Champions of the Truth: Fundamentalism, Modernism, and the Maritime Baptists


136 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-0783-3
DDC 286.7'715




Reviewed by Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur is Supervisor of the Legislative Research Service at the
New Brunswick Legislature and author of The Rise of French New


As the 20th century enters its final decade, several historians have
turned to a long-dormant theme, religious history. Rawlyk’s special
interest is with his own affiliation, the Baptist denomination—in
particular, the inner turmoil of that group’s Maritime Convention
during the 1920s and 1930s, a great period of unrest and/or renewal
among Protestant churches throughout Canada.

This book is based on Rawlyk’s 1987–88 Winthrop Pickard Bell
lectures in Maritime Studies, delivered during his visiting
professorship at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. As he
candidly admits in his short preface, those lectures were “largely
preliminary probes” in his search for answers to a historical
question: why did members of the Maritime Baptist Convention stick to
their own course and traditions while their counterparts in central
Canada wrestled with the forces of modernism and at times with illiberal
ideas? Stated another way, Rawlyk was looking for historical
explanations for basic social and cultural differences that distinguish
most Maritimers from other Canadians.

In a style refreshingly candid and conversational—almost as if the
book were a verbatim account of his Bell lectures—Rawlyk traces his
own academic conversion away from conventional historical themes and
toward religious figures like Henry Alline and Freeborn Garrettson,
whose sojourns in late-eighteenth-century Nova Scotia “established a
revivalistic paradigm which would become the evangelical norm in the
Maritimes for Baptists, Methodists and Congregationalists alike, well
into the twentieth century.” Indeed, Rawlyk notes that a 1987 study
describes the entire Atlantic region as “the nation’s true Bible

In his second chapter or lecture, Rawlyk skillfully uses material he
recently discovered in the Acadian University Archives at Wolfville,
N.S., as well as evidence from a spectacular court case, to help trace
the bitter, bizarre, but ultimately successful efforts by the Maritime
Baptist Convention to defeat the fundamentalist forces led by
British-born and American-educated J.J. Sidey and his close colleague,
Rev. J.B. Daggett, a native of Grand Manan, N.B. Sidey’s
cross-examination by George C. Nowlan (later a Conservative M.P.) is
vivid history.

The third chapter is equally lively, as Rawlyk describes T.T.
Shield’s efforts to put his religious stamp on Maritime Baptists.
Described in 1929 in a respected American Protestant periodical as
“unquestionably the dominant personality” among all North American
fundamentalists, Shields, pastor of Toronto’s Jarvis Street Baptist
Church, enlisted Daggett and Sidey (especially the former) as his
Maritime lieutenants, but as he later told Alberta’s William Aberhart,
“only the Maritime Provinces remained untouched . . . by the really
wonderful work the Lord has wrought.”

At this point, Rawlyk abruptly ends his analysis, leaving his Mount
Allison listeners and later readers wondering when and where he would
find satisfactory answers to the questions posed in his preface as to
why Maritimers are so different. He has provided us with some
tantalizing clues. We can only hope that a later and more complete study
will produce a challenging and coherent thesis.


Rawlyk, George A., “Champions of the Truth: Fundamentalism, Modernism, and the Maritime Baptists,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,