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WARDEN, ROBERT HARVEY, Presbyterian minister and editor; b. 4 Jan. 1841 in Broughty Ferry, Scotland, son of Alexander Johnston Warden, a merchant and historian; m. Jemima McCaskill, and they had two daughters and three sons; d. 26 Nov. 1905 in Toronto.

Robert Harvey Warden was educated at Madras College, St Andrews, Scotland, and after moving to Upper Canada as a young man began the study of law in Toronto. In 1863 he abandoned this project to enter Knox College, the Toronto seminary of the Canada Presbyterian Church. Upon graduation in 1866 he was called to the Presbyterian congregations of Bothwell and Florence in southwestern Upper Canada, and was ordained to these charges on 15 November of that year. He remained at Bothwell for the next eight years. At some date during that period an accident caused by a runaway horse broke both his ankles, confining him for ten months and partially disabling him for life. While serving at Bothwell he was named convener of the Presbytery of Chatham’s home mission committee. Warden viewed this area of church activity as contributing to a strong and godly Canadianism and it became the major interest of his career.

In the autumn of 1874, because of his organizational abilities, his strong personal connections within the church, and his background in law, Warden resigned his pastorate to become the fund-raising agent for Knox College’s building campaign. This campaign raised subscriptions of over $110,000, virtually the full cost of the new building with classrooms, library, chapel, and residence for 80 students that was built on Spadina Avenue in 1875. That same year almost all Presbyterian bodies in Canada were united in the Presbyterian Church in Canada and Warden’s talents proved particularly valuable to the new national church. He was soon involved in a number of committees, usually as an organizer of administrative systems and as financial director.

In 1878 Warden moved to Montreal, the unofficial headquarters of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, to act as financial agent for the Presbyterian College of Montreal, secretary of home missions, member of the Montreal section of the finance committee, secretary of the French Canadian evangelization committee, and treasurer of the evangelization fund. In 1896, on the death of the Reverend William Reid, agent of the church (western section), Warden assumed his duties and moved from Montreal to Toronto, a change indicative of the political shift of the church’s power base from Quebec to southern Ontario in the late Victorian period.

Warden’s largest single achievement was the Twentieth Century Fund (also called the Century, Second Century, or New Century Fund), which he saw as a unifying process within the church as well as a money-raising undertaking. In 1898 the church’s General Assembly had appointed a committee, chaired by Warden, to propose some appropriate measure to mark the beginning of the 20th century. One year later his committee recommended that the church raise $1,000,000 in two years for various programs. Warden made such a stirring speech to the General Assembly that it signified its approval of the Twentieth Century Fund by a unanimous standing vote.

Warden proposed that within the Twentieth Century Fund there should be a special fund of $400,000 to discharge existing debts on church property and a common fund of $600,000 for missionary, educational, and benevolent purposes. The five theological colleges of the church were to receive $175,000 from the common fund. In order to save the church from $7,000 to $8,000 in interest charges per annum, another $104,000 was to be set aside as a reserve fund for missionary schemes. A further $132,000 was earmarked for the support of aged and infirm ministers and the widows and orphans of clergy. Warden was appointed senior agent of the Twentieth Century Fund, and by 1903 it had received more than $1,600,000 – $600,000 for the common fund and over $1,000,000 for the special fund.

His earlier involvement in church extension and his known interest in that work were recognized in his appointment to the General Assembly’s committee on home missions in 1877 and his role as its convener from 1899 until his death. As agent of the church, he was responsible for the financing of church extension in the west to meet the spiritual needs of the wave of new settlers arriving after 1896. Under the energetic supervision of the Reverend James Robertson and backed by Warden’s successful fund-raising, the Presbyterian church in the west grew rapidly. During the Klondike gold-rush, however, Warden, Robertson, and William Cochrane*, convener of the home mission committee (western section), were criticized by some Presbyterians in Winnipeg who challenged the church’s priorities in sending missionaries to the Yukon.

This controversy over home missions and Warden’s concern about the wasting of resources through duplication of facilities by the various Christian denominations, especially in the west, made him a strong advocate of church union. In 1902 this project was proposed to the Congregationalist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, and the General Assembly appointed Warden convener of a new committee on correspondence with other churches. When Principal William Caven of Knox College, convener of the Presbyterian church’s union committee and chairman of the joint committees of the three denominations, died in December 1904, Warden was named his successor, but he died less than two years later.

In 1888 Warden had received a dd from the Presbyterian College of Montreal in recognition of his work, and in 1901 he was elected moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the highest honour in his church. He held several church-related positions, such as governing director of the Ottawa Ladies’ College. Most of Warden’s contributions were made on the Canadian scene, but in 1904 he attended the meeting in Liverpool, England, of the Alliance of Reformed Churches holding the Presbyterian System as an official representative of his church. Beyond his denominational work Warden held a few posts in Canadian business. For several years he was a director and then vice-president of the Westminster Company Limited, a private publisher of religious newspapers, and he was also a director of the Royal Victoria Life Insurance Company and the Metropolitan Bank. He became president of the bank in 1903.

At his death Warden was lamented as “a sane and reliable leader” who, during his career, had served some 200 working years on at least 20 committees and boards of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. He had spent 28 years on home missions, 24 on French Canadian evangelization, 20 on the board of the Presbyterian Record, which he also edited for several years, 22 on various financial boards, 23 on the boards of Knox College and the Presbyterian College of Montreal, 15 on boards supporting clergy and dependents, and 7 each on committees concerning sabbath-school publications and church and manse buildings. In 1901 he was serving on 12 of the church’s 26 boards and committees and was convener of three of them.

Although contemporaries praised Warden’s “absolute fidelity to duty,” the limitations of his training and his rise as a pioneer church administrator were reflected in his reluctance or inability to delegate work. Late in 1904 he became ill, and in the spring of 1905 he was granted six months’ leave of absence. His duties were temporarily assumed by his son Alexander, who as deputy financial agent of the church had been his assistant for the previous eight years. During his prolonged illness Warden gave $10,000 to Knox College and $5,000 each to Queen’s College, Kingston, and the Presbyterian College. He died in Toronto on 26 Nov. 1905.

John S. Moir

Robert Harvey Warden is the author of A catechism on the Century Fund: Presbyterian Church in Canada (Toronto, 1899); The church and its work; an address delivered at the opening of the 28th General Assembly of the Pres[byterian] Church in Canada, Toronto, June 11th, 1902 ([Toronto, 1902]); “Home missions in Ontario and Quebec,” Reapers in many fields: a survey of Canadian Presbyterian missions, ed. W. S. MacTavish (Toronto, 1904), 62–70; The statistics & general working of home missions in Canadian churches . . . (London, Ont., 1873); and probably of “The twentieth century fund: its inception and the results,” Historic sketches of the pioneer work and the missionary, educational and benevolent agencies of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (Toronto, 1903), 5–8.

      Globe, 27 Nov. 1905. Toronto Daily Star, 27 Nov. 1905. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Presbyterian (Toronto), new ser., 7 (July-December 1905): 680. PCC Acts and proc., 1895–1906. John Somerville, “A leader in an expanding church: Rev. R. H. Warden, d.d.,” Missionary pathfinders: Presbyterian laborers at home and abroad, ed. W. S. MacTavish (Toronto, 1907), 124–32. “A timely message from the late Dr. Warden,” Presbyterian Record, 31 (1906): 3. Westminster (Toronto), [3rd] ser., 19 (July-December 1905): 393; 20 (January-June 1906): 60–62.

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Cite This Article

John S. Moir, “WARDEN, ROBERT HARVEY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/warden_robert_harvey_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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/warden_robert_harvey_13E.html
Author of Article:   John S. Moir
Title of Article:   WARDEN, ROBERT HARVEY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   October 1, 2023