and the Burnsite Heresy
Albert Truax was raised on a farm in Essex County, Ontario, by a strict Methodist father. Sunday afternoons were spent in total silence in the living room with the curtains drawn. The adults read 'good' books and the small children were allowed to play quietly. This life was so repressive that he and his older brother Sam ran away from home, ages 14 and 16. They got jobs on the railroad, and a year or so later Sam fell between the cars and was killed. Albert returned home and went back to school, becoming a Methodist Minister in 1882.
Albert was assigned to several churches during his career, mostly in Norfolk and Haldimand Counties. He became associated with a dissident group of Ministers, known as the Burnsites after their leader, Rev. Nelson Burns. They favoured a less strict church, did not believe in Hell, left people free to believe as they pleased and to deal directly with God according to the dictates of their consciences rather than through a Minister. In June 1893, eight charges (listed here) were brought by the Church against Albert. All but one were sustained, and he was suspended. He immediately appealed the ruling, and so a second trial was held in November of that same year. However, Albert felt that he had made his point, and declined to attend. Once again, the charges were sustained, and in 1894, Albert was formally expelled from the ministry for heresy. His was only the first of several trials against the Burnsites - Nelson Burns and several others were also expelled, and Rev. Paul Flint resigned in anticipation the outcome of his own trial.
A cousin of mine was told by her mother that the real reason for Albert Truax's and Nelson Burns' expulsion is that they believed in the Theory of Evolution. While this was never mentioned in the trial, it may well have been an undelying factor - their beliefs were certainly on the liberal side, and seem to have put them at odds with not only the mainstream Methodists, but also with the rest of the Holiness Movement of which they were ostensibly a part. They shared the concepts of divine justification and pentacostal-like ecstacy with the Holiness crowd, but they interpreted these concepts in a much less repressive and fundamentalist way, leading them to put less of an emphasis on ritual and scripture and more on personal intuition and inspiration from the Holy Ghost.
After the expulsion, Albert moved to Brampton, carrying on his ministry to the small group of Christian Association members there. After Burns' death in 1904, he moved to Toronto and took over as president of the Christian Association. In 1909 he organized a group of his parishioners to move to land in the Peace River Valley, about 500 miles N.W. of Edmonton. His oldest son Garnet was one of these settlers. They left Toronto in March, and arrived at their destination in July, after travelling by ox cart over trails that were all but impassible (see notes on Garnet Truax). Albert went to join his son Garnet in 1913 as a representative of the Burnsites. There was considerable political and theological squabbling going on with the Burnsites back in Toronto during this time, however, and in 1919 Albert was replaced as leader of the Burnsites by C.H. Partridge (who apparently didn't like Albert much at all), leaving Albert free to move permanently out west. At first, Albert, Margaret and their youngest son Dawson moved in with Garnet and his family - 9 of them sharing a two-room sod-roofed cabin. That situation lasted all of one winter, after which Garnet built a separate home for his parents and brother. Albert became ill shortly afterwards, died and was buried in Beaver Lodge, Alberta in 1922. He was my great-grandfather.
(many thanks to Bill Holding and Nancy Pinnington for much of the above information)
Documents, Essays and Articles
Truax / Jaques / Holding Family Album