McKENZIE, JOHN, Presbyterian minister; b. 5 May 1790 in Fort Augustus, Scotland, eldest son of William McKenzie; m. Janet Fraser, and they had no surviving children; d. 21 April 1855 in Williamstown, Upper Canada.
John McKenzie, who came from a farming background, grew up in his native Inverness-shire and was educated at the local grammar school before going on to King’s College (University of Aberdeen) as a bursary student in 1809. He received an ma on 26 April 1813 and, in order to support himself, became a schoolmaster in Urquhart. However, desirous of entering the ministry, he resigned his post in the winter of 1813–14 and enrolled in divinity the following spring. At the same time he set up as a teacher of English, writing, and arithmetic in Old Aberdeen.
By 1818 he found himself, at 28, a small, intense schoolteacher and licentiate of the Church of Scotland with no outstanding ability and little likelihood of ever finding a ministerial post in Scotland. Then, in July, members of the Presbytery of Aberdeen recommended that he accept a call from Williamstown, Upper Canada, whose congregation had been without a minister since the death of the Reverend John Bethune* three years earlier. He agreed. Passing his trials, he was ordained on 23 Dec. 1818 and by the summer of 1819 was ensconced in Williamstown.
When he arrived in the colony he was the sole Church of Scotland minister in Upper Canada and one of only a handful in the Canadas. His new charge, St Andrew’s, was part of a community of United Empire Loyalists and disbanded soldiers of mixed background, Dutch, German, and English, but largely Highland and Lowland Scots. Able to speak Gaelic, he ministered to the Presbyterians among them and he conscientiously set out to organize congregations in the surrounding area and supply their needs until they could support ministers of their own.
For all his ministerial zeal, he took a minimal interest in the moves of his Canadian colleagues to gain state recognition in the early 1820s, doing little more than signing the petitions and letters forwarded to him. Similarly, he remained an observer of the efforts of Robert McGill and others to form a synod later in the decade. Perhaps mistaking his lack of involvement for non-partisanship, and appreciative of his even-handed adjudication of two ministerial disputes, his colleagues awarded him the signal honour in 1831 of electing him the first moderator of the newly formed Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Canada in connection with the Church of Scotland. Little involved in church affairs, he often absented himself from the yearly synod meetings, although he was active throughout his life in sustaining the Presbytery of Glengarry, also formed in 1831. When he did appear at synod he was found on the reactionary edge of the church with men such as the Reverend Alexander Mathieson*, arguing in the 1830s, for instance, that ministers such as those in the United Synod of Upper Canada not trained by the Church of Scotland could not be admitted into their ranks. As might be expected he sided with the Church of Scotland forces during the disruption and was a bitter opponent of those who left its ranks in 1844.
His real contribution to the church lay in his parish work. Though a peppery man by nature, he endeared himself to those around him by his unusually keen concern for the poor and the distressed and by his tolerance, at a personal level, of other segments of the community. He lived to see his synod grow to six presbyteries and 80 ministers.
[The 1,083 pages of material relating to McKenzie contained in the papers of the McGillivray family of Glengarry (PAC, MG 24, I3, 7–8) touch on his private affairs and illuminate his ministerial role from parish to synod. An appreciation of his career was published in the Presbyterian, 8 (1855): 66, 82–83. See also the McKenzie entry in UCA, Biog. files, and Presbyterian Church of Canada in connection with the Church of Scotland, Minutes of the Synod (Toronto), 1831–55. h.j.b.]
Croil, Hist. and statistical report (1868), 77. Montreal Gazette, 26 April 1855. Officers and graduates of University & King’s College, Aberdeen, [1495–1860], ed. P. J. Anderson (Aberdeen, Scot., 1893), 274. Roll of alumni in arts of the University and King’s College of Aberdeen, 1596–1860, ed. P. J. Anderson (Aberdeen, 1900), 119. Scott et al., Fasti ecclesiæ scoticanæ, vol.7. Gregg, Hist. of Presbyterian Church. St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Williamstown, Ontario; report of centenary celebration, August 25th to September 2nd, 1912 (Cornwall, Ont., 1916), 70.