Project Canterbury

Pioneer Work in Algoma

By Eda Green

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

Chapter VII. Our Own Brothers.

WHEN Bishop Fauquier went to take charge of the Algoma Indians the land was supposed to be poor and unfit for settlement, and likely always to remain so. In the last forty years that opinion has been proved to be wrong, and besides 8,000 Red men Archbishop Thorneloe has in his diocese, as we have said, over 150,000 white settlers, of whom 7,000 came in in the year 1913-14. The area is larger than England and Wales, and the Archbishop must be constantly travelling up and down it, strengthening and encouraging the clergy, confirming and exhorting the laity.

There are three large centres: Sault Ste. Marie, Port Arthur, and Fort William, with populations of 19,000, 18,000, and 24,000 respectively. Sault Ste. Marie has St. Luke's pro-Cathedral, St. John's Church, and three missions; at Port Arthur there is St. John's, with three district churches; Fort William has three churches, one of which ranks as the largest in the diocese, but is hampered by an appalling debt. At Port Arthur, the beautiful residential city, rising on terraces up the side of a very steep hill, a perfect site, dominating the whole town, has been given, and the congregation hope to build a really fine church, by degrees, as they have money in hand to pay for it. After these cities come the railway centres and mining towns; Sudbury with 6,000, North Bay with 11,000 people, both junctions for two lines and therefore permanent places. Cobalt, the centre of the silver-mines, has 6,000 people and Hailey-bury, its pretty residential neighbour, 5,000. At Cobalt a church was built, directly the place began to be, and within a year was self-supporting. At Haileybury the stone church is a monument of the devotion of the first settlers, an old Haileyburian and his brother-in-law who went there in the early days of Algoma. The church was built partly by their own hands and those of other earnest Churchmen--the difference in each man's masonry can almost be traced--and, from the gifts of those who offered willingly unto the Lord, an atmosphere of devotion seems to have rested on the church. Though far too small now for the congregation, one hopes it may never be disused, but that it may be found possible to add on to it.

Then come some twenty-three Missions with a population of from 1,200 to 5,000 occupied in mines, as at Coppercliff; lumber-mills, as at Sturgeon Falls, Blind River, and Little Current; or in providing for the wants of commercial centres. These populations sound good, but we have to consider that only about one-fourth, or less, are Churchpeople. In one parish of 5,000, there are only 225 Churchpeople. Still, in this Province of Ontario, there is, far more than in any other part of Canada, a recovery of the lost sheep. Those who, in days long ago, went out as Churchpeople and found no services, are coming back, and the last census showed that whereas the natural increase of population was 15.88 per cent., the increase in Church population was 35.70 per cent, or more than double. This is therefore the most encouraging part of the whole Dominion from a Church point of view.

In the Georgian Bay there are said to be thirty thousand islands, and the beautiful Muskoka lakes are thickly dotted with islands too. These have become a resort for tourists from Eastern Canada and the United States. For two or three months these 'summer-houses' are tenanted, and services ought to be provided; but though part of the population may be wealthy, it is always changing. Many may not be Churchpeople, and tourists very often do not feel enough stake in the country they visit to do more, at any rate, than to give towards the particular mission near them.

The lumber camps are a work apart, and are very difficult to deal with; yet the work calls for special provision--the opportunity is great of drawing these men to worship during the long winters away in the woods. The camps are too far away from ordinary missions, and the difficulty of getting up to them too great for them to be visited regularly by a priest with his own parish to care for. When one can go to share the men's quarters, and give them a service in dining-camp or office--it may be late at night, after their day's work--or a celebration for the two or three in the small upper room before daybreak, his welcome is hearty; but there seems no possibility at present of a special mission.

The railways are divided into sections, and at certain distances are divisional points, where engines are changed; a good number are kept in reserve in the round house, and a large staff of railway employés, engineers, conductors, and workmen are always on the spot; these places, too, are permanent and will grow into little towns. Such a one is Schreiber, where a new church has just been built, and Muskoka Station. The men get very good wages and are well able and willing to give towards the support of church or club; but they may be moved away at any moment to another point, and a good Churchman may be replaced by a Roman Catholic or a Dissenter.

In all the mining and industrial centres there is a very large number of foreigners--Russians, Italians, Austrians, Finns. These latter, who belong to the Lutheran Church, come to our clergy for baptisms, marriages, and funerals.

In the diocese there are now sixty-six Missions, with 123 churches, worked by fifty-four clergy and twelve catechists. We have accounted above for thirty-three Missions, the remaining thirty-three are all small, and chiefly farming communities. These form, therefore, half the parishes in the diocese and it is from these there comes a call of great pathos. In nearly all of them the settlers are English. To take one instance, that of the upland valley described in Chapter II. Here the farmer's wife had been brought up in the Rev. J. S. Pollock's parish, St. Alban's, Birmingham. For sixteen years or more after she came to the shack she never saw a clergyman; sometimes the very existence of these scattered homesteads is not known, and even when it is, it is often impossible to get to them. In this case a priest from a shore village heard of these farmers when he was visiting one of his out-stations: some hay-wagons had brought in their load, and were going back empty, so he got a lift and made his way over the ridge and down to the valley. The old woman could hardly believe her eyes, but she at once began to prepare her kitchen for a service; the clergyman went to every house within reach to make himself known and to invite them to come, and a more hearty service was seldom held. The feeling that at last the old Church had found them out stirred their hearts, and the wish, long treasured but almost dead, that they might have a church, revived. The land was inspected next day, and the best site was thought to be on the land of the brother, right fronting on to the main road. He was not content to give enough for the church, but insisted they should take enough for a churchyard too; for he said he wanted to be laid in consecrated ground, not in the corner of any field, as is so often the case. Voluntary labour cut down the wood and hauled it to and from the saw-mill, and then built it up; so, as the good wife told with pride, when the Bishop came to consecrate St. Alban's Church, there was not a penny of debt on it. With loving and reverent care she washes the altar linen and cares for the holy vessels. The little wooden building is small and simple, but careful thought of the old woman and the young catechist had been given to render the sanctuary more dignified. From the 'store,' many miles away, he had brought up some plain brown holland and some crimson flannel; out of this he cut some crosses which were fastened on to the holland stretched above the altar; two iron rods were mounted, and on these neatly made curtains of the holland hung on either side.

All the labour and thought were given that they might have this church, given chiefly in kind, but when it came to the stipend for a missionary their resources failed. The people there, with those in two smaller places miles away, could only promise to give £30 a year, and to send even a catechist the Bishop must add another £60. And now that catechist is needed for a more important group, and no other is available to send, and the church of so many prayers and hopes remains closed and the altar vessels unused, unless perhaps once a year some catechist takes duty for the nearest priest and he can arrange in some way to be got to and from the valley.

These cases could be multiplied many times. In the northern part, newly opened up by the Temiscaming Railway there is a whole district of new settlements, with people pouring in--men of all nationalities, of all classes--old Etonians, old Wykehamists, old 'Varsity men'--the foundations of a new State are being laid; either of a God-fearing, God-serving people, or of one given over to the worship of 'the almighty dollar.'

Last year, the forest fires, which so often happen, were raging there; as the trains passed through, the heat was unbearable, and there was fear of the carriages catching fire. One church which it was much desired to see was quite unapproachable by any road, as no horse or rig could have made its way through the smoke; the clearest way was along the railway line, where, in the centre, a funnel of air seemed drawn through which drove off a little of the smoke. The track was a single one with steep embankments down on each side and a nine miles' walk from the last station. The experience of walking along a line partly hidden before or behind by forest or curve, so that you cannot see an approaching train, is not altogether pleasant when the only way of escape is down a shaly precipice; the unpleasantness is greater when the line crosses a long bridge where there is not even a precipice down which to escape, and through the pall of smoke the eye strains to see whether an iron monster may be bearing down; it is more unpleasant still for the missionary, returning tired after his Sunday services, who comes out of the lonely darkness, round a bend, into view of a station with its various lights and signals and has to make out whether any of them belong to an oncoming train. Of course he can partly reckon for 'scheduled' trains, though that is not always possible when they may be hours late; but freight trains of enormous length may be coming at times unexpected by an unwary public.

In spite of such difficulties this church was reached, the perils of the way being added to--on the one hand, wherever a road crossed the track, by having either to walk on the top of the rail, or risk a broken ankle by trying to balance on the sharp edge of sloping boards which filled up the whole space between and on each side of the rails, its raison d'être being to keep off cattle; and, on the other hand, beguiled by the wondrous colours of the many species of butterflies flitting about. The settlement was very small, only five or six Church settlers; one, who, with his father before him, had been a bell-ringer at St. Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, coming here, had gathered the people together and regularly read the Sunday services in his own house till they could get a church built, but here again came the question of stipend; this man was by far the best off of the small community and keenly anxious to do his utmost, but he had only fifty cents, (two shillings and a penny) in cash in the house, and would have no more till his sons came back in three or four months from outside work.

This Temiscaming Railway is penetrating north at the eastern end of the diocese; other railways are opening up other parts. That which at last joins the Manitoulin Island to the main shore will bring new settlements along it, and an increased population on the island. The Algoma Central passing through some of the most glorious scenery imaginable, as it pierces the canons close by the rushing stream, or is carried high on perilous-looking trestle-bridges, runs for 400 miles without even a single village. The same is true of the Canadian Northern, which stretches for long distances through country so far quite uninhabited. It is a curious experience to travel on these new lines for hour after hour, through forest and across rivers. The engine seems to stop here and there for its own convenience; for the solitary man at the tiny wooden building which does duty as a station has no passenger to produce, and no other dwellings are to be seen. Waterfall and Deer Lake are appropriate names, but one wonders what the ghosts of St. Cloud or the demons of Bayswater would think could they look down on their namesakes in this new and lonely far-off world. Clearly, then, these railways have not been built for the sake of any people along them, nor only for the termini at each end; they have been built knowing that people will follow them; they are sure to come, and the churches should come too. One of the important problems is to secure sites for these in suitable places before the price of land goes up, and the diocese should have a fund to expend on such purchases.

Following closely on the development of iron ways is that of excellent ordinary roads. Motors abound--motors built in Canada! for no self-respecting European motor would submit to go up and down the hills, over the stony or corduroy roads, through the lanes and ruts of mud, which these are asked to. Springs and tyres would promptly go on strike and lie down by the way; but even in quite country-places small tradesmen use them for their business, and so it comes that very quickly roads everywhere are being improved, and in some parts there passes through Algoma the fine wide transatlantic motor road which is to run right across to the coast. These roads will of course, in a way, make the work of the clergy easier, though motors are luxuries which only their congregations can afford.

Generally, a missionary has three or four services each Sunday, taking his out-stations in rotation and driving or walking the twenty or thirty miles between them--and yet how many of the flock are perforce left unshepherded! One girl who went out from England to her brother tramped in all directions to find a church, nine miles one way across snow and ice, sixteen miles another, all in vain. She had taken out a commendatory letter from England; but her home was far back where parishes have no definite boundaries. At last a clergyman twenty-two miles away heard of her, and his wife asked her to come and stay over the Sunday. Then, for the first time for eight months, she was able to receive the Holy Communion.

The following is a picture of a typical Sunday. A Mission of three stations: the clergyman has perhaps an eight o'clock celebration and ten o'clock matins and sermon at the chief centre where he lives. Directly after a hurried meal he starts off walking to another place twelve miles away. There, in the early afternoon, at the little church high upon a hill-side, overlooking a lovely lake, are gathered a faithful few--very few if the Sunday be wet and stormy--if anyone is there who can play the American organ, well; if not, the clergyman plays it himself. After hearing of any weals or woes, he goes to a farm-house, may be a mile or so back, for a warm welcome and a hospitable tea, and then sets out again for a seven miles' tramp through lonely woods to the next place for evening service. There is a sick person to be visited--before, if time allows; if not, after--and it is getting on late into the night before he gets home after a dark walk of another eight miles. Some weeks he will go overnight to one of the out-stations, so as to begin the Sunday there with a celebration, and on occasions he may drive; but a horse has to be fed, and is an expensive luxury, and if he has no horse of his own, hiring is still more expensive. Farmers have not more horses than they need; and when they work hard on six days, the seven th is needed as a day of rest.

The Archbishop speaks of many of his clergy as heroes; and no less heroic are their wives, for theirs is a very heavy share of the burden. Other women have all the work of their houses and care of their children; but the clergyman's wife is never free from parochial interruptions as well, besides the strain of being left alone in an isolated house when her husband has to stay away in a far distant part of the parish. Yet wives or sisters the clergy must have--for service is in most places unobtainable and the wages prohibitive--and some one must be there to have a meal cooked, bread baked, and a fire ready, when the missionary has unhitched his horse or comes home cold and stiff from his snowy tramp.

This chapter cannot be ended without the name of the 'Diocesan Tramp,' beloved in every Mission in the diocese, over the whole of which he has tramped on foot. In one he was all but lost in a blizzard, bringing medicine from the distant doctor to a sick man; in another he had stayed through a long epidemic, nursing the sick and burying the dead; and so on and on. In every place the name of the good Archdeacon Gillmor is a household word.

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