Project Canterbury

Metlakahtla and the North Pacific Mission of the Church Missionary Society

By Eugene Stock

London: Church Missionary House, 1880.

Chapter VIII. Metlakahtla--Two Christmas-Seasons

Christmas is a joyous time at Metlakahtla, and the accounts we have of its services and festivities help not a little to bring the settlement before the eyes of our imagination. Two such accounts are subjoined. The first is from Mr. Duncan's Report for 1873. Christmas-day in that year is memorable for a visit paid to Metlakahtla by the Indians who still remained in the neighbourhood of Fort Simpson. These tribes had not been forgotten by their Christian fellow-countrymen. Bands of evangelists from the settlement frequently went up the coast in canoes to the Fort on Saturday to hold services on the Sunday, and their efforts received a manifest blessing. This work has since then been interrupted by the establishment of a Canadian Methodist Mission at the Fort.

The second account was sent home by Bishop Bompas, of Athabasca, after his visit to the coast in 1877-8.


From Mr. Duncan's Report.

"This is the first season that the heathen customs at Fort Simpson have been generally disregarded, and hence we thought it well to encourage Christian customs in their place. To this end we decided to invite all the congregation at Fort Simpson to spend the festival of Christmas with us at Metlakahtla, that they might receive the benefit of a series of special services, and he preserved from falling into those excesses which we had reason to fear would follow should they spend the Christmas by themselves. About two hundred and fifty availed themselves of our invitation, and they arrived at Metlakahtla the day before Christmas in twenty-one canoes, which indeed presented a pleasing picture as they approached us with flags flying.

"According to a previous arrangement they all clustered to the market-house, which we at present use for our church, and which had been very appropriately decorated. On our guests being seated I gave them a short address, and after prayer, in company with Mr. and Mrs. Collison, shook hands with them all. They then were quartered round the village, and a very exciting scene ensued, all the villagers literally scrambling for the guests. After the scramble, several came running to me to complain that they had not succeeded in securing a single guest, while others had got more than their share. To settle matters amicably, I had to send two constables round the village to readjust the distribution of our new friends.

"Our Christmas-eve was spent in practising, with a band of twenty young men, a new Christmas hymn in Tsimshean, which I managed to prepare for the occasion. About 1.30 on Christmas morning we reassembled, when Mr. Collison and myself accompanied the twenty waits to sing round the village, carrying the harmonium and concertina with us. We sang in seven different places, and three hymns in each place. The village was illuminated, and the singing was hearty and solemn. This was the first attempt of the Indians at part-singing in their own tongue.

"Christmas-day was a great day, houses decorated with evergreens, flags flying, constables and council passing from house to house in their uniforms, and greeting the inmates. Now a string of young men, then another of young women, might be seen going into this house, then into that; friends meeting on the road, shaking hands everywhere; everybody greeting everybody; hours occupied with hand-shaking and interchanging good wishes; nobody thinking of anything else but scattering smiles and greetings, till the church bell rings, and all wend their way to meet and worship God. The crowd seemed so great that fears were entertained that our meeting-house could not accommodate them. I at once decided that the children should assemble in the school-house and have a separate service. Samuel Marsden kindly volunteered to conduct it. Even with this arrangement our meeting-house was crowded to excess. There could not have been less than seven hundred present. What a sight! Had any one accompanied me to the Christmas-day services I held twelve or fourteen years ago at Fort Simpson, and again on this occasion, methinks, if an infidel, he would have been confused and puzzled to account for the change; but, if a Christian, his heart must have leaped for joy. The Tsimsheans might well sing on this day, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.'

"After service all the Indians collected near the Mission-house to greet us. In order to take advantage of the occasion I had them let in by about fifties at a time, the Fort Simpson Indians preceding. After giving each company a short address, we again shook hands with all. It was three p.m. before we had gone through with them all in this way.

"The following day the young men engaged in the healthy game of football, and all the people turned out to witness the sport. Mr. and Mrs. Collison and myself were present to encourage them. After football a marriage took place. A young woman, formerly trained in the Mission-house, was married to a chief. A marriage feast was given, to which between four and five hundred people were invited. During the day a Fort Simpson young man came to see me and confess a crime of theft he committed about a year and a half ago, and for which, when the proper time arrives, he will have to go to gaol. In the evening the church bell was rung, and all assembled for divine service. Some little time after service the bugle was sounded 'Go to bed.'

"I held special services every night while the Fort Simpson people were here with us. The subjects upon which I addressed them were as follows, viz.:--'Thou shalt call His name Jesus,' 'Thy Word is a Lamp' etc.; 'Understandst thou what thou readest?' 'Ye must be born again,' 'Can the Ethiopian change his skin?' 'What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?' 'One thing is needful,' 'Give me thy hand,' 'Quit ye like men.' In addition we had a midnight service on New Year's-eve. The people attended the services regularly, and seemed to drink in the Word. May God give the increase. On one of the evenings before the service I exhibited the magic lantern to the Fort Simpson people, showing them some Scriptural views and the sufferings of martyrs.

"On New Year's-day, as heretofore, we held a general meeting for the business of the village, at which all the males are expected to attend. Only some three or four were absent. The male portion of our guests from Fort Simpson also attended to witness the proceedings. The ten companies, into which all males here are divided, were first examined, after which I gave an address bearing upon matters of the past year, and introduced the new settlers, who were already seated in the middle of the room. This finished, each of the latter came forward in the presence of the assembly, made his declaration to be a faithful member of our community, and was registered. Speeches were then made by several of the council, followed by about twenty speeches from the Fort Simpson Indians, which were very interesting, being expressive of the new feelings which animated them, and the line of conduct they meant to pursue in the future, God being their helper. I concluded the meeting with another address. We then adjourned to the open ground in front of the Mission-house, stood in companies, two cannons were fired, then, with hats off (though it snowed very hard), we sang 'God save the Queen,' and dismissed.

"On Friday, the 2nd of January, our guests departed home. When ready to start, the church bell rang, and they paddled their canoes to our meeting-house, which is built upon the beach. Leaving their canoes, they reassembled for a short address and a concluding prayer. This over, again entering their canoes, they pushed a little from the beach, a cannon was fired, and amid the ringing cheers of hundreds of voices they dashed off paddling with all their might. In a few seconds they simultaneously halted, and returned as hearty cheers as they were receiving. The air now rang with the double cheering, caps, handkerchiefs, and flags waving, the whole forming a very animated scene. Thus our guests departed."


By the Bishop of Athabasca

"The festivities of the season commenced here on Christmas Eve, when a party of about twenty-five of the elder school girls were invited to meet us at tea. After tea we were all entertained by Mr. Duncan, with the exhibition of a galvanic battery and other amusements. This party having dispersed to their homes in good time, at a later hour came together the singers who were appointed to sing Christmas carols during the night along the village street, led by Mr. Schutt, the schoolmaster. After their singing they returned to supper at the Mission before retiring to rest.

"On Christmas morning the first sight which greeted us was that of the constables lengthening to its full height the flagstaff on the watchhouse, to hoist the flag for Christmas, and all the village street was soon gaily dressed with flags. The constables then marched about the village to different houses to shake hands and make Christmas peace with all whom they had been called to interfere with in the course of the year. At eleven o'clock the church bell rang, and the large church was thronged with a well-dressed and attentive congregation.

"After service all the villagers, to the number of about 600, had to come and pass through the Mission-house to shake hands with all the inmates. In doing this they so crowded the verandah that the boards actually gave way beneath them, but the ground being only about two feet below no injury resulted. After all the shaking of hands was over, the villagers returned home to their own private entertainments, and most of us at the Mission enjoyed a quiet Christmas evening together; but Mr. Duncan entertained at tea a party of the chiefs and principal persons of the village, whom we did not join, from inability to converse in the Tsimshean tongue.

"The day after Christmas was again a gay one. The constables, twenty-five in number, paraded and exercised on the green with banners and music, and about fifty volunteers, in neat white uniforms, with drums and fifes and banners flying, went through creditable evolutions and exercises. All the strangers who had come from neighbouring villages to spend Christmas at Metlakahtla were collected by Mr. Duncan in the Mission Hall, and, after a suitable address received, all of them, presents of soap, apples, sugar, tobacco, etc. In the evening the usual week-day service was held in the schoolroom, always crowded.

"The following day all the children of the schools were assembled by Mr. Duncan at his house, first the girls and then the boys, about 200 in all; and, after being amused by him, were treated to sugarplums and apples, and each one received some article of clothing (cap or cape, etc.), so as to be sent away to their homes rejoicing.

"Next day all the men of the village, about 300, were assembled in the market-house to be addressed by Mr. Duncan. After he had given them the best advice he could, their Christmas presents were distributed to them in the presence of all the Mission party. These consisted of 1/2lb. sugar and six apples to each one, with copy-book and pencil, or tobacco for the older men.

"The day after this, Mr. and Mrs. Schutt kindly entertained all the widows of the village, about sixty in number, to a substantial dinner. It was a pleasure to see even the old and decrepit able to sit at table and enjoy their meal, and it made us enter fully into the idea of the renovating influence of Christmas blessings, to think in what dark and murderous heathenism these aged widows had been reared when young. After dinner Mr. Duncan brought them to his Hall to listen to an address, so that they might not return home without words of Gospel truth and comfort to cheer them for struggling days.

"The morrow, being Sunday, was marked by the usual services; these consist, first, of morning Sunday School at half past nine, at which about 200 are present, both children and adults, males and females being in separate buildings. All the elder scholars learn and repeat a text both in English and Tsimshean, and have it explained to them, and they are able to use intelligently their English Bibles for this purpose. At eleven is morning service in church, attended at Christmas time by 700 to 800. Hymns are sung, both in English and Tsimshean, and heartily joined in by the congregation. This being the last Sunday in the year, the service was made a specially devotional one to seek mercy for the offences of the past twelve month.

"After morning service the adults met again in Sunday School to learn in English and Tsimshean the text of the sermon, and have it again explained to them by the native Sunday School teachers, who are prepared for this duty at a meeting with Mr. Duncan on Saturday evening. It is very interesting to see about 300 adults gathered together in the three schools at midday, entirely in the hands of native teachers, and with English Bibles in their hands poring intelligently over the text, and following out again the subject of the morning discourse. I cannot but think it would be a great gain if this scheme of Mr. Duncan's could be largely followed in other Missions.

"Afternoon service is held in the church at three o'clock, with a Litany, and after this, when the daylight lasts long enough, there is a second Sunday School. The church is as full in the afternoon as in the morning, and the punctuality of the attendance is surprising. In the evening, at seven o'clock, service is again held in the school room, which is crowded, and occasional meetings are held by the elder converts for the benefit of any aged people unable to come to church.

"To return to the Christmas doings: On the Monday all the women of the village, about 300, assembled in the market-house, and, after suitable addresses, valuable presents were made to each, viz., 1lb. soap, 1lb. rice, and several apples, etc. so that they return home laden and rejoicing. Altogether about L50 must have been spent upon the Christmas presents.

"On Monday evening, being the last night of the old year, a suitable service was held in church, the subject being Psalm xc., 'So teach us to number our days,' etc. On New Year's-day the festivities were renewed. Bugle-notes and drums and fifes, and the exercises of the volunteers, enlivened the scene. The youth of the village played football on the sands. All the men of the village were assembled in the market-house, and were permanently enrolled in ten companies, the members of each company receiving rosettes of a distinguishing colour. Each company has in it, besides ordinary members, one chief, two constables, one elder, and three councillors, who are all expected to unite in preserving the peace and order of the village. The ten chiefs all spoke in the market-house on New Year's-day, and in sensible language promised to follow the teaching they had received, and to unite in promoting what is good. After the meeting all adjourned to the green in front of the church, and joined in singing 'God save the Queen,' in English, before dispersing to their homes. The rest of the day was spent in New Year's greetings.

"Wednesday Evening was occupied by the usual week-day service, and Thursday and Friday evenings were devoted to the exhibition in the school-room, first to the women and then to the men, of a large magic lantern, with oxygen light, and also a microscope, showing living insects and sea-water animalcules, as well as various slides.

"The above is but an imperfect sketch of the efforts made by Mr. Duncan for the welfare and happiness of his village."

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