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CASTLE, JOHN HARVARD, Baptist clergyman and educator; b. 27 March 1830 in Philadelphia, Pa, son of Robert Castle of County Antrim (Northern Ireland); m. 15 Sept. 1853 Mary Antoinette Arnold of Rochester, N.Y., and they had two daughters and three sons; d. 11 June 1890 in Philadelphia.

John Harvard Castle was the son of a Scottish-Irish family which had emigrated to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania in 1825. Upon being converted and baptized at about 16, he decided to enter the Baptist ministry. To that end, after completing his early education in Philadelphia, he enrolled in 1847 at the newly established university at Lewisburg (later Bucknell University) where he completed his studies in 1851 as a member of the first graduating class. (He was awarded a nn in 1866.) He then proceeded to the Rochester Theological Seminary; following his graduation from this Baptist institution and his ordination in 1853 at Pottsville, Pa, he served a number of pastorates in Pennsylvania and New York. In the process he became actively involved in the educational and missionary work of American Baptists serving, for instance, on the boards of the university at Lewisburg and the Crozer Theological Seminary. This experience stood him in good stead during his subsequent career in Canada.

Apparently Susan Moulton, the American-born second wife of Senator William McMaster of Toronto, a financier and businessman, was largely instrumental in having Castle, one of her former pastors, called in 1873 to fill the pulpit of the Bond Street Baptist Church in that city. Under Castle’s vigorous leadership the church flourished and its congregation rapidly increased to the point where new quarters had to be planned. A campaign spearheaded by Castle’s initiative and the McMasters’ financial contributions led to the completion of the Jarvis Street Baptist Church in 1875. At once this successor to the Bond Street Church became a prominent landmark in Toronto and the show-piece of the Baptist community.

Subsequently Castle played a crucial role in the founding of the Toronto Baptist College, the immediate forerunner of McMaster University. The school was the outgrowth of a scheme to remove to Toronto the theological department of the Canadian Literary Institute in Woodstock, Ont. Founded by Baptists in 1857, and opened in 1860, the institute furnished instruction in the arts and for the ministry under the principalship of Robert Alexander Fyfe* (in 1883 it was renamed Woodstock College). The move of the theological department was undertaken in the belief, shared by Castle and Senator McMaster, that the growing city of Toronto would provide a more stimulating and challenging environment for the training of Baptist clergymen than the small town of Woodstock. Throughout, Castle skilfully shouldered the difficult task of convincing the Baptist constituency of the need for this new urban venture in education, one that would lead to the dismemberment of the much respected literary institute. Through his efforts opposition to the proposal was overcome at a special educational convention called by the Baptists in April 1879, and two years later the Toronto Baptist College was opened in the building known as McMaster Hall, on a site purchased for it on Bloor Street by McMaster. Predictably Castle was named president of the new institution, an appointment that necessitated his resignation from Jarvis Street Church.

From the beginning, Castle occupied the chair of systematic theology and pastoral theology. Well regarded by the Baptist community as both a theologian and a teacher, he sought, with the support of the McMasters and his colleagues, Theodore Harding Rand* and Malcolm MacVicar, to train a ministry that could cope not only with traditional rural concerns but with the strong forces of industrialization and urbanization in Canada. He also hoped that the Toronto Baptist College would become Canada’s principal centre for educating prospective Baptist pastors, a move in keeping perhaps with the city’s own metropolitan ambitions in the late 19th century. But administrative difficulties and financial problems combined to frustrate this latter ambition and, as a result, sister institutions such as Acadia University in Nova Scotia continued to produce their own theological graduates.

Although the college was affiliated with the University of Toronto from its inception, Castle took a decisive part in blocking plans to have it federate with the university, an arrangement being contemplated by other denominational institutions in Ontario such as Victoria and Trinity. In 1884 representatives of these various denominational colleges and universities met to discuss plans for federation. As the discussions continued, Castle and MacVicar appeared to draw a sharp distinction between federation and affiliation. Affiliation could be for the college a means of preserving its arts courses, particularly philosophy, which had been introduced to supplement the curriculum, whereas federation with the provincial university, it began to seem certain, would emasculate the arts programme. These serious reservations about union were reinforced by the opposition of a vocal element within the denomination whose moral and financial support Castle and MacVicar had no desire to forfeit. This element was already convinced of the need for an independent university under Baptist auspices as a “Christian alternative” to the arts programme which federation promised. In the spring of 1887, Castle, accompanied by Rand, appeared before the private bills committee of the Ontario legislature in an effort to demonstrate the viability of an independent venture. McMaster University received its charter later that year, absorbing the Toronto Baptist and Woodstock colleges. In 1930 the university moved to Hamilton.

The Toronto Baptist College became McMaster University’s faculty of theology although it continued in its previous role until the university actually opened in 1890. Castle taught and presided as principal of the faculty until failing health, which had ruined his chances of becoming the university’s first chancellor in 1887, forced him to retire in 1889. He returned to the United States to take up residence in Rochester after a productive career of 16 years in Canada, In the summer of 1890 he died in his native Philadelphia, where he had recently completed a term preaching in a local church.

In an obituary Thomas Trotter*, clergyman and educator, remarked upon Castle’s engaging personality, and upon his great ability as an administrator and conciliator which had been shown to such advantage at the Toronto Baptist College. He was a man of “tact, and resource, and Christian devotion.”

Charles M. Johnston

Canadian Baptist Arch., Biog. file, J. H. Castle; Toronto Baptist College, Corr., 1881–85; Board of Trustees, Minute book, 12 April 1881–28 April 1887; Toronto Baptist College, Executive Committee, Minute book, 21 June 1881–28 Oct. 1887. [William Davies], Letters of William Davies, Toronto, 1854–61, ed. W. S. Fox (Toronto, 1945). Toronto Assoc. of Baptist Churches, Minutes (Toronto), 1875–80. Canadian Baptist (Toronto), 26 June 1890: 4–5. The Baptist year book . . . (Toronto), 1873–90, especially the annual reports of the president of the Toronto Baptist College and principal of the faculty of theology for 1882–89. Robert Hamilton, “The founding of McMaster University” (bd thesis, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, Ont., 1938). C. M. Johnston, McMaster University (2v., Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1976–81). A. L. McCrimmon, The education policy of the Baptists of Ontario and Quebec (Toronto, 1920). McMaster University, 1890–1940 . . . (Hamilton, 1940). D. C. Masters, Protestant church colleges in Canada: a history (Toronto, 1966). Thomas Trotter, “John Harvard Castle,” McMaster Univ. Monthly (Toronto), 1 (1891–92): 145–50.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Charles M. Johnston, “CASTLE, JOHN HARVARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/castle_john_harvard_11E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/castle_john_harvard_11E.html
Author of Article:   Charles M. Johnston
Title of Article:   CASTLE, JOHN HARVARD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   November 29, 2023