WHITE, EDWARD, Methodist minister and missionary; b. 11 Nov. 1822 in Philadelphia, Penn., son of William and Hannah White; m. in Canada West, on 22 or 23 July 1852, Sarah Jane Woodman by whom he had several children; d. 15 June 1872 at Montreal, Que.
Edward White grew up in the township of Raleigh, near St Thomas, Upper Canada. He attended the local school while working on his father’s farm, and after studying at home was licensed as a local preacher at the age of 21. He earned a teacher’s certificate and taught for a short time, then in 1845 began circuit work under the guidance of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Canada, Canada conference. By 1852 he was sufficiently advanced to be passed at the annual conference meetings in Kingston, where he was ordained the same year. White worked on the Smithville circuit until 1858 when he and three other Wesleyan Methodists were chosen for missionary work in the newly formed colony of British Columbia. Dr Ephraim Evans*, superintendent of the group, Ebenezer Robson, Arthur Browning, and White arrived in Victoria in February 1859 and received a warm welcome from local Methodists. Governor James Douglas and other influential citizens, though not themselves Methodists, eagerly greeted the newcomers and offered assistance in setting up the mission.
White was assigned to Queensborough (New Westminster) in the mainland colony where conditions were rough and primitive. On 1 April in the open air outside his tent he held his first services, preaching to a congregation of “fifty men, one woman and two children.” Confronted with virgin forest, overwhelmed by “the unspeakable mosquito,” and suffering the usual privations of pioneer life, the undaunted missionary with his wife and two children took up his task with a will. White possessed an athletic frame and was an expert axe-man – qualities which enabled him to build a parsonage and later a church while the Royal Engineers under Colonel Richard Clement Moody* carved the proposed capital city out of the wilderness. White’s small wooden building-the first Methodist church west of the Great Lakes – was dedicated on 8 April 1860 on land donated by Colonel Moody. Before long, ably assisted by his wife’s sister, Emily Woodman, the missionary had established a day school, a night school for the Chinese, a Sunday school, a temperance society, and prayer groups.
After four years White and his family were named to replace Robson at Nanaimo, where the congregation included numerous Indians. Thomas Crosby*, a layman, was already there and had mastered enough of the Salish tongue to interpret for White on the circuit, which embraced Comox, Cowichan, and Saltspring Island.
By 1866 White was again in New Westminster, and he assumed the added responsibility of chairman of the British Columbia District since Dr Evans had retired. The New Westminster circuit had been enlarged to include Burrard Inlet, Chilliwack, Hope, and Yale, and as chairman White was expected to visit all stations including far-off Barkerville and the Methodist churches on Vancouver Island. Fortunately the Cariboo Road had been completed and Barnard’s stage coaches were operating. Toward the end of 1869 White was again in charge at Nanaimo but by then the effects of exposure to the elements and over-exertion were beginning to show. The need for a protracted rest was evident by 1871 and White returned to Ontario.
In less than a year’s time White was travelling in Britain “for health and observation” and lecturing as immigration agent for the Ontario government. Returning home from an enjoyable and successful tour, during which he had sent interesting dispatches to the Victoria Colonist, he paused in Montreal where he was stricken with smallpox and died.
Edward White’s character as a minister of the Gospel, unselfish and zealous, is revealed in his soul-searching diaries. They show him as a “man of virility and faith.” The foundations of Methodism in British Columbia were well laid by the “incredible zeal of men of this calibre.”
PABC, Edward White diaries, 1 Jan. 1859–31 Dec. 1866, 1867 (typescripts; typescript copies also held by the United Church British Columbia Archives, Vancouver); Letter of appointment, Enoch Wood to Edward White, 16 Nov. 1858 (photostat). Colonist (Victoria), 1859–72. Victoria Gazette, 12 Feb. 1859. Edgar Fawcett, Some reminiscences of old Victoria (Toronto, 1912). [John Sheepshanks], Bishop in the rough, ed. D. W. Duthie (London, 1919). E. O. S. Scholefield and F. W. Howay, British Columbia from the earliest times to the present (4v., Vancouver, B.C., 1914). W. D. Young, “Pioneer Methodist missionaries in British Columbia, 1859–71,” unpublished ba essay, University of British Columbia, n.d.