Through a Canadian stained glass window: William Charles White, 
the bishop who loved China and her people

 on April 13, 2017

by Abby Mulvihill

Bishop William Charles White was born in 1873 and died in 1960.

The window’s inscription reads: Many generations after Addison brought the message of the Church of England to Niagara, Canadian missionaries would go out bearing the Christian message to other lands. No leader in this field is remembered with greater affection than Bishop White.

He was both an Anglican missionary to China and a scholar at the University of Toronto, where he was the Professor of Chinese Studies after his retirement from mission work.

The bishop, a sincere lover of China and the Chinese people, learned to speak Chinese while at his mission and even dressed according to the local fashions. But in his collecting of Chinese antiquities, which are now in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, he may have gone beyond what would now be considered as appropriate take-aways from another culture.

He began his career of public service with the Y.M.C.A.

When he first became interested in missionary work, he favoured an African posting, but in the end the Missionary Society of Canada sent him to China in 1897. He soon adopted Chinese ways because he felt that this might make his church more attractive and welcoming to locals. (His clothing became Chinese but his height was always resolutely western.)

Eventually he became the first Bishop of Honan, where he served for 25 years. As a result of his efforts, eleven churches were founded, all led by native Chinese pastors.

Unfortunately, by the 1930s civil war took over China, and the Bishop and his family felt that it was time to come back to Toronto.

From 1935 until he retired in 1948, he taught Chinese Studies at the University of Toronto.

Today his work is still acknowledged in the Royal Ontario Museum with his donations of Chinese pottery, art work, clothing and certain structures from China that were actually reconstructed in the museum. (Those were the glory days of specimen collecting, and early curators did not understand it as a colonial and Western imposition).

Abby Mulvihill, one of the newer members of the Church of the Ascension Hamilton, has been involved with the Fundraising Group and the Sunday School, as well as sharing the responsibility of being a projectionist at Sunday services.

As we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, we look back at the role of the church as told through stained glass windows. 

The Church of the Ascension Hamilton has 10 stained glass windows in their Chapel of the Holy Spirit dedicated to Canadian Anglican pioneers. For more information about the windows go to

Note cards featuring the historical windows can be purchased through the church.

The Niagara Anglican will feature others in the coming months.

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