William McMurray was brought by his parents in 1811 to York (Toronto), where at the age of eight he became a pupil in John Strachan*’s school. On finishing his studies he took private pupils, including George William Allan, son of William Allan*, and members of the Jarvis family. In 1830 he began theological training under Strachan, and he served as a catechist in Mimico, Weston, Thornhill, and York Mills.
During the early 1830s there was much interest in inducing the Indian population of Upper Canada to settle in permanent villages and receive religious instruction, and as part of this effort the Society for Converting and Civilizing the Indians and Propagating the Gospel among the Destitute Settlers in Upper Canada was formed in York in 1830. Late in 1832 McMurray, not yet of canonical age for ordination, was sent by the society to act as catechist and lay reader at Sault Ste Marie, which Governor George Simpson* of the Hudson’s Bay Company had pointed out as the only appropriate field for missionary labours since the fur trade there had declined and the Indians could be persuaded to follow a more settled way of life. He was also appointed Indian agent by Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne*, but he received payment for his services only in 1838.
In August 1833 McMurray was ordained deacon by Bishop Charles James Stewart* of Quebec at Frelighsburg, Lower Canada. On his return to the Sault, he married Charlotte Johnston, daughter of trader John Johnston* and granddaughter of an Ojibwa chief. Charlotte interpreted for her husband and taught the Indian women the sacred singing which so impressed visitors to the Sault such as Anna Brownell Jameson [Murphy*]. McMurray was able to translate the catechism into Ojibwa – his rendition was printed in 1834 by Robert Stanton* – but he continued to rely on an interpreter when preaching.
McMurray’s prayers for the ailing son of the Ojibwa chief Shingwauk helped to win the latter over to the new faith, and the son became one of the converts who would spread the Gospel at Michipicoten (Michipicoten River). Another Indian who was drawn to this religion compared his experience to leaving a thick forest for an opening where the sky was visible. The new Christians were less attracted to the traders’ rum than before, though McMurray’s English publicist thought he went too far in forming a temperance society.
In 1834 a rift with the HBC factor at Michipicoten, Angus Bethune*, threatened when McMurray advised the Indians not to man the company’s boats. Such work, he argued, would interrupt their instruction, prevent them from preparing their land for crops, require them to work on Sundays, and pay less than they could earn by fishing. While Simpson did not accept McMurray’s position, he sought to smooth relations between missionary and factor.
In 1837 Colborne’s successor, Sir Francis Bond Head*, who believed that the Indians should be left to themselves, stopped the building of a village at the Sault and cancelled the supplies normally provided by the Indian Department. Compromised by this change of policy and conscious of the ill health of his family, McMurray resigned the next year and became curate to the ailing John Miller at Ancaster and Dundas. He continued until 1855 to submit schemes for settling the Indians. His influence had sunk deep roots at the Sault, and when no missionary was present Shingwauk regularly assembled his people for lessons and hymns.
Though McMurray quickly endeared himself to his new parishioners, he was not intended to succeed Miller, perhaps because he was only a deacon. The congregation petitioned Lieutenant Governor Sir George Arthur* on his behalf, while his churchwardens and the clergyman in Hamilton, John Gamble Geddes, echoed his plea to Bishop George Jehoshaphat Mountain* of Quebec that he be allowed to stay. At this juncture Strachan became bishop of the new diocese of Toronto, and he ordained McMurray priest on 12 April 1840. The following month Arthur expressed his readiness to recommend McMurray, who was finally inducted as rector in May 1841. Dundas was chosen by Strachan as McMurray’s place of residence, and the bishop encouraged him to build a church. The money for the erection of St James Church in 1843 was raised “mostly from a few individuals, because of the indigence of the majority,” and from English church societies.
In 1852 Trinity College opened in Toronto, and McMurray was deputed to tour the United States and solicit funds for the new Anglican institution. Strachan advised him to “interest Ladies in our cause, they are in general more zealous, and ardent in promoting a good work.” His efforts were appreciated, not only by the college but also by donors; Columbia College in New York City awarded him an honorary dd, and several prominent American churchmen donated a commemorative window to his church. McMurray’s success in obtaining almost $2,000 led to other trips, and he raised a total of $10,000 for Trinity.
The threat of secularization of the clergy reserves led to another commission from the bishop. In 1854 McMurray was sent to watch the proceedings of parliament at Quebec and defend the church’s interests. Although the reserves were secularized, the establishment of a trust fund to provide income for clergy was attributed to his efforts, and Sir Allan Napier MacNab* considered that his services to the government had materially aided the final settlement. Trinity bestowed an honorary lld on him in 1857.
Because of his success on behalf of the church and its university, McMurray was delegated by Trinity’s council in 1864 to tour England and appeal for funds to finish the college buildings. He preached with eloquence to a crowd of seven thousand in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on the necessity of early religious education. Though he was reluctant to play down the objections of the bishop of Huron, Benjamin Cronyn*, to the high church teachings of Provost George Whitaker* of Trinity, McMurray did visit such leaders of the English high church movement as John Keble and Edward Bouverie Pusey. His trip netted nearly £4,000 in donations.
In 1857 McMurray had unwillingly become rector at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Five years later, just when he had built an impressive rectory in the Tuscan villa style, the county seat was moved to St Catharines and his congregation dropped from 264 to 120 families. The givings of the congregation declined, and in 1867 the parish was forced to issue 15 debentures to cover the rectory debt. McMurray took 12 himself, and in this personal financial crisis he sought the assistance of friends he had made in England.
McMurray’s entry into the internal politics of the church was less successful than his activities in raising funds. In 1853 he had written to 40 clergy soliciting their votes and influence in favour of Alexander Neil Bethune* for the bishopric proposed at Kingston, but the division of the diocese did not take place. Long a friend of Thomas Brock Fuller*, McMurray supported him in the 1866 election of a coadjutor bishop of Toronto, and he sought the nomination of lay delegates likely to second his choice. When Bethune was chosen, Fuller replaced him as archdeacon of Niagara and McMurray replaced Fuller as rural dean of Lincoln and Welland. Fuller was elected to the new see of Niagara in 1875, and he collated McMurray as archdeacon, consigning the financial affairs of the diocese to his care. Situated in “a newer country,” the Niagara diocese had a larger proportion of missionaries than Toronto, and the archdeacon sought the aid of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to maintain the work.
In the sermon he preached at Fuller’s consecration, McMurray urged that party spirit be avoided and warned against “unauthorized and dangerous novelties, such as have of late years so disturbed our peace.” For him, the Church of England was more than a via media between “the superstitious and corrupt practices of the Church of Rome” and the “presumptuous experiments” of dissenters, since “Christ established a Church, not Churches.” In the service of that church and its institutions he won the universal affection of those he worked for so diligently. At the time of his death he was the oldest Anglican clergyman in Canada.
[William McMurray is the author of An appeal to the members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, in behalf of Trinity College, Toronto, Canada West (New York, 1852) and Journal of a mission to England, in the year 1864, on behalf of the University of Trinity College, Toronto (Toronto, 1869); his recollections of his experiences were published in the Canadian Church Magazine and Mission News (Hamilton, Ont.), July and August 1888, and January 1890. Accounts of McMurray’s mission at the Sault appear in Soc. for Converting and Civilizing the Indians and Propagating the Gospel among the Destitute Settlers in Upper Canada, Annual report (Toronto), 1832–38.
McMurray is also the author of Ojibway muzzeniegun; the catechism of the Church of England; written in the Ojibwa (or Chippewa) language (Toronto, 1834). The only source for this title is J. C. Pilling, Bibliography of the Algonquian languages (Washington, 1891); repr. as his Bibliographies of the languages of the North American Indians (9 parts in 3 vols., New York, 1973), 2: 379, which lists it anonymously. The book must, however, be the volume McMurray refers to in The Stewart missions; a series of letters and journals, calculated to exhibit to British Christians, the spiritual destitution of the emigrants settled in remote parts of Upper Canada . . . , ed. W. J. D. Waddilove (London, 1838), 98, and in his correspondence in the summer of 1834 with George Simpson, to whom he sent a copy [see PAM below]. r.e.r.]
AO, MS 35. McMaster Univ., Division of Arch. and Research Coll. (Hamilton), ACC, Diocese of Niagara Arch., P. L. Spencer, “History of the Diocese of Niagara” (1925), sermon by William McMurray at the consecration of Bishop Fuller. MTRL, Henry Scadding coll., Lord Bury to McMurray, 19 May 1855. NA, MG 17, B1, C/Tor., box V/45, folder 534 (mfm.); D.14/Tor.: 89–91, 388–91; D/Tor., 1860–67 (transcripts); D.40/Tor. & Alg. (mfm.); D.44/Tor. & Nia.: 71–74; D.46/Nia.: 119–22 (transcripts); MG 19, F6, 1: 174–78; MG 24, A40, 9: 2300–2 (mfm.); RG 1, E3, 54: 42–48. PAM, HBCA, D.4/21: f.27; D.4/127: ff. 19d–21d, 24–24d. Trinity College Arch. (Toronto), 986-0019/ 002–3; MS 194; A. H. Young, “William McMurray at Sault Ste. Marie, 1832–1838” (typescript). James Beaven, Recreations of a long vacation; or a visit to Indian missions in Upper Canada (London and Toronto, 1846), 123–31. [Alexander] Dixon, Useful lives . . . a sermon . . . preached in Christ Church Cathedral, Hamilton, September 7th, 1883 . . . (Toronto, 1884). [A. B. Murphy] Jameson, Winter studies and summer rambles in Canada (3v., London, 1838; repr. Toronto, 1972). Canadian Churchman, 31 May 1894. Church (Cobourg, [Ont.]; Toronto), 30 March, 19 Oct. 1839; 25 April, September, 2 Oct. 1840; 12 Jan. 1844; 19 Jan. 1854. Express (Buffalo, N.Y.), May 1894. Montreal Gazette, 27 Aug. 1833. Times (London), 25 April 1864. Chadwick, Ontarian families. [F. W. Colloton and C. W. Balfour], A historical record of the planting of the church in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (diocese of Algoma) and the history of the mother-parish of St. Luke’s (n.p., [1932?]). T. D. J. Farmer, A history of the parish of St. John’s Church, Ancaster . . . (Guelph, Ont., 1924), 64–70. T. R. Millman, The life of the Right Reverend, the Honourable Charles James Stewart, D.D., Oxon., second Anglican bishop of Quebec (London, Ont., 1953). H. D. Maclean, “An Irish apostle and archdeacon in Canada,” Canadian Church Hist. Soc., Journal (Toronto), 15 (1973): 50–67.