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Oliver, Edmund H. (1882–1935)

To provide ministers for new churches, Edmund H. Oliver established the Presbyterian Theological College that later became St. Andrew’s College at the University of Saskatchewan. Oliver was born in Eberts, Kent County, Ontario in 1882. He received his BA from the University of Toronto in 1902, his MA a year later, and a PhD in 1905. On invitation from Dr. Walter Murray, first President of the University of Saskatchewan, Oliver moved to Saskatoon to help establish the new university. He saw a need to establish a theological college on campus to train men for the ministry, and returned to Toronto to earn a theological degree in 1910.

Oliver studied economics, history and theology. He believed he was working on the “last Frontier”—the last chance for society to “get it right”: through education, the Church and government could improve society. He arrived in the west at a time of great optimism: immigrants were flooding the prairies, and schools, churches and a university were needed to educate these new citizens.

With the outbreak of World War I, Oliver enlisted as a chaplain. On the battle fronts in France, he waged battle against “demon rum,” visited the sick, wrote letters on behalf of wounded soldiers, and advised families when a soldier was killed in action. He established reading rooms for soldiers on leave, and rode his bicycle around muddy fields, offering classes to infantry and books for them to read. He believed soldiers who survived would return home and become leaders in society. He thus helped to establish the University of Vimy Ridge. After the war, Oliver continued his work with the theological college and worked for the union of Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists that eventually became the United Church of Canada in 1925.

Oliver served on two Royal Commissions to establish a system of co-operative farm credit and a liquor control system. He wrote five books, a novel, and many articles. During the Great Depression, he served as Moderator of the United Church from 1930 to 1932, and traveled the country urging people to donate food and clothing to those in need on the prairies. His time as Moderator was the culmination of his life’s philosophy of service and co-operation in the new frontier. He died at the early age of 53 while working with youth at a summer camp.

Gordon Barnhart

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