HUNTER, JOHN EDWIN, Methodist evangelist; b. 29 July 1856 in Rochester (Leskard), near Bowmanville, Upper Canada, son of Irish immigrants Edward Hunter and Nancy Dodds; m. 12 July 1882 Jennie Jones in North Ridge, Ont., and they had two daughters and one son; d. 17 March 1919 in Toronto.
Raised in a Presbyterian family, John Edwin Hunter was converted in 1871 under Methodist preaching at Kirby, Ont., and he soon won his family to his new allegiance. In 1875 he was received as an exhorter and he spent the next three years on the Woodslee and Thamesville circuits. From 1878 to 1880 he studied at Victoria College in Cobourg, at the same time gaining initial experience as an evangelist in neighbouring churches. After serving at Ancaster and then at Waterdown for two years, he was ordained in 1882. He volunteered for service in western Canada and was appointed to Dominion City, Man.
By 1884 Hunter was convinced that he was called to evangelism rather than pastoral work. He invited the collaboration of Hugh Thomas Crossley*, with whom he had been associated in local campaigns while at Victoria. Crossley had had coincidentally the same idea, and their letters crossed in the mail. Securing the agreement of their respective conferences, they instituted a partnership in evangelism that continued until Hunter was incapacitated by Parkinson’s disease in 1909. The two men were always very close, and their names were inseparable in the public mind. Crossley never married and lived with the Hunters (who gave their son the name Crossley) in St Thomas, Ont., from 1886 and in Toronto from 1906.
Recognized as Canada’s leading evangelists, Hunter and Crossley recorded almost 300 campaigns and 110,000 decisions for Christ. Their travels took them to every major Canadian city except Quebec, as well as to Newfoundland, Bermuda, and the United States. During summer vacations spent in neighbouring cottages on Lake Muskoka, Ont., they would winnow invitations for the coming year, declining to go where other evangelists had recently been and always seeking to maintain a balance between large and small communities.
Whenever possible, a Crossley-Hunter mission was interdenominational and well prepared for locally. The atmosphere of the meetings was informal, after a pattern set by the American evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody, the approach direct and without pretensions to theological subtlety. The overarching aim was to secure converts, who were pressed to declare themselves by coming forward and signing decision cards. Unlike most evangelists of their time, however, Crossley and Hunter eschewed gimmickry and speculations about the immediate return of Christ. Their strictures on dancing and card playing sometimes provoked resentment, but their integrity was never questioned. The immediate effects of the mission on communities could be dramatic. In Ontario, theatres closed down in Ottawa for lack of patrons; the railway shops in Stratford cancelled overtime work; and the Banner-News in Chatham turned over an issue to the evangelists. Among those who professed conversion were Sir John A. Macdonald* and William Howard Hearst*.
Hunter has been described as “a man of boundless energy, who knew where he was going and would put heart and soul into everything he undertook,” and who also had an “intuitive rather than logical” mind. Whereas Crossley was a gospel singer and the more eloquent preacher, Hunter excelled in gauging the temper of a meeting and taking advantage of every opening. Usually in charge of the “after-meeting,” when waverers were encouraged to come to the point of decision, Hunter showed a directness of approach in personal encounters. Although he received relatively modest remuneration, he contributed generously to charitable causes and helped to endow a college for black theological students in Georgia.
[A detailed picture of the campaigns of Crossley and Hunter appears in the scrapbooks of newspaper clippings which they collected, although the specific papers and dates are almost never recorded. One scrapbook is available in the Hunter papers at UCC-C, Fonds 3138, while others remain in the possession of the Reverend Gordon Hunter of Newmarket, Ont., a grandson of the subject, who graciously supplied additional information from family papers in his custody. j.w.g.]
The hymn-book used by the evangelists was edited by Crossley and published as Songs of salvation: as used by Crossley and Hunter, in evangelistic meetings . . . (Toronto and Montreal, 1887). Copies of several religious pamphlets by Hunter are preserved in his papers in Fonds 3138.
UCC-C, Fonds 41/1, minutes, June 1919. G. H. Cornish, Cyclopædia of Methodism in Canada . . . (2v., Toronto and Halifax, 1881–1903), 2. E. C. Hunter, as told to Frank Chamberlain, “Old-time evangelism,” Observer (Toronto), 15 Oct. 1965: 24–26.