The word “first” describes many aspects of Ella Hadassah Kinney Sanders’ life and ministry. Most importantly, she was the first woman in the Dominion of Canada to be ordained.
Ella Kinney was born on December 28, 1871, in Greenfield, Carleton County, New Brunswick, where her father Aaron Kinney was the minister of the Free Christian Baptist Church. At the age of 11 on Easter Sunday she was baptized by her father, who had to push aside chunks of ice in the stream, declaring, “I baptize thee, Ella, my daughter and sister in Jesus.” Ella assisted her father in revivals, singing, playing the organ, teaching Sunday school classes, and leading people to Christ.
Ella was a charter member of the Port Maitland Nova Scotia Church, the first Reformed Baptist church organized in Nova Scotia (1887), and she became the first woman evangelist of the Reformed Baptist denomination. For two years she and Mary Everett, another young woman preacher, formed a home missionary team travelling throughout the Maritimes.
Ella met her future husband, Herbert Sanders, in Port Maitland. Herbert had been ordained there in June of 1892. They were both determined to serve as missionaries and studied at the Union Missionary Training Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Ella was ordained on September 5, 1901, at Saint John Church in Saint John, New Brunswick, the evening before they departed for South Africa. She reflected on this nearly sixty years later, noting that they could not organize their African churches “without two or more ordained minsters.”
Together the couple pioneered the Alliance of the Reformed Baptist Church of Canada’s work in Altoona, South Africa, and served in various missions throughout that country from 1901 to 1929. After their return from Africa, Ella pastored churches in North Head, New Brunswick; and Amherst, Nova Scotia. She died in Amherst in 1962.
I discovered Ella Sanders while working on a research project related to Maritime Baptist women preachers prior to 1953.
By Patricia Townsend
Archivist, Acadia University