From its earliest days, Sunday School publications were imported and sold at the Methodists’ Upper Canadian printing, publishing, and bookselling operation. Then, in September 1845, the Christian Guardian published a prospectus for an original publication of this kind. The prospectus indicated that the Church conference had recently resolved that a paper for “Sabbath School Teachers and Scholars [be launched] as soon as a sufficient number of subscribers were received to warrant the undertaking.”1 Two months later, Anson Green, the Book Steward of the day, reported in the Guardian: “We are anxious to commence the work at once, but are directed to pause until a suitable number of copies are ordered to meet the expenses.”2
The first issue of the Sunday School Guardian appeared on 26 January 1846.3 Initially eight pages in length, the paper contained poetry, natural history, biography, anecdotal passages promoting good behaviour, advice for Sunday school teachers, children’s obituaries, and advertisements. In keeping with the practices of the day, both original and borrowed material featured in its contents. In an issue from 1851, readers were told: “We will always be happy to give the preference to well-written original articles.”4
Evidence indicates the publication suffered a financially troubled existence. Indeed, in February 1847, the Christian Guardian reprimanded the Methodist community severely for its lack of support: “We did not allow to enter into our calculations the probability of a cold indifference in the hearts of any … and had any one predicted that from nearly two-thirds of all our circuits and missions we should not receive any subscribers, we would have been disposed to question his sanity.”5 This first venture into issuing an original Sunday school paper appears to have been abandoned about 1854.6 The following year, an arrangement was made with the Methodist Book Room in New York for the production of a Canadian edition of its Sunday School Advocate. Some variation in content apparently differentiated the two editions.
By 1868, the Canadian organization was ready to try again with a fully independent Sunday school paper. That year, it launched the Sunday School Banner and Teacher’s Assistant, which was aimed at Sunday school teachers, while continuing with the Advocate. But in 1879, a second Sunday School Guardian succeeded the Advocate, which was later supplanted by Pleasant Hours. Six Sunday school papers were being produced by 1885, all under the general editorial oversight of Reverend W.H. Withrow, whom the Church had appointed to the organization in 1874. In 1890, Withrow proposed the launch of Onward, a new paper directed toward senior classes and the Epworth League, a Methodist youth group.7 By 1914, eleven Sunday school publications were being issued, with annual circulations for each ranging from 15,000 to 100,000.8
1 “Prospectus of a Sabbath School Periodical,” Christian Guardian 10 September 1845.
2 Anson Green, “The Sabbath School Visitor,” Christian Guardian 12 November 1845.
3 “This Day is Published, The Sunday School Guardian,” Christian Guardian 28 January 1846.
4 Sunday School Guardian July 1851.
5 “Sunday School Guardian,” Christian Guardian 3 February 1847.
6 “Sunday School Guardian,” Christian Guardian 7 June 1854.
7 Minutes of the Annual Meeting, Western Section, Book Committee, Methodist Church, 30 October 1890, box 1, Board of Publication Papers, Archives of the United Church of Canada.
8 Journal of the Methodist Conference 1918 (Toronto: William Briggs, 1918) 171. See also Scott McLaren, Pulpit, Press, and Politics: Methodists and the Market for Books in Upper Canada, Studies in Book and Print Culture (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2019).