt, his painful urban missions, he reflected in 1887 that “the social and moral condition of any community depends much on the character of its homes, and they depend much on the character of the mothers.” Motivated by religious commitment and influenced by the 19th-century social reform movement, his sustained efforts to improve social conditions set examples the effects of which went far beyond the immediate localities in which he worked.
Samuel Massey, a regular contributor to the religious press in Canada and in England, is the author of numerous books and pamphlets on religion and other subjects, including Historical sketches of the Protestant churches and ministers of Montreal (Montreal, 1885); ‘Home; sweet home’, a lecture on ‘our city homes, and how to make them healthy and sweet’ delivered in St. John’s Church, Montreal (n.p., n.d.); My mother and our old English home (2nd ed., Montreal, 1887); The Rev. Samuel Massey’s farewell: his last sermon as rector of St. Simon’s Church, St. Henry, Montreal; reminiscences of a long and useful ministry (Montreal, 1895); and ‘Surrey Chapel’: a lecture on Rowland Hill, his times and eccentricities . . . ([Montreal, 1887]). The Notman Photographic Arch. at the McCord Museum contains six photographs of Massey (79939-I-79944-I) and a portrait is reproduced in My mother and our old English home and in The Rev. Samuel Massey’s farewell . . . .
ACC, Diocese of Montreal Arch., clergy reg. ANQ-M, CE1-69, 10 juin 1897. Cheshire Record Office (Chester, Eng.), Great Budworth, reg. of baptisms, 8 Feb. 1818. Erskine and American United Church (Montreal), American Presbyterian Church, Home Missions Committee, minutes, 1867–77; Session minutes, 1877. GRO (London), Reg. of marriages for the parish of St Peter’s (Chester), 31 July 1840. Private arch., Guy Suckling (Montreal), “Samuel Massey’s book, 1810” (Massey family bible). St James the Apostle (Anglican) Church (Montreal), Parish magazine, 1896. Montreal Young Men’s Christian Assoc., Report, 1856, 1859, 1863–64. Canadian Churchman, 28 Jan. 1896. Gazette (Montreal), 22 Oct. 1878, 11 June 1897. Montreal Daily Witness, 21 June 1862; 15 Nov. 1865; 23–28 April 1866; 22 Jan., 30 March, 8 May, 27 July, 31 Oct. 1867; 16, 30 May, 19 Dec. 1868; 24 April, 8 May 1869; 10 May, 27 Dec. 1870; 2 March 1871; 30 Oct. 1873; 29 Aug. 1877; 7 June 1878; 1 April 1887. Canadian biog. dict. Crockford’s clerical directory . . . (London), 1895. H. C. Cross, One hundred years of service with youth: the story of the Montreal YMCA (Montreal, 1951). History of the Montreal Young Men’s Christian Association . . . (Montreal, 1873). C. H. Hopkins, History of the Y.M.C.A. in North America (New York, 1951). Montreal Sailors’ Institute, Annual report, 1941.
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