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The Drowning of Rev. Thomas Fidler

May 10, 2023

Anne Langton's Sketch of the First St. James Anglican Church, Fenelon Falls, circa 1839. It was literally a light on a hill. (Archives of Ontario)

Upper Canada was a colony with a Conservative Anglican Elite, often called the Family Compact. Like the colony as a whole, Fenelon Falls had its own Conservative Anglican Elite. The village was owned by business partners Robert Jameson and James Wallis. It did not take long after these young adventurers purchased the village plot for work to begin on a Church of England. For the local elites, founding the church was a great social good. Wallis conducted services himself as the local Anglicans fundraised and petitioned the Governor for a grant so they could pay a clergyman. In 1839, the Reverend Thomas Fidler took charge in Fenelon Falls.

Rev. Fidler would serve not only as preacher, but also as a teacher for local children, in the days when schools operated on a voluntary basis. Anne Langton (a member of the congregation and A Gentlewoman in Upper Canada author) also volunteered to teach school. On May 15, 1847, Rev. Fidler was trying to cross the Fenelon River above the falls, along with two brothers who were assisting him named Sinclair. Though the waters were high with the spring run off, they paddled across above the falls to a landing and grabbed some branches. But they wanted to land at a point further downstream, so they let go. Swept out into the current, facing the wrong direction, they tumbled over the milldam and falls, all three perishing.

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