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Pioneer Work in Algoma

By Eda Green

London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1915.

Chapter I. The Red Man.

THE Red Indian has always been an object of romance. The Germans who sang out from the trenches 'Show us a Canadian!' were evidently much disappointed when only a khaki 'Princess Pat's' was hoisted up. To the boys and girls who read Fenimore Cooper's tales of canoe and wigwam, of tomahawk and scalp, their owners were very real and interesting persons. Later, Longfellow, in 'Hiawatha,' presented the Indian in a more peaceful but no less attractive guise. Modern youth still finds excitement in donning a head-dress of feathers and in masquerading with bow and arrows, while those who have seen the Red man find a singular appeal in his calm dignity and his patient reserve. The names of the Iroquois, the Mohawk, the Blackfoot, and the Pottawattamies are still familiar, and the places where their fathers wandered and fought have an attraction for us, though most of the land has been taken by the White man, and the whirr and pulse of machinery has invaded the silence of forest and lake.

The Diocese of Algoma, which lies in the very heart of Canada, was for many hundred years the home of the Indian alone. The great lakes Superior and Huron, throughout their length of some eight hundred miles, form the southern boundary of Canada and separate it from the United States; Algoma stretches along the northern shores of these lakes, like a narrow bridge, between the old and settled Eastern Canada, and the new North West.

The Ojibway Indians, an Algonquin tribe, were as much at home on the lakes as in the forests which bordered them. In summer they paddled their birch-bark canoes through the waters; in winter they crossed them from bank to bank on the ice. Consequently, we must remember that their history begins both on the American and Canadian shores of the lakes. Widely separated as they often are, at Sault Ste. Marie the two dominions are barely a mile apart; for there the whole volume of Lake Superior, which is as large as the Black Sea, is narrowed into the 'leap' of the Ste. Marie River, and empties itself into Lake Huron. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that from quite early days this place was held to be of great importance by all--whether Indians, hunters, or politicians. It was certainly the natural meeting-place, accessible without difficulty from all parts of the region.

The Indian was always a dreamer of poetic dreams. We see one in his account of the origin of the Ste. Marie Rapids. He believed that long ago, when the beavers were getting scarce, an Indian warrior built a dam across the narrows to shut in the game. Unfortunately, he went away to hunt, leaving his wife to watch the dam, and whilst he was absent a mysterious and powerful being, called the Great Uncle of the Ojibways, distracted her from her duties by calling her to help him in a deer hunt. The Great Uncle was far too important to be disobeyed; so she gave chase, and in her absence the beavers climbed over the dam and escaped, partially destroying the barrier as they went, which accounts for the rocks in the Rapids. But the warrior 'brave' returning was so angry that he killed his neglectful wife, and threw her body into the flood. When White men visit the Falls they say, 'Listen to the roar of the water!' but the Indian hears in the sound the cries of the murdered woman, and sees her tears in the bubbles which rise to the surface.

Kitchi Manito the Mighty is the chief object of the Indian's worship--a vague all-pervading spirit, whose voice is heard as the winds sway the trees, and whose influence is everywhere, protecting as well as terrible. Their creed was not speculative, but dreamy, undefined, shadowy, and weird, like their own never-ending forests and plains, wherein they roved somewhat aimlessly. They thought that after death the spirit passed into a dim region of 'happy hunting-grounds'; but from the White man's point of view it was a sad and unsatisfying place, and they did not dwell much upon it. The boys were brought up hardily, and their grown-up life was preceded by a lonely watch and fast of some days' duration in the woods, where they went apart to commune with the Great Spirit, and where, drawn away from earthly things by weakness of body, they believed certainly that they received heavenly messages.

Many of their superstitions centred round the dead. Some of these were noted by a missionary on a visit he made some years ago. Early one morning he set out to visit a dying boy. He travelled the whole day, and towards nightfall met an Indian who told him he was still ten miles from the village, and that the boy had died and had been buried that morning. The missionary, however, determined to go on, to take the opportunity of speaking to the friends gathered from other camps. The banks of the river along which the Indian guided him were constantly overshadowed by rocks and woods, till, at length, the river broadened into a lagoon--one great expanse of snow, with here and there, frozen in mid-stream, a tree washed down by floods, its branches standing up bare and dark against the whiteness. Towards midnight they reached the cabin, which was full of Indians sitting on the floor. After a supper of fish, the 'Black Coat' spoke to them: he told them of the resurrection hope, and sang with them, 'Jesu, Lover of my Soul.' He then tried to get some rest in a small room partitioned off from the main one, but he was very soon awakened by tremendous shouting and stamping of feet, yelling and whooping, and every one seemed to leave the hut and rush outside as if to attack an invader. Was it a pack of wolves or some harmless deer? Venturing forth, he found an old woman at the door who gave as a reason for the commotion that a large owl had come after the chickens and the Indians were frightening it away. The next morning no further explanation was forthcoming; but some time after, in another village, the missionary mentioned the noises, and an intelligent boy cleared up the mystery; he said that the Indians believe that, within three days of a death and burial, the Evil Spirit comes to the grave in the form of an owl. He shoots out fire from his beak and stands on the grave till the coffin comes up; then he takes out the heart of the dead man and carries it away. In order to prevent this, the relations keep watch and frighten away the owl before he can do any mischief to the dead.

The Red man's house was a wigwam, and many still live in these. Six to twelve poles, about ten feet high, were stuck into the ground in a circle, and loosely fastened together at the top; these were covered with hides of animals, or with pieces of birch-bark tied on. A flap of the covering lifted back from the ground on one side formed the entrance, and ventilation was obtained where the poles joined above: this was not much, however, for the smoke from the fire made on the earth in the middle of the tent had to make its way out at the same opening. There was no furniture; so these wigwams were easily moved, or left, and new ones put up, and the tribe constantly migrated to the hunting-ground where they could best find the game then in season. They were excellent hunters, but improvident as children. So long as they had food they lived royally; but they made no provision for the winter, and many an Indian has Iain down hungry to sleep in the snow and never waked again.

The Red-skin baby is swathed tightly in skins or other clothes, and laced through embroidered flaps on to a board slung on the mother's back. From the head of this board-cradle an arched piece of wood projects, from which hang beads or toys to keep the papoose amused.

We do not know exactly when the first White man found his way to the shores of Lake Superior; but by 1603 we find a regular fur trade established in those parts, and European hunters on the waters and in the forest, either collecting skins themselves or buying them from the Indians. It was dangerous work in those days, for the two races did not understand each other, and it was easy to offend an Indian mortally without knowing why. The Red men, even now, do not consider it good form to show their feelings, and their grave still faces might look unmoved while they were plotting a terrible revenge for some unintentional insult. But, in spite of its dangers, the fur trade went on and has grown and increased for three centuries.

These first comers were chiefly French, and the village on the Rapids received its present name from Christian Jesuit missionaries. The Indians had called it Baw-a-ting, from the tumbling waters dashing over their stony bed; later, it was named Sault du Gaston, after the son of Henri IV and Marie de Medicis, and in 1668 this was changed to Sault Ste. Marie, because the Fathers--so tradition tells us--wearied and disappointed, were wellnigh losing heart, when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to one of them, and was henceforth invoked as the patron saint of this new Mission.

The Jesuits have always acted as a sort of 'forlorn hope' of Missions. Where others could not think it justifiable to venture, they would go forth to almost certain death, fearless--for death to them meant the much desired crown of martyrdom; and so, hungering for the souls of the Red men, they pressed ever westward, and were most of them murdered sooner or later. But what matter? There was always another Father ready to step into his comrade's place the moment he fell.

In 1641, some of the Algonquins had gone south to their brethren on Lake Huron to celebrate with them the Feast of the Dead--a feast which took place only once in ten or twelve years. Here they met the Jesuits who were working in that district, and in the following year two of the Fathers journeyed the 250 miles to the 'Sault.' Over 2,000 Indians had assembled to greet them; they were only too glad to be doctored and taught, and some of them were admitted at once to Holy Baptism--apparently without due preparation. Then the wonderful Indian summer of late autumn drew on; the trees were rich with every imaginable tint, and the most beautiful effects of mist stole up from the dark earth and its thousand-hued carpet of leaves. Beautiful, but dangerous too, and the Fathers began to sicken from exposure and hardships. Moreover, they had other children waiting elsewhere to be cared for, so they must needs turn a deaf ear to the entreaties that they would not depart. 'Stay with us!' cried one of the 'braves,' stretching out his hands beseechingly, 'Stay with us, and we will embrace you like brothers; we will learn from you the prayer of the French, and will be obedient to your word.' Not yet, however, could the Fathers stay. They raised a large cross on the river-bank to show that so far the Faith had come, and amid much grief on both sides they stepped into their canoes, and the sound of their paddles died away as they descended the river.

Twenty years went by, and the Fathers came again. They built a tiny chapel, and on its walls Père Jacques Marquette drew pictures of sacred story by which to teach the Indians. Thus, step by step, these were taught and baptised into the Church Militant. They were claimed also as subjects of the King of France. So things went on for a hundred years, till in the middle of the eighteenth century the struggle for supremacy between the French and the English seemed to encircle the globe. In India, Clive foiled the attempts of Dupleix and began, in fact, the Empire of England in the East; the victories of Minden and of Quiberon crippled the aspirations of France in Europe, and in the same year, 1758, the campaign planned by Pitt across the Atlantic, and organised with such consummate skill by Sir Jeffry, afterwards Lord Amherst, put an end to French rule on the new continent, though, indirectly, it caused later the loss of half that continent to the British flag. Wolfe's victory on the heights of Abraham gained Canada for England, but it set the southern colonists free from a dangerous neighbour and led to the independence of the United States.

The change of rule must have perplexed the Indians; they were attached to the French Government, but the English proved to be just and considerate rulers. They were attached, also, to the faith of the French, which the Fathers had brought them at so great peril: in this they found no change, for their new rulers, just in political matters, took no thought for the souls of their new subjects. Those already won by the Jesuits were left in their care, and those still pagans were left in their paganism. In 1760, the first English clergyman who visited Upper Canada as chaplain to an American regiment wrote: 'I am informed there are no nations bordering upon the five great lakes or the banks of the Ohio or the Mississippi all the way to Louisiana but what are supplied with priests and schoolmasters and have very decent places of worship with every splendid utensil of their religion. How ought we to blush at our coldness and shameful indifference in the propagation of our most excellent religion! . . . The Indians themselves are not wanting in making very pertinent reflections upon our inattention to these points.'

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