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Canadian History
Rev. William D.D. Caven


Principal of Knox (Presbyterian) College, Toronto, was born in the Parish of Kirkcolm, Wigtonshire, Scotland, on the 26th of December, 1830. Our subject comes of a family whose names find a prominent place among the local annals. They were sturdy supporters of the solemn League and Covenant, and their names, we see it recorded, were enshrined on the roll of the Wigton martyrs. We find in the Canadian Portrait Gallery that "one of he most cherished traditions of the family on the mother's side, relates how one of them, for refusing to abjure his faith, suffered grievous bodily tribulation at the hands of the dragoons of 'Bloody Claverse' - know to history as John Graham, Viscount Dundee". The father of our subject was the late Mr. John Caven, a sound and widely informed scholar, who was at one time a school teacher. In 1847 he left Wigtonshire for Canada, and took up his abode in the township of North Dumfries, Ontario. He removed, after time, to the neighbourhood of St.Mary's and here he continued to reside till the time of his death, which occured in 1880. It may be said that while in this country he one time employed himself as a teacher, and was subsequently a school superindendent. Everybody who came in contact with Mr. John Caven, revered him. His manners were amiable, and his life a spotless one. The son William commenced his education under his father, in the Parish of Kirkcolm. He is described as having been a painstaking lad who always felt himself towards the ministry. He prosecuted his studies for the ministry under the auspices of the United Presbyterian Church of Western Canada, in their seminary at London. The training of students for the ministry, at the time of which we are writing, was in the hands of the Rev. William Proudfoot, and the Rev. Alexander Mackenzie. Under these two venerable instructors our subject pursued his course. In 1852 he was licensed to preach by the Flamboro' Presbytery, and in October of the same year he was given the charge of the parish of St. Mary's and Downie. In 1855 he went to Scotland for the benefit of his health, but he did not surrender the charge of his parish. In 1886 he was appointed by the Synod to fill the chair of Exegetical Theology and Biblical Criticism, vacated by Professor Young the year previous, and he has continued down to the present time as professor of these subjects. In theological discussion he is moderate and unaggressive, but sound and uncompromising. To controvert opinions is part of his duty, and that duty, while done with thoroughness and zeal, is always done with moderation and with a thoroughly just, nay almost generous, statement of the other side. Though "kindly in he conflict", the church has nowhere a stauncher or more doughty champion. In 1870 Dr. Willis, who was Principal of Knox College, an institution founded at Toronto for the theological uses of the Presbyterian Church, resigned his position, and our subject was appointed principal in his stead. This position he still holds, enjoying the respect of a sound and widely-informed scholar and a most judicious and capable principal. Through his exertions, seconded by those of Prof. Gregg, chiefly, funds were obtained for the construction of the present very fine college edifice. As a presbyter, and in his position as minister, he has always been a powerful advocate of a union of the several Presbyterian Churches in Canada. Nor have his exertions been without fruit. He first saw an amalgamation of the Free and United Presbyterian Churches of Canada, and was for fourteen years a member in the Canada Presbyterian Church. As moderator of the Canada Presbyterian Church the pleasant office devolved upon him of signing the articles of Union, in the name of the Church, between the Canada Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian in Canada, in connection with the Church of Scotland. In 1877 Dr. Caven succeeded Mr. Goldwin Smith as president of the Ontario Teachers' Association. In the year 1856 he married Miss Goldie, of Greenfields, near Ayr, Waterloo county, Ontario. The fruits of this union are seven children.


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