Rev. Thomas Henry Jackson
COMMUNITY: SAFE, SUPPORTIVE AND INCLUSIVE SPACES
The Life Story of Rev. Thomas Henry Jackson
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Rev. Thomas Henry Jackson was one the last Ministers of the British Methodist Episcopal Church on 94 Chestnut Street. He was born near London, Ontario.
Rev. Thomas Henry Jackson was one the last Ministers of the British Methodist Episcopal Church on 94 Chestnut Street. He was born near London, Ontario. In his 20s he became a Minister. Methodism encourages trained lay members to serve as local preachers before they were granted full status as Ministers. He learned his craft through mentorship, self-directed bible study, and experience preaching in a number of churches across the province. In addition to being a Minister, he was also a husband and a father. He and his wife Laura had two children. The eldest died when she was approximately 18 years old and the youngest, Marguerite, grew up with Rosemary’s mother Bernice when the Jackson family finally settled in Toronto. The cousins were about the same age. In the 1940s, already an accomplished Minister, Rev. Jackson was asked to lead the congregation on Chestnut Street and moved to Toronto. Despite being an influential leader of the Black community he was never a wealthy man. As a Minister his livelihood relied heavily on the contributions of the congregation, who were not wealthy, and as was the practice of the BME Church, he had moved with his family to various churches over his lifetime, as decided at Annual BME Conferences, making home ownership a challenge.
The land for the church had been purchased by members of the community in 1845, with the BME church connection formally being founded in 1856. It quickly became a significant social, political and spiritual centre for the Black community in Toronto, serving as a possible terminus of the Underground Railroad in the church’s early years. To members of the community it was a safe and inclusive space where people could gather and support each other. Even those who did not consider themselves to be religious came to the church for a sense of community and belonging. Housing several different associations, the church’s activities included: educational workshops, fundraisers, cooking classes, social events, Sunday school, and social and professional networking opportunities, particularly for women. Through its ministry, in addition to spiritual guidance, the church frequently invited prominent leaders of the community to educate the congregation on its histories, cultures and to address political and social issues concerning community members at the time.
Changes to Canadian immigration law in the 1950s and 60s led to an increase in immigration to Canada from Caribbean countries. Due to government sponsored programs, many newcomers were women who came to Toronto to work as nurses, teachers and domestic workers. During this time, as it had been in the past, the church was an incredible resource for these incoming communities, assisting them with job placements, housing, medical assistance and other settlement and social needs.
By 1953, fewer and fewer members of the Black community lived in the Ward, having moved to other parts of the city, so the congregation decided to sell the church to members of the Chinese community who by then made up a significant percentage of the Ward’s population. The church was converted into the Toronto Chinese United Church, the first in Toronto’s history, leaving the BME church to merge with the Afro-Community Church at 460 Shaw Street. That same year Rev. Jackson died and Rev. A. S. Markham carried on as Minister of the church.
The church remained on Shaw Street until April 16, 1998 when it was set on fire, a crime that was never solved. Following the fire, the church moved to its current location on Eglinton Avenue West and Dufferin Street. Throughout her life, Rosemary’s mother, whose family came to Canada by way of the Underground Railroad by the 1840s, was an active member of the church. She was one of the last living members of the original BME church on Chestnut Street, having also worshipped at the Shaw Street and Eglinton Avenue locations. She died in 2015 at the age of 93.
“You can’t live on being free. You still need a job. You still need shelter. You still need other people. You still need clothes. So free isn’t quite enough if you don’t have all the things required to help support freedom.”
– Rosemary Sadlier, descendant of Rev. Thomas Jackson, former Minister of the BME Church on Chestnut St.