A schism in the Presbyterian Church almost led to the collapse of Queen's only three years after the university was established. Queen's was founded in 1841 by the established Presbyterian Church of Scotland, otherwise known as the Kirk. In the early 1840s, a series of disputes broke out in Scotland over the extensive power that the Kirk gave the wealthy Scottish families who provided financial support.
The disputes led in 1843 to the creation of the breakaway Free Presbyterian Church, whose members wished to concentrate power in the hands of ministers. The schism reached Canada in 1844 and quickly divided Presbyterians across the country.
At Queen's, the Principal and the leading Trustees remained loyal to the Church of Scotland. But six of the university's seven theological students, one of its three professors (Peter Colin Campbell), and 10 of its 27 trustees left to join the Free Church. Many of them went on to found Knox College in Toronto, which is now part of the University of Toronto.
The desertions forced Queen's to the verge of collapse, but the stubbornness of the remaining loyalists and the fortunate fact that eastern Ontario remained a stronghold for the Kirk ensured its survival.
In 1875, the Free Church and the Church of Scotland reunited to form the Presbyterian Church in Canada.