CLARKE, WILLIAM FLETCHER, Congregational minister, office holder, journalist, and publisher; b. 31 March 1824 in Coventry, England, son of the Reverend William Clarke and Mary Ann Fletcher; m. 1844 Mary Ann Lyle, and they had three sons and four daughters; d. 25 Sept. 1902 in Guelph, Ont.
In 1837 the Colonial Missionary Society of the Congregational Church in England assigned William Fletcher Clarke’s father to London, Upper Canada. He established a church in the village and also purchased 40 acres of bush nearby, which his sons helped him clear and farm. W. F. Clarke was educated at the Congregational Academy in Toronto and was ordained in 1844. For the next two years he was pastor in Burford and Norwich. He then accepted a position in London, which he would hold until 1853. During this time he served as superintendent of the town’s schools and as secretary of the county board of education, and helped to organize the local antislavery society. In 1854 he founded the Canadian Independent, the organ of the Congregational Church of Canada, which he edited for two years until financial problems forced its demise. From 1855 to 1856 he was chairman of the Congregational Union of Canada.
Posted to Waukesha, Wis., in 1857, two years later Clarke accepted an appointment as a missionary in Victoria on Vancouver Island. There, in addition to constructing a church, he helped to establish a branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association, a society for the reform of the franchise, and the Dashaway Society (a temperance body). Clarke jumped into local politics by successfully leading the protest against Governor James Douglas*’s attempt to establish the Church of England as the colony’s official church. Soon after his arrival he had been joined by an assistant, the Reverend Matthew Macfie. Trouble soon erupted between the two over the seating of black members of the congregation: Macfie wanted them separated as a group while Clarke believed that they should be integrated. His stand was unpopular and Macfie led a large part of the congregation to found a second church. He also circulated a petition which resulted in Clarke’s release by the Colonial Missionary Society. Clarke’s position, however, was supported by the Congregational Union of Canada, which raised money to help pay for his church and held a vote of censure against the missionary society.
Returning to Upper Canada in 1860, Clarke accepted a posting to Guelph, where he would be pastor for 13 years. His outstanding achievement was the construction of a new church. During his time in Guelph he edited the Sunday School Dial, a small religious monthly for children, and began to write extensively on agriculture. As well, he became the Canadian correspondent for the Patriot of London, England.
In 1863 Clarke started a regular column on agriculture for the Montreal Witness under the pseudonym Lindenbank, the name of his farm outside Guelph. The following year he was chosen by George Brown* of the Toronto Globe to edit the Canada Farmer. Clarke oversaw a talented writing staff who included many of the province’s most prominent agriculturalists, among them Delos White Beadle and Andrew Smith. However, the paper was widely criticized. A letter to the journal in 1864, signed “Harry Homespun, back in the bush,” encapsulated much of the public dissatisfaction with the publication by complaining that it “advocated too advanced and gentlemanly a style of farming.” The Canada Farmer promoted scientific farming with an emphasis on diversification and crop rotation and believed in educating farmers in the profession of farming. At this time Clarke developed one of his major interests – bee-keeping – and he was assigned the task of writing on it for the Canada Farmer. In 1869 he left the paper to publish his own journal, the Ontario Farmer, but it lasted only two years.
One of Clarke’s major editorial concerns was the establishment of an agricultural college in Ontario. Hence he was a natural choice in 1869 for John Carling*, commissioner of agriculture in the provincial government of John Sandfield Macdonald*, to study such colleges in the United States and submit a scheme for setting one up. In his report the following year Clarke recommended that a college be situated at a “country town of sufficient size to furnish society, market and business facilities, in the centre of some wealthy agricultural region” and that the government follow the American example, particularly that of the Michigan State Agricultural College, where students were required to undertake manual labour in addition to formal education. Initially, in 1871, the province acquired land near Mimico (Toronto). Though Clarke regarded this site as unsuitable, there is no indication that he played any role in the ultimate selection of Guelph, near which the Ontario School of Agriculture and Experimental Farm was established in 1874. Clarke was seemingly well suited to be principal of the new school, but the position was given to Henry McCandless. Clarke was, however, appointed rector in April 1874. The two men clashed and on 2 June Clarke resigned, complaining of McCandless’s “tyranny and incapacity.” McCandless, in turn, accused Clarke of undermining his authority and claimed that he was guilty of selling rhubarb roots to the college at an “exorbitant price” and of playing cards with the students. An investigation cleared Clarke and asked for McCandless’s resignation. Such stormy confrontations punctuated Clarke’s career, for, as one obituary would note, “his hard knocks and straight talk brought him often into hot water.”
Following his resignation, Clarke resumed his ministerial career, serving until 1888 in Speedside, Listowel, and St Thomas. He also re-entered the field of agricultural publishing with the Rural Canadian and Grange Record (Toronto); it is known to have appeared between 1885 and 1898, but the years of Clarke’s association with it are uncertain. Continuing his passion for bee-keeping, he wrote A bird’s-eye view of bee-keeping (Beeton, Ont., 1886), lectured at the Ontario Agricultural College on the subject, and was editor of the American Bee Journal (Philadelphia, etc.) and president of the Bee-Keepers’ Association of Ontario, incorporated in 1886. He was also a member and office holder in many other organizations, including the Dairymen’s Association of Western Ontario, created in 1877, and the Poultry Association of Ontario, incorporated two years later. A prominent lecturer on agriculture, he addressed both local and provincial bodies. His lectures resembled his writings: witty, intelligent, and full of religious, literary, and musical references, with a tendency to be outspoken.
From 1888 Clarke lived in Guelph, where he had property interests. He continued to preach as a supply and was active in the community, participating in politics, running a local fair, and helping to establish parks. He died there in 1902.
William Fletcher Clarke’s publications include: Baptism: who are the subjects; and what is the mode?; being the substance of two discourses preached in the Congregational Chapel, London, C.W, Dec. 9th, 1849 (London, [Ont.], 1849); A mother in Israel; or some memorials of the late Mrs. M. A. Lyle, by her sons-in-law (Toronto, 1862), with R. L. Tucker; “The history of nonconformity in England in 1662,” Canadian bicentenary papers (Toronto, 1862), no.1; “In memoriam”; the late Rev. John Roaf, Toronto, MDCCCLXIII (Toronto, [1863?]); Review of a discourse preached by the Rev. T. S. Ellerby in Zion Church, Toronto, Oct. 30, 1864 . . . ([Toronto?, 1864?]); and In memoriam: a discourse occasioned by the death of the late A. W. Lillie, esq., and delivered in the Congregational Church, Guelph, on sabbath evening, October 18th, 1868 . . . ([Guelph, Ont., 1869]). He is also the co-author, with Edward Hartley Dewart, of Lord Tennyson’s pessimism: poems on “Locksley Hall, sixty years after” (St Thomas, Ont., 1892).
A listing of Clarke’s agricultural writings appears in Science and technology biblio. (Richardson and MacDonald), among them numerous articles in the Canadian Bee Journal (Beeton, Ont.) as well as contributions to the Bee-Keepers’ Assoc. of Ontario Annual report (Toronto) and the Canadian Horticulturist (Toronto). In addition, an 1891 manuscript by Clarke entitled “A history of the Ontario Agricultural College” is preserved in the Univ. of Guelph Library, Arch. and Special Coll.
NA, RG 31, C1, 1871, Guelph. UCC, British Columbia Conference Arch. (Vancouver), F. E. Runnalls, “Two pioneer ministers in Victoria” (photocopy, n.d.; copy in DCB, Biog. subject file). Warwickshire County Record Office (Warwick, Eng.), Vicar Lane Congregational Church (Coventry), RBMB, 6 Jan. 1823, 31 March 1824. Evening Mercury (Guelph), 25 Sept. 1902. C. A. Burrows, The annals of the town of Guelph, 1827–1877 (Guelph, 1877). Canadian album (Cochrane and Hopkins). The Canadian Congregational year book (Toronto), 1903/4: 11. The chronicle of a century, 1829–1929: the record of one hundred years of progress in the publishing concerns of the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches in Canada, ed. L. [A.] Pierce (Toronto, 1929). “The Congregational churches of Canada: a statistical and historical summary,” comp. Douglas Walkington (mimeograph, [Toronto], 1979; copy at UCC-C). Dairymen’s Assoc. of Ontario, Annual report (Toronto), 1870–76; continued by Dairymen’s Assoc. of Western Ontario, Annual convention (Toronto), 1878–85; continued in Ont., Dept. of Agriculture, Annual report (Toronto), 1886–1900. History of the county of Middlesex . . . (Toronto and London, 1889; repr., intro. D. [J.] Brock, Belleville, Ont., 1972). L. A. Johnson, History of Guelph, 1827–1927 (Guelph, 1977). G. H. Knighton, “A brief history of the Guelph Congregational Church,” ed. G. M. Shutt, OH, 54 (1962): 203. A. J. Madill, History of agricultural education in Ontario (Toronto, 1930). “Ministers of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1875–1925: ministerial summary from Acts and proceedings of the General Assembly,” comp. Douglas Walkington (mimeograph, [Toronto], 1987; copy at UCC-C). Morgan, Bibliotheca canadensis. Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers, 1874, no.23. Presbyterian Church of Canada in connection with the Church of Scotland, Ecclesiastical and Missionary Record (Toronto), 16 (1859–60). A. M. Ross, The college on the hill: a history of the Ontario Agricultural College, 1874–1974 (Vancouver, 1974).
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Cite This Article
S. Lynn Campbell, “CLARKE, WILLIAM FLETCHER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/clarke_william_fletcher_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:
|Author of Article:||S. Lynn Campbell|
|Title of Article:||CLARKE, WILLIAM FLETCHER|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1994|
|Year of revision:||1994|
|Access Date:||June 8, 2023|