The Christian Association fonds. — 1926-1929. — 23 cm of textual records.
Nelson Burns was born in Niagara, Ontario on March 22, 1834 and became a Methodist minister, focusing on teaching. He also founded the Canadian Holiness Association. He lived in Milton during the 1860s-1870s, running a boarding school and teaching at a grammar school. Burns thereafter moved to Georgetown, where around 1879 he had his “Georgetown Experience.” Convinced that his recent bout of “bad luck” was due to ignoring God’s word to him, he engaged in deep prayer and contemplation for several days with the result that he vowed he would follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in every detail of his life thereafter. Burns later wrote Divine Guidance, in which he suggested that persons following the personal word of the Holy Spirit were truly following Christ’s example and that this personal word of the Holy Spirit should be accepted as the highest authority. Burns also produced a newsletter, known as The Expositor of Holiness.
Neither the Methodist Church of Canada nor the American Holiness Association, were in agreement with Burns’ ideas. The Methodist Church expelled Burns in 1894 at the Guelph Conference and he and his adherents formed their own church, known as the Christian Association. Members were also known as “Burnsites,” after their leader. Burns died in 1904 and the presidency of the Christian Association was assumed by Albert Truax, another former former Methodist minister. Truax had been expelled from the Methodist Church at the 1894 Niagara Conference, as they found his teachings “unscriptural and dangerous.” Truax led the group until about 1919 when C. H. Partridge became president. Another of the leaders in the Christian Association, and prominent in the Beaverlodge branch, was Paul Flint. He was also a minister in the Methodist church but doubts about miracles and the resurrection and an affinity for the teachings of Burns led him to withdraw from the Methodist Church in 1894 before he could be expelled. The Christian Association was headquartered at Park Hall in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
In 1909, Elias Smith, vice-president of the Association, claimed to have received a word of God to him directing him to move west. Several other members of the group decided to leave their homes in Toronto and join him. These Burnsites were joined by other family members and friends who were not members of the Christian Association, but also wished to move west. The entire group became known as the “Bull Outfit.” Leaving Toronto on March 16, 1909 were Christian Association members Mr. and Mrs. Elias Smith; Amos and Candace Sherk and their children Maud, Marley, and Lulu; Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lossing and their son Clarence; Mr. and Mrs. William Crabbe; and the Crabbes’ daughter Mrs. Macklin Miller and her husband and children Albert, Fred, Cliff, and Mary. Don Cranston, Sam Sargent, Garnet Truax, and Billy Pierce, whose parents were members, Sam McNaught, whose wife was a member, and Mr. and Mrs. LeRoy Shisler, who were related to Amos Sherk, travelled with the Christian Association group. Along the way, they were joined by members Gordon Sherk, Mr. and Mrs. Chester Drake, and I. E. Gaudin, and George and Victor Flint, whose parents were members. The group arrived at the Beaverlodge River valley July 14, 1909 with members settling in the same area and starting many of the first businesses. Other members of the group arrived later, including Mrs. I. E. Gaudin and son D’Arcy, Mary Walton and her husband John (who was not a member) and children, and Albert, Margaret, and Dawson Truax.
The foundational teaching of Nelson Burns and followed by the Christian Association was that of divine guidance in every aspect of life, large and small. Such divine guidance overruled every other form of guidance including church, state, and the Bible. From this stems the idea that the actions taken in life are “the best possible” and therefore regret for past actions is eliminated as unnecessary. Although guidance is described as coming from God, the Christian Association understanding of God is not that subscribed to by orthodox Christian churches, but more the idea of a general Supreme Being or force. Church services were replaced by meetings where members described their experiences in following divine guidance. Members were to be completely open with one another with nothing hidden. Matters were discussed as a group, a report distributed, and time given for all to consider it and tell if he had a different experience. As a group they were free to criticize the conduct of others acting under divine guidance since divine guidance to the individual, was second to guidance through the Association, or “live Gods”, but they did not believe that they received direct divine guidance for others. Under the Burnsite understanding, everyone, including children is able to receive divine guidance. Women also were to have their own calling, apart from their husbands.
Although the Christian Association movement was dying out by the late-1940s, their magazine, The Expositor of the Christ-Life, remained in publication until at least 1967. When George Flint died in Toronto in 1972, there were only two other known Burnsites alive at the time.
Jennifer’s Genealogy Page “Truax Documents.” Accessed March 16, 2011. .
“Autobiography of the Late Rev. Nelson Burns: A New Study of the Christ Life, etc.” Nelson Burns (1834-1904) and Albert Truax, published under the auspices of the Christian Association, [ca. 1905].
Genealogy Page of John Blythe Dobson “The descendants of George Flint and Elizabeth (Lee) Flint, of Holbeach, Lincolnshire.” Accessed March 16, 2011. .
“Beaverlodge to the Rockies.” Published by the Beaverlodge and District Historical Association, 1974.
Preserved at James A. Gibson Library, Brock University for several years before being deaccessioned and transferred to South Peace Regional Archives in 2010. It is likely that the original reports of the Beaverlodge group were forwarded to the Association’s headquarters in Toronto where they were compiled with the reports of the Toronto group. Probably the reports were then donated to Brock University by a representative of the Christian Association. No information is available on how or from whom the material arrived at Brock University. Their best guess on the date of donation is sometime between 1964 and 1992.
Scope and Content
The fonds consists of three volumes (1926, 1928, 1929) of meeting records from the Christian Association. The records are a compilation of the reports of the groups at Toronto, Ontario and Beaverlodge, Alberta. The reports include those for regular meetings, Young People’s meetings, and joint Summer and Winter conferences, and associated material including some letters, announcements, and a eulogy. The records were created during the time of C. H. Partridge’s presidency.
The reports provide more detail than normal meeting minutes and frequently include direct quotes from the speakers. They document personal details from the lives of the members of the Association and their relationships and interactions with other members of the group as well as others in their lives. The amount of detail recorded is directly related to Burnsite doctrines and beliefs, especially those surrounding divine guidance and the “live Gods”. Speakers and members from Toronto area include: Mr. and Mrs. Partridge and their daughters Guinevere and Murell, the Mapes, the Parrys, the Pierces, the Wilsons, Mrs. Courage, the Darts, Mrs. Eadie, the Finkles, the Hills, Mr. Hughes, Mrs. Johnson, Miss Nixon, Mr. Pratt, Mr. Sarjeant, Mrs. Schofield, Mrs. Thomson, Mr. Tucker, and Miss Walton. Speakers and members from Beaverlodge include: the Flints, the Albrights, the Lossings, the Gaudins, the Smiths, the Wilkies, and Mrs. Miller.
The reports are arranged in essentially chronological order. Some diversion from strict chronological order is noticeable due to the difficulties of compiling reports from two groups separated by large distances. The original order of the material has been maintained by the Archivist.
Title of the fonds based on its contents.
Physical Extent: The original material accounts for 9 cm of textual records and the reproductions account for 14 cm of textual records.
Conservation: The original reports are very fragile and brittle. Preservation photocopies have been made of the material (March 2011) and are to be consulted for research, rather than the originals.