In Loving Memory of Reverend Canon James Peter Scanlon

The family of the Rev. Canon James P. Scanlon (Jim) is inviting you to contribute to the Restoring Old St Thomas, Moose Factory. This historic, carpenter gothic style Anglican church, which opened in 1885 and is centrally located on the island, will become the future hub for the Cree community. The Murdoch family made a memorial donation of $100,000 for the restoration of Old St Thomas from the estate of the Very Rev. Sharon Murdoch, with the request that the Moose River Heritage and Hospitality Association (MRHHA) match their donation.

Both Sharon and Jim shared a deep love for the Cree people of Canada’s north and faithfully served as priests in the Diocese of Moosonee. During his ministry in Kingston, Jim continued to connect with and care for the Cree, twinning his parish, St. John’s Portsmouth, with St Thomas which included visits back and forth. An important and meaningful part of his hospital ministry was the pastoral care he provided to Cree patients at Kingston General Hospital.  He visited with them and, when required, he spoke with them in their own language and provided translation for the medical staff. During his retirement, he wrote and published several books about his northern experiences. Jim had the opportunity to travel back to Moose Factory in 2018 to reconnect with people and to visit St Thomas – a meaningful final trip.

This matching gift campaign to Restore St Thomas has received a generous donation of $100,000 from Moose Cree First Nation, and Rev. Scanlon himself was the first individual to respond with his own donation of $5,000. The budget required to restore and repurpose Old St Thomas is $2 million. The MRHHA intends to raise $1.5 million through government grants, and the remaining $500,000 from the Sharon Murdoch campaign. The campaign’s total goal is $750,000 of which $500,000 is for the renovations and $250,000 for the maintenance and programming of Old St. Thomas in the year’s to come. These programs will be centred on language revitalization and cultural resurgence as elders, youth and families together will explore their language and traditions in the safe haven of Old St. Thomas.

Note: Donations of $5,000 or more will be memorialized with a plaque in the tower of Old St Thomas Church.

Jim's story

St Thomas in 1960s

St Thomas in 1960s

In the mid to late sixties, Jim was the Archdeacon of James Bay and the priest, along with Rev. Redford Loutitt, at St Thomas, Moose Factory. He cared deeply about the Cree, their culture and heritage, and he spoke and wrote in their language using syllabics. Church services were in Cree and English, and the altar was adorned in moosehide beautifully decorated with intricate beadwork. He was one of the creators of a newspaper called Ministikok which he delivered by running from place to place on the Island in all kinds of weather to help connect people with their news and stories.  He encouraged the Cree to showcase their culture, language, and heritage during Canada’s Centennial in 1967.  As a result, Moose Factory had its own “Expo 67” with many visitors and tourists arriving to learn more about the Moose Cree First Nation.

Despite the Indian Act policies that were focused on suppressing their culture, Jim wanted the Cree students at Horden Hall, the residential school, to connect more with their heritage. So, in the fall of 1966, he encouraged the students to start drawing pictures of what they saw around them. Soon Cree art was everywhere, festooning the school, the church hall, and eventually even the church walls themselves, despite their fresh coat of paint. Then, in preparation for the Centennial celebrations, he suggested setting up TeePees on Church land – actually the rectory backyard. The location was chosen so that the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) could not intervene. Jim also hoped that a Cree family would move into the teepees and start cooking Bannock to sell to tourists. He was following the example of the Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, who had been criss-crossing the country encouraging Canadians to get to know each other and to sample their cuisine.

Jane Scanlon with her friend, Debbie Corston

Jane Scanlon with her friend, Debbie Corston

Gramma Tomatuk embraced the challenge and moved into a TeePee, bringing her grandchildren and her fancy Bannock supplies. They started preparing Bannock to sell. Jim put up a sign, and even had his own children, Jane and Peter (then 7 and 4 years old), circulating amongst the tourists eating Bannock and saying, “This is Bannock and it tastes good. You should try some!” Trudeau made the trip and enjoyed some of Gramma Tomatuk’s Bannock. 

Caption Gramma Tomatuk baking Bannock for tourists
Tourists visiting Moose Factory in 1967

Gramma Tomatuk baking Bannock for tourists

Tourists visiting Moose Factory in 1967

The More than 350 celebrations continue the traditions and focus started by Jim during Canada’s Centennial, emphasizing Cree heritage, language and culture. Celebrations will continue for a full year, based on the Cree calendar with it’s six seasons. Within the next few months, the Šawelihcikewin (literally translated as “receiving with gratitude with the desire to give back”) Campaign will be launched. It includes the Sharon Murdoch St. Thomas Campaign, but its mandate encompasses the full scope of Cree cultural revitalization through the restoration, repurposing and rebuilding of multiple heritage buildings in the Heritage Park Museum and Business Park.

Jim not only loved the people in the north, but he loved Old St Thomas Church. Recently he told the story of what makes this church so unique. Jim was so happy that his beloved church, that was deconsecrated and condemned in 2006, was to be restored and repurposed for the new needs of Moose Factory. He wanted to help however he could and was delighted to join in as a lead donor on this first financial campaign that raised $35,000. He was also inspired when he heard about the Murdoch’s donation in memory of Sharon Murdoch as Sharon was his close friend and colleague in the ministry to the Northern Cree.

Though he retired from active ministry many years ago, Jim’s passion for the northern people and his pastoral care for all he met during his long and rich life never waned – a wonderful legacy to be cherished for years to come. Thank you for considering a donation to a cause that was so close to his heart.

Jim’s story (video)