Wandering in downtown Toronto recently, I stumbled across a Korean-style pagoda. It was pointed out to me by friends as we were leaving the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on the first weekend in April (2019).
We had just crossed the broad avenue outside the ROM and entered the Victoria University campus east of the Gardiner Museum when we noticed it.
Sure enough, it’s a Korean granite pagoda of a type familiar to anyone who’s been to Seoul or any other part of Korea. Originally erected over Buddhist relics in ancient times, pagodas like this have come to commemorate all manner of things and people.
This pagoda memorializes 3 Canadian Protestant missionaries, plus a Korean scholar who was president of Victoria University (which is part of the University of Toronto). The onsite plaque is succinct.
As a life member of the Korea branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, I’m well aware of the contributions and influence of Protestant missionaries in early modern Korea, particularly in the fields of education and medicine, but I was not aware of the significant Canadian involvement. The only Canadian missionary that I knew of by name was the great James Scarth Gale, whose monumental book, The History of the Korean People, sits on my bookshelf. It’s the posthumous edition by Richard Rutt, which includes a biography of Gale.
I confess that I’ve never read it. If I had, I probably would have recognized at least one of the names of the 3 missionaries on the plaque. So much to learn, and so little time!
A quick internet search turned up a doctoral thesis from the 1990s which provides details about Dr. Avison. By one Young-Sik Yoo, it’s entitled The Impact of Canadian Missionaries in Korea: A Historical Survey of Early Canadian Mission Work, 1888-1898. You can find it here:
Have you seen any other Korean pagodas in Canada?