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John Cooper Robinson was an Anglican missionary who lived and worked in Japan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He was born in Canada on July 7, 1859, in the rural community of Blenhiem in southern Ontario, the eldest of five children born to Aaron and Melissa Rowe Robinson. Aaron Robinson had come to Canada from England, and the Robinson family grew up as devoted Anglicans.
John Cooper Robinson initially studied accounting, graduating in 1877, and worked at a bank for a few years before enrolling at Wycliffe College, an Anglican Church seminary associated with the University of Toronto, in 1881. He graduated from Wycliffe and was ordained a Deacon in 1886, then was ordained as a Priest in 1887. On May 26, 1888, he married Bessie Poynton. Later that year they moved to Japan, where he was the first Canadian-sponsored missionary. Robinson and his wife spent most of their remaining years in Japan, returning to Canada for a few short furloughs (in 1894, 1902, 1911, 1918, and part of WWI). They lived in the towns of Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Niigata. Robinson and Bessie had five children, two of whom died as babies. The other three were Lucy Winifred (born in Tokyo in 1890), Cuthbert Cooper (born May 26, 1893), and Hilda. Bessie passed away in the fall of 1919. Robinson passed away in July 1926 in Saint Thomas, Ontario, and is buried at the St. James cemetery in Toronto.
Robinson was an avid photographer and captured life in Japan at a unique time, when the country was transitioning away from feudal society. The photographs that Robinson took are the only known comprehensive photographic record of this period in Japan. Robinson also published a book in 1912, entitled Japan, Island Empire of the East: Being a short history of Japan and missionary work therein with special reference to the mission of the M.S.C.C.
Hilda Robinson remained in Japan with her parents for much of her life and assisted in their missionary work. Cuthbert and Lucy grew up there as well, but eventually moved back to Canada. Lucy married George Bryce in 1913, and went on to receive a PhD and published multiple books about India, where she and George did missionary work. Cuthbert was ordained in the Anglican Church, eventually becoming Bishop of Moosonee, Ontario. Lucy and Cuthbert both had children.
Wycliffe College. “From Wycliffe to Japan.” Insight. December 2012 No. 74. http://www.wycliffecollege.ca/documents/WC_INSIGHTXmas2012_LRproof.pdf
United Church of Canada Archives. Lucy Winifred Bryce fonds. http://www.archeion.ca/lucy-winifred-bryce-fonds
The Val d’Or Star. “Gibsons Attending Bishop’s Services.” January 7, 1955.