Methodism in what later became the Dominion of Canada developed out of the competing organizations and values of British and American Methodism. Laurence Coughlan introduced WM into Newfoundland in 1766 and both Newfoundland and Nova Scotia featured in Thomas Coke's 1786 missionary appeal; but the two preachers appointed by the Conference that year ended up in the West Indies. Until missionaries arrived from Britain the work in Newfoundland was sustained by fervent lay Irish and English outport settlers. In the Maritime provinces William Black, raised in Nova Scotia as a member of a Yorkshire Methodist settlement, began evangelizing the region in 1781. He received formal missionary support from the Methodist Episcopal Church in the USA from its formation in 1784 until 1800, when the region came under the jurisdiction of British WM. It then became a missionary District which included Bermuda, and later a full Conference administered from England until it merged with the central Canadian Wesleyans in 1874.

In overwhelminghly Roman Catholic Quebec ('Lower Canada'), Methodism was never more than a small minority even among Protestants. Centred on Montreal and Quebec City, and among immigrants from New York and New England to the Eastern Townships after the American War of Independence, it too received missionaries from the USA until 1820. Because of concerns over loyalty, exacerbated by the War of 1812, American jurisdiction was compromised, and after 1820 Quebec Methodism became part of the missionary outreach of British WM. In 1854 it merged with the much larger Ontario WM Church, at the same time as British missions to the Hudson Bay territory were placed under domestic supervision.The heartland of Canadian Methodism centred in what became Ontario ('Upper Canada').

Methodist Episcopalians arrived from America after 1780, and American missionaries were sent to the region after 1790 in response to the fervent requests from lay adherents for ordained itinerants. Again because of questions of loyalty, the local connexion gradually gained its independence and became the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada in 1828 and, in 1833, to avoid competition, was joined by the tiny WM operations as the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada. Growing rapidly by the 1850s, it added both native and white missions in British Columbia and also expanded in the Northwest. In 1873 it joined the international missionary movement by opening several stations in Japan.

Primitive Methodism was introduced by a local preacher, William Lawson, who had emigrated from Cumberland. In 1830 the PM Conference sent its first missionaries, Nathaniel Watkins and William Summersides. Their work remained largely urban and centred on Toronto, and was placed under the Hull Circuit. Hugh Bourne visited the mission in 1844-45. The Bible Christian Conference of 1831 sent its first two missionaries: Francis Metherall to Prince Edward Island and John Hicks Eynon and his wife Elizabeth (née Dart) to Upper Canada. In 1837 the Methodist New Connexion, in response to appeals from Upper Canada, sent out John Addyman and a link was established with a breakaway group, the 'Canadian WM Church'. From the USA, the Protestant Methodists, the Evangelical Association, the United Brethren in Christ, the African Episcopal Methodists and the Free Methodists, opened branches in Ontario. Methodism proved particularly attractive to ethnic and racial minorities and the dispossessed in Canada.

WM and the MNC merged in 1874 to form the Methodist Church of Canada, and ten years later this united with the continuing Methodist Episcopal Church, the Bible Christians and the Primitive Methodists to form the Methodist Church. This was the largest Protestant church in the country, with the adherence of about 17.5% of the Canadian population (over 30% of Ontario's population), totalling about 745,000 individuals. Administered by two General Superintendents, it blended British and American institutional traditions, but remained highly centralized under powerful clerical and lay leadership. In 1890 it opened large-scale mission operations in West China, to complement its missions to native peoples, new immigrants and impoverished rural settlers at home, and its work in Japan.Still heavily concentrated in Ontario, Methodists operated numerous schools and universities across the country, ran a huge publishing operation from Toronto and Halifax, and seriously defined for Canadians the nature of elementary education and Protestant social morality and reform. In 1925 it demonstrated its trust in ecumenism by uniting with the Congregational Union, a large number of independent congregations and the Presbyterian Church of Canada to form the United Church of Canada. This is affiliated to the World Methodist Council and in 2002 reported a membership of 651,002 and a community roll of two million. But numerous smaller or newly-created Methodist churches remain independent.

See also National Children's Home

  • W. Moister, A History of Wesleyan Missions (1871) pp.69-108
  • T.W. Smith, History of the Methodist Church in Eastern British America (1877)
  • E.H. Dewart et al., Centennial of Canadian Methodism (Toronto, 1891)
  • Mrs. R.P. Hopper, Old Time Primitive Methodism in Canada (Toronto, 1894)
  • Alexander Sutherland, Methodism in Canada: its work and its story (1903)
  • Alexander Sutherland, '[Methodism] in British America', in New History of Methodism (1909) 2 pp.199-233
  • G.G. Findlay and W.W. Holdsworth, The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (1921-1924) vol. 1 pp.256-510
  • Goldwin S. French, Parsons and Politics: the Role of the Wesleyan Methodists in Upper Canada and the Maritimes from 1780 to 1855 (Toronto, 1962)
  • Charles Scobie & John W. Grant (eds), The Contribution of Methodism to Atlantic Canada (Montreal & Kingston, 1992)
  • Phyllis Airhart, Serving the Present Age: Revivalism, Progressivism and the Methodist Tradition in Canada (Montreal & Kingston, 1992)
  • Neil Semple, The Lord's Dominion: the History of Methodism in Canada (Montreal & Kingston, 1996)
  • Calvin Hollett, Shouting, Embracing and Dancing with Ecstasy: the growth of Methodism in Newfoundland 1774-1874 (2010)