Last of the saddleback preachers



English-born Methodist minister Robert K. Peck, Alberta, 1910. “Wearing cowboy clothes, the Reverend Peck used to ride around the country preaching,” notes Calgary’s Glenbow Museum. Glenbow Archives NA-101-13.

The passing of the fiery itinerant preachers, who galloped by horse throughout Canada, from hamlet to hamlet, to spread the gospel in the backwoods of nineteenth century, is foretold by Toronto Saturday Night, June 15, 1901.

Methodist Conferences, not only in Canada, but in the United States, are discussing the abolition of the itinerary system as it has been generally remarked that the system which might have been thoroughly well adapted to the needs of Methodism fifty or a hundred years ago, may be quite out of date now. It is wise for the religious denominations to learn from experience with their pet devices that the world changed and new methods must be employed.

It seems strange that none of the virile and splendid specimens of mental and physical manhood who have played such important parts in the itinerary system, have ever written a history of how the communities of today were cared for when the century was young. Churches seem to demand a cultured and entertaining pastor, and are unwilling to tolerate in cities and large town those vociferous and mighty exhorters of the past. Methodism will have to drop into line with Presbyterianism, the Anglican Church, Baptist and Congregational organizations, and obtain and retain pastors who are pleasing to the people who are in the habit of assembling. The thunderous old message of the itinerant preacher is not welcome today, and those who hear it, and who advocate the itinerary system, are, in the course of nature, gone out of fashion.

We cannot believe that the Gospel message itself is tiresome to the listener who is looking forward to an eternity which may be by changed for him by the class of preaching he hears, but we must remember that culture and education and the lack of emotionalism which the busy world induces, demand a different treatment from that which was the custom of the rampant orator of the past. A man or woman living in a backwoods who lacked excitement and wished to be carried away by religious enthusiasm, could appreciate the stentorian tones of the old Methodist itinerant pastor, but those who get excitement all day and all week long, and who year in and year out are looking for peace, do not wish to be disturbed by this class of preacher.

See also “Lonesome life of a prairie missionary.

Unfamiliar Canadian history stories 073


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