In this month’s Founders and Builders Series, we introduce you to David L. Newlands, an early member of CFHA and a dedicated advocate for Quaker heritage in Canada. David has held various roles in the CFHA and has contributed numerous publications to the Canadian Quaker History Journal. 

David L. Newlands
By Gordon Thompson

David Livingstone Newlands was born on 25 July 1938 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the second son of Margaret (nee McCutcheon) and David Newlands. Margaret’s family and her older siblings had emigrated from Scotland as had David Newlands Sr. Exposure to gas warfare in the First World War contributed to the premature death of David’s father when David was only three years old. Technically considered an orphan, David was taken into the care of Girard College in Philadelphia. He remained there until his graduation at the age of seventeen.

After finishing University, David, who was a registered conscientious objector, had to find civilian work to fulfil the requirements of conscription. He was sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee and was sent to Newfoundland as a teacher. In 1961 he taught grades three and four, and in 1962 he taught eighth grade students in a one room school at Kettle Cover, Twillingate, Newfoundland. After his required two years of alternate service, he taught science and math at the Rockway Mennonite School in Kitchener, Ontario. In 1965 he was invited to become General Secretary of the Canadian Friends Service Committee.

David was present at the inaugural meeting and was among the very first organizers of the Canadian Friends Historical Association in 1972. Many of the early issues of the Newsletter were personally typed by David in his office at the Royal Ontario Museum, where he worked in the Canadiana Department. He was also head of the Yonge Street Monthly Meeting committee to renovate the Yonge Street Meetinghouse at that time, and recalls that one of the purposes of creating CFHA was to provide a means to raise awareness of this significant project.

The fledgling CFHA gained strength and, at the second annual general meeting held at the University of Western Ontario in November 1974, David was named as Convenor of Publications Committee. In this role David worked enthusiastically to raise awareness of CFHA. In order to do this David realized that it was first necessary to identify and promote a broader awareness of Quaker history and heritage within the existing community of historians and researchers and beyond. To accomplish this David used the Yonge Street Meeting House renovation project as a focal point to create initial interest and awareness. In 1974 he submitted a detailed article accompanied by beautiful images of the meeting house to Rotunda, the popular member publication of the Royal Ontario Museum. The article “A Meeting House for Friends” was the feature item in Rotunda Volume 7: 4 (1974). This article was quickly followed by “The Yonge Street Friends Meeting House, 1810-1975” which was published in the 1975 issue of The York Pioneer. David made himself available for media interviews and presentations as interest in the project developed.

Photo of David L. Newlands (right) and a student assistant analyzing material excavated from Old Fort York in 1978. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

David also brought his professional skills to bear on his contributions to CFHA. His training as an archaeologist is reflected in the first CFHA monograph published in 1983. Titled “The Orthodox Friends Burying Ground, Yonge Street, Newmarket, Ontario,” this scholarly and well researched treatment of all aspects of Quaker burial practices as demonstrated in this burying ground was typical of the high standard of publication that was established early on by CFHA.

In the 1980s David was employed as Director of the Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto, and this interest is reflected in the concern advanced on his behalf at the 20th Annual General Meeting as reported in the 1992 Canadian Quaker History Journal 52, page 5:

David Newland’s concern: as David Newlands was not present, Kathleen Hertzberg spoke to his concern. On the model of ”The Meeting Place” of the Mennonites which they have built at St. Jacobs, David would like Friends to consider a similar historic-museum outreach Centre at Yonge Street. This could be a building alongside the Meeting House containing archives, a library and outreach centre, manned by a retired Friend. David thinks that grants could be applied for. A discussion followed. His concern will be brought to the attention of the Yearly Meeting Records Committee, Yonge Street Meeting and the Doane House Committee.

This passage speaks to a very important and very personal aspect of the contribution to CFHA that David Newlands has made and continues to make: an unbounded and inspiring faith in the vision and potential of CFHA to achieve great things. Although this particular concern is yet to be realized David continues to advance awareness and appreciation of CFHA and Quaker heritage.

In 2012, the year which saw CFHA celebrate forty years of activity, David produced with then CFHA Chair Andrew Cresswell the Yonge Street Meeting House Bicentennial Committee publication, For deeper rest to this still room: The Yonge Street Quaker Meeting House. At the meeting gathered at the Yonge Street Meetinghouse in October 2012 to commemorate the bicentennial of this building David and his wife Marion and members of his family joined the many in attendance. As the featured speaker of the afternoon program, David delivered an illustrated presentation, “Choose what is Simple and Beautiful.” It is fitting that this contribution by David Newlands would take place in the same cherished meeting house which inspired him to take up the cause of CFHA and appreciation of Quaker traditions and legacy over fifty years earlier.


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