HUNTINGTON, SILAS, Methodist minister; b. 19 Feb. 1829 in Kemptville, Upper Canada, eighth and youngest child of Silas Huntington, a physician, and Mary Adams; m. first 21 June 1854 Elizabeth Stewart (d. 1891) in St Andrews (Saint-André-Est), Lower Canada, and they had five sons; m. secondly 27 Oct. 1891, in McKim Township, Ont., Harriet Emmeline Agar (d. 1895); m. thirdly, before the end of 1895, Annie Isabella Anderson of Sault Ste Marie, Ont.; d. 3 Aug. 1905 in North Bay, Ont.
Silas Huntington’s parents were both of loyalist descent. Converted to Christianity as an adolescent at a Methodist camp-meeting, Silas was commissioned as a lay preacher in 1850 and four years later, without any formal theological training, he was ordained. As was the custom in the Methodist Church, he did not stay long with any one congregation. Between 1854 and 1873 he held 14 appointments, on the Ontario and Quebec sides of the Ottawa valley and in the Bay of Quinte region. In 1874–80 he was a supernumerary at Belleville and in 1880–82 he was listed as a superannuated minister at Vankleek Hill in the lower Ottawa valley. A personal crisis (possibly exhaustion) may have forced him to retire temporarily from active ministry.
In the summer of 1882 Huntington appeared as the minister of a new missionary church at Mattawa, on the upper Ottawa. From here he began his major life’s-work. At 53 he embarked on a vigorous campaign to spread Methodism throughout northern Ontario. He was well equipped for the task, being robust, an excellent woodsman and canoeist, and fluent in French and two Ojibwa dialects. Huntington followed the transcontinental line of the newly built Canadian Pacific Railway westward, preaching in hundreds of mining and logging camps, as well as in Indian settlements. He established churches in North Bay, Nipissing Junction, Sturgeon Falls, and Sudbury. Between 1887 and 1899 he served terms as chairman of the Sudbury and Nipissing districts of the Methodist Church, and during the same period oversaw the development of churches as far west as Schreiber and along the north shore of Lake Huron. From 1900 until his death, he ministered successively to three small charges near North Bay.
Huntington was an active freemason and a disciple of the Social Gospel movement. He was well informed about the movement’s roots in the United States, and he knew of American social-gospel theologians Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch. His own sermon notes constantly emphasize the dignity of human labour and reflect a concern for the poor and the exploitation of the working man. At the opening in 1899 of a Methodist church at Copper Cliff (now part of Sudbury), he criticized officials of the Canadian Copper Company [see Samuel J. Ritchie] who were present for failing to provide adequate services and facilities for the town. He was also a pioneer environmentalist, a common theme in his sermons being the need for stewardship of the land. Huntington traversed most of northeastern Ontario by canoe and on foot, convinced that this wilderness would one day “be peopled with farms and factories, with towns and cities.”
By 1890 Huntington had become a folk hero in northern Ontario, and many tales about him have survived. Some involve his strength: one story tells of how he could attach a 56-pound weight to his little finger and then write his name on the ceiling of a tavern. Other tales point to his energy and humour. On one occasion a boxcar in which he was holding a service was parked on a siding with a steep grade when some young men decided to play a joke on him. They released the brakes on the car and it rolled down the grade before stopping about a mile from the town-site. Huntington never stopped preaching and after the service walked back to town without comment.
Huntington does not appear to have been active in the church union movement, which was the major challenge facing the Methodist Church in the latter part of the 19th century. Like the circuit riders of an earlier period, he was primarily interested in grassroots evangelism and no tavern or midnight hour was safe from his preachments. In spite of his rough edges, he was universally respected by his peers, who called him “the apostle to the north.” He died of typhoid fever in 1905. His assistant during his Sudbury days, the Reverend John Dunlop Ellis, wrote that “Huntington was a great man. He deserves a monument somewhere in the north country.” Today, Huntington College, the United Church college at Laurentian University in Sudbury, is that monument.
AO, RG 80-5, no.1891-001211. Huntington College Arch. (Sudbury, Ont.), Winnifred Adcock, “A short history of the life and work of Silas Huntington” (typescript, 1924); Corr., Winnifred Adcock to Mrs F. C. Stephenson, 9 Dec. 1924, and to J. W. E. Newbery, 21 March 1961; H. N. Elliot to J. W. E. Newbery, 14 June 1961; C. J. L. Bates, remarks at Huntington College convocation, 5 May 1961; Silas Huntington, sermon notes; Huntington family bible; Huntington family genealogy. INCO Arch. (Sudbury), F. P. Bernhardt, “Historical notes on the International Nickel Company” (typescript, 1952). Nippissing District Surrogate Court (North Bay, Ont.), Probate, 24/198. Nugget (North Bay), 17 Oct. 1959, 7 Nov. 1983. “Ripley’s believe it or not,” Toronto Star Weekly, 3 Aug. 1957. Apostle to the north (Sudbury, 1960; copy at Huntington College Arch.). J. C. Cochrane, Trails and tales of the north land (Toronto, ). Cornish, Cyclopædia of Methodism. Methodist Church (Canada, Newfoundland, Bermuda), Toronto Conference, Minutes, 1906. J. L. Runnals and J. W. Pilgrim, “Rev. Silas Huntington, 1829–1905, the apostle to the north; pioneer missionary and freemason,” Canadian Masonic Research Assoc., Papers, 1949–1976 (3v., [Toronto], 1986), no.90 (includes a photograph of the subject).