Queen's University

Room in the tent for everyone

Robert J. McNaught shares his memories of Queen’s during the war years, his lessons in inclusive Christianity, and his life as a United Church minister.

[photo of Robert McNaught]I graduated from my home town high school, Russell Continuation School, in the small town of Russell, twenty miles south of Ottawa in 1938. The Depression was still in full force and money was scarce. Credit was non-existent and a student loan, outside of the immediate family, was an unknown concept. Still I had a passion to attend university and ultimately Theological College so I could follow in my father's footsteps and become a minister in the United Church. My father had attended McGill University from 1908 finally graduating in 1917 as money was even scarcer at that time. However, my family was able to scrape together some money for me to enroll at Queen's University for my undergraduate studies. My aunt, Aunt Minnie Ball, provided the bulk of the $123.00 tuition for the first year. Aunt Minnie was the Chief Clerk for the City of Kingston and offered to let me stay in her extra bedroom at the Annandale Apartments. I supplemented my student costs during the summers of 1937 and 1938 by working for Nestle's Condensed Milk, collecting cream from the local farmers and delivering it to the milk factory in Chesterville. It was an age of adventure.

I don't want to make my situation sound unusual. Many other students depended on family and summer jobs for tuition. Each of my three other classmates at the Theological College of Queen's University, Class of '44, followed a similar course to obtain the money for graduation.Queen's University before the war had a small enrollment. andstudents knew each other very well. When the Second World War began in September 1939, my second year of study, there were even fewer students. I became close friends with four other students, Gordon Smythe, Greer Boyce, Bert McEvoy (MDiv'48), and Richard Bonsteel, who also enrolled in Queen's Theological College. They became life-long friends and sadly I am the last surviving member of the Queen's Theology Class of 1944. Although I was not the smartest of students, I was accepted into the Theological College in 1941. I am not too embarrassed torecount a small example of my lack of sagacity. I enjoyed Hebrew and Greek studies and tutored Gordon. As a result, he won the large scholarship ($45) in classical Greek and I won the smaller scholarship ($12) in Hebrew.

Theological College was an enlivening experience, more so because of the dedicated faculty. Professor Kent, the Principal, taught the Old Testament and Hebrew. Dr. Kilpatrick came from Montreal to provide lectures on the skills required for Practical Ministry. Professor Gilmour taught the New Testament and Professor Macdonell instructed classical Greek.To get practice, we often preached in the classroom, learning the techniques of public speaking.

[yearbook photo of Robert McNaught]During the summers, we were assigned to pastoral charges throughout Ontario. In 1940 and again in 1941, I travelled to Kapaskasing to be a missionary for 4 different church communities. Later in 1942, the three of us went to the communities around Highway 7. Gordon went to Bathurst near Perth, Bert went to Tichburne and Oconto and Dick went to Mountain Grove. I went assigned to serve Kaladar, Flinton and Cloyne. I would board the Kingston and Pembroke train to Sharbot Lake on Saturday evening and then transfer onto the CP train, which ran parallel to Highway 7 from Toronto to Ottawa via Peterborough. By then, I had a car, a 1928 Ford Touring model, which became air-conditioned that winter when the roof blew away. I would park the car near the Kaladar train station during the week and use it to get to Flinton and Cloyne for Sunday services. Those were the days before anti-freeze. I had to drain the radiator at each stop and then re-fill it before starting again so that the water would not freeze. I would perform services at Flinton United Church in the morning and then proceed to evening services at Cloyne or Harlow before driving back to Kaladar Station about 8:30p.m. The station was empty. I would spend the night under a blanket close to the wood stove. When the midnight train came from Toronto at 10:00 p.m., I would set up the signal lantern for the train to stop. I would retrace my steps to Sharbot Lake where I could board the last evening K & P train back to Kingston. It was the only train and was co-ordinated to meet with the eastbound CP train.

In those early years of the war, when a difficult future pressed in upon us, it was a time of anxiety. It was also a time of rationing. But we always had football games and victory parades. Most Friday evenings, we would proceed downtown to wander the streets. Sometimes the cadets from Barriefield would also wander downtown. Then a friendly rivalry would break out with students on one side of the street and the cadets on the other side, throwing insults and an occasional rotten egg. The best confrontations arose when tomatoes were in season. It was a race to see which side could corner the market for over-ripe tomatoes and when the cadets threw them at the students, they were called "cowardly'' tomatoes because when "they hit you, they ran!" All students were required to attend Canadian Officer Training including those whose skills were in Hebrew and classical Greek.  The course curriculum had a theme. All our professors instilled in us that Christianity should not only be relevant to those near the front of the Christian tent but must also be relevant to those at the back near the edges and moreover to those who stood outside the tent. It was a message that I took with me when I graduated in 1944. My original intention was to become a missionary in Angola, Africa but the United Church had other plans for me I was sent to work among the "heathens" here in Canada. That's when my real adventure began.

My first assignment was in Pangman, Saskatchewan, forty miles west of Weyburn, where I attempted to put into practice the inclusive Christianity that I had absorbed from my professors at Queen's.I also applied the lessons from my father that in small towns and villages, the Church had to help build the community. The Church must be present during the good times not just the times of sorrow and grief. As a result, I strongly supported Church picnics, Arbor days and Christmas parties for all children whether their parents were Church members or not. I developed an interest in curling and began to smoke cigars. It was my good fortune that the citizens of Pangman were wonderful and friendly. I know I learned far more humanity from them than I provided. I still have friends from those days.

In 1948, I was re-assigned to Lanark, Ontario. My wife, my young daughter and I made the drive across Canada in a car that wasn't much more mechanically fit than my 1928 Touring Car. Since then, I have served the communities of Queensville, Scarborough and Oshawa. To-day I am still Pastor Emeritus at Kingsview United Church in Oshawa. The congregation kindly allows me to sermonize once a year on my birthday on the basis that I remember the old truth that "Brevity, Reverend Bob, may be the soul of wit but it is also the essential element for a Christian message."

As I approach my 96th birthday, certain in the knowledge that I will never be younger than I am right now, I believe that I can still serve as a voice for the message of Christ both in my extended family and in my community, if only to prove the veracity of the adage that it is often the good who die young. I still believe that the Christian tent has room for everyone, even someone who smokes cigars and enjoys curling. The adventure continues.

Queen's Alumni Review, 2014 Issue #1Queen's Alumni Review
2014 Issue #1
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Last updated at 10:02 am EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
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