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Original title:  Reverend Egerton Ryerson Young in buckskin costume. Reproduced from illustration in "By Canoe and Dog train" by E. R. Young. Image courtesy of Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta.

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YOUNG, EGERTON RYERSON, teacher, Methodist missionary, lecturer, and author; b. 7 April 1840 in Crosby Township, Upper Canada, son of the Reverend William Young and Amanda Waldron; m. 25 Dec. 1867, in Toronto, Elizabeth Bingham of Bradford, Ont., and they had eight children, of whom four daughters and one son survived infancy; d. 5 Oct. 1909 in Bradford and was buried in Bowmanville, Ont.

Egerton Ryerson Young’s relation to his namesake, Methodist leader and educator Egerton Ryerson*, was religious and cultural, not genealogical. Both his father and his mother’s brother Solomon Waldron were itinerant Wesleyan Methodist preachers and “cotemporaries,” as John Saltkill Carroll* described them, of the Ryersons and William Case*. Family ties infused Young’s childhood with the rural evangelical Methodism of an itinerant church not yet dominated by the urbanism of the later 1800s.

His mother having died in 1842, Young was brought up by his stepmother, Maria Farley. After completing school in Bond Head, he may have begun teaching in the late 1850s; the Council of Public Instruction issued him a teaching certificate on 9 June 1860. During 1860–61 he pursued a strenuous course of study at the Toronto Model School, learning to teach almost every subject. “I wish that I was born before nerves were invented,” he wrote on facing a class at the Toronto Normal School. But he enjoyed meeting Egerton Ryerson who, “in spite of the blaggurding and rubs, that he gets . . . is the most popular man in Toronto.”

In 1861 Young received charge of the school at Madoc, becoming the sole teacher of 105 students. Initially optimistic, he soon found the hard work and lack of help disillusioning; “the charm has gone and I care not how soon a change is made for something else,” he wrote on 9 March 1863. Knowing his parents’ hopes that he would follow his father’s calling, he mourned his lack of “spiritual progress.” “Sometimes, I think, what presumption for me to think of any higher sphere of action.”

On 10 May 1863 Young completed duties at Madoc and was received on probation in the Wesleyan Methodist Church; he travelled the Hungerford circuit while based mainly at Bridgewater (Actinolite). He preached his first funeral sermon on 11 July 1863 over the “rum soaked body” of a new campmeeting convert saved “by the skin of his teeth.” In June 1864 he was transferred to the Thorold circuit; in 1866 he moved to Port Dalhousie.

Ordained on 9 June 1867 in Hamilton, Young was called to the pastorate of the First Methodist Church there. Early in 1868, however, his superiors invited him to become a missionary to the natives of Rupert’s Land. Consulting and praying with his new wife, Elizabeth, he asked for her sentiments about this unexpected call. “I think it is from God and we will go,” she answered. The Youngs thus joined a group of Wesleyans bound for Rupert’s Land in the steps of James Evans*, Robert Terrill Rundle*, and others who in 1840 had initiated Methodist evangelism in that region. On 11 May 1868 the party, which included the Reverend George Millward McDougall* as guide and the Reverend George Young and family, left Hamilton to journey by steamer, train, and cart to the Red River settlement (Man.). The Youngs then travelled by York boat to Norway House to succeed Charles Stringfellow and his wife, in charge of the Rossville mission.

More than his immediate predecessors at Rossville, Young brought a circuit-preacher’s approach to his northern duties. In September 1868 he made the first of several trips to Oxford House to meet its native preacher, John Sinclair, and his congregation. While he learned the charms and perils of travel by birchbark canoe, Mrs Young faced her own initiation into managing mission affairs in her husband’s absences. The first winter was difficult. A plague of locusts the previous summer occasioned “famine prices” on supplies from Red River; “our flour, and it is a very bad article, costs us $20 a barrel.” Expenses rose as the Youngs attempted to meet the wants of natives even though “we fancy we hear reproofs from the Missionary committee.” As Young’s superiors learned, his sense of local needs often overrode their considerations of economy and bookkeeping.

In January 1869 Young initiated mission work among the Cree at Nelson House. Their response led him to promise them a camp-meeting in September; on that occasion 50 native families greeted him. The results appeared encouraging.

Young’s other new mission field was among the Saulteaux of Berens River. After several visits he secured support for a native assistant, Timothy Bear, to start work there, and in 1873 Young was assigned to develop the mission. That fall he and native assistants laid plans for construction of a mission house. After a winter’s leave in Ontario, the Youngs settled at Berens River with their children, Egerton Ryerson and Clarissa Maria Lilian, both born at Norway House.

The mission had successes and was encouraged by Jacob Berens [Nah-Wee-Kee-Sick-Quah-Yash*], who was elected band chief in 1875 on the signing of Treaty No.5, witnessed by the Youngs. But life with a growing family at this small outpost strained Mrs Young’s health and posed other problems as the eldest son approached school age. In 1876 Young went to Port Perry, Ont., where his son, bilingual in Cree and English, experienced vividly remembered culture shock on entering a rural Ontario school. Three years later the Youngs moved to Colborne, and then to Bowmanville and Meaford.

In May 1887 Mark Guy Pearse, a distinguished English Wesleyan, visited Young at Meaford. Noting his preaching and storytelling abilities, he invited Young to England and urged him to apply his speaking and writing skills to the needed task of “renewing the popular interest in foreign missionary enterprise.” In 1888 Young, unhappy with the pastorates offered him in Ontario, took up the challenge and made an extended lecture tour of the eastern United States. Its success was repeated in the British Isles the next spring and thereafter in other cities across North America. In 1890 appeared the first of over a dozen books based on his mission experience, By canoe and dog-train among the Cree and Salteaux Indians, which went through numerous editions. Its illustrations, with other images from many sources, provided the basis for a large collection of lanternslides to stir audiences and promote missions. Among his later works were animal stories and tales of adventure for juveniles, several of which were reprinted more than once. In 1904–5 Young and his wife made a trip around the world, lecturing and distributing his books in Australia for several months. Afterwards, he resided at the family home, Algonquin Lodge, in Bradford, preparing a history of North American Indian missions and other works.

Contemporary accounts of Young’s preaching and character emphasize his enthusiasm, energy, and humour. Controversial at times, he engaged the Reverend John Chantler McDougall* in bitter debate in the pages of the Christian Guardian over alleged errors in his Stories from Indian wigwams and northern camp-fires (1893); when the argument became too unchristian for the Guardian, McDougall printed his final Criticism on his own. There was no winner, but it is fair to say that Young, to enliven his popular writings and talks, took dramatic licence with his materials and drew uncritically on culture-bound images of native peoples that resonated with Victorian audiences. His private papers and relationships, however, reveal close ties with native colleagues such as Sandy Harte (a Nelson House Cree adopted for a time by the Youngs), the Reverend Edward Paupanakiss*, and others. The contents of his library reflect his contact with the ethnology of his day; his own writings also repay ethnohistorical study. In personal life, he was an affectionate, beloved, and warmly remembered husband, father, and grandfather.

Jennifer S. H. Brown

Egerton Ryerson Young is the author of over a dozen books, the best known of which are probably By canoe and dog-train among the Cree and Salteaux Indians, intro. M. G. Pearse (London, 1890) and Stories from Indian wigwams and northern camp-fires (London, 1893). Several of his works have gone through a number of editions and a few have been translated into Swedish and German. The CIHM Reg. contains an incomplete list of his publications; a more complete listing is to be found in National union catalog. Some of Young’s correspondence has been published as “Letters of Egerton Ryerson Young,” ed. Harcourt Brown, Manitoba Pageant (Winnipeg), 17 (1971), no.1: 2–11.

AO, F 976. PAM, A 0023 (family services, church reg.)/GR 1212 (Rossville, Norway House, reg. of baptisms, 1840–89). Christian Guardian, 13 Oct. 1909. J. S. H. Brown, “A Cree nurse in a cradle of Methodism: Little Mary and the Egerton R. Young family at Norway House and Berens River,” First days, fighting days: women in Manitoba history, ed. Mary Kinnear (Regina, 1987), 18–40. J. [C.] McDougall, “Indian wigwams and northern campfires: a criticism (Toronto, 1895). Morris, Treaties of Canada with the Indians. Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Jennifer S. H. Brown, “YOUNG, EGERTON RYERSON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 19, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/young_egerton_ryerson_13E.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/young_egerton_ryerson_13E.html
Author of Article:   Jennifer S. H. Brown
Title of Article:   YOUNG, EGERTON RYERSON
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   April 19, 2024