Former head of AFC was ‘quintessential Canadian Anglican’

Dean John vanNostrand Wright is remembered for his kindness, dedication to charity and work expanding the scope of the AFC. Photo: General Synod Archives
Published May 22, 2024

Dean John vanNostrand Wright’s contemporaries at the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office remember him as a larger-than-life presence: tall, deep-voiced and always smiling—with a force of personality to match his stature. The former cathedral dean and later executive director of the Anglican Foundation of Canada (AFC) loved to sing, believed deeply in the charity of his fellow Christians and did important work to rally that charity in new directions, they say. VanNostrand Wright died on May 11. 

Dean Peter Wall, who both served as a cathedral dean at the same time as vanNostrand Wright and worked with him as a member of the AFC board, knew him for many years. “John was what I would call a quintessential Canadian Anglican. He was a child of a rectory. He came from a very distinguished, longtime Anglican family,” he says. “He was one of those really interesting, dedicated, wise students of history … a positive, smiling force of nature.” 

Born in Toronto, vanNostrand Wright studied at Huron College, the University of Western Ontario and Montreal Diocesan Theological College. Across his career in the church, he served as rector at St. John the Baptist Pointe Claire, Que., dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Fredericton and the cathedral of the same name in Victoria, among numerous other roles. He served as head of the AFC from 2006 to 2010, during which time he travelled all over the country raising funds for the nonprofit. 

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, praises vanNostrand Wright for the work he did toward broadening the scope of the AFC. Formerly, it raised money primarily for the construction and upkeep of church buildings. Now, thanks in part to vanNostrand Wright’s work, it also supports ministry, programming and nonprofit work in churches across the country. 

“It wasn’t [just] bricks and mortar, it was people and programs, people and ministries,” he says, “Paul says, ‘I planted, someone else watered and God gave the growth.’ And so when I think about John, I think he and those who worked closely with him did some good planting.” And those who have headed AFC since then have been doing the watering, he says. “It really is a lovely image for how each executive director has built on each other’s memories.” 

The AFC’s current executive director, Scott Brubacher, has been working in vanNostrand Wright’s former position since 2021, in which time he has continued the foundation’s commitment to support ministries and programming as well as building projects. 

“John continued to be a strong supporter of the foundation in his retirement, and we were delighted last spring to welcome and recognize him at the Foundation’s Annual General Meeting in Halifax,” Brubacher says. 

Charity played a leading role in vanNostrand Wright’s personal life, too, says Wall. While he was working for the AFC, he also spent many hours volunteering with the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, an ecumenical organization whose work in bringing communities together and supporting hospital nonprofits like St. John Ambulance was part and parcel of vanNostrand Wright’s penchant for using his charisma to unite people around good works, says Wall. 

Both he and Hiltz also fondly remember vanNostrand Wright’s love of singing, both in chapel at the national office and beyond, which he did with a deep, almost thundering voice—“a commanding kind of voice that went along with his presence,” Wall puts it. 

VanNostrand Wright is survived by wife Mary and their daughter Joanna. His memorial service is set for June 21 at Cathedral Church of All Saints, Halifax. 

This story has been corrected from a version that incorrectly stated the start date of Scott Brubacher’s position as executive director of AFC.


  • Sean Frankling

    Sean Frankling’s experience includes newspaper reporting as well as writing for video and podcast media. He’s been chasing stories since his first co-op for Toronto’s Gleaner Community Press at age 19. He studied journalism at Carleton University and has written for the Toronto Star, WatchMojo and other outlets.

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