Of all the ministers at First Baptist Church over the years, the work of W. C. Weir (1890-1894) is among the most obscure and lacking in detail. The two FBC historians — William Carmichael (1947) and Les Cummings (1987) — make remarkably scant mention of him. We don’t even know Weir’s first name. In this post, I’ll try to assemble as many facts as I can about Weir using the tools available to me which weren’t around for earlier FBC historians to draw on.
William Cornett Weir was born in 1854. He married Elizabeth Louise Dutton in 1886 (one of the witnesses of their marriage was James B. Kennedy, who would very shortly become FBC’s pastor and whom Weir would succeed). Together, William and Elizabeth had 5 boys: Frederick (1888), William Arnold (1890), Charles (1892), Gordon (1895), and George (1898). Weir did his bachelor’s degree at Toronto and McMaster Universities and upon completing his education, accepted a call from Woolwich Street Baptist Church in 1890. He resigned his ministry at Woolwich Street after four years with that congregation. In a 1928 Woolwich Street anniversary souvenir, it was stated that “For some time, the church had suffered from a lack of unity in spirit and action. In the summer of 1890 the smouldering embers of disharmony burst into sudden flame.”1 It was in the wake of this disharmony that Weir submitted his resignation (and, further, that about one hundred members split from Woolwich Street to start Trinity Baptist Church in Guelph).
Whatever were the specific reason(s) that motivated Weir’s departure from the Guelph church to accept the call to distant Vancouver, he assumed the FBC pulpit in short order. His swan song sermon in Guelph was on August 3rd; he arrived at the Vancouver CPR station on September 11th and was preaching at FBC on September 15th — at both morning and evening services, if you please! (Typical of early Baptist churches, since Weir traveled through Winnipeg on a Sunday, the local church there snagged him to be their guest preacher; there was little rest for anyone who could preach in those early days).
By all accounts, Weir’s ministry in Vancouver was a successful one. His preaching style was frequently described in the local press as “earnest”. And although today such a description might be perceived as damning with faint praise, I get the impression that it was not so intended at the time.
In March, 1893, Weir’s youngest child, William Arnold, contracted diptheritic croup. Arnold died. He was 3 years old (Daily World, 16 March 1893).
At the end of August, 1893, Weir submitted his first resignation to FBC. Today, when a resignation letter is submitted to an employer, the employee had better be prepared to leave; rarely are there second chances. But that wasn’t so, at least for pastors, in the early years; it was very probable that if a pastor was popular, his resignation wouldn’t be accepted by a congregation and they would request that the pastor reconsider. Weir did reconsider, ultimately deciding that he’d acted hastily and that he’d stick with FBC for awhile longer. The reason for his initial decision to resign was a difference of opinion between him and several congregants over the interpretation of a pretty obscure element of theology: millenarianism (Weekly World, 31 August 1893).
Weir and the Congregational Church minister at the time, J. W. Pedley, engaged in a public disagreement (in the local press as well as from their pulpits) as to the morality of attending the theatre. Although the two men took a great deal of time to set out their respective positions on this subject, their perspectives may be summed up as follows: Pedley argued that it was okay to attend the theatre under some circumstances; Weir argued that it was never okay to attend the theatre, that the theatre was in and of itself evil and ought always to be avoided (Daily World, 17 January 1893).
Weir’s second resignation from FBC was in October, 1894. No fuss was made in the press, this time. His “farewell sermon” was mentioned on October 28th, and that was all (Daily News Advertiser 28 October 1894).
After leaving FBC, Weir ministered with the Baptist Church in Everett, WA from 1894-1898. Weir would succeed Rev. D. J. Pierce as the head of “Seattle University” (Post-Intelligencer, 31 May 1895). Robert Moen has established that this was not the same institution that goes by that name today — one founded by Jesuits — but rather a Baptist school.
Around the turn of the century, the Weirs returned to their home province of Ontario. Here, he served several Baptist churches, including Carleton Place in the Ottawa area and Oxford Street Baptist Church in Woodstock.
Elizabeth died of tuberculosis in July 1909. William married Emily Gertrude Laycock in December 1910.
From early in 1911, Weir had been feeling poorly and early in 1912 his illness caused him to resign from Oxford Street church in Woodstock. However, within months of resigning, he was feeling so much better that he attended the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, and “supplied” pulpits for pastors who had to be away from their home churches (Brantford Daily Expositor, 29 October 1912). Ironically, one of the last churches where he preached was a Congregational church (Daily Expositor, 19 October 1912). It isn’t mentioned in the local press if his sermon subject while preaching there pertained to the immorality of theatre attendance!
W. C. Weir died in October, 1912 at age 58 from angina.
Weir’s second wife, Emily, married a former FBC minister, Dr. H. Francis Perry (who was minister at FBC during the move from Hamilton Street to Burrard & Nelson) in 1922.
1From a Historical Sketch of Woolwich Baptist Church on the occasion of their 75th anniversary services (1928) https://guelph.pastperfectonline.com/Archive/92411C5F-EB8C-4C23-BBD6-210814693148#gallery-14.