Rev. John Redford Scott (1909-1958)
John Redford Scott was born in 1909 in the farming community of Ste. Croix, Nova Scotia where the ancestral roots of both his parents ran deep. The son of Lillian Jane Harvey (1870-1939) a nurse, who had returned from a career in Boston, and John Albert Scott (1866-1954), a farmer and community leader, young Jack (as he was always known), along with a younger brother was raised on Elm Farm, a 200 acre property that had been home to four generations of the family. The fertile dyke land, rolling upland fields and wooded hill to the back surrounds a meandering brook flowing into a lake which forms the pasture's edge. Today the property simply known as "The Farm", continues to be enjoyed by new generations of Scotts.
He was also the great-great grandson of the pioneer Presbyterian minister, Rev. George Gillmore who had arrived in Hants County in 1785 having followed his Loyalist conscience north after the American Revolution. History books tell of Gillmore's thirty-five mile walk to Halifax one winter attempting to mortgage his Ardoise, NS farm for a barrel of flour to feed his family. He returned empty handed and the Loyalist pioneer family survived the winter "on milk and potatoes". An Edinburgh educated scholar, Rev. Gillmore achieved the completion of the Presbyterian Church later known as the Covenanter Church high on the hill at Grand Pre in 1811 after seven years of construction, and thirteen years planning. The structure remains the oldest extant Presbyterian church in Canada. Gillmore was a man who preached into his 90's; knowledge of the rugged persistence and idealism of prior generations was a part of the upbringing for Jack and his brother, and both were committed to improve the world.
Although it was his own brother Frederic
Gillmore Scott (1911-2010), who would gain the namesake and a strong social conscience, it was Jack who would inherit the Gillmore mantle and
enthusiastically ministry, and a life of Christian service. He would become one of over a
Gillmore descendants ordained to ministry in various denominations.
The village of Ste. Croix was made up of a series of farms surrounding a bridge over the Ste. Croix River which powered several mills over time and still generates electricity. The Scott family like many within the area were a temperance family, with Jack's father serving as Grand Worthy Patriarch in the Sons of Temperance provincial organization. and strong views on alcohol. Possibly the fact that Jack's great grandfather had been left without a father in a murder committed by "a drunk" had a defining effect; both Jack and Fred were raised during a time when temperance was a strong social cause and taking "the pledge", to abstain from alcohol was a rite of passage within the temperance clubs organized for young people; while easily abandoned once away from home for many young people, the commitments made in their youth were very real to the brothers and maintained throughout their lifetimes.
After completing grade school in the
Jack began the daily walk of two miles to Newport
where he would catch a train to Windsor and then walk another mile to
high school at Windsor Academy. Often he and his brother would
a ride with the mailman who travelled to the train station by horse and
As "country students" had all the uncertainty of winter travel they
often arrived late and worked hard to keep up with the class. Jack's brother quickly learned that education could be a luxury when the needs of a busy farm and an ill father meant an incomplete schooling, and an early start at a lifetime of farming.
A keen student Jack excelled in school and decided to continue his education at Acadia University in Wolfville, where he majored in Economics, winning a gold medal of distinction at graduation as well as an Acadia Gold A. His undergraduate years were marked by his all-round ability that saw him compete in track & field and lead Acadia's debating team to international victory, while working as a dining hall waiter. Elected to various leadership roles in student organizations, he was known as a serious student who was not wasting either time or money in pursuit of a solid education. During the summers he worked as a waiter with Canadian National Railways. His debating ventures over rival teams were well documented and lauded by Nova Scotia newspapers which called him a "natural orator". Well liked and respected by his peers he was elected class Valedictorian by the Acadia class of 1930.
Upon graduation, he taught for two years
Institut Feller, a Protestant private school in Grande-Ligne,
Quebec. Still quite youthful in appearance and barely older
than his students, he
grew a moustache possibly to ensure his students knew who the teacher
was. He became involved with drama productions and he kept in touch
with college friends who were making decisions about their
careers. Knowing his oratorical ability, his friends asked
whether it would be law or economics in his future. His letters
reveal his growing social conscience
during the Great Depression and his conviction that churches had a
role in improving the world. Always active in his own church and with
genuine concern for people, Jack found himself drawn to ministry in
United Church of Canada. In 1932
returned to his native province to enrol in Theology at Pine Hill
Hall, in Halifax on the campus of what became the Atlantic School of Theology.
During the summer, his student ministry was at Clam Harbour, N.S. in 1933 and DeBolt in northern Alberta in 1934 where he discovered the ministry needs of the pioneers of the developing North. His notes mention a log church and manse, and travelling by saddle horse. He wrote of the needs of the hard working people who had little of the shared history and culture that he took for granted in Nova Scotia and of the hardships both physical and mental endured by these pioneers clearing land and forging new communities out of wilderness. As part of church policy to ensure that student ministers experienced the diverse regional needs with Canada, his summer in the DeBolt had taught him of the genuine needs of the pioneers attempting to earn a living from rugged conditions.
Upon ordination by the United
Church of Canada in 1935 he accepted a call back to the Peace River
northern British Columbia. This time it was a bit further west of
in Dawson Creek. Known as "the end of the steel" the
Alberta Railway had just arrived four years earlier, and the
had recently built a church. The vast pioneer area required a
to reach far flung congregations in Willow Valley, Progress, South
Devereau, Bon Accord, and Sunrise Valley. Confiding to his father
letters home he talked of the differing values he saw in the frontier
compared to his own temperance home. Dawson Creek had a beer parlour
lots of Sunday sports, yet was quite a peaceful town. He lived in the
Apple Hotel until a manse was moved onto church property and took his
with the bachelors at a local boarding house to save money.
He wrote of the wonderfully faithful people working to build their small congregations in this rugged northern land.
"It is they on whom future generations will lavish praise for the farms they wrested from the virgin country."
His records of church attendance for
location show that often the smaller congregations would have between
and ten in attendance while Dawson Creek had twenty to thirty
Sundays with a peak once of seventy-two. He discussed with his
by letter the qualities of a suitable saddle horse. After trying
a small one he finally bought a big red, friendly horse called Rusty
$55 and a saddle originally built for the Alberta Provincial
Although army surplus saddles sold for $10 he was advised locally to
the $25 police saddle as it would give some protection during the
winter. With a wilderness charge that was forty miles long he
well. His letter described a typical Saturday.
"I go to Willow Valley 36 miles from town. I speak there Saturday evening, then after service ride this way 12 miles. Then on my way in on Sunday, have two services, and a third one in town Sunday".
Decked in leather Wellington boots and a long riding coat for protection from the weather he looked more the image of a western rancher than a clergyman. A farm boy at heart he adapted to the northern conditions, the night riding and his life as a horseback pastor easily. One letter tells of travelling through the woods late at night and attempting to unsaddle Rusty and get him into a corral when there was no moonlight and no flashlight. Feeling his way along he was relieved to finally get Rusty safely into the corral and himself into the cabin when he reached his destination.
After completing two years in Dawson Creek he returned to Nova Scotia where he served from 1937 to 1940 in Walton a community within his native Hants County which also included congregations in Brookville, Cheverie, Pembroke, Tenecape, and Bramber. Trading his horse for a bicycle, he managed to serve his congregations using pedal power until he could pay some of his college debts and purchase a second-hand car. Having motorized transportation also meant he could more easily visit his widowed father and his brother at home. He next served from 1940 to 1942 in Economy and Lower Five Islands, nearby coastal areas on the scenic Bay of Fundy.
During World War II, he grew
concerned for the ministry needs of Canadians in military service and
1942 he joined the Canadian Navy serving in Halifax. In December 1943 he
was transferred from Halifax to St. John's Newfoundland
where he was based for two years. Although occupied with the
and ministerial duties in each naval base, he insisted on fully knowing
dangers faced by all those at sea in the Battle
of the Atlantic, in the daily effort of Allied escort convoys of
and civilian ships, attempting to survive the deadly German submarine
His personnel file obtained from the Navy, and an interview of his
officer show his requests to personally experience the reality of life
sea, in order to better understand the people he served. In 1944, he was granted his request and saw active
service in the Mid-Ocean Escort Force, in the most dangerous portion of
the Atlantic on both the HMCS
Napanee and HMCS Halifax. Later a newspaper reporting his
as "a Newfoundland port" for security reasons, told of his visit with
in Britain slated for action in the invasion of Europe
"They were a high-spirited lot and at first glance you'd imagine they didn't have a care in the world, but I soon realized that most of them had done a lot of quiet thinking. Those boys know what prayer means."
While in St. John's he was introduced through mutual friends, in September 1944 to a fellow Acadia graduate who had earned a university degree at the age of nineteen before returning to Newfoundland to teach. Both now in their thirties with similar interests they quickly discovered a natural affection for each other. Soon Jean White and Jack would become the love of each other's life, and in May of 1945 a married couple. Jean was musical and outgoing and saw herself as a "help mate" in his ministry, sharing her talents willingly.
Although peace with Germany was achieved during their honeymoon in Holyrood, Newfoundland, Jack knew the need for his ministry within the Navy was not over and that he would continue to serve. Within nine days of their wedding he had volunteered for the continuing campaign against Japan. Although he was prepared to serve, and had an outstanding request for transfer to the Pacific fleet, the needs of the navy changed quickly as Canada moved to demobilization in Europe.
Awaiting the Pacific transfer, the newlyweds spent over one year in Halifax at Stadacona naval base where there remained a need for his services. Peace with Japan was achieved in August 1945, and in 1946 the young couple became proud parents of Ruth their first daughter. Jean and Ruth moved to Elm Farm in Ste. Croix with Jack's brother Fred and father when the October 1946 transfer to HMCS Uganda in Esquimalt, British Columbia was finalized. Ironically while Jack had been among the first Canadian veterans to re-volunteer he would be posted to a ship which had gained notoriety as the only ship that had "voted itself out of the war" when in 1945 after Germany's surrender the majority of the crew did not sign volunteer papers to enter the Japanese conflict. The event now understood by naval historians as just a tired crew for whom the real war was over, had labelled the once proud Canadian ship with a stigma of disloyalty and it was renamed following a refit. When Jack arrived by train, the ship still had the older name and the crew was involved in peace time duties in Canada. As the cooler weather arrived operations moved gradually southward and they sailed to California and as far south as Panama. Docking in California several times allowed him to meet his only first cousins and cultivated an interest in family history that had begun as a young man.
Jack and Jean began a letter writing relationship during the year they were on either sides of the continent that documented their love and longing to be reunited. Often writing daily, their letters usually crossed, but they maintained close contact as they planned their future together. A collection of several hundred letters, which they both saved, attests to their mutual devotion and writing abilities.
Discharged after five year service in
1947, Jack and Jean along with Ruth sailed aboard the RMS Queen Mary
sailing out of New York harbour on one of its' 1001 Atlantic crossings.
for Scotland, Jack had registered to do post-graduate study in theology for two years
at New College, University of
the very school where his great-great-grandfather George Gillmore, had begun
ministry two centuries before.
The young family made life-long friends, and settled into Scottish life as married students. They welcomed a second daughter, Lillian in 1948. Most Sundays, Jack would travel to Presbyterian churches around the Edinburgh area that needed his services as pulpit supply.
Although there had been a history of Nova Scotians returning from Edinburgh after two years with a PhD ready to teach at Pine Hill, (his seminary), Jack had made a conscious decision not to pursue an academic career and thus chose practical ministry courses that would be of value in his pastoral work at home rather than an advanced academic degree. His professors included Dr. James Stuart Stewart, still celebrated as one of the great Christian writers and preachers of his era.
After a quick visit to the continent including a visit to Rome for Jack and Jean, the young family of four returned to Canada in 1949 aboard the comfortable but aging RMS Aquitania during its' final year of service. They headed for New Brunswick where Jack had accepted a call to Salisbury a charge that also included Coverdale, Colpitts Settlement, and Steeves Memorial Churches. While in Salisbury, a third child, Ian was born. After two temporary houses, the growing family happily moved into a new manse that had been built during their years in Salisbury. It was also while in New Brunswick that Jack re-established his connection with Naval service, becoming a padre in the Naval Reserve from 1949, in addition to his pastoral work.
In 1956 Jack accepted a call from a Cape Breton congregation, Greenwood United Church, in Baddeck where the family settled for the next two years. Although only in his forties Jack had started to develop Angina, an indicator of heart disease; on May 30, 1958, Jack Scott died of a heart attack at the age of 49. With a family and congregation deeply saddened, a much loved minister, husband, brother, and father was buried in Ste. Croix with full military honours.
Despite great losses, and the changes they bring, families do find a way to continue and Jack's family carried on in the spirit of trust that he had always shown. After a year living with maternal relatives in Newfoundland, they chose to settle in Wolfville, NS close to Scott family relatives 26 miles away, and continued to honour the memory of his Christian service, his good humour and his genuine caring manner. Through the years, Jean saved his writings including his academic papers, sermons, and prayers which were passed on to me (their son) in 1994. Although primarily of interest to family, including 7 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren in 2017, his writings continue to be a link to his ministry and the lives he touched.
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