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Original title:  Samuel H. Blake, n.d. but likely the 1890s. Image provided by Wycliffe College, Toronto, Ontario.

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BLAKE, SAMUEL HUME, lawyer, judge, Anglican layman, philanthropist, social reformer, and pamphleteer; b. 31 Aug. 1835 in Toronto, son of William Hume Blake* and Catherine Honoria Hume*; m. first 3 Feb. 1859 Rebecca Cronyn, daughter of Bishop Benjamin Cronyn*, in London, Upper Canada, and they had a son and two daughters; m. secondly 18 Oct. 1909 Elizabeth Baird in Rio de Janeiro; they had no children; d. 23 June 1914 in Toronto.

Samuel Hume Blake was born in Toronto soon after his refined Irish parents had abandoned an attempt at farming in Middlesex County. His father became a lawyer and his ambitious mother temporarily ran a girls’ school to help finance the family. Blake was educated by tutors at home and then was sent to Upper Canada College, where he excelled as a public speaker.

About 1850 Blake entered the Toronto mercantile firm of Ross, Mitchell and Company. However, after completing his four-year apprenticeship, he decided to follow his father and elder brother, Edward, into the legal profession. He concurrently worked as a student-at-law in the office of his uncle George Skeffington Connor* and began studies at the University of Toronto. In 1858 he graduated with a ba and was admitted by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an attorney and solicitor. He immediately entered into partnership with his brother and two years later was called to the bar.

The Blake firm enjoyed rapid success. Throughout his long association with it, Samuel was the one who usually kept shop, always resisting the allure of political office, which absorbed so much of Edward’s time. He shared Edward’s strong nationalism, however, and helped him as an organizer: he arranged a banquet in early 1870 for his brother, then the new provincial Liberal leader, and campaigned for him during the federal election of 1872. Samuel’s rising professional status was marked by his appointment as a bencher of the Law Society in 1871 and as a provincial qc the following year.

In 1872 Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald* offered the young but accomplished Blake the position of junior vice-chancellor on the Ontario Court of Chancery. Although it meant a significant drop in income and his resignation as a bencher, Blake agreed to replace Oliver Mowat*, who had resigned to succeed Edward Blake as premier, and in 1875 he became senior vice-chancellor. In addition, in 1876 Mowat appointed Blake, a lifelong advocate of temperance, a tavern-licence commissioner for Toronto. Blake’s judgements in court, on estates, mortgages, titles, insolvencies, sales, and other equity matters, won him wide respect. By the 1880s, however, his outspoken involvement in social and religious issues had made his position on the bench awkward; some felt he had crossed the line and they complained to the government. In 1881, at the age of only 45, he resigned and returned to practice to fill the gap left in the Blake firm by the appointment of John Alexander Boyd as chancellor. Blake’s unanticipated “descent” brought sharp criticism from a legal profession concerned about maintaining the dignity and independence of the judiciary.

Even before his appointment Blake had shown a keen interest in evangelism, his low-church Anglicanism a legacy of his parents. He first acted on his convictions by becoming a Sunday-school teacher, a duty he undertook for decades and for which he became celebrated in Toronto. He eventually taught several classes each week, including an interdenominational group of Sunday-school teachers. During the 1870s and 1880s the “Hon. Psalm Blake,” as one journalist later dubbed him, became increasingly involved in efforts to reform society. In 1874, for example, Blake, William Holmes Howland*, and other evangelical activists established the Prisoners’ Aid Association. Two years later Blake delivered a lengthy address to the Young Men’s Christian Association in Toronto. Immediately published as The young men of Canada, the first of Blake’s many religious pamphlets, it spelled out his philosophy of the Protestant work ethic balanced by fair play.

In 1869 Blake and other prominent Toronto Anglicans had founded the Evangelical Association, a low-church lobby against clerical and high-church domination of the diocese of Toronto. The most significant achievement of the association, which was reorganized as the Church Association in 1873, was the establishment in 1877 of the Protestant Episcopal Divinity School (later renamed Wycliffe College) as an evangelical response to the high-church teachings of Trinity College [see James Paterson Sheraton*].

Although the association was disbanded in 1879, following the election of the moderate Arthur Sweatman* as bishop of Toronto, the evangelical party, with Blake at the fore, continued to play a leading part in Canadian Anglicanism. Blake would serve as treasurer of Wycliffe for 25 years from 1888 and provide the drive on the board of the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada, formed in 1901. He and his cohorts established Bishop Ridley College for boys in 1889 in St Catharines, Ont., and Havergal Ladies’ College in 1894 in Toronto. At the former he endowed a gold medal for “true manliness” but withdrew it in 1902 when the school’s principal accepted an honorary degree from Trinity. Within the diocese of Toronto, lay associations were key factors in the financial and organizational reconstruction being undertaken by Sweatman, and in this endeavour Blake was a force. A supporter of the Church of England Deaconess and Missionary Training Home, which opened in 1893, Blake for decades was the pre-eminent, and the most colourful, lay representative at synod. Beginning in 1896 he led a successful campaign to increase the endowment for the bishop’s salary, and in 1907 he lined up an assistant bishop and raised funds for his stipend.

By the 1880s and 1890s Blake’s organizational affiliations had become legion. He supported the Prison Gate Mission and Haven and the Industrial School Association, both in Toronto, and was sometime president, vice-president, or chairman of the international convention of Sunday schools, the Toronto branch of the Evangelical Alliance, the Protestant Churchmen’s Union and Tract Society, the Laymen’s Missionary Movement, the Irish Protestant Benevolent Society, the Toronto City Mission, the Lord’s Day Alliance, the Ontario branch of the Dominion Alliance for the Total Suppression of the Liquor Traffic, the YMCA, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Toronto Humane Society. On occasion he travelled to the United States and England to represent Canada and speak at international gatherings of charitable organizations. Blake gave of his wealth unstintingly and unostentatiously to a multitude of such causes.

Blake’s success and stature as a business lawyer undoubtedly helped support these philanthropic activities. One of the finest legal minds of his generation, he counted among his clients the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Canadian Bank of Commerce, the City of Toronto, and the University of Toronto. The firm, which contained 13 lawyers in 1900, attracted the best legal lights, among them Zebulon Aiton Lash, another exceptional corporate lawyer, and Alexander Mackenzie*, who had been sent to Brazil in 1899 to advise on the foundation of utility companies [see Frederick Stark Pearson].

Named a dominion qc in 1885, Blake was an ex officio bencher of the Law Society from 1881, a member of several of its committees, and a lecturer on the ethics of law at the university’s faculty of law in 1889–94. A reluctant convert, he supported the admission of women to the profession in 1892 and employed Clara Brett Martin*, the first woman in the British empire to become a lawyer, as an articling student in his firm.

Like his father and brother, Blake took an active interest in the University of Toronto, with which Wycliffe federated in 1889. He acted as the university’s counsel at the provincial royal commission appointed under the chairmanship of Thomas Wardlaw Taylor to inquire into the student revolt of 1895. In the late 1890s he was elected to its senate and he served as a governor in 1906–9. During this period a dispute developed over teaching on biblical subjects at the non-denominational University College. By the fall of 1908 Blake had entered the fray, arguing that the instruction contravened the secular terms of the university act. In fact, Blake, a traditionalist with deep suspicions of new currents in religious study, also feared that higher criticism would undermine students’ faith, and his vociferous involvement, including yet another pamphlet, did much to inflame the controversy. More constructively, as trustee of the university’s residence fund, he succeeded in having three student residences built.

Though he was never elected to office, Blake’s legal and moral force was clearly felt in the political arena: he rarely refrained from speaking out or acting on public issues. Acting for the crown in 1885, for instance, he prosecuted Christopher William Bunting* and others accused of trying to bribe members of the legislature. Still a leading figure in the Prisoners’ Aid Association, he helped bring about the appointment in 1890 of the commission on the prison and reformatory system of Ontario, chaired by John Woodburn Langmuir. Although the Blake name was synonymous with Liberalism, he could not, in good conscience, endorse the Liberal government of George William Ross between 1899 and 1905, largely because of its electoral misdeeds and neglect of the University of Toronto. By the election of May 1902 Blake had shifted his support to Conservative leader James Pliny Whitney; in December he wrote an open letter to his Conservative mpp, James Joseph Foy, condemning the “carnival of corruption” in the ageing Liberal regime. When it was alleged soon afterwards that Robert Roswell Gamey, another Conservative mpp, had been bribed to support the teetering government, Blake acted as chief prosecuting counsel before the commission appointed to investigate the matter. Whitney’s victory in 1905 was greeted with enthusiasm by this disaffected Grit, who, as counsel for the privately owned Ontario Power Company, would become intimately involved in Whitney’s drive for publicly owned hydroelectricity.

Throughout his career Blake approached every task with the certainty of the evangelical. For him there was no paralysing self-doubt. Whether he was arguing in court, opposing Sunday streetcars in Toronto, or raising funds for additions to his beloved Wycliffe, he was always the worker, the crusader. “All theology that does not end in the practical,” he once wrote to the Reverend Henry John Cody*, “should be relegated to the paradise of fools!” Even on holiday at Murray Bay (Pointe-au-Pic), Que., where the Blakes had been escaping Toronto’s summer heat since the 1860s, he kept his stenographer busy typing letters to family, colleagues, and newspaper editors. These epistles, punctuated by frequent exclamation marks, often ran to ten pages and sometimes read more like legal briefs. All his writings reflected an exceptional command of fact and a voracious reading of classical literature, history, law, theology, and the Bible.

Blake was a complex, sometimes contradictory personality. One of his friends and courtroom rivals, Britton Bath Osler*, once quipped with much truth that “if Mr. S. H. Blake could not appear upon the platform during the week and vent his – he would not say spleen and malice, but it was something very like that – upon his fellow men, he would not be in shape to go into the pulpit on Sunday and express his unbounding charity to all.” Although he was “one of the most acrimonious. . . . intolerant partizans imaginable,” according to a student who had participated in the 1895 revolt, the tender-hearted Blake was “no sour fanatic,” in the estimate of the Toronto World. A master of repartee, he relished telling stories and jokes, often about himself, and thoroughly enjoyed life; in court he could mix thunder with long, disconcerting grins and bursts of laughter. One of his passions was yachting; in 1890 a boating accident near Gananoque, Ont., almost claimed his life.

Blake was always impatient with the shortcomings of others. A self-appointed defender of the faith, affectionately named “the Archbishop” by his family, he was ever on the offensive against high church, high finance, and higher criticism. With regard to high finance, his view was contradictory. Though aware that money could be used for good causes, he also recognized that seeking it for its own sake often led to corruption. On one occasion, a journalist wrote in 1911, Blake declared that the northern Ontario mining town of Cobalt “had resulted in so much lying, deceit, fraud, over-reaching ambition and in such a Pandora’s box of miseries, that it would almost have been better if the place had never been discovered.” At times his passionate nature and extemporaneous oratory got the better of him. On one public occasion, while recounting the difficulties of establishing Wycliffe, he remarked: “The bishop of the diocese said that he would not ordain our graduates. Well we prayed that this obstacle might be removed, and it again pleased God to answer our prayers, for shortly afterwards Bishop [Alexander Neil Bethune*] died!”

By the turn of the century Blake had reached his zenith. Subsequently, he suffered a series of adversities. His wife died in 1901 of a heart condition, and his own sturdy constitution gradually succumbed to years of relentless activity. His elder daughter, Mabel, divorced a son of former chief justice Thomas Moss*, and in 1907 Blake’s brother suffered a severe stroke. Mabel was remarried in 1908, however, to Alexander Mackenzie, by then vice-president of both São Paulo Tramway, Light and Power (another Blake client) and Rio de Janeiro Tramway, Light and Power, which merged to form Brazilian Traction, Light and Power in 1912. At his death, the largest asset in Blake’s estate was stock in Brazilian Traction worth $166,625.

Despite the encroaching years, Blake remained active and controversial. A multi-denominational committee formed in 1904 under his chairmanship, to investigate church-run schools for native children, revealed serious financial problems and the scandalous state of Indian missions, and brought an unflinching Blake into collision with both missionaries and bishops. Resisting popular desires for increased imperial attachment, in a speech in 1905 he denounced “the miserable spirit of jingoism and militarism” in Canada and dismissed the South African War “as one without glory.”

In the early 1900s Blake had a nagging feeling that more had to be done to fulfil the gospel in society. In 1902 he had switched his membership from the modest St Peter’s Church on Carlton Street to St Paul’s on Bloor Street, where the popular and evangelical H. J. Cody was rector. Here Blake rallied for one final project: the construction of what remains the largest Anglican church in Canada. He seems to have thought that it was symbolically important for the evangelicals to have their own cathedral-like structure. He laid its cornerstone in September 1910, and three years later the 2,500-seat “gothicized auditorium” designed by Edward James Lennox* was completed. Blake assumed the role of Cody’s mentor and on more than one occasion kept him from leaving St Paul’s to become a bishop. His goal, he told Cody, was to make it the one church in Toronto “where the simple and spiritual service of the Church of England is known and lived.”

In 1909, while visiting Mabel in Rio de Janeiro, the 74-year-old Blake married his 32-year-old housekeeper and private secretary. Despite failing health, he devoted himself increasingly to writing pamphlets; these often scorching proclamations were circulated in the thousands. Blake distributed many of them himself: an obituary would note his role as colporteur, when, as on his way to his office, he “rode Sphinxlike and solitary through the streets in his ambling barouche,” wearing his signature silk top hat. Yet Blake had become a caricature of the Social Gospel reformer. Young journalists began to make light of his “old fashioned morality,” though they remained eager to quote his caustic opinions, which made good copy. There was a frenetic despair about Blake’s last months. In January 1913 he wrote to Cody of the need for a “spiritual awakening! Why will not the Lord send it?” He lamented the loss of the moral standards of his youth and his failure to keep Toronto good.

Blake died in his 79th year. The élite of Toronto and Ontario society filled St Paul’s to witness his simple funeral, conducted by Cody and the bishop of Toronto, and he was buried in the family vault at St James’ Cemetery. He would probably have been gratified by Saturday Night’s unadorned assessment of his life: “Whether one agreed with him or not, nobody could be blind to his brilliance or to his solid virtues. Many controversies will have less savor now that he is gone, and the world loses a good citizen.” These qualities, the journal concluded, had made Blake “one of the most interesting, and perhaps exasperating figures in the political, social and religious life” of Canada.

John D. Blackwell

Samuel Hume Blake is the author of approximately 50 pamphlets and articles, including: Our faulty gaol system . . . ([Toronto], 1896); Don’t you hear the red man calling? ([Toronto], 1908; copy in ACC, General Synod Arch., Toronto); The teaching of religious knowledge in the University College ultra vires (Toronto, 1909); Wycliffe College: an historical sketch ([Toronto, 1910]); The Church of England in Canada should be Protestant until Rome dies . . . ([Toronto, 1910]; copy in General Synod Arch.); and “Standards,” Canadian Club of Toronto, Addresses, 1912/13: 61–68. His decisions as vice-chancellor are contained in Grant’s Upper Canada Chancery Reports (Toronto), 1873–81. There is no collection of Blake’s papers; most of his personal manuscripts were destroyed by his daughter Mabel in 1906, when he vacated his house on Jarvis Street and moved to Rosedale.

ACC, General Synod Arch., GS 75–103 (Missionary Soc. of the Church of England in Canada), ser.2-14 (Special Indian Committee, S. H. Blake corr.). AO, F 2, MU 138–39, 200, 7120; F 980, MU 4952–55, 4980; RG 22-305, no.29517. Christ Church [Protestant Episcopal] (Rio de Janeiro), Reg. of marriages, no.333, 18 Oct. 1909 (copy at Law Soc. of Upper Canada Arch., Toronto). Law Soc. of Upper Canada Arch., 1-5 (Convocation, rolls), common roll, Michaelmas term, 1856; barristers’ roll, Hilary term, 1860; 1-5.6, roll of attorneys and solicitors sworn and admitted in Upper Canada and Ontario, [1858]. Trinity College Arch. (Toronto), 986-0008/005 (05)-(10). Calgary Herald, 23 June 1914. Canadian Churchman (Toronto), 25 June 1914. Daily Mail and Empire, 30 Dec. 1902, 13 Dec. 1906. Evening Telegram (Toronto), 23 June 1914. Globe, 5 Feb. 1859; 6 May 1901; 24, 26 June 1914. London Advertiser (London, Ont.), 11 July 1890. Times (London), 8 May 1901. Toronto Daily Star, 13 June 1913; 23–24 June 1914; Star Weekly, 4 Oct. 1913, 27 June 1914. Weekly Globe (Toronto), 7 July 1876. World (Toronto), 12 April 1903, 24 June 1914. Christopher Armstrong and H. V. Nelles, The revenge of the Methodist bicycle company: Sunday streetcars and municipal reform in Toronto, 1888–1897 (Toronto, 1977). Kim Beattie, Ridley: the story of a school (2v., St Catharines, Ont., 1963). Augustus Bridle, “Personalities and problems, no.21 – Honourable S. H. Blake,” Canadian Courier (Toronto), 25 Jan. 1913: 8–9. Mary Byers, Havergal: celebrating a century, 1894–1994 ([Toronto], 1994). Canadian annual rev. (Hopkins), 1905. H. [W.] Charlesworth, Candid chronicles: leaves from the note book of a Canadian journalist (Toronto, 1925). H. J. Cody, “Samuel Hume Blake,” Univ. of Toronto Monthly, 15 (1914–15): 14–17. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.1 . J. C. Dent, The Canadian portrait gallery (4v., Toronto, 1880–81), 3. Philippe Dubé, Charlevoix: two centuries at Murray Bay, trans. Tony Martin-Sperry (Kingston, Ont., and Montreal, 1990). J. W. Grant, Moon of wintertime: missionaries and the Indians of Canada in encounter since 1534 (Toronto, 1984). J. G. Greenlee, Sir Robert Falconer: a biography (Toronto, 1988). A. L. Hayes, “The struggle for the rights of the laity in the diocese of Toronto, 1850–1879,” Canadian Church Hist. Soc., Journal (Toronto), 26 (1984): 5–17. “Hon. Samuel Hume Blake, k.c.,” Canada Law Journal (Toronto), 50 (1914): 450–52. C. W. Humphries, “Honest enough to be bold” : the life and times of Sir James Pliny Whitney (Toronto, 1985). The jubilee volume of Wycliffe College (Toronto, 1927). J. A. McNeil, “Interviewing Hon. Psalm Blake,” Saturday Night, 6 Jan. 1912: 3. G. H. Maitland, “Honorable ‘Sam’ Blake,” Maclean’s (Toronto), 22 (1911), no.3: 65–69. D. C. Masters, “The Anglican evangelicals in Toronto, 1870–1900,” Canadian Church Hist. Soc., Journal, 20 (1978): 51–66; Henry John Cody: an outstanding life (Toronto, 1995). “Satirical, kindly Mr. Blake,” Saturday Night, 27 June 1908: 10. Saturday Night, 4 July 1914: 1. R. B. Splane, Social welfare in Ontario, 1791–1893; a study of public welfare administration (Toronto, 1965). Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell), vol.1 . H. E. Turner, “Protestantism and progress: the Church Association of the diocese of Toronto,” Canadian Church Hist. Soc., Journal, 22 (1980): 1–28.

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Cite This Article

John D. Blackwell, “BLAKE, SAMUEL HUME,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 22, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/blake_samuel_hume_14E.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/blake_samuel_hume_14E.html
Author of Article:   John D. Blackwell
Title of Article:   BLAKE, SAMUEL HUME
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   May 22, 2024