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SIMPSON, JAMES, Church of England clergyman and author; b. 11 May 1853 in Maidstone, England, son of James Simpson, a surgeon and dentist, and Marion Campbell; m. 29 June 1891 Alice Maude DesBrisay in Charlottetown, and they had three sons and one daughter; d. there 29 Nov. 1920.

After education at Southsea Diocesan Grammar School, James Simpson emigrated to Quebec in 1872, intending to go into business. However, on the advice of two clergymen he studied for holy orders at Bishop’s College, Lennoxville, graduating in arts in 1876 (ma 1879). Having strained his eyes, he did not proceed to ordination but worked for five years as a government surveyor. In 1882 he was engaged as assistant master at Trinity College School, Port Hope, Ont. He was ordered deacon by Bishop Arthur Sweatman* of Toronto in 1882 and priest in 1883.

In December 1886 he went to Charlottetown to take temporary charge of St Peter’s Cathedral. Shortly afterwards he was offered the cure of souls there, and he was inducted on 13 Feb. 1887. He remained until his death, styled “priest-incumbent,” for he was neither dean nor rector, the cathedral lacking both chapter and parish. Yet he would be made a canon of his cathedral in 1907 (the first), and in 1915 an honorary canon of All Saints’ Cathedral, Halifax. Under his leadership St Peter’s Cathedral exercised a wide influence in an Anglo-Catholic direction throughout eastern Canada. He introduced Eucharistic vestments in 1889. In the same year All Souls’ Chapel, the work of two brothers, architect William Critchlow and portrait painter Robert Harris, was dedicated; it was used for the daily Eucharist and offices Simpson initiated in 1890.

Simpson was a member of the provincial and general synods, a governor of King’s College, Windsor, N.S., and a delegate to the Pan-Anglican Congress held in 1908, and he would serve on the committee which produced the first Canadian revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1918. In 1914 Bishop’s College made him an honorary doctor of canon law. Most of his published works originated as sermons, and include Prayers for the departed in the light of Holy Scripture; five addresses (Charlottetown, n.d.), Divorce and re-marriage . . . (n.d.), Local temperance . . . (n.d.), Spiritualists examined; five addresses (n.d.), Is confession to a priest in accordance with the teaching of the Church of England? . . . ([ 1891 ?]), The low birthrate, its causes and results ([1898?]), and Only clergy, episcopally and canonically ordained can legally, officiate in the Church of England, in Canada (1920) – all controversial issues on most of which Anglo-Catholics held clear positions that Simpson was firm in upholding.

Never one to shrink from controversy, he had accepted the challenge offered by retired judge Alfred William Savary of Annapolis Royal, N.S., when he wrote in the 12 Aug. 1909 issue of Church Work (Halifax) that those who denied that the Church of England in Prince Edward Island was part of the diocese of Nova Scotia were mistaken. In a series of letters Simpson demonstrated, from the letters patent and the actions of the colonial bishops of Nova Scotia, that the Island was an episcopal jurisdiction placed since 1825 under the authority of the bishop of Nova Scotia rather than an integral portion of that diocese. At issue, then and now, is whether or not the church in Prince Edward Island has inherent rights to self-government. Despite his convincing argument, which was endorsed in a church-commissioned report of 1985, Nova Scotia diocesan authorities have been unsympathetic to it, and generally careful not to appoint clergy agreeing with it to leadership positions on the Island. So Simpson was never in his long and distinguished ministry made dean or archdeacon.

Simpson’s energies, like those of many English Anglo-Catholic clergy of his generation, were directed to social as well as ecclesiastical matters. Concerned about the effect on family and personal life of the high rate of alcohol consumption in Prince Edward Island, he became active in the temperance movement. After World War I he was chairman of a returned soldiers reception committee and treasurer of a prisoners of war fund which raised $27,000. When he died a former mayor of Charlottetown said, “The poor . . . have lost a dear friend in the Reverend Canon Simpson.”

Robert Critchlow Tuck

In addition to the publications mentioned in his biography, James Simpson is the author of Christianity and agnosticism: lectures delivered at StPeter’s Cathedral, Charlottetown, PE.I. (Charlottetown, n.d.). Copies of his pamphlets are available in the archives of St Peter’s Cathedral.

Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum (Charlottetown), Arch., Harris family papers. PARO, P.E.I. Geneal. Soc. roll., reference files, two Desbrisay family charts. St Peter’s Cathedral Arch., Harry Hilchey and Ronald Stevenson, “Report of the commission appointed to examine the relationship between the diocese of Nova Scotia and the Anglican Church in Prince Edward Island” (report to H. L. Nutter, archbishop of Fredericton and metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Prov. of Canada, 1985); RBMB, esp. marriage reg., 29 June 1891. Charlottetown Guardian, 30 Nov. 1920. Philip Carrington, The Anglican Church in Canada; a history (Toronto, 1963), 152–53. The jubilee of StPeter’s Cathedral, Charlottetown, PEIsland, 1869–1919: souvenir album ([Charlottetown?, 1919?]). T. R. Millman and A. R. Kelley, Atlantic Canada to 1900; a history of the Anglican Church (Toronto, 1983). StPeter’s Cathedral, Rochford Square, Charlottetown, P.E.I (Charlottetown, 1925).

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Cite This Article

Robert Critchlow Tuck, “SIMPSON, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/simpson_james_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/simpson_james_14E.html
Author of Article:   Robert Critchlow Tuck
Title of Article:   SIMPSON, JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   September 22, 2023