They’re Fighting To Save What’s Left of Sunday
Beleaguered but embattled in winters of Sunday hockey and summers of Sunday resort crowds, the Lord’s Day Alliance still spends forty thousand a year on trying to salvage the blue laws it sponsored fifty years ago
AS A westbound train neared the Rockies late on a Saturday night in 1903, passengers were astonished to see the Rev. W. J. MacKenzie don hat and overcoat and reach down his bag. His fellow travelers knew from conversations during the journey from Toronto that MacKenzie was a missionary on his way to Vancouver to take ship for Korea. So one passenger asked the minister why he was making preparations to get off the train now.
“Sir,” MacKenzie answered firmly, “it will be midnight soon after this train leaves the next station. I, of course, have no intention of traveling on the Sabbath.” Minutes later he stepped out into the darkness as the train paused briefly at a desolate way station.
As recorded in the Lord’s Day Advocate, published by the Lord’s Day Alliance, a national body militant for the preservation of the closed Sunday, the minister’s deed was only an incidental cause for commendation; the report goes on to tell how MacKenzie discovered that the only accommodation was a ramshackle hotel full of roistering guests —whom he reduced to penitence and signed to the pledge before continuing his journey on the Monday.
A half century later even the embattled and beleaguered members of the Lord’s Day Alliance would not expect the Reverend MacKenzie to get off the train. The Alliance knows the Sunday of fifty years ago is gonè forever and concentrates on doing what it can to protect the Sunday of today and prevent the Sunday of fifty years from now from becoming a carbon copy of Saturday. Its efforts, as they have done since the 1880s, will play a large part in determining how Canadians live, work and play on what, to many of them, is still the most important day of the week.
At the time of MacKenzie’s interrupted train ride the Canadian Sunday was largely a reflection of the influence of church, family— and of sixty years of Victorian morality—on public opinion. Three years later, apparently fearing that the selfimposed closed Sunday was endangered by the new-fangled ideas of the brash new century, the Lord’s Day Alliance succeeded in having the morality of 1906 frozen into a federal law known as the Lord’s Day Act. This was accomplished by collecting more than one hundred thousand signatures—each from a male over twenty-one— on a petition to parliament demanding such a law. (Women didn’t have the vote in 1906 and were presumably considered to have no influence on MPs or senators.)
The Lord’s Day Act, which might be described in a nutshell as prohibiting most forms of work, and therefore the presentation of amusements, entertainments, sports and almost all commerce from midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday, is still on the statutes today. If it were fully and literally enforced several hundred thousand Canadians would face fines or jail every week of the year.
Not even the worst enemy of the Alliance could honestly claim that the effect of the organization and the law it brought into being have been wholly repressive. The truth is that among underprivileged manual laborers and service and industrial workers —and that description covered the major portion of the population fifty years ago—the implacable Alliance’s activities have been a godsend. By the time the Act had been in force one year, the Alliance estimated it had freed eighty thousand Canadians from Sunday labor.
The organization grew out of a request made by a number of railway workers to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Hamilton in 1886. The railway workers asked the church to do something about excessive Sunday work on the railroads. The Presbyterians asked the Anglicans, Methodists and Baptists to a meeting in Ottawa in 1888 to discuss the problem and the result was the Lord’s Day Alliance. Since then the Alliance has done as much as it could to keep Sunday free of work. Its crowning achievement, the Lord’s Day Act, has been successful in keeping the Canadian Sunday relatively non-commercial. Compared with Sunday in any other English-speaking country the Canadian Sunday is remarkably free from work.
Factories, offices and
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Some of the things you do that break the law on Sunday
most businesses are closed. Transport trucks stay in their terminals. The CBC, though not affected by the Act, tries to keep commercials to a minimum and runs a whole network (the TransCanada) without a Sunday commercial. Except in Ontario and Quebec there is no commercial Sunday sport. There are no Sunday movies, except in Quebec. Legitimate theatres (where they exist) are closed, even in Quebec. Even where Sunday work is admittedly necessary, as in the sale of gasoline, many municipalities have local bylaws regulating Sunday opening. The Alliance does not claim direct credit for all these things, but it has undoubtedly helped maintain an atmosphere in which they are possible.
But the Alliance did not confine itself to fighting obvious abuses in the working hours of railway employees. For six years after 1891 the hottest political issue in Toronto was whether or not Sunday streetcars should run in Toronto; the Alliance wasn’t voted down until 1897. In general, the Alliance upheld with every means in its considerable power the Victorian Canadian Sunday which came into being in the last half of the nineteenth century.
In those days the Canadian Sunday was one of the most strictly regulated in the Christian world, vying with that of Scotland for harshness. The accepted Sunday activity was worship and as far as humanly possible everything else was to stop. Some families were so strict that all food to be eaten on Sunday was cooked on Saturday. In some homes children were not allowed to whistle or play noisy games, and weekday toys and books were replaced by special Sunday toys and books. These books were crammed with reading considered suitable for Sunday—great, heavy tomes that still occasionally turn up today in the secondhand bookshops.
A Bitter Pill for Sunday
As far as custom or law could accomplish it everything was closed; some stores drew curtains across their windows—a practice continued to this day by the T. Eaton Co. Libraries, museums and art galleries were closed. In 1903 Col. C. C. Grant of the Hamilton Scientific Association said he felt that “the old tyrannical element is too powerful at the present time in the province to permit the opening of museums on Sunday to the public.”
Specifically written into the Lord’s Day Act was the banishment of Sunday newspapers in Canada, with the result that since 1907 there have been no Canadian newspapers dated on a Sunday. Even the morning Globe and Mail in a city like Toronto beats the Sunday curfew by only a couple of hours with its Monday edition. Instead of Canadian Sunday papers, thousands of New York Times and Herald-Tribunes, Detroit, Chicago and Buffalo Sunday papers are rushed to Toronto and other communities handy to the border and sold from great stacks (illegally) in drugstores as early as 1.30 p.m. Sunday.
This widespread sale of newspapers, albeit American imports, must be a bitter pill to the Alliance, whose very first triumph under its Lord’s Day Act was its prosecution, just three days after the Act came into force, of one Louis Burke of Hamilton, Ont., for selling newspapers on a Sunday. The newsdealer’s ingenious but futile defense was that he hadn’t sold newspapers—just “leased” them. The magistrate was not impressed and fined Burke.
Some early commentators viewed such developments with alarm. T. Hadley McGinnis, who didn’t like
Canadian customs anyway, wrote in an 1893 volume titled Canadian Notes:
Religious rule has made Sunday a terror to the poor, unless one happens to enjoy going to church, walking about the quiet streets, reading or sleeping. If one is poor, no opportunities for pleasure are had. If one is rich, however, he may drive about in a carriage . . . Few persons are seen on the street, except in going to or coming from church. On Sunday a Canadian city appears deserted of inhabitants. One may stand on a street corner looking in four directions without seeing a living person or animal.
Most persons disappear for the day, as in a shell, and as completely as if the earth had opened and swallowed them up. How they contrive to do this is a mystery. This is considered, especially in Toronto, ’the proper caper.’
It might well be asked how, if the blue laws remain essentially in force in Canada, the Canadian Sunday has changed so greatly—how it comes that one can buy a package of tobacco without jeopardy next Sunday, instead of being haled into court and fined two dollars or one day in jail, as Captain Archibald Pither was in Toronto as recently as 1937. (Pither, commenting that “overseas I had to fight as hard on Sundays as any other day,” elected to serve the sentence.) Or why Toronto druggists no longer demand prescriptions for ginger ale on a Sunday—as they once did after nineteen were fined in a body for selling pop on the Sabbath.
The answer is that such liberalization of Sunday as has taken part in a few regions of Canada is due (a) to authorities ignoring the law, (b) to authorities taking advantage of permissive loopholes in the law, and (c) to the passing of rare overriding provincial laws like the one permitting Sunday sports in some Ontario cities (which the Lord’s Day Alliance still insists is unconstitutional).
In view of the changes that have taken place in Sunday observance, in spite of the continued existence of a federal “blue” law, many Canadians predict that the trend to an open Sunday will continue to mount until “Sunday becomes just another Saturday.” Two years ago the Gallup Poll supplied a straw in the wind: fifty percent of those questioned said they wanted Sunday movies. That represented a rise of six percent in just ten years.
Meanwhile Canadians continue to break the laws regulating Sunday so widely and persistently that if all the offenders on any given Sunday were taken to court the resulting jam wouldn’t be cleared for weeks. A Vancouver judge, R. A. Sargent, once commented that if the Lord’s Day Act were strictly enforced it would close down Vancouver “so tight that life would be unbearable.” Occasionally a crack in the law would be challenged by the alert Lord’s Day Alliance, as whenjn 1925 Manitoba passed an act making Sunday excursions legal. The Alliance challenged the province’s right to do so, but lost its case in an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
In Victoria during the past winter there have been Sunday afternoon symphony concerts. But probably the most telling blows against blue Sunday were struck in Toronto. That city had long been regarded as the stronghold of the closed Sabbath in Ontario, Ontario as the stronghold of the blue Sabbath in Canada, and Canada the chief upholder of the closed Sunday in the English-speaking world. For several decades Ontario lived through it« Sun-
“Law or no law, Quebec and Ontario did
not have a common standard on Sunday”
days not only under the Lord’s Day Act but under an old British law of 1781, plus an Upper Canada provincial Sunday law of 1859. The latter prohibited “skittles” on Sundays, among other provisions, and was invoked some years ago to prosecute nine Sunday billiard players; it was employed, too, to halt an international bowling tournament between Toronto and Buffalo clubs when the final games ran thirty minutes past midnight on a Saturday night and police stepped in, arousing purple wrath in the Buffalo visitors.
The change in Ontario’s attitude first became apparent in 1943 when York Township police chief Robert Alexander invoked the Sunday law of 1859 and charged three market gardeners and about thirty of their employees with working on Sunday. There was an immediate public outcry so strong that the charges were dropped and an orderin-council was secured by the Ontario government making it mandatory to get the permission of the provincial attorney-general before starting further such prosecutions. When the war was over Ontario had the 1859 Act repealed, along with the inherited British Sunday law of 1781. In that same year, following a widely publicized “outbreak” of Sunday activity at several Ontario summer resorts, the provincial attorney-general. the Hon. Dana Porter, announced that he would no longer give permission to prosecute “souvenir stands, ice-cream booths, hot-dog and refreshment stands, sale of cigarettes, cigars and tobacco, rental of boats, canoes, horses, bicycles, rides in airplanes, Sunday excursions,” grocery and butcher shops at summer resorts and farmers who sell their own produce at the side of the road on Sunday. While in practice the attorneys-general of many provinces try to avoid prosecution for minor offenses, Ontario is the only province that has made public a list of activities exempt from the Act in a formal acknowledgment of what custom has long secured.
Porter, in using his discretion as to what Sunday activities will or will not be prosecuted, is using a provision deliberately written into the Lord’s Day Act when it was debated in the federal parliament in the spring and summer of 1906. Opponents of the Lord’s Day Bill introduced by Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s government based much of their argument on the fact that the Dominion was interfering in what was, after all, a provincial matter. The French Canadian nationalist, Henri Bourassa, led the assault on the bill and clashed many times with Laurier on its terms.
When the smoke cleared the government recognized the fact that law or no law, as far as Sunday observance was concerned, Quebec and Ontario did not have a common standard and were unlikely to accept one. So the responsibility for enforcement of the law was left in the hands of the provincial attorneys-general, and in practice in the hands of local police forces. What it has meant is that, generally speaking, a municipality gets the kind of Sunday it wants.
The federal government, moreover, made a further loophole in the Lord’s Day Act. It provided that the federal statute did not affect provincial laws “now or hereafter in force,” a loophole so wide that it seems to mean that the provinces can have just about any kind of Sunday they want.
It was under this loophole that the
province of Quebec took immediate action—action that caused much of the rest of Canada to maintain, in wrath or envy, that Quebec has always managed to maintain a “wide-open” Sunday. What Quebec did was to pass a Lord’s Day Act of its own and to proclaim it one day before the proclamation date of the federal act which, passed in 1906, came into force March 1, 1907. The provincial law protects “all such liberties as are recognized by the customs of this province.” Under this statute Sunday sport and Sunday movies have long been allowed in Quebec.
On the other hand, Quebec is the largest invoker of those provisions of the federal law dealing with labor abuses on Sunday. In 1950 (the most recent year for which full figures are available), of 2,072 Lord’s Day Act prosecutions for Sunday labor in Canada, no fewer than 1,886 were in Quebec.
The aspects of the law that Quebec dodged by its own legislation were only dealt with by Ontario forty-three years after its sister province. In 1950 Ontario’s government used the wideopen loophole to act upon plebiscites in Toronto and Windsor which favored Sunday sports. The result was the Lord’s Day (Ontario) Act which authorizes municipal authorities in communities which vote in favor of Sunday sport to authorize designated sports (but not horse-racing) between 1.30 and 6 p.m. Sundays.
Some Big Cities Voted “Nay”
Allan Lamport, former mayor of Toronto and now vice-chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission, is generally credited with breaking the “Toronto Sunday.” Undoubtedly Lamport took his political life into his own hands when he dared make an open issue of Sunday sport—-to find, somewhat to the city’s own surprise, that Toronto was heartily in favor of it. But Lamport himself claims only that he recognized the fact that Toronto’s attitude towards Sunday had long been “growing up,” as he put it, and was now ready for a more liberal Sunday.
Under the Ontario “Sunday Sports” law, sixty-nine municipalities have held plebiscites, with forty-two favoring sports and twenty-seven turning it down. But the Lord’s Day Alliance, still the robust enemy of those who nibble at the Lord’s Day Act, denies these figures indicate the true strength of open-Sunday advocates. For of the total votes cast in plebiscites 254,870 have opposed Sunday sport, compared with 223,055 favoring it. These figures reflect the fact that some large cities, including Hamilton and Ottawa, voted “nay.”
In spite of the number of voters favoring its stand, the Lord’s Day Alliance has lost the majority of battles in Ontario over Sunday sport. But it has not yet conceded the war. It continues to claim that the Ontario Act is unconstitutional, as it did when Manitoba passed its Sunday excursions bill in 1925. But unlike the Manitoba bill the Ontario act hasn’t been challenged in the courts.
This recently caused a split between the Alliance and one of its staunchest supporters, the Board of Evangelism and Social Service of the United Church of Canada. The Rev. J. R. Mutchmor, secretary of the Board of Evangelism
4wOnee fire-eaters, Alliance leaders now
know many don’t support their opinions“
and Social Service, actually went so far as to move a motion of censure on the Alliance at a meeting of the United Church General Assembly in Sackville, N.B., last fall, complaining that the Alliance hasn’t faced the issue of Sunday sport in Ontario. The Alliance, thundered Mutchmor, should take the Ontario law to court because it’s unconstitutional. The Alliance (whose lawyers have advised caution) agrees that the Ontario law is unconstitutional but believes this is not the time to test it.
The Mutchmor motion was withdrawn after a hot debate and another substituted which, after noting that “Sunday has been singled out repeatedly for attack by atheistic Communists in their attempt to destroy the attachment of the people to the practice of religious devotion,” called only for more thoughtful observance of Sunday by church members. The withdrawal of the censure motion was a tacit admission by the United Church that the Alliance was following a wise course in not contesting a popular law on narrow, technical, legal grounds.
No one was surprised when the Lord’s Day Alliance became the principal opponent of Sunday sport in Ontario. This durable group has no general membership but is a nonsectarian committee run by Protestant clergymen to represent a group of Churches in matters concerning Sunday observance. A Dominion Board of ninety-nine members includes representatives from the churches that support the Alliance, some officially, some unofficially: Anglican, Baptist, Church of Christ (Disciples), Evangelical United Brethren, Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, United Church and the Salvation Army. A single Roman Catholic lay representative also sits on the board.
There are provincial boards in all provinces except Quebec and Newfoundland. In Quebec the Alliance cooperates with a small French Canadian group whose objectives are similar to its own, La Ligue du Dimanche (The
Sunday League). The Lord’s Day Act has never been proclaimed in Newfoundland and is not in force there. Newfoundland was given the right to proclaim certain federal acts, or not, as it wished, when it entered Confederation in 1949. “Sunday is traditionally observed in Newfoundland,” says Attorney-General L. R. Curtis, “and the observance is directed by public opinion rather than by compulsion of law.” The last recorded Newfoundland prosecution (under a British Sunday law of 1677) was in 1912.
The Alliance is probably one of the best-organized and most efficient pressure groups in Canada. Its annual budget of about $40,000 a year comes from member churches and from interested individuals. The drive for money is constant: special collections are taken in the supporting churches, and donations are solicited from known friends, about forty thousand of whose names are in Alliance files.
He’s Not a Strict Sabbatarian
Most of the budget goes into salaries for the six secretaries who carry on the work—the Rev. Alvin Starr McGrath, who runs the national office in Toronto, and the five field secretaries (all ministers, three with the United Church, one Baptist and one Presbyterian) who work in the Maritimes, Eastern Ontario and Quebec, Western Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and Alberta and British Columbia.
McGrath is a strong contrast to some of the early fire-eating general secretaries of the Alliance. At fifty-seven he is a persuasive, intense but cautious man, dedicated to his work, yet aware that many Canadians do not share the strong opinions he holds. Slightly stout and young looking for a grandfather, he is a neat, precise man who practices what he preaches—though he is not as strict a Sabbatarian as that earlier hero of the Alliance, the Rev. Mr. MacKenzie. A Baptist minister who served churches in Ottawa and St. Thomas, Ont., before becoming general secretary of the Alliance, he preaches about
Alliance work each Sunday and spends his hours after church reading or playing the violin. At his summer cottage he doesn’t object to a swim on a hot Sunday afternoon, and will travel on Sunday if it’s essential.
McGrath represents an organization with a genius for stirring passions in ordinarily mild Canadians. In 1907, following the passing of the Lord’s Day Act, a Rational Sunday League was formed in Toronto. The League branded the Lord’s Day Act “tyrannical and sectarian legislation” and called for Sunday newspapers, the sale of tobacco and cigars, Sunday concerts and Sunday openings of the museums and art galleries. But the League proved far less durable than the Alliance and died within two years.
The Rational Sunday League marked the beginning of the controversy that has swirled around the Alliance for fifty years, an angry sea in which it stands immutable. In 1948 it drew the wrath of the Vancouver Sun by stopping a Sunday concert to raise money to provide a Christmas party for veterans at Shaughnessy Hospital. “The Lord’s Day Alliance,” said the Sun in an editorial, “which by law is able to inflict a legal but outmoded Sabbath on a long-suffering public, has put its foot down once again in a most inappropriate place.”
In 1953 the Alliance claimed that the city of Toronto had acted in a manner “injurious and a danger to Sunday privileges” by declaring Nov. 29 to Dec. 6—a period that included two Sundays—as Jerusalem Week to aid in the sale of State of Israel Bonds. The sale, or offer for sale, of bonds on Sunday was against the Lord’s Day Act, the Alliance said. Mayor Allan Lamport, a Protestant, exploded. “Picayune and shameful,” he said. Controller David Balfour, a Roman Catholic, agreed: “People who write letters like that must be a bunch of bigots.”
In a radio debate on the Lord’s Day Act in Vancouver on Nov. 12, 1954, James J. Sutherland, a Vancouver lawyer, said, “I firmly believe that the Lord’s Day Alliance is composed of high-minded men and women . . . And one thing that should be brought home to these high-minded men and women is that one of the freedoms we obtained over the centuries with blood and sweat was the privilege of going to hell in ways of our own choosing..”
The Very Rev. Northcote Burke, Dean of the Anglican Cathedral in Vancouver, who is completely in sympathy with the objectives of the Alliance and thinks the Lord’s Day Act is a good law, still finds that the methods employed by some of the clergy are not to his taste. “The clergy get on every band-wagon to stop people doing things,” he says. “The right way to get people to observe Sunday is not by legislation but by teaching.”
While it seeks prosecution when it feels it must, the Alliance goes on trying to put its point of view across in less spectacular ways. Alliance secretaries preach regularly in the churches, sometimes covering as many as three or four on a Sunday. The secretaries also provide information and guidance on the law.to business, ministers and individuals, as well as outlining to anyone who will listen the manner in which they feel Sunday should be observed.
“The problems and difficulties of our work are on the increase,” General Secretary McGrath admits. “The impact of two world wars on thinking and customs, the influence of the United States, the influx of many Europeans familiar with the continental Sunday, the force of a secular attitude toward life—with all that our work is more imperative.” ★