In June 2010 the 39th Session of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada took place in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The theme of the synod was “A Journey Just Begun: 1710-2010”. The major anniversary commemorated was the 300th anniversary of the first Eucharist celebrated on mainland Canada, in Annapolis Royal. The Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island advanced the date of the main commemoration from October to June 2010 so that delegates from the whole Canadian church attending the Synod could participate in the celebrations.

The 1710 anniversary is one of three important “first” Anglican celebrations of the Eucharist in Canada. Taking them in chronological order, the first celebration to note is that of 1578.

1578 Arctic

On 22 July 1578 the Rev. Robert Wolfall, chaplain to the third Frobisher expedition, celebrated the Eucharist on board the ship “Judith”[1]. The ship’s captain Edward Fenton noted in his journal:

“Tewsdaie, the xxiiith daie: we did receave the Communion altogether, contynewing that daie in prayer and thanks giving to god.” [Tuesday, the 23rd day: we did receive the Communion all together, continuing that day in prayer and thanksgiving to God.]

The Calendar for the Book of Alternative Services commemorates the “First Anglican Eucharist in Canada, 1578” on the 4th of September.For All the Saints concludes its description of this event saying:

Frobisher decided to give up the idea of establishing a permanent settlement on Baffin Island and took the entire fleet back to England in mid-September. Almost a century would pass before the Anglicans again celebrated the eucharist on Canadian soil”.[2]

1701-1705 Newfoundland

Settlers on the island of Newfoundland were occasionally visited by Anglican clergy in the seventeenth century and “Anglican services may have been held, but the evidence is not sure”.[3] In their history of the Anglican Church in Canada, Millman and Kelly describe the early history of Newfoundland and the beginning of regular services with the appointment of garrison chaplains in St. John’s from 1701. They particularly note the accomplishments of the Rev. John Jackson (d. 1717) in St. John’s, Newfoundland, who served as naval chaplain from 1696-1697 and later as garrison chaplain from 1701-1704.

“John Jackson, first to build an Anglican church in what is now Canada, first to be aided by the SPCK, first to be helped by the Church of England’s official chartered missionary society [SPG], first to minister continuously on Canadian soil, deserves to be remembered”[4] (p. 18).

Newfoundland was not formally part of Canada or the Anglican Church of Canada (then the Church of England in Canada) until 1949 when it entered Confederation. As well, the fact that there is no firm date associated with the first Newfoundland Eucharist means that it has tended to be overlooked.

1710 Nova Scotia

The 1710-2010 celebration “A Journey Just Begun” commemorates the first Anglican Eucharist held on mainland Canada, in what would continue as a permanent settlement.

The Anglican story in Acadia begins in 1710, when regiments recruited in New England, assisted by a British naval squadron captured the French stronghold of Port Royal. The officer in charge of the expedition, Colonel Francis Nicholson, a former governor of Virginia as well as other colonies, was a devoted member of the Church of England. …. In a journal describing the reduction of Port Royal, it is recorded that Nicholson appointed 10 October 1710 as a day of Thanksgiving; that the Reverend John Harrison, chaplain to the supporting British squadron under Commodore George Martin, conducted divine service in the French chapel; and that another chaplain, the Reverend Samuel Hesker, preached a sermon.

From this beginning was laid the foundation of the present parish of St. Luke, Annapolis Royal, as Port Royal was then renewed.[5]

[1] For a fuller description of Robert Wolfall and the expedition of 1578 see: Walter A. Kenyon, “‘A Watry Pilgrimage’ of 1578: The Reverend Robert Wolfall in Arctic Canada,” Rotunda vol. 13, no. 1 (Spring 1980): 7-11.
[2] Stephen Reynolds, ed., For All the Saints: Prayers and Readings for Saints’ Days (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1994.), p. 280.
[3] Thomas R. Millman and A.R. Kelley, Atlantic Canada to 1900: A History of the Anglican Church (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1983), p. 16.
[4] Ibid., p. 18.
[5] Ibid., p. 28.