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b. 17 May 1882 in Toronto


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O’MEARA, FREDERICK AUGUSTUS, Church of England clergyman and translator; b. 7 Jan. 1814 at Wexford (Republic of Ireland), the son of Charles P. O’Meara, schoolmaster, and Sarah Murphy; m. in 1840 Margaret Johnston Dallas of Orillia, Upper Canada, and they had one daughter and four sons, all their sons, including Thomas Robert, becoming clergymen; d. 17 Dec. 1888 at Port Hope, Ont.

Frederick Augustus O’Meara entered Trinity College, Dublin, on 23 Jan. 1832, and graduated an in 1837. Through the Dublin University Association of the Church Missionary Society he was led to missionary work. Made deacon by the bishop of London in October 1837, O’Meara left England in December in the employ of the Upper Canada Clergy Society. After his arrival in Toronto on 29 March 1838 he began work as a travelling missionary in the Home District. On 9 September he was ordained priest by Bishop George Jehoshaphat Mountain* at St John’s Church, Woodhouse Township, near Simcoe, and was licensed to the Indian mission at Sault Ste Marie as successor to William McMurray*. He had worked in Tecumseth Township of the Home District with Featherstone Lake Osler*, who, needing clerical assistance in his large mission, was disappointed to lose him. For the two years O’Meara lived at the Sault, he ministered not only to the Indians there but also to those living at Garden River, nine miles away. The latter had come to the Sault when Sir John Colborne* promised them a village in 1830 but it had not been built and they had returned to Garden River. O’Meara quickly became immersed in the study of Ojibwa and within a year had translated part of the Book of Common Prayer into that language. The young Irishman’s journals written at this time indicate his intense interest in evangelization and education.

Following its decision in 1830 to settle Indians in villages, the British government had attempted in 1835 to concentrate Indians from a large area, mainly north of lakes Superior and Huron, on Manitoulin Island. In 1838 these attempts were resumed. O’Meara was sent as chaplain in 1841 to replace Charles Crosbie Brough who had removed to London, Canada West, in that year. For more than 18 years O’Meara laboured within the settlement at Manitowaning and also journeyed to Bruce Mines, Owen Sound, and more frequently to Sault Ste Marie and Garden River. Two of his reports, both under the title A mission to the Ottahwahs and Ojibwas, on Lake Huron, were published in 1846: one describes the foundation of the mission, with references to the pioneering visit of Captain Thomas Gummersall Anderson* and the Reverend Adam Elliot* in 1835, and the other tells of his own labours in 1845–46. In company with the Reverend Richard Flood of the Delaware Indian mission O’Meara sailed to the British Isles late in 1846 seeking money for church building. The money he collected later aided in building St Paul’s Church, Manitowaning, a task completed in 1849. During his stay he enjoyed visiting his mother, sisters, and brother in Dublin and was honoured by his old university with an honorary lld. He made another overseas journey in 1854–55 to gain further support for his mission.

An important result of O’Meara’s years on Manitoulin was the production of a number of translations into Ojibwa: a devotional work, The faith and duty of a Christian, 1844; the Book of Common Prayer, 1846; the Four Gospels, 1850; the New Testament, 1854; and the Psalms, 1856. In 1856 O’Meara received an assistant when Bishop John Strachan* ordained Peter Jacobs, an Indian who was the son of Methodist missionary Pahtahsega and had been educated under Bishop David Anderson of Rupert’s Land; O’Meara and Jacobs together produced the Pentateuch, with Proverbs and Isaiah, as well as a hymn book in 1861. Some of these books were reprinted and were used in Indian missions in both the United States and Rupert’s Land. O’Meara had a good grasp of grammar through his training in classical languages and he was a diligent student of Ojibwa. So certain was he of his philological proficiency that in a review of the first two volumes of Information respecting the history, conditions and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States . . . he accused the editor, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, of making glaring errors. He also expressed the opinion that Indian words worked into Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The song of Hiawatha might have been rendered more accurately if the poet had not made use of Schoolcraft’s books as he apparently had.

By 1850 progress was being made at the mission. The church, now the oldest in the diocese of Algoma, had been built and a boys’ school begun. The next year Miss Hannah Foulkes came from England to teach Indian girls and her work met with O’Meara’s warm approval; she stayed until she went to Garden River on her marriage to James Chance, an Englishman instructed in Ojibwa by O’Meara and ordained by Bishop Strachan in 1857. But despite all efforts the Indian establishment failed and the mission linked with it was weakened. Unlike the older Roman Catholic settlement at nearby Wikwemikong, from its beginning largely composed of Christian Indians who already had some experience in cultivating the land and who had in their new home a good fishing ground, the Manitowaning establishment had less homogeneity and a less favourable location. Many Indians who were gathered there accepted Christian baptism but as they came directly from the ancient freedom of lake and forest they were not attracted by the settled way of life. Some left for their former homes or returned to wandering, while a few moved to nearby Sheguiandah where the Anglican mission was re-established in 1865. Six years earlier, however, when his government salary was cut off because of a change in policy, O’Meara, discouraged and with family responsibilities, had decided to leave and to accept the incumbency of Georgetown, Canada West. Peter Jacobs wrote sadly from Manitowaning on 30 September: “Dr. O’Meara and his family left this afternoon. . . . I had hoped that they would have stayed here another winter. The Doctor called the Indians together yesterday evening, and after singing and prayer, gave them his parting address. . . . The Doctor is a great loss to this place: I shall miss him very much.”

For the next eight years, while serving as a parish priest, O’Meara continued his interest in education and was at one time inspector of public schools in Esquesing Township. On behalf of the New England Company, which supported the Garden River mission, he made a tour of inspection of the Company’s Brantford station in 1860. When Peter Jacobs died in 1864, O’Meara taught Ojibwa to his successor at Manitowaning, Jabez W. Sims. The next year, on behalf of the Church Society of the Toronto diocese, he accompanied Alexander Neil Bethune* on a deputation to Manitowaning to advise the Indians about relocating, following the treaty in 1862 which opened the island to white settlement. In 1867 he went to Port Hope to assist the ailing Jonathan Shortt* and he became rector on Shortt’s death in the same year. A large contribution during his 20-year ministry in that parish was the completion of the present church and related buildings. He died “in harness” in Port Hope on 17 Dec. 1888.

O’Meara’s ministry coincided with the first half-century of the diocese of Toronto and he was closely linked with church affairs during that long period. When a diocese of St Mary’s (later Algoma) had been contemplated in 1849 his name had been mentioned for bishop. In a letter to Ernest Hawkins*, secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gosepel, John Strachan made a shrewd assessment of O’Meara’s character, admitting that he possessed zeal and the true missionary spirit but was also of a hasty disposition and often rash and precipitate in judgement. “These defects in the temper of his mind seem to disqualify him for the high duties of the Episcopate where correctness and precision of judgment and firmness of character are as essential as the higher qualifications of piety and learning.” O’Meara was a strong evangelical, firm in his opinions and ready in his expression of them. He was one of the founders in 1877 of the Protestant Episcopal Divinity School, later Wycliffe College, in Toronto and was in disagreement on that score with Bishop Bethune. But all three bishops of Toronto respected him and the third, Arthur Sweatman*, told the synod in 1889: “The Church has lost in him a truly loyal, gifted and valuable servant; I have lost a faithful and highly honoured friend.”

Thomas R. Millman

[Among Frederick Augustus O’Meara’s works are: “Historical and statistical information respecting the history and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States . . . [review],” Canadian Journal, new ser., 3 (1858): 437–51; Report of a mission to the Ottahwahs and Ojibwas, on Lake Huron (London, 1846); and Second report of a mission to the Ottahwahs and Ojibwas, on Lake Huron (London, 1846). Many of O’Meara’s translations into Ojibwa are listed in J. C. Pilling, Bibliography of the Algonquian languages (Washington, 1891), 379–82. The General Synod Archives of the Anglican Church of Canada in Toronto has a good collection of these translations.  t.r.m.]

Anglican Church of Canada, General Synod Arch. (Toronto), F. A. O’Meara, Scrapbook. AO, Strachan (John) papers. [C. C. Brough], “The Manitoulin letters of the Rev. Charles Crosbie Brough,” ed. R. M. Lewis, OH, 48 (1956): 63–80. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1847, I, app. T.; 1858, VI, app.21. [Mrs James Chance [Hannah Foulkes]], Our work among the Indians . . . (London, Ont., n.d.). Church of England, Church Soc. of the Diocese of Toronto, Annual report (Toronto), 1847–49. Colonial and Continental Church Soc., Annual report (London), 1861–62. Colonial Church and School Soc., Annual report (London), 1852–60. New England Company, History of the New England Company, from its incorporation, in the seventeenth century, to the present time . . . (London, 1871). Soc. for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, Report (London), 1849. Canadian Ecclesiastical Gazette (Toronto), 1 Oct. 1854; December 1855; January 1856; July, November 1857; 15 June, 1 Dec. 1860; 15 May, 1 June, 15 Dec. 1861; 14 June, 15 July 1862. Church (Cobourg, [Ont.], Toronto), 5 Jan. 1839; 30 Oct., 20 Nov. 1846; 3 Sept. 1847; 9 July 1854. Church Chronicle (Toronto), September 1863; December 1865; August 1867. Church of England Magazine (London), 27 July 1839. Evangelical Churchman (Toronto), 27 Dec. 1888. Canada and its prov. (Shortt and Doughty), IV: 693–725; V: 329–62. [F. W. Colloton and C. W. Balfour], A historical record of the planting of the church in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Diocese of Algoma) and the history of the mother-parish of StLuke’s (n.p., [1932?]). J. W. Grant, “Rendezvous at Manitowaning” (paper delivered to the World Methodist Hist. Assoc., Toronto, 1977). StPaul’s Anglican Church, Manitowaning, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada (Little Current, Ont., 1950). Ruth Bleasdale, “Manitowaning: an experiment in Indian settlement,” OH, 66 (1974): 147–57.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Thomas R. Millman, “O’MEARA, FREDERICK AUGUSTUS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 17, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/o_meara_frederick_augustus_11E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/o_meara_frederick_augustus_11E.html
Author of Article:   Thomas R. Millman
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   May 17, 2024