VANDUSEN (Van Dusen), CONRAD, Methodist minister; b. 14 Dec. 1801 in Adolphustown, U.C., son of Conrad Vandusen, a loyalist veteran who had been sentenced to death by the American forces for his activities during the Revolution; d. 18 Aug. 1878 in Whitby, Ont.
Conrad Vandusen grew up in comfortable circumstances at Adolphustown, where his father owned a tavern and a store, and in Marysburgh Township (now North and South Marysburgh). He acquired a good education for that period. In his youth he was “vivacious, droll,” and “distinguished for the use of cant or slang phrases,” according to John Carroll* who served on a neighbouring circuit in 1830. Although his father was one of the founders of the Hay Bay chapel near Adolphustown, the first Methodist church in Upper Canada, the young Vandusen was evidently a lively fellow who, according to a later clerical observer, badly needed the restraints imposed by a marriage at 18 and his work as teacher and farmer. In 1827, however, he was converted at a camp meeting near Demorestville, Ameliasburgh Township. “He could hardly tell the hour or the place where the light of God’s countenance broke in upon him. By the time, however, that he had got back to his home, he was happy and his soul overflowing with love.” Immediately he began to spread the word to his neighbours.
Vandusen was soon pressed into service as a Methodist itinerant, at first as the assistant on the Whitby circuit, to which he would retire decades later. Received on trial in 1830, he was ordained into the Wesleyan Methodist Church at the conference of 1833. In subsequent years he laboured inconspicuously if not quietly on several circuits across Upper Canada, and gained an enviable reputation as an heroic but kindly minister.
In 1849, when Victoria College at Cobourg had few students and was low in funds, Vandusen was appointed governor and treasurer. Confronted with the necessity of retaining students “by the argument a posteriori, that is by holding onto their coat-tails,” he devised an ingenious plan to build up an endowment through the sale of scholarships that would entitle the purchasers to free tuition for members of their families. It was “a natural product of a decade of speculation,” but unfortunately it yielded little permanent return to the college.
Vandusen returned to his regular work as a preacher in 1852 as chairman of the mission of Newash, an Indian village near Owen Sound, and was superannuated in 1859. He continued to preach in the 1860s, mainly in the Toronto area and on the Wardsville circuit, but his attention centred increasingly on writing. In 1867, under the pseudonym of “Enemikeese,” he published The Indian chief, in which he used the life of David Sawyer, an Indian Methodist minister, to illustrate the mistreatment of Indian tribes. The same year saw his Practical theology, an illuminating example of the literal way in which he and his contemporaries used biblical texts to construct a complete theology. Three years later he issued The prodigy, a memoir of the brilliant physician, G. E. A. Winans, and The successful young evangelist, a brief biography of Winans’ brother, William Henry Winans. Appropriately, in 1878 he produced The doctrine of the human soul in which he argued, on biblical grounds, that man consists of body, soul, and spirit, and that death constitutes the birth of man’s spiritual body in which his personality is preserved without physical defects and limitations.
In many ways, Conrad Vandusen exemplified the qualities of the first generation of native Canadian Methodist ministers. A tall, powerful man, famous for his endurance, he was equally notorious for his strongly conservative political attitudes and for his human touch. He had “a strong, inquiring, almost metaphysical mind” which he sought to develop by hard study, but he never attained intellectual or cultural sophistication. His preaching was vigorous and earthy: for him an indolent Christian was “like a lazy hired man, who would leave his corn-hoeing and spend his time chasing squirrels”; the Christian was not to forget that “the devil paid his servants as the cat paid the owl, over the face and eyes.” His writings display some originality, but little literary skill. They are today chiefly significant for the light they throw on the climate of opinion within the Methodist community in his generation. His devoted work as minister and writer imparted a measure of comfort and a sense of purpose to the lives of many Upper Canadians.
Conrad Vandusen was the author of The doctrine of the human soul; philosophy of a trinity in man, and the phenomena of death, philosophically considered, showing that death will produce no additional pang in the hour of dissolution (Toronto, 1878); Practical theology: a plain exposition of various subjects based upon divine revelation (London, 1867); The prodigy, a brief account of the bright career of a youthful genius, Dr. G. E. A. Winans, together with some interesting extracts from his correspondence and manuscripts (Toronto, 1870); The successful young evangelist; an account of the brief but brilliant career of Wm. Henry Winans, Wesleyan preacher . . . (Toronto, 1870); and, under the pseudonym of Enemikeese, The Indian chief: an account of the labours, losses, sufferings, and oppression of Ke-zig-ko-e-ne-ne (David Sawyer) a chief of the 0jibbeway Indians in Canada West (London, 1867).
Christian Guardian (Toronto), 18 April 1860, 5 March 1879. Methodist Church of Canada, Minutes of the Toronto conference (Toronto, Montreal), 1879. The minutes of the annual conferences of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada, from 1824 to 1857 (2v., Toronto, 1846–63), I. William Canniff, History of the province of Ontario (Upper Canada) . . . (Toronto, 1872), 125. C. B. Sissons, A history of Victoria University (Toronto, 1952).