THE REV CHARLES GORDON
THE MILLIONAIRE BEHIND
WINNIPEG WRITER RALPH CONNOR
by George Siamandas
On August 4, 1894, the Reverend Charles Gordon arrived in Winnipeg to take over the West End Mission of St. Stevens Presbyterian. Writing under the pseudonym of Ralph Connor, a popular fashion of the day, Gordon became one of Canada's best selling authors. He was born in Glengarry County Upper Canada in 1860. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister and a scholarly mother. Gordon in turn also became a minister. He first work was in Banff in 1890 were he ministered to ranchers, railroad workers, miners and cowboys. Many were plagued by alcohol and in those lonely, crude and isolated conditions Gordon found much raw material for his future writings. In 1894, after four years of preaching from horse back, Gordon became minister of St Stephen's Church (now Elim Chapel).
HOW HE GOT STARTED IN WRITING
He had been asked to write an article for a church publication about his adventures in the west in support of raising money for Canadian missions. It was soon turned into a book called Black Rock published in 1897. In 1898 he wrote Sky Pilot and in 1901 he penned The Man From Glengarry his most famous book. These two volumes sold five million copies. Gordon wrote twenty-five novels in total. Re-Prints have sold about 30 million copies. His novels were known for their optimism and expressed his unshakeable faith in human nature where man triumphs over some hardship. They were parable-like narratives of adventures in the frontiers of the Canadian West. It seemed not appropriate for a Presbyterian minister so as was the fashion of the day he used the name Ralph Connor.
GORDON BECOMES A SUCCESS
He was best known as being the pastor of St Steven's which moved to Broadway in 1928. In 1899 he married Helen King and they had six daughters and one son. On the eve of WW1 they moved into their new home. Gordon became a millionaire and built a handsome house at 54 Westgate. He left for WW1 to work as padre but his fortune was mismanaged in his absence and he returned in debt. Gordon was a busy man who did not allow his writing to get in the way of his ministerial duties. He preached about urban poverty and prohibition. He also worked as an arbitrator on industrial disputes.
In 1920 Gordon was appointed to the Joint Council on Industry a labour negotiation board and heard 117 cases in 3 years. In 19121 he was elected as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church were his oratorical skills were credited with helping to convince members of the Methodists and Presbyterians to unite and to become the United Church in 1925. Gordon died on October 31 1937. His memory is honoured in Connor House better known as the University Women's Club at 54 Westgate and with a placque at St Steven's Broadway Church.