The donor, John William Foster attended the University of Saskatchewan and graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Arts Honours (History), then went on to pursue his Master of Arts degree (History) at the University of Toronto in 1963, before completing his Doctor of Philosophy (History) at the University of Toronto in 1977 where he submitted and published his thesis: The Imperialism of Righteousness: Canadian Protestant Missions and the Chinese Revolution: 1925-1928 (1976). In between schooling he was employed by the United Church of Canada in the Division of Mission in Canada from 1970-1989 in Toronto, Ontario.
The set of lantern slides that Foster donated were used as research material for his PhD thesis in 1976. Prior to his occupation of the items they were managed by Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Clarke Stephenson. Frederick Clarke Stephenson was a founder and later Secretary of the Young People’s Forward Movement, an organization that set out to recruit and enlist youth as volunteers for Methodist missions beginning in 1895. He developed a series of lantern slides to be used as audio-visual material to give illustrated lectures on missions work, non-Christian Chinese people, and non-Christian China. The slides were used to insight imagination and dramatization to encourage enlistment among youth. In 1911 Stephenson employed a Sunday school teacher to develop the lantern slide department within the Young People’s Forward Movement. Stephenson’s movement was a huge success in recruiting mission volunteers and soon after many organizations formed just like it to use his methods for recruitment within their own missions.
Within this context, the lantern slides represent an educational and recruitment tool that was used by Canadian churches and missionary groups to encourage enlistment for their missions programs to China.