Project Canterbury

Metlakahtla and the North Pacific Mission of the Church Missionary Society

By Eugene Stock

London: Church Missionary House, 1880.

Chapter XII. Lord Dufferin at Metlakahtla

Four great events have signalised the last four years at Metlakahtla. These events were the visits of four important personages. First, Lord Dufferin, then Governor-General of the Dominion of Canada, in August, 1876. Secondly, Bishop Bompas, of Athabasca, in the winter of 1877-78. Thirdly, Admiral Prevost, the founder of the Mission, in June, 1878. Fourthly, the new Bishop of Caledonia, Dr. Ridley, in October, 1879. The following very interesting account of Lord Dufferin's visit is all the more valuable as coming from an independent source:--

(From the Toronto Mail, September 19, 1876)

"On board Steamer 'Sir James Douglas,' August 29th, 1876

"About half-past six in the evening the 'Douglas' and the 'Amethyst' dropped anchor in a bay at a place called Metlakahtla. This is an Indian village started here about fourteen years ago by Mr. William Duncan, under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society in England. It has now a resident population of about eight hundred souls belonging to what is called the Tsimshean nation. Mr. Duncan, who seems to be possessed of an immense amount of activity, combined with deep interest in the work in which he is engaged, still remains in charge of the station, but has during the past two years had the assistance of an English clergyman and his wife, named Collison, [Mr. Collison was not ordained at the time] who came out from England for the purpose of working in the mission field among the Indians. Mr. Collison is studying the language of the Tsimshean Natives, when proficient in it, which he soon will be, judging from the progress he has already made, he will labour among the Indians of Queen Charlotte's Islands.

"Under Mr. Duncan's instructions the Indians of Metlakahtla have already made great strides in the direction of civilization and Christianity. He has laid the village out regularly, and given to each head of a family a large-sized lot of land. The houses, which have been erected under his direction, are much more comfortable and convenient than Indian domiciles generally, though somewhat accommodated in their plans to the peculiar habits and mode of living of the race. The houses which Indians build for themselves are without floors. Those of Metlakahtla are floored with plank, and in the centre of the principal room there is a level stone fireplace, from which the smoke, instead of being left to find its way out of the house through a hole in the roof, as in the dwellings built in the primitive Indian fashion, rises into a sort of square inverted hopper which hangs over the fire, and from it passes out of the house by way of a chimney. Under Mr. Duncan's supervision the Indians have built a church in the village large enough to accommodate the whole population. It is clapboarded on the outside, and with its steeple, buttresses, and broad flight of steps ascending to the front entrance, presents an imposing appearance. The wood (of the interior at least) is cedar, the odour from which greets one's nostrils on entering the building.

"Mr. Duncan is a member of the Church of England, and conducts his services in accordance with the Anglican form of worship, but it is understood declines ordination, although qualified for it. He is an autocrat among his people, but his rule, though despotic, is benign, and leaves them as full freedom as the members of any white community enjoy, except that the use of intoxicants is prohibited, as is also their introduction into the place, and the villagers are consequently teetotalers "willy nilly." He is a Justice of the Peace under commission from the Provincial Government, with a jurisdiction including within it Queen Charlotte's Islands. He has a number of Indian policemen to assist him in preserving order, and a gaol in Metlakahtla, in which he incarcerates malefactors. There is at present undergoing a two months' imprisonment in this bastile a white man who was caught distilling in Queen Charlotte's Island. In extenuation of his offence the prisoner asserts that it was from the Indians he acquired a knowledge of the art, which resulted in himself being jugged instead of the spirits he was making. In a very neat building, specially erected for the purpose, Mr. Duncan conducts a school, in which he gives instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as in the doctrines of Christianity, to a large number of the young of the village. Both boys and girls attend this school, but when the former arrive at about the age of fourteen they are taken from it and sent to an industrial school, which is also carried on at the place; girls are allowed to remain at the other school beyond that age. To his already multifarious occupations Mr. Duncan has just added that of running a saw-mill--he was cutting up the first log in it this evening when the 'Amethyst' signalled her arrival by firing a gun. Mr. Duncan is a bachelor, a circumstance which, to many, will make the energy he throws into his work and the success of it all the more remarkable.

"The Indians of Metlakahtla gain their livelihood by fishing and hunting. Away up here, above the fifty-fourth parallel of latitude, the climate is such as would not admit of agriculture being extensively engaged in. Wheat cannot be brought to maturity. Potatoes and other root crops seem to grow pretty well.

"Formerly the Indians of the Tsimshean nation offered human sacrifices, and it is said that they also indulged cannibalistic proclivities. It would seem, however, that they confined their eating of human flesh to their 'medicine' festivals, and even then no one, as far as I can ascertain, ever saw them do more than, while engaged in the demoniacal rites which were customary on these occasions, merely bite it. The victims at these celebrations were members of other tribes whom they had enslaved. Not only are the teaching and influence of Mr. Duncan having the effect of making the Indians fall away from such inhuman and heathenish practices, but they are also removing much of the deadly hostility which formerly existed among different tribes. More Indians are gradually coming in from the country round about and making Metlakahtla their home.

"In the administration of the affairs of the village the Indian institution of the council is retained, and Mr. Duncan consults with them in regard to all matters appertaining to the general weal. Some of the Indians when baptized are given English names, while others prefer to keep their Indian appellation, and are permitted to do so."

"August 30th.

"The Governor-General and party proceeded on shore at Metlakahtla this morning at half past nine o'clock. The day was a beautiful sunshiny clear one, the first without fog and rain that we have had since leaving Nanaimo. Although Mr. Duncan had learned that his Excellency was in British Columbia, his visit to Metlakahtla was quite unexpected. A large proportion of the inhabitants of the village were consequently away working at fisheries some miles off, who, had they known of the Governor General's visit, would have been present to join in receiving him. It was understood that their absence from the village on so auspicious an occasion would be a bitter regret to them. However, there was about a couple of hundred of the villagers at home, including several members of the council--the rest were chiefly young lads, young women, and children, with a few old people. They assisted their energetic white chief in getting up a demonstration which, under the circumstances, was quite creditable to them. Several Union Jacks were hoisted throughout the village, and a red cloth, with 'God save the Queen' worked on it, was stretched across between two houses near the landing. As the vice regal party went ashore a small cannon was fired off several times from the gaol, a small hexagonal structure with a balcony round the top. The next thing was the singing of the National Anthem to an accompaniment supplied by some of the members of a brass band which exists among the young men of the community. The latter were gorgeous in cast-off uniforms of United States soldiers, purchased at a sale of condemned military clothing recently held in Alaska. Half-a-dozen Indian maidens then came forward and presented Lady Dufferin with a bouquet, after which the distinguished visitors were taken to see the church, the school house, and one of the Indian residences. Subsequently all the people were assembled in the open air, and the younger portion of them sang, under the direction of Mr. Duncan and Mr. Collison, a number of songs and hymns, both in their native tongue and in English. They pronounced the words of the pieces that were in the latter language with a remarkably good accent, although every effort to induce any of them to converse in it was futile. Lord Dufferin endeavoured to get some of them to talk with him about their studies, but was not successful in extracting from any of them, including a young Indian woman whom Mr. Duncan has placed in the position of an assistant teacher in the school, any more definitely English expression than a simper. Mr. Duncan stated that many of his pupils understood English very well, but were somehow averse to speaking it. The voices of the singers sounded very well, when allowance is made for their bashfulness. Some of their pieces were of a fugue character and the time which was kept in singing them was remarkably good, considering that there was no accompaniment to them.

"After some time had been spent in singing, a young man advanced and read the following address in excellent style:--

"To His Excellency the Earl of Dufferin, Governor-General of the Dominion of Canada.

"MAY IT PLEASE YOUR EXCELLENCY,--We, the inhabitants of Metlakahtla, of the Tsimshean nation of Indians desire to express our joy in welcoming your Excellency and Lady Dufferin to our village. Under the teaching of the Gospel we have learned the Divine command, 'Fear God, honour the King, and thus as loyal subjects of her Majesty Queen Victoria we rejoice in seeing you visit our shores.

"We have learned to respect and obey the laws of the Queen, and we will continue to uphold and defend the same in our community and nation.

"We are still a weak and poor people, only lately emancipated from the thraldom of heathenism and savage customs, but we are struggling to rise and advance to a Christian life and civilization.

"Trusting that we may enjoy a share of your Excellency's kind and fostering care, and under your administration continue to advance in peace and prosperity.

"We have the honour to subscribe ourselves your Excellency's humble and obedient servants.

"For the Indians of Metlakahtla,


"Secretary to the Native Council."

"The members of the Council all came forward in turn and signed the document by making their marks."

The Governor-General replied as follows--

"I have come a long distance in order to assure you, in the name of your Great Mother, the Queen of England, with what pleasure she has learnt of your well being, and of the progress you have made in the arts of peace and the knowledge of the Christian religion, under the auspices of your kind friend, Mr. Duncan. You must understand that I have not come for my own pleasure, but that the journey has been long and laborious and that I am here from a sense of duty, in order to make you feel by my actual presence with what solicitude the Queen and Her Majesty's Government in Canada watch over your welfare, and how anxious they are that you should persevere in that virtuous and industrious mode of life in which I find you engaged. I have viewed with astonishment the church which you have built entirely by your own industry and intelligence. That church is in itself a monument of the way in which you have profited by the teachings you have received. It does you the greatest credit, and we have every right to hope, that, while in its outward aspect it bears testimony to your conformity to the laws of the Gospel, beneath its sacred roof your sincere and faithful prayers will be rewarded by those blessings which are promised to all those who approach the Throne of God in humility and faith. I hope you will understand that your White Mother and the Government of Canada are fully prepared to protect you in the exercise of your religion, and to extend to you those laws which know no difference of race, or of colour, but under which justice is impartially administered between the humblest and the greatest of the land. The Government of Canada is proud to think that there are upwards of 30,000 Indians in the territory of British Columbia alone. She recognizes them as the ancient inhabitants of the country. The white men have not come amongst you as conquerors, but as friends. We regard you as our fellow-subjects, and as equal to us in the eye of the law as you are in the eye of God, and equally entitled with the rest of the community to the benefits of good government, and the opportunity of earning an honest livelihood. I have had very great pleasure in inspecting your school, and I am quite certain that there are many among the younger portion of those I am now addressing who have already begun to feel how much they are indebted to that institution for the expansion of their mental faculties, for the knowledge of what is passing in the outer world, as well as for the insight it affords them into the laws of nature and into the arts of civilized life, and we have the further satisfaction of remembering that as year after year flows by, and your population increases, all those beneficial influences will acquire additional strength and momentum. I hope you are duly grateful to him to whom, under Providence, you are indebted for all these benefits, and that when you contrast your own condition, the peace in which you live, the comforts that surround you, the decency of your habitation, when you see your wives, your sisters, and your daughters contributing so materially by the brightness of their appearance, the softness, of their manners, their housewifely qualities, to the pleasantness and cheerfulness of your domestic lives, contrasting as all these do so strikingly with your former surroundings, you will remember that it is to Mr. Duncan you owe this blessed initiation into your new life. By a faithful adherence to his principles and example you will become useful citizens and faithful subjects, an honour to those under whose auspices you will thus have shown to what the Indian race can attain, at the same time that you will leave to your children an ever-widening prospect of increasing happiness and progressive improvement. Before I conclude I cannot help expressing to Mr. Duncan, and those associated with him in his good work, not only in my own name, not only in the name of the Government of Canada, but also in the name of Her Majesty the Queen, and in the name of the people of England, who take so deep an interest in the well-being of all the native races throughout the Queen's dominions, our deep gratitude to him for thus having devoted the flower of his life, in spite of innumerable difficulties, dangers, and discouragements, of which we, who only see the result of his labours, can form only a very inadequate idea, to a work which has resulted in the beautiful scene we have witnessed this morning. I only wish to add that I am very much obliged to you for the satisfactory and loyal address with which you have greeted me. The very fact of your being in a position to express yourselves with so much propriety is in itself extremely creditable to you, and although it has been my good fortune to receive many addresses during my stay in Canada from various communities of your fellow subjects, not one of them will be surrounded by so many hopeful and pleasant reminiscences, as those which I shall carry away with me from this spot."

Before he left British Columbia Lord Dufferin delivered an address at Government House, Victoria, in which, referring to this visit, he said:--

"I have traversed the entire coast of British Columbia, from its southern extremity to Alaska. I have penetrated to the head of Bute Inlet, I have examined the Seymour Narrows, and the other channels which intervene between the head of Bute Inlet and Vancouver Island. I have looked into the mouth of Dean's Canal, and passed across the entrance to Gardener's Channel. I have visited Mr. Duncan's wonderful settlement at Metlakahtla, and the interesting Methodist Mission at Fort Simpson, and have thus been enabled to realise what scenes of primitive peace and innocence, of idyllic beauty and material comfort, can be presented by the stalwart men and comely maidens of an Indian community, under the wise administration of a judicious and devoted Christian Missionary. I have seen the Indians in all phases of their existence, from the half-naked savage, perched, like a bird of prey, in a red blanket upon a rock, trying to catch his miserable dinner of fish, to the neat maiden in Mr. Duncan's school at Metlakhatla, as modest and as well dressed as any clergyman's daughter in an English parish.

"What you want are not resources, but human beings to develope them and consume them. Raise your 80,000 Indians to the level Mr. Duncan has taught us they can be brought, and consider what an enormous amount of vital power you will have added to your present strength."

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