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George Leslie Mackay

George Leslie Mackay, 1844-1901

Son of Scots immigrants, Presbyterian missionary George Mackay was born near Embro in Zorra Township. In 1872, he founded the first overseas mission in Tamsui, Taiwan. An unconventional character, but sensitive to local needs, Mackay practised dentistry and trained local clergy. He married a Taiwanese, TiunChhang-Mian, and had three children. The "Black-Bearded Barbarian" worked in the Tamsui region until his death, established 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 the 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)

The following is courtesy of Oxford County Archives

Photo provided by Oxford County Archives - MacKay with his wife Tiun Chhang-mia (Minnie) and children.

On the anniversary of his death, June 2, people around the world will be celebrating a man from Zorra Township, but there is little fanfare for him here in Oxford County.

Today is George Leslie MacKay Day. He taught elementary school before being ordained and eventually leaving his home in Oxford County and making his way overseas and settled in what is now known as Taiwan according to Archivist for the County of Oxford Liz Mayville.

"He went across overseas and did so many great things over there. He opened the first modern school, the first hospital, the first school for women. He managed to learn the language and treated everyone as equals which was quite different at the time when you had missionaries who came in and thought they were better than the locals."

Mayville says although MacKay is widely still celebrated in Taiwan, here in Oxford we make very little noise about the man who was born in our area.

"Unfortunately I don't think we do, and I think it's because his accomplishments were done overseas so the majority of his life and things that he's done were over in Taiwan. So for people growing up here, they wouldn't know about him or what he was doing."

Even so, MacKay's name still attracts people from overseas to visit Oxford County and honour the man.

"We had some professors from the university actually tour the archives last year and they were just enthralled about everything we had," Mayville adds. "To them, he's very special."

Some students from WCI took a trip to Taiwan last year and one of those students, Maddy Kozak, says she had no idea how much of an impact the man had in that area.

"So even just saying that we were from Woodstock which is close to where he was born, people really were kinder to us and more respectful just because of our minor link to him."

She admits before preparing for the trip, she knew little about MacKay, and didn't expect the reception they received.

If anyone would like to learn more about George Leslie MacKay's life and works, Mayville encourages them to stop by the archives and pick up a brochure from the Canadian MacKay Committee.