Alexander N. Bethune, late Bishop of Toronto, was a son of the Rev. John. Bethune, Chaplain to the British forces, who settled in the County of Glengarry, Ontario, and that vicinity, and was born in the Village of Williamstown, in that county, August 28, 1800. That part of the Province was originally settled by United Empire Loyalists, most of who had fought for King George in the struggle of the American Colonies for independence, and were obliged to leave the United States at the close of the war, in 1783.
The subject of this sketch was partly educated at the Cornwall Grammar School. The Rev. Canon Givins, who was domestic chaplain to our subject for some time before his death, states that “he was the youngest and last surviving pupil of that well known school established at Cornwall early in this century, by the late Dr. Strachan, first Bishop of Toronto.” The war of 1812-14 broke up the school, and young Bethune went to Montreal, at that time the home of the family, and there continued his literary studies. Meantime Dr. Strachan had gone to York (now Toronto), by invitation of Gen. Isaac Brock; and soon after the war had closed, the Doctor started his school there, since so famous, and by invitation, Mr. Bethune joined him and became the classical tutor in his school, studying divinity meantime, under the Doctor.
He was ordained Deacon in 1823, and Priest the next year, by the Rt. Rev. Jacob Mountain, D.D., first Anglican Bishop of Quebec. His first parish was that of Grimsby, where he spent three years, removing to Cobourg in 1827, and there giving forty years to faithful ministerial labors as Rector of St. Peter’s Church. There he formed a wider and much more important field, which he cultivated, we are told by the gentleman already quoted, “with signal advantage to the whole community, and especial benefit to the Church of which he was so distinguished a minister. He was singularly qualified for this important position. The Newcastle District, of which Hamilton now Cobourg was the county town, was a point to which the tide of a large and respectable emigration was directed, and no one but the earliest settlers, of whom few remain, can properly estimate his services to them.”
In 1847, Dr. Bethune was appointed Archdeacon of York, in conjunction with which he retained the rectorship at Cobourg until 1867, when he was elected Coadjutor Bishop of Toronto, with the title of Bishop of Niagara. He was consecrated in St. James Cathedral, Toronto, on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, in 1867, the consecrating Bishop being the Rt. Rev. Dr. John Strachan, Bishop of Toronto, assisted by the Bishops of Huron, Ontario Michigan and Western New York.
His twelve short years of labor as Lord Bishop of Toronto, not without their perplexities and troubles as well as grand results in the progress of the Church, were brought to a close February 3, 1879. His remains were interred at Cobourg, the centre of his forty years’ untiring and successful labors in the Master’s cause, on which occasion, February 5, the address, from which we have already quoted, was given, and a memorial sermon delivered by the Venerable John Wilson, M.A., Archdeacon of Peterborough. In that sermon the labors of the good Bishop are thus spoken of:
“He was an indefatigable worker; in season and out of season, he was constantly employed in his Heavenly Master’s service; and throughout a long life, he discharged his heavy and laborious duties with exemplary zeal and diligence. Some of the elder members of the congregation whom I am now addressing, will remember that, for many years, while rector of this parish, he conducted a Church paper the best we ever had while at the same time, as Theological Professor, he was preparing a number of young men for the ministry, many of whom, now widely scattered, have approved themselves faithful and efficient workers in the Lord’s vineyard, and will compare favorably with those of their brethren who have had a University education. With these absorbing duties, he never neglected the members of his flock, in this large and important parish; but was most regular and unremitting in his pastoral visits from house to house. And then, outside of his own parish, he took his full share of missionary work; and to his self denying labors, many a locality, once spiritually destitute, is now indebted for the regular ministrations of the Church, which it at present enjoys.”
Among the published writings of Bishop Bethune are: “Memoirs of the Right Rev. John Strachan, D.D. LL. D., first Bishop of Toronto,” a volume of 300 or 400 pages; “Six Sermons on the Liturgy of the Church of England;” “Thoughts upon the Clergy Reserve Question;” “Four Sermons on the Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper;” “Thirteen Lectures, Expository and Practical, on the Liturgy of the Church of England;” “Thirteen Lectures on Historical Portions of the Old Testament;” and “The Church of God, a Sermon,”not to particularize various pamphlets.
In 1826 Miss Jane E. Crooks, eldest daughter of Hon. James Crooks, of West Flamboro’, Ontario, became the wife of the Bishop, and of ten children, the fruit of this union, only five are living. Two or three died quite young; John James had graduated at Trinity College, Toronto, and Frederick Alexander, also a graduate of Trinity College, Toronto, and late Assistant Master at Trinity College School, Port Hope, died at Cannes, France, January 20, 1877. Veronica Frances, the only surviving daughter, is the wife of Canon Stennett, Rector of St. Peter’s Church, Cobourg; Robert H., eldest son living, is cashier of the Dominion Bank, Toronto; Charles J. S., is elsewhere mentioned in this volume; George S. C. is Secretary and Treasurer of the Farmers’ Loan Society, Toronto; and Frank F. is at Sydney, New South Wales.