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Metlakahtla and the North Pacific Mission of the Church Missionary Society

By Eugene Stock

London: Church Missionary House, 1880.

Chapter XIV. The Diocese of Caledonia

As we have already mentioned, when Mr. Duncan went out in 1856 there was but one clergyman of the Church of England on the whole western coast of British America, viz., the Rev. E. Cridge, chaplain at Victoria. The colony of British Columbia, however, grew apace; and in 1859 it was formed into a Diocese, Dr. Hills being appointed the first Bishop. The visits of Bishop Hills and of more than one of his colonial clergy to Metlakahtla have been noticed in the foregoing pages. By them a large number of the Christian Indians were baptized. The C. M. S. Committee have always desired to provide an ordained missionary for the settlement; but for some years their effort seemed fruitless. It has been before mentioned that the Rev. L. Tugwell, who went out in 1860, and was privileged to baptize the first group of converts, was compelled by failure of health to return home in the following year. In 1864, the Rev. R. R. A. Doolan, B.A., of Caius College, Cambridge, offered himself for the work. He laboured zealously for three years, and began the Mission on Nass River, as already related; and then in 1867 he, too, had to return to England. Both he and Mr. Tugwell found important spheres of missionary labour in connection with the Spanish Church Mission. In 1865, the Rev. F. Gribbell was sent out; but the climate of Metlakahtla seriously affected his wife's health, and he accepted colonial work offered him at Victoria by the Bishop of Columbia. In 1867 the Rev. R. Tomlinson, B.A., was appointed to the Mission, and he has providentially been permitted to continue in its service ever since. He, however, took over the work on Nass River, begun by Mr. Doolan, so that Metlakahtla still remained without an ordained missionary. But the grace of God is not tied to a regular ministry, and the settlement grew and prospered, spiritually as well as materially, under the loving care of its lay founder. In 1873, Mr. W. H. Collison joined the Mission as a schoolmaster, and in 1878 Mr. H. Schutt went out in the same capacity, to leave Mr. Collison free to begin new work in Queen Charlotte's Islands. In 1877 the Rev. A. J. Hall, a young clergyman in full orders, was appointed to Metlakahtla; but he, too, under the advice of his brethren, removed soon after his arrival to Fort Rupert, to break up fresh ground. At length Mr. Collison, having been ordained deacon and priest by Bishop Bompas, of Athabasca, during the latter's visit to the coast in the winter of 1877-8, and having been released from the work at Queen Charlotte's Islands by the arrival of Mr. G. Sneath in 1879, again took up his abode at Metlakahtla as pastor of the settlement.

In the meanwhile, certain unhappy disputes in Victoria, arising from the extreme doctrinal views which found an entrance into the Church in the Colony, as they have into the Church at home, had resulted in a secession to the American "Reformed Church" under the leadership of the Rev. E. Cridge. Mr. Cridge was greatly beloved by the Christians of Metlakahtla, having given much godly counsel and help to the Mission; and they not unnaturally felt much sympathy for him in the painful step he had felt it his duty to take. In this state of things, the Bishop of Columbia, anxious not to rouse feelings which it might be hard to allay, with much wisdom and generosity refrained from visiting Metlakahtla, and wrote to Bishop Bompas, of Athabasca, who is a devoted missionary of the C. M. S., asking him to come over and visit the coast, and to perform episcopal functions in the C. M. S. Mission. Accordingly, in November, 1877, Bishop Bompas, reached Metlakahtla after a long and difficult journey across the Rocky and Cascade Mountains, and the wilderness of lakes and rivers stretching between those chains. He remained three months on the coast, visited the outlying stations, confirmed 124 of the Christian Indians, ordained Mr. Collison deacon and priest, and assisted Mr. Duncan and the other missionaries in maturing plans for the extension of the Mission. [Bishop Bompas' account of the Christmas he spent in Metlakahtla is given at page 75. A narrative of his journey across the Rocky Mountains appeared in the C. M. Intelligencer of August, 1878.]

In 1879, Bishop Hills, being on a visit to England, arranged with the Church Missionary Society a plan for providing its Missions with episcopal oversight. He had come, charged by his Diocesan Synod to take steps for dividing his vast diocese into three--Columbia, New Westminster, and Caledonia--which would form an ecclesiastical province on the west side of the Rocky Mountains, just as, on the east side, the four dioceses of Rupert's Land, Moosonee, Athabasca, and Saskatchewan, form the province of Rupert's Land. The northernmost of these three divisions, Caledonia, would comprise the field of the C. M. S. Missions; and the Society therefore undertook to guarantee the income of the Bishop for this division, provided that the Committee were satisfied with the appointment made. The scheme was happily consummated by the choice of the Rev. Wm. Ridley, vicar of St. Paul's, Huddersfield, who had been a C. M. S. missionary in India, but whose health had been unequal to the trying climate of the Peshawar Valley. Mr. Ridley was consecrated on St. James's Day, July 25th, 1879, at St. Paul's Cathedral, at the same time as Dr. Walsham How to the Suffragan-Bishopric of Bedford (for East London), Dr. Barclay to the Anglican See of Jerusalem, and Dr. Speechly to the new diocese of Travancore and Cochin.

The Diocese of Caledonia comprises the territory lying between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, with the adjacent islands, and is bounded on the south by a line drawn westward from Cape St. James, at the south end of Queen Charlotte's Islands, and on the north by the 60th parallel of latitude. It comprises, therefore, the mining districts on the upper waters of the Fraser and Skeena and Stachine rivers, with their rough white population, and many thousands of Indians of the Tsimshean and Hydah nations on the coast, as well as others in the interior.

Bishop Ridley sailed from Liverpool on September 13th for New York, crossed the States by the Pacific Railway, took a steamer again at San Francisco, and reached Victoria on October 14th. There he met Mr. Duncan, and also Admiral Prevost, who had again gone out a few months before, partly to prepare the way for the new Bishop; and a few days after they sailed together for Metlakahtla. On November 1st he wrote as follows:--

"Metlakahtla has not disappointed me. The situation is excellent. There is no spot to compare with it this side of Victoria. During this week the weather has been charming. Frosty nights, but the days mild, as in Cornwall at this season. Numbers of the worn-out old folk have been basking in the sun for hours daily. Squatting in the long grass, they looked the very pictures of contentment. They all gazed on the sea. No wonder if they loved it. Besides being the store-house from which they took their food, it is the chief feature in one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. We are at the entrance of an estuary that winds about, labyrinth-like, until it leads up to a stream more than twenty miles distant inland. Outside are large islands, their lofty heads pine-clad, and the same garment reaching to the very waves on all sides. These are God's breakwaters. Inside, wherever the channel widens, there are smaller islands, so disposed as to make it impossible to say what is island and what continent. These are gems in a setting that perfectly reflects the grass and pines fringing the sea's glossy surface, as well as the background of snow-patched mountain.

"Yesterday the stillness was reverential, and quite in keeping with Sunday rest. Scores of graceful canoes were drawn above the tide. Not a paddle broke the silence. As Admiral Prevost and I stood in the Mission garden we heard, in the distance, the howls of a pack of wolves. A flight of crows or rooks claimed a moment's attention. Besides this, nothing disturbed the calm sea, or the stillness, but the wing of some wild fowl splashing the sea as it rose. Before we returned to the house we were ravished with the splendour of the sunset. The giant that had run its day's course transformed the scene. He touched everything, till sea and sky vied with each other in glorious effects. The snowy peaks to eastward blushed.

"But, after all, the Sun of Righteousness has produced a far more beautiful transformation in the character of the Indian, and this change is not fleeting. The church bell rings, and, from both wings of the village, well-dressed men, their wives and children, pour out from the cottages, and the two currents meet at the steps of the noble sanctuary their own hands have made, to the honour of God our Saviour. On Saturday I had made a sketch of the village. Mr. Duncan remarked, as the people streamed along, 'Put that stream into your picture.' 'That would never do,' I said, 'nobody would believe it.' Inwardly I exclaimed, 'What hath God wrought!' It would be wrong to suppose that the love of God alone impelled them all. All, without reasonable cause to the contrary, are expected to attend the public services. A couple of policemen, as a matter of routine, are in uniform, and this is an indication that loitering during service hours is against proper civil order. This wholesome restraint is possible during these early stages of the corporate life of the community. At present one strong will is supreme. To resist it, every Indian feels would be as impossible as to stop the tides. This righteous autocracy is as much feared by the ungodly around as it is respected and admired by the faithful. Thus are law and Gospel combined with good results."

Before leaving England, Dr. Ridley had earnestly appealed for funds to provide him with a small steamer--an absolute necessity if his episcopal duties were to be performed safely and regularly. Without it the long voyages up and down the coast, and among the islands, would have to be made in native canoes. The perilous nature of such travelling had been sadly illustrated only two years before, by the loss of a boat which was conveying an excellent Hudson's Bay officer from Queen Charlotte's Islands to the mainland. He and his crew of Tsimshean Christians were all drowned except one Indian, who was in the water four days and nights, lashed to a piece of the canoe, and was drifted on to the Alaska coast. This Indian related how, when they were all clinging to the capsized boat, Mr. Williams, the officer, seeing death imminent, called on them to pray, and as their strength failed they sank praying and singing hymns. The Bishop himself, in one of his first voyages, within a fortnight of his arrival, was overtaken by a gale in a canoe which two men could lift, and in which ten were huddled together, and "as nearly lost as a saved man could be." "How I longed for my steamer!" he wrote; "unless I get one, a new Bishop will soon be wanted, for the risk in these frail crafts is tremendous, and a short career the probable consequence."

The money required, we are glad to say, has been raised, and, the steamer will (D.V.) soon be speeding up and down the coast on its errands of love--preserved and prospered, we doubt not, by His goodness who rules the winds and the waves.

It only remains to add the latest news from Metlakahtla, as communicated in the annual letters of Mr. Duncan and Mr. Collison for 1879. Mr. Duncan writes, on March 8th. 1880:--

"In regard to secular matters, the year past has been one of marked progress--the greatest year for building the Indians have ever known. We have now eighty-eight new houses up, or in course of erection; and when all the houses are erected, roads completed, and gardens, drains, and fences finished, we shall have certainly a very attractive home. But there remains a good deal to do yet. Our American neighbours are being aroused to their duty for the poor Indians of Alaska,-- encouraged, they tell us, by what has been accomplished at Metlakahtla. During the past year I have had several letters from, and interviews with, American gentlemen (among whom were three generals of the army in active service), who were anxious to learn from me my plans and modes of dealing with the Indians. I am afraid they are attributing our success too much to secular matters, and too little to the preaching of the Gospel. I have strongly warned them not to commence at the wrong end.

"I have already opened up and discussed with the Indians the desirability of their endeavouring to take into their own hands all the secular work I have begun. If my hopes are realised, it will be a grand termination of all my secular work. The Indians are delighted with the idea, and will struggle hard to reach the goal.

"Our Church, Sunday School, and Day School are all prospering.

"The surrounding heathen tribes are not being neglected. I paid a visit to the Kithratlas, in company with the Admiral, last Autumn, and a native teacher--Edward Mather--is now being employed amongst them. Other native teachers are about taking up work around, as the seasons allow, and as the Indians are accessible.

"In the month of July Dr. Powell, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, and Mr. Anderson, Commissioner for Fisheries, paid us their long-promised visit in H.M.S. Rocket. Though only a portion of our population were at home, our visitors expressed themselves as greatly astonished and delighted at all they saw. Dr. Powell has since written me an official letter, and read me his official report to the minister at Ottawa, both which were highly commendatory, and Mr. Anderson has published a long letter in the Colonist newspaper about Metlakahtla. The testimony of the latter gentleman was very telling upon the community here, as he has lived in this country upwards of fifty years, and is considered a great authority on Indian affairs."

Mr. Collison mentions that during the winter he conducted a class of catechumens, and that, after due examination by Bishop Ridley, seventy-two persons, men and women, were baptized on Sundays, Jan. 25th and Feb. 1st, of the present year, 1880. During the year under review sixty-three children also were baptized. "Thus," writes Mr. Collison, "the visible Church increases; but our greatest care and concern is that they may be united to Christ by a living faith, and grow up in Him into a spiritual temple, of which Jesus Christ Himself is the chief corner-stone."

Such is the story of Metlakahtla and the North Pacific Mission. An unfinished story, indeed, the plot of which is still unfolding itself, and the issues of which, in this world, are known only to Him who sees the end from the beginning. And yet a story which, embracing as it does, the separate life-stories of many individuals, again and again comes to a true "end," to an "end" for which we may well render unceasing praise. What the destiny of Metlakahtla may be, none can say; but what the destiny is of soul after soul that has passed away in peace and hope, and that owed that peace and hope, under God, to the influence of Metlakahtla, we do know. The day is coming--it may be very soon--when Metlakahtla will, share the universal fate of the things that are seen and temporal, and will have become a mere memory of the past, while the men and women, and children, whom it brought to the God and Father of all to be washed, and sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God, live on and on in the power of an endless life. No tall church spire, rising from the inlet of Kahtla will then be needed to guide the mariner through the Archipelago of the North Pacific coast, "for there shall be no more sea." But the great temple of living souls will stand forth in all its glory and beauty, and among the stones of that spiritual house will be many hewn from the quarry in the Far West. Tsimshean and Hydah, and many another Red Indian tribe, shall find a place in the building which, fitly framed together, shall then have grown into a holy temple unto the Lord. Happy indeed will those then be who have had a share, however humble, in the work of raising it, stone by stone, to His praise who will make it His dwelling for ever!

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