John Gilmour: A Canadian Baptist Every Christian Could Learn From

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

It is difficult to quantify the impact that the late Rev. John Gilmour has had on the Christian faith in Canada, specifically in Baptist churches.

Born in Ayr, Scotland in 1792, despite his academic brilliance, Gilmour opted out of his formal education to become a marine merchant at the young age of nine. On one particular trip at Sea, Gilmour’s ship never returned home. It was at the time of the Napoleonic wars, and the French had captured him and his crew.

During his time in prison, Gilmour spent ample time reading and studying. He mastered the French language and read everything he could get his hands on.


Gilmour had his faith struggles like anybody else. He had rejected the Christian faith of his parents and for the first three years of imprisonment he paid no attention to religion. Eventually he began searching for purpose and joined a literary society.

This marked the beginning of a newfound curiosity for religion. Gilmour poured over religious literature and even attended worship services occasionally. It was recounted that “his mind was racked with turmoil and his heart filled with anguish.” Finally, it was at a prayer meeting that a young man pointed out to Gilmour that Christ would save him, and he was born again.

Shortly after Gilmour’s conversion, he began forming his own theology. The minister to the prisoners was a Presbyterian who preached on the necessity of having faith, the need for church membership. He also encouraged the men to read the New Testament and discern the question of baptism. After a thorough reading Gilmour became in favour of believer’s baptism.

So, upon returning home to Scotland, he settled in Irvine, was baptized and received into the Baptist Church. He also met Janet Walker there, who later became his wife.

For work, Gilmour took a job as a schoolmaster, but was challenged by the lack of ministers. He offered excuses why he wasn’t fit for ministry: he lacked the necessary academic background, and later that he was a few pounds in debt. However, this resistance only lasted so long as his convictions and the counsel of others eventually pushed him to accept God’s call, which he did after a day of fasting and prayer.

Gilmour was affirmed in his decision almost immediately, as a gentleman then offered to cover his tuition costs to attend Horton Academy in Bradford, England. He began in 1816 and spent four years of intense study.

Gilmour went on to face many more faith struggles even as a minister. He had a health scare in Montreal that forced him to resign from his Pastorate at First Baptist Church in 1835. Gilmour and his wife faced deep loneliness while serving Aboriginal communities in the Peterborough area in 1837 and 1838. One of his journal entries described his distraught emotional state:

"My dear departed wife and I felt much the lack of church fellowship, and I began to question the propriety of continuing in the locality."

Then, by 1849 Canada’s first Baptist Bible College that he had incepted in Montreal in 1838 was forced to close because of financial difficulty.