Leslie Clay was born at Bedeque, P.E.I, November 12, 1863. He graduated from McGill in 1887 winning the Prince of Wales gold medal in Mental and Moral Philosophy. In 1890 he completed his theological studies at Presbyterian College, Montreal winning the gold medal for general proficiency. Following graduation, his first charge was at Morris Manitoba and later at St Andrew’s Church in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan. In 1894, he was called to St Andrew’s Victoria and remained there for nearly thirty-four years.
Win (Winifred) Thomas, a member of the congregation who knew the Clays well described family life in these terms:
“Dr. and Mrs. Clay came from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, traveling by rail to Vancouver and by ship to Victoria. They had with them their daughter, a toddler and an 18 month old son who was recovering from rheumatic fever and had to be carried on a pillow. Mrs. Clay at that time was expecting her third child. Trains and boats in the 1890’s were much slower than to-day’s conveyances so it must have been a tedious journey. To add to the problems the engine broke down somewhere en-route and the passengers had to walk some distance and wait until another train was sent out to pick them up. Arriving in Victoria the family lived in temporary quarters and later purchased land on Linden Ave. opposite Burdett St., where they built their home. At that time there were no other houses between the Clay residence and the waterfront! Ministers then received a $5.00 fee for weddings and Dr. Clay turned this money over to his wife who saved it to install hardwood floors in the drawing room, the adjacent library and the large square hall. These floors are still lovely after all the years of use. When the family entertained at parties, the rugs were rolled up, sliding doors were opened between the rooms and the polished floors were excellent for dancing. Dr. Clay took special responsibility for the ‘wallflowers’, asking them to dance, his dress tails flying out as he whirled about the floor. At breakfast the morning after the parties, family members were taken to task if they had been so absorbed in their own enjoyment that they had not been sufficiently attentive to the more quiet guests. A good lesson to learn. The family also had to share in the work of polishing those floors after such a party. An interesting feature of that home was that Dr. Clay periodically entertained the local Clergy for dinner, where discussion and exchange of ideas was the order of the evening. The guests not only Included the Protestant clergy of various denominations but also the Catholic Priests and Bishop and the Jewish Rabbi. Indeed the Catholic Bishop was among Dr. Clay’s closest friends. This would not be unusual now but it was in Dr. Clay’s time and he must have been an open-minded man for that era.” (1)
In 1913, his alma mater awarded him an honorary Doctorate and in 1927 he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
Throughout his career, he took a prominent role in the higher courts of the church and for over twenty years served as the Chair of Home Missions for British Columbia. In 1925 when discussions took place regarding church union at the BC Synod, he was a leader of the minority group which argued for the continuation of the Presbyterian Church and against joining in the United Church. Immediately thereafter he was elected Moderator of the Synod of British Columbia. Following legislation establishing the United Church in British Columbia he played a conciliatory role as the Chairman of the Property Commission which oversaw the division of church assets. In 1927, he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly, the highest office of the church. He died in Winnipeg of Feb 2, 1928 while en-route to Ottawa to attend the opening of Parliament. His death was front page news in Victoria with tributes from throughout the community and from all faiths(2). His obituary in the report of the 1928 General Assembly concluded with these words:
“The Presbyterian Church in Canada may well thank God for such a servant, the congregation of St Andrew’s Church for such a minister, the city of Victoria for such a citizen, and the large circle of his more intimate associates for such a friend, ‘A man greatly beloved’.” (3)
- The Link 1 November 1987
- The Colonist February 3, 1928
- Obituary from Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly 1928