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EVANS, FRANCIS, Church of England clergyman and educator; b. 1 Jan. 1801 in Lough Park, an estate near Castlepollard, County Westmeath (Republic of Ireland), son of Francis Evans; m. c. 1825 Maria Sophia Lewis, and they had six sons and six daughters; d. September 1858 in County Westmeath, and was buried in Castlepollard.

Francis Evans, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, arrived in Lower Canada in 1824, intent on entering the Anglican ministry. His decision to emigrate may have been influenced by the presence in the Canadas of his uncle, Thomas Evans*, a soldier. Shortly after arriving he went back to Europe to marry, and then returned to the colony. On 11 Nov. 1826 he became a deacon, was appointed curate two days later to the Reverend Robert Quirk Short* at Trois-Rivières, and was ordained priest on 27 Oct. 1827 by Bishop Charles James Stewart*. Evans, unlike a predecessor, the Reverend Leger-Jean-Baptiste-Noël Veyssière*, did well at Trois-Rivières, reporting in 1827 that his congregation had grown by one-third since his arrival even though there had been no increase in population. Nevertheless, he accepted a missionary posting to Upper Canada sponsored by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and resigned his charge to the Reverend Samuel Simpson Wood*. In October 1828 he took his young, growing family to Norfolk County where St John’s, near the village of Simcoe in Woodhouse Township, became his home church.

He was the first Anglican clergyman to settle in Woodhouse, even though his parishioners, largely United Empire Loyalists and their descendants, had built the church some years before in anticipation of a permanent appointment. The residents had previously known only occasional visits by Church of England ministers, including Robert Addison* and Robert Lugger*. Like most Anglican clerics, Evans concentrated his efforts by ministering regularly to a few settled charges. He attempted, however, to preach occasionally in “every place that it is in my power to visit.” He found his labours well received. In 1830 he reflected, “It is particularly gratifying to perceive that the prejudices against our Establishment which were very prevalent are disappear[ing] most rapidly.”

None the less, the privileged position of the Church of England ensured it and its servants a host of enemies. William Lyon Mackenzie*, for one, twice publicly portrayed Evans as unfeeling and uncaring, characteristics allegedly typical of Anglican clergymen. In 1836 Evans found himself in the public eye again when Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne* responded to the critics of the church’s claims to establishment by endowing 44 Anglican rectories, one of which went to Evans. The rectories, and Anglican pretensions generally, certainly helped bring about the Upper Canadian rebellion, which affected Evans dramatically.

In December 1837 Charles Duncombe* and Eliakim Malcolm, responding to rumours that rebels had taken Toronto, mustered some 400 to 500 insurgents southwest of Brantford. On the night of 12 December Evans led a little loyalist band bearing messages through rebel lines to Brantford. The next day the rector bravely went to the insurgent camp “to expostulate,” as a fellow priest recorded, “with the deluded schismatics.” Evans brought news of the governor’s proclamation promising pardon for those returning peacefully home. For his efforts, he was detained. Fortunately, release came soon when the rebels dispersed upon discovering that Mackenzie had been defeated in Toronto and that forces, led by Allan Napier MacNab*, were marching against them. But Evans could not escape controversy. In the trials that followed he testified against several prominent insurrectionists, thereby earning further ill will. On 2 Oct. 1838 a mob occupied the Congregational church in Burford Township to prevent his preaching there.

Eventually the clamour faded, and Evans settled back into an all too penurious routine. As was the custom with other clerics he had to supplement his meagre income by teaching. He first operated a boarding-school and began teaching at the district grammar school in Simcoe when it opened in 1839. As a teacher he took special interest in aspiring clergymen. He also laboured earnestly at his regular pastoral duties, establishing some 14 congregations in the surrounding district. He toiled for the Upper Canada Bible Society and spread the temperance message. In the 1850s he helped establish the diocese of Huron and campaigned in 1857 for the election of fellow Irish evangelical Benjamin Cronyn* as its first bishop. Evans and others then organized the Church Society of the new diocese. That same year Trinity College, Toronto, awarded him a dcl. At the time of his death he was an archdeacon and rural dean of Norfolk County.

These toils exhausted Evans. In 1855 Bishop John Strachan*, who thought him “an active and zealous Missionary,” warned him that a continuance of his “usual labours” would be too much for him, and he was right. In a futile effort to recover his health Evans holidayed in Ireland in 1858 but died there between 5 and 7 September after spending only a week with a brother and sister. In Canada he left a monument of solid if unspectacular work and a large, well-educated family. Fittingly, his son William B. Evans later became the rector of Woodhouse.

Colin Frederick Read

ACC-Q, 71: 91–93 ([Francis] Evans, Woodhouse, U.C., parish report, 1833) (typescript at Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of Huron Arch.). Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of Huron Arch. (London, Ont.), Incorporated Church Soc. of the Diocese of Huron, minute-book, 1858–64, 2, 6, 16. AO, MS 35, letter-books, 1839–43: 107, 235, 245, 260, 263; 1844–49: 134, 306; 1852–66: 18; 1853–54: 312; 1854–62: 13, 20, 49, 92, 174; unbound papers, letters missive authorizing the bishop of Quebec to institute the Reverend Francis Evans to the parsonage in the township of Woodhouse, 16 Jan. 1836; Evans to [John Strachan], 29 Feb. 1848. PAC, RG 5, A1: 99167, 112558–61, 112570–73, 112663, 112665, 112674–75, 112706–6A, 112709–12, 114638–41; RG 9, I, B1, 45, G. W. Whitehead to James Winniett, 19 Oct. 1838, enclosed in Winniett to Colonel Bullock, 22 Oct. 1838; RG 31, A1, 1851, Woodhouse Township: 113. Trinity College Arch. (Toronto), Degree-book, 1852–1904, entry for Francis Evans. USPG, C/CAN/folder 474; X7: 158–70 (mfm. at PAC). UWOL, Regional Coll., William Wood diaries, pp.22–33 (typescript). Church, 3 Nov. 1838: 78–79. W. L. Mackenzie, Sketches of Canada and the United States (London, 1833), 128–29. SPG, [Annual report] (London), 1829: 141. A. H. Crowfoot, Benjamin Cronyn, first bishop of Huron ([London, Ont.], 1957), 65–66, 68, 76. A. E. E. Legge, The Anglican Church in Three Rivers, Quebec, 1768–1956 ([Russell, Ont.], 1956). Millman, Life of Charles James Stewart. E. A. Owen, Pioneer sketches of Long Point settlement . . . (Toronto, 1898; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972), 417–18. Read, Rising in western U.C. Historicus, “Pioneer clergy of the diocese of Huron, {{ii}},” Huron Church News (London), 1 Jan. 1952: 6 [contains a portrait of the subject]. Henry Johnson, “St. John’s Church, Woodhouse,” Western Ontario Hist. Notes (London), 14 (1957–58), no.1: 11–20.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Colin Frederick Read, “EVANS, FRANCIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/evans_francis_8E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/evans_francis_8E.html
Author of Article: Colin Frederick Read
Title of Article: EVANS, FRANCIS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1985
Year of revision: 1985
Access Date: September 1, 2014