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Original title:  Photograph Prof. Rev. Canon William Turnbull Leach, Montreal, QC, 1874 William Notman (1826-1891) 1874, 19th century Silver salts on glass - Wet collodion process 17 x 12 cm Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd. I-99807 © McCord Museum Keywords:  male (26812) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)

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LEACH, WILLIAM TURNBULL, clergyman, in the Church of Scotland and then in the Church of England, and educator; b. 1 March 1805 in Berwick upon Tweed, England, son of Robert Leach and Elizabeth Turnbull; m. first Jessie Skirving (d. 21 Feb. 1848); m. secondly Eliza Margaret Easton (d. 7 June 1866); and m. thirdly Louisa Gwilt (d. 24 June 1935); d. 13 Oct. 1886 in Montreal, Que., survived by a son and two daughters.

William Turnbull Leach was educated in his native town and at Stirling, Scotland, and in 1827 graduated ma from the University of Edinburgh. After studying theology he was licensed a minister of the Church of Scotland and in the early 1830s came to Upper Canada under the auspices of the Glasgow Colonial Society. In 1835 he accepted a call to be minister of St Andrew’s Church (Kirk) in Toronto. He also served as chaplain of the 93rd Highlanders, the St Andrew’s Society, and the St Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons. Leach demonstrated his zeal for education by playing an active role in the establishment of a Presbyterian college at Kingston. He was a trustee of Queen’s College when it was granted a charter in 1841 and opened under its first principal, Thomas Liddell*.

At this time, however, Leach began to doubt Presbyterian doctrines such as predestination and to challenge the legitimacy of all forms of Presbyterianism because they lacked apostolic succession. In 1842 he resigned from St Andrew’s and was tried for his heretical opinions by the presbytery of Toronto. He then turned to the Church of England and early in 1843 was ordained priest by Bishop George Jehoshaphat Mountain* of Quebec. On 20 Feb. 1843, on the recommendation of Bishop John Strachan* of Toronto, the proprietors of the newly formed St George’s Church in the west end of Montreal chose Leach as their first incumbent. He gained the respect of Montrealers during the typhus epidemic of 1847 by risking his life to help the stricken Irish immigrants who were crowded into hospital sheds on the waterfront.

In 1846 Leach established a connection with McGill College which was to last until his death. Over the course of 40 years he held a series of important appointments: professor of classical literature and lecturer in mathematics and natural philosophy, 1846–53; fellow and vice-principal, 1846–86; lecturer in logic, rhetoric, and moral philosophy, 1853–72; dean of the Faculty of Arts, 1853–86; and Molson professor of English language and literature, 1872–83. Leach’s responsibilities at McGill were carried out under laborious conditions, often with discouraging prospects of success and meagre recompense. From 1847 to 1855, for example, in the absence of a permanent principal, he did much to keep McGill functioning in his capacity as vice-principal. Leach supported the Reverend John Bethune*, acting principal of the college since 1835, in his struggle “earnestly to connect McGill College as closely as possible” with the Church of England. Bethune’s goal of exclusive Anglican control clashed with that of the trustees of James McGill*’s endowment, and in 1846 he was dismissed. The principalship would then have gone to Leach had he not been a clergyman. But Leach came to recognize the impossibility of trying to maintain a denominational connection and “cordially acquiesced” in the appointment in 1855 of John William Dawson*, a layman, as principal. Dawson later described Leach as “a man of rare gifts and of warm attachment to the college.” As a leading educator, Leach was also appointed in 1876 one of eight members of the Protestant school committee of the Council of Public Instruction for Quebec, and thus helped to organize a Protestant school system for the province.

Leach’s duties at McGill became too heavy to be combined with those of incumbent of St George’s Church. The congregation would have retained him on whatever conditions he might propose, but he resigned in 1862. He did not, however, altogether retire from parochial work. From 1865 to 1867 he had charge of St Stephen’s Church in Lachine, Canada East. In 1854 Leach had been appointed a canon of Christ Church Cathedral by Bishop Francis Fulford* of Montreal, and in 1865 he was named domestic chaplain to the bishop and an archdeacon. McGill awarded him an honorary dcl in 1849 and an honorary lld in 1857, and in 1867 Bishop’s College, Lennoxville, Quebec, awarded him an honorary dcl.

Archdeacon Leach’s career was important for his work as a teacher. He achieved an immense amount of steady, unpretentious work of high scholarly quality, conscientiously performed under generally difficult circumstances. At the time of his death Bishop William Bennett Bond* (formerly his assistant at St George’s) spoke of the “natural reserve of character” that had prevented Leach from assuming “that prominence . . . to which his experience and high qualifications entitled him.”

Edgar Andrew Collard

William Turnbull Leach was the author of several pamphlets: A discourse delivered in StAndrew’s Church, Toronto, on the thirtieth day of November, 1838 (St. Andrew’s Day) (Toronto, 1838); A sermon, preached in StAndrew’s Church, Toronto, on the thirtieth day of November, 1837 (St. Andrew’s Day) (Toronto 1838); A discourse delivered in StAndrew’s Church, Toronto, on the fourteenth day of December, 1838, being a day of public fasting and humiliation, appointed by authority (Toronto, 1839); Discourse on the nature and duties of the military profession, delivered in Saint Andrew’s Church, Toronto, to the 93d Highlanders, on the eve of their departure from Toronto garrison (Toronto, 1840); A discourse, delivered to StAndrew’s Lodge (no.1) of Freemasons, on Monday, the 28th December, 5840: being the annual festival of St. John the Evangelist (Toronto, 5841 [1841]); An address on Rechabitism, delivered at the quarterly meeting of the members of the Independent Order of Rechabites, in the hall of the Spring of Canada tent, on the 18th July, 1845 (Montreal, 1845); Sermon preached in StGeorge’s Chapel, Montreal, on Advent Sunday, 1851, appointed, by authority, for the celebration of the third semi-centennial jubilee of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (Montreal, 1851); A great work left undone; or the desideratum in systems of education; a lecture delivered on the 26th January, 1864 (Montreal, 1864).

Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of Montreal Arch. (Montreal), Francis Fulford papers. McGill Univ. Arch., Board of Governors, Minute books. Gazette (Montreal), 14 Oct. 1886. Montreal Daily Star, 14 Oct. 1886. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1888), 134. John Bethune, A narrative of the connection of the RevJBethune D.​ D. with M’Gill College . . . (Montreal, 1846), 56. J. D. Borthwick, History of the diocese of Montreal, 1850–1910 (Montreal, 1910), 103–4. D. D. Calvin, Queen’s University at Kingston: the first century of a Scottish-Canadian foundation, 1841–1941 (Kingston, Ont., 1941), 26, 302. J. W. Dawson, Fifty years of work in Canada . . . (London and Edinburgh, 1901), 96; Thirty-eight years of McGill . . . (Montreal, 1894), 7. A. P. Gower-Rees, Historical sketch of StGeorge’s Church, Montreal, and its constitution (Granby, Que., 1952), 10–11, 529. The history of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Lachine, Quebec, Canada, 1822–1956, comp. George Merchant (n.p., [1956]), 128. Cyrus Macmillan, McGill and its story, 1821–1921 (London and Toronto, 1921), 195–96, 204. S. C. Parker, The book of StAndrew’s; a short history of StAndrew’s Presbyterian Church, Toronto (Toronto, 1930). O. R. Rowley, “St. George’s Church, Montreal . . . ,” Canadian Churchman (Toronto), 70 (1943): 308–11. “Vice-principal Leach,” McGill Univ. Magazine (Montreal), 4 (1905): 14–15.

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Cite This Article

Edgar Andrew Collard, “LEACH, WILLIAM TURNBULL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/leach_william_turnbull_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/leach_william_turnbull_11E.html
Author of Article:   Edgar Andrew Collard
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   April 24, 2024