George Leslie Mackay, was born on March 21, 1844 in Zorra Township, Oxford County to George Mackay and Helen Sutherland (Scottish immigrants) and was the youngest of six children.
After teaching elementary school for several years, he was able to earn enough money to enroll in theological studies at the Toronto Knox College. He also studied at Princeton Seminary, the University of Edinburgh and Queen’s University where he earned his Doctor of Divinity degree. Among his other achievements, he was elected to the highest honor the church could bestow, Moderator of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Church of Canada.
A month after he was ordained (September 18, 1871), his journey began. He left his home in Oxford County and boarded a ship destined for Formosa. It would be the longest trip of his life, but also the most rewarding.
He arrived in Kaohsiung (aka Takao) Formosa on December 29, 1871. He spent six months visiting the English Presbyterian missions in the Chinese port of Shantou and in south Formosa, before travelling to the northern part of the island. As he laid his eyes upon the green mountains on the island it was clear to him that this was where his life’s work would be.
Aware that in order to pass his message of hope along to the people, he had to learn the language, he set this difficult task for himself. He applied himself by learning 100 characters per day and within three months of his arrival; he was fluent in the local language. He actually learned the dialect from young shepherd boys he met on his travels. To make things easier for his students, he created a dictionary of 10,000 characters that was used for several decades.
Mackay had a message to deliver to the good people of Formosa, now known as Taiwan, and he had to come up with a way to deliver it. By combining his dental/medical practice with that of his Christian message, he was able to deliver on his goal of physically and spiritually helping the people.
George Leslie Mackay has always been a man who forged his own path. Another way he was noted for individualism was by marrying a lovely Taiwanese woman, TuiN Chhang-MiaN.
She became known to all as “Minnie Mackay.” Minnie proved to be a powerful draw to the mission and in raising funds (during their furlough in Oxford County in 1881-82) for the construction of Oxford College (now Aletheia University) in Tamsui.
A little known fact about G.L. Mackay was that he was an enthusiastic collector of cultural artifacts and specimens of local flora and fauna. Much of what he gathered has formed the basis of a museum at Oxford College. Also, in the ethnology department of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, you will also find artifacts collected by Mackay.
Writing was another passion Mackay enjoyed and he helped to print the first newspaper on the island which, of course was a church bulletin in Taiwanese. He was determined to get his message out to all the people.
In 2008, an Opera celebrating Mackay’s life was performed in Taiwan. It was the world’s first-ever Taiwanese/English-language opera.
This exceptional man dedicated his life to bringing medical, dental and spiritual help to the people of Formosa/Taiwan. Mackay helped to establish more than 60 local churches, Oxford College (Aletheia University), the first girls’ school (Tamsui Girls’ School on the east side of Oxford College in 1884), and Tamsui middle school (this school went through many restructurings and name changes before ending as the Tamkang Senior High School).
Mackay opened his first “hospital”, (inviting Dr. Ringer who served the English business community in Tanshui to help with the medical work) in 1873, but the first true western clinic “The Mackay Clinic” didn’t open until 1880 in Tanshui. This clinic was not originally named after Mackay but after an American shipping captain from Detroit. The captain’s wife donated $3000 (US) to establish this hospital honoring her recently departed husband. After Mackay died, operations at the hospital were suspended for five years. In 1906 a Canadian missionary doctor James Young Ferguson reopened it with the endorsement of the Canadian Presbyterian Church, changing the name to the “Mackay Memorial Hospital”.
Rev. George Leslie Mackay passed away in 1901 of throat cancer and is buried in Tamsui, the place he called “home”.
Some last words from G.L. Mackay (1844-1901)
“O Formosa, so far away and so beautiful.
You are the love of my life. I love you all, each and every one of you,
regardless of your origin and the past. To serve you with the only
Good news I know. Here is my life for you, a thousand times more….”
This poem was written by Rev. George Leslie Mackay, D.D.
It was a translation from a Chinese version, not a direct quote.
Included below is a timeline of this extraordinary man’s life:
George Leslie Mackay
1844 – Born March 21 in Zorra Township, Oxford County of Oxford
1850-55 – Attended public schools in Oxford County
1858 – Graduated from Toronto Teachers’ College
1859 – Taught at Maitland Public School
1860 – Enrolled at Knox College, University of Toronto, to study Theology
1861 – Transferred to Princeton Seminary for advanced studies
1871 – Graduated from Princeton Seminary; assigned to Newmarket Presbyterian Church (north of Toronto); also preached at Mt. Albert Church
1871 – Applied to Canadian Presbyterian Church Headquarters for an overseas posting
1871 – Attended Edinburgh University Seminary, Scotland, under Dr. Alexander Duff. In June, the Presbyterian Church Overseas Department approved his application to serve in China/Taiwan. He left for China I October, arriving at Kaohsiung on December 30.
1872 – On March 9, Rev. Mackay arrived at Tamsui with Rev. Ritchie. On April 10, they opened the Tamsui Presbyterian Church. Mackay learned the Taiwanese dialect from young shepherd boys he met during his travels. After three months, he preached his first sermon in his new language – Taiwanese.
1873 – On January 9, the first baptism was performed on five followers at the Tamsui Church. Known as the “Black Barbarian”, Mackay travelled extensively throughout northern Taiwan and worked with aboriginals there.
1874 – Since there were no dentists in Taiwan, Mackay found that extracting teeth was to become an important part of his medical services. It is said that he extracted over 21,000 teeth.
1878 – May 27, Rev. Mackay married Miss TiuN Chhang-miaN, the church’s first female convert.
1879 – Their first child, Mary, was born on May 24.
1880 – Mackay brought his family to Canada to report to Church Headquarters. The Mackay’s second child, Bella, was born in September. An Honourary Doctor of Divinity degree was bestowed on George Leslie Mackay from Queen’s University.
1880 – Mackay raised funds in Oxford County to help build Oxford College (Taiwan).
1881 – The Mackay family returned home to Taiwan at the end of November.
1882 – William Mackay was born in Tamsui on January 22. Tamsui Oxford College was officially established in July and the school opened the following September.
1883 – The Tamsui Women’s College was completed and opened on March 3.
1893 – In September, the Mackay family returned to Canada for the second (and last) time. The draft of From Far Formosa was left with the Presbyterian Church.
1894 – Dr. Mackay was elected Moderator of The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
1899 – On March 9, the 27th anniversary of Mackay’s arrival in Taiwan, both of his daughters were married, with the Rev. William Gauld officiating.
1900 – In May, Dr. Mackay inspected some of the more than forty churches established in the northern plains of Taiwan for the last time.
1900 – In November, he sought treatment for throat cancer in Hong Kong.
1901 – Dr. Mackay returned to Taiwan in serious condition. He died at the age of 58 years in his Tamsui residence. Following his request, he was buried in the Mackay Cemetery in Tamsui on June 4. An inspiration to the evangelical mission movement, Mackay is remembered as a national hero in his adopted home of Taiwan.
Plaque in Embro Park:
Reverend George Leslie Mackay
Son of Scots immigrants, Presbyterian missionary George Mackay was born near Embro in Zorra Township. In 1872, he founded the first Canadian overseas mission in Tamsui, Taiwan. An unconventional character, but sensitive to local needs, Mackay practiced lay dentistry and trained local clergy. He married a Taiwanese woman, TuiN Chhang-MiaN, and had three children. The “Black Bearded Barbarian” worked in north Taiwan until his death, establishing 60 chapels, several schools and a hospital. In 1881, he raised funds here in Oxford County to help build Oxford College, Tamsui, which later became a university. He was also an outspoken opponent of Canadian head tax on Chinese immigrants. An inspiration to the evangelical missions movement in Ontario, Mackay remains a national hero in Taiwan.
Ontario Heritage Foundation, an agency of the Government of Ontario.
(Research Information provided by M. Gladwin, Archivist, County of Oxford Archives)
For more information:
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519-539-9800 x 3355
Posted By: Debbie Solta, Cultural Events Coordinator