DADSON, EBENEZER WILLIAM, Baptist minister and editor; b. 10 July 1845 in Cranbrook, Kent, England, youngest of five sons of Stephen Dadson and Mary Breachin; m. August 1877 Julia Elizabeth French of Paris, Ont., and they had five sons; d. 12 March 1900 in Montreal.
The Dadson family immigrated to Upper Canada in 1849 and settled at Toronto. Stephen Dadson had been raised an Anglican but became successively a Methodist class leader, a Congregationalist, and a Baptist. The family attended Bond Street Baptist Church, where the young Ebenezer was influenced by three leading Baptist pastors of the day, James Pyper, Thomas Ford Caldicott*, and particularly Robert Alexander Fyfe*, founder and principal of the Canadian Literary Institute in Woodstock.
In 1857 the family returned to England, but one year later they came back to Toronto; shortly thereafter Stephen opened a hat-making business in Guelph. Ebenezer remained in Toronto, working as an errand-boy, as a helper to Fyfe, the publisher and editor of the Canadian Baptist, and as an assistant in a printer’s shop. In 1861 he rejoined his family in Guelph, where he worked in his father’s store. His only formal education had been at the Toronto Model School from 1853 to 1857, but at the age of 20 he enrolled in the Canadian Literary Institute and was converted and baptized there in 1868.
On completing his secondary schooling, “Ebb,” as he was nicknamed, returned to Toronto, where the family had settled again in 1867, and entered the University of Toronto. There he became a founding member of the University College Young Men’s Christian Association and was involved with Professor James Colton Yule in religious work at York Mills (Toronto). In the summer of 1872, a year before graduation, he served as a ministerial assistant in Ottawa and Chelsea, Que. Although a polished writer, Dadson showed no aptitude for preaching. Nevertheless, despite discouragement by friends, he was determined on a pastoral career, and by unrelenting practice he increased his pulpit facility until in his mature years he was regarded as the most effective Baptist preacher in Canada.
Dadson returned to the Canadian Literary Institute in 1873 to study theology, and after student service at Buckhorn, Clarence, and Haldimand he became pastor of the Baptist church at Denfield in southwestern Ontario in 1876. During his early years in the pastorate he was active in amateur athletics and attracted attention as a public speaker and writer on popular, classical, and religious topics. After a brief stay in Strathroy, he accepted in 1882 the post of editor of the Canadian Baptist, which had just been purchased by the prominent Baptist layman Senator William McMaster*.
The first years of Dadson’s editorship were made difficult by conflicting plans for the site of a Baptist university, but Dadson won the respect of the opposing factions by his fair and open treatment of differing points of view. He was Calvinist and conservative in his theology, and his writing was, like his preaching, simple, forceful, and aggressively evangelistic rather than literary. His editorials called for justice in personal relations, political equality, and freedom of conscience, and they emphasized individual and collective responsibilities instead of rights.
Under Dadson’s guidance the Canadian Baptist became an early exponent of the ideas of “practical Christianity” later incorporated into the Social Gospel. He advocated, by legislative means when necessary, the relief of poverty, the right to work and to unionize, legal protection for children, women, and Indians, honesty in business, purity in politics, fair wages and profit-sharing, prohibition of the liquor traffic, and the banning of vivisection and blood sports. In 1886 he strongly defended members of the Knights of Labor dismissed by the management of the Toronto Street Railway Company for union activities. For Dadson these issues were as much religious as social and political. He insisted that the law of supply and demand was “unchristian” and that both public and private relations be governed by the principles of the Sermon on the Mount.
In order to reduce the financial difficulties of the Canadian Baptist, which were probably caused by its limited circulation, in 1886 Dadson combined a pastorate at Claremont (Pickering) with his editorial duties. Two years later, for reasons unknown, he resigned both posts and became pastor at Woodstock; he was succeeded at the Canadian Baptist by James Edward Wells. In 1896 Dadson accepted a call to Olivet Church, the largest Baptist congregation in Montreal. Living in Quebec increased his interest in French Canadian history and culture and made him a strong advocate of evangelization of French Canadians. He served on several Baptist boards, including those of the Grande-Ligne mission [see Henriette Odin*] and foreign missions, and was president of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec in 1892. In 1895 McMaster University conferred on him its third honorary dd. Dadson’s death at 54 resulted from cancer that developed after a back injury sustained three years earlier in a fall from a church roof under construction near his summer home in the Muskoka district.
[The primary sources of information on Ebenezer William Dadson are the files of the Canadian Baptist (Toronto) for the years 1882–88, and E. W. Dadson, B.A., D.D.: the man and his message, ed. J. H. Farmer (Toronto, 1902), which contains unidentified selections from diaries, private letters, sermons, and public writings which have now disappeared. j.s.m.]
Dadson produced two pamphlets: Bible baptism (only the third edition, Toronto, 1899, is known), and a tribute to his wife, Julia French Dadson; written by her husband for the boys ([Montreal, 1898]). Outlines of two of his sermons were published in pamphlets commemorating church anniversaries: Paris Baptist Church: a memorial pamphlet, containing an account of the services held on the fiftieth anniversary of the organization of the church . . . (Paris, Ont., 1893), and Centennial services, Haldimand Baptist Church, 1798–1898, on Sunday, May 22, 1898 . . . (Colborne, Ont., [ 1898?]).
Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, Baptist year book (Toronto), 1879–98. J. S. Moir, “The Canadian Baptist and the Social Gospel movement,” Baptists in Canada: search for identity amidst diversity, ed. J. K. Zeman (Burlington, Ont., 1980), 147–59. H. U. Trinier, A century of service: story of the “Canadian Baptist”, 1854–1954 ([Toronto, 1958]).