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Pioneer Church Work in British Columbia
Being a Memoir of the Episcopate of Acton Windeyer Sillitoe, D.D., D.C.L.
First Bishop of New Westminster.

By the Rev. Herbert H. Gowen, F.R.G.S.

London: Mowbray, 1899.

Chapter I


THE wisest, ablest, and most statesmanlike of England's sons are at one in the value they attach to the Colonial dependencies of their wonderful Empire. They realize that the welfare of the children is the welfare of the mother, and that no policy is so futile and inane, even for the mother's sake, as that which fails in sympathy with the career of the children.

And England rightly gives all the honour at her command to the brave pioneers who open up her Colonial estates to her Imperial commerce.

The Church at home is sometimes less wise, and the time has yet to come when the whole Church, from its leaders to its humblest members, shall rightly know the glory of its own Colonial inheritance, and shall take to her bosom with enthusiasm the children given to her beyond the sea.

Yet, as in a national so in a religious sense, the welfare of the children is the welfare of the mother, the strength of the branches the strength of the tree. Interest in and enthusiasm for the Church abroad, so far from weakening the Church's power of maintenance and defence at home, will react in increasing depth and breadth of knowledge, and in enlarged capacity of loving and helping.

And this interest will find both its source and its object in knowledge of the lives of those who have been pioneers, builders, and directors--the Bishops of the Colonial Church.

As contributing to this end, the following memoir is given of one who is truly representative of the noble band of makers of Church history in modern times.

Bishop Sillitoe was one of the last to wish a biography of himself written, and the writer has no intention of attempting any such task. The man must survive on earth in the memory of those who loved him, but the man's work is a legacy to the Church--a legacy not only to the far distant West, where he sowed and planted in faith and hope, but to the whole Church, which values catholicity and believes in the Communion of Saints.

There will be no attempt made to put into strong relief the adventurous or the romantic. The sketches given may seem even monotonous in their record, but if so, the reader will remember that the work was monotonous too, performed often in weariness and painfulness, but in patience and love by one sustained solely by devotion to the Lord Who had called him to labour in His Vineyard.

* * * * *

The diocese of New Westminster, of which Acton Windeyer Sillitoe was the first Bishop, is situated on the Pacific coast of the great Dominion of Canada, and forms part of the Province of British Columbia, which sprang into a colony in 1858, owing to the discovery of gold.

Numbers of people were then attracted to its shores, but previously it was known as a profitable ground for fur traders, who occupied various stations, and did a good business with the various Indian tribes scattered here and there.

The C.M.S. had commenced work in the province in 1856, when Mr. Duncan began his remarkable career among the Indians. A year after the S.P.G. entered the field with two clergy, and in 1859 the venerable Bishop, George Hills, was consecrated first Bishop of Columbia.

It seemed as though the new diocese was destined to great prosperity, but the hopes at first entertained were perhaps over-sanguine, for, owing to commercial crises, a rough population, an unsettled country, and enormous districts to cover, the Bishop had for many years the maximum of hardship with an altogether disproportionate amount of success.

Yet, in spite of all discouragements, the diocese, both on Vancouver Island and on the mainland, was gradually opened up to the Church's ministrations. To mention only work accomplished on the mainland--in Cariboo we are told that the labours of Mr. Reynard were more full of romance than the wildest fiction; the present Indian Missions at Yale and Lytton were begun and carried on successfully by the Rev. J. B. Good; and in the city of New Westminster a handsome stone church and a well-equipped parish testified to the work of the Rev. John Sheepshanks, the present Bishop of Norwich.

But it was early seen that the diocese was too huge for any one man's supervision, and owing to the Bishop's occasional absence in England for the purpose of raising money, large numbers of people remained altogether untouched by the Church's system, and in consequence deserted her for other religious organizations, or else drifted into a state of absolute indifference to religion.

So in 1878 Bishop Hills made the following announcement to his synod:--

"Cariboo, Kamloops, Nicola, Chilliwhack, the Lower Fraser Valley, and Cassiar are needing the ministrations of the Church, but we send them no supply. We seem to neglect them altogether. Yet could faithful ministers of God be sent, the blessing as elsewhere would follow, and great good be done. What is the cause, and is there a remedy? "

It was subsequently moved by Archdeacon Wright and carried--

That this synod considers the great spiritual destitution of the vast mainland portion of this diocese, as regards clergy, church-buildings, etc., calls for the earnest and immediate attention of the Church, and that a committee be appointed to obtain statistics and all other information that may in any way tend to the relief of such destitution."

At the same synod the real solution of the difficulty was suggested in the following important resolution:--

"That this synod is of opinion that a division of the diocese into three separate dioceses, viz. (1) Vancouver Island, (2) New Westminster, (3) Caledonia, with a view to forming a provincial organization for British Columbia, is very desirable, and that this synod cordially supports the endeavour of the Lord Bishop to carry out the scheme when in England."

From this it will appear that the Bishop had already had the idea of division under consideration. It was his belief that it was clearly impossible to keep in touch with one another different parts of the diocese which were one thousand miles apart, and that subdivision would not only render the ecclesiastical province more easy to work, but would bring increase of clergy and support to each division.

To this end Bishop Hills worked indefatigably during his subsequent visit to England, and the result is shown in the announcement he was able to make to his next synod, as follows:--

"During my visit to England my time was largely occupied in carrying out the resolution agreed to in the last session of the synod of the undivided diocese with respect to a subdivision into three separate dioceses.

"I laid the resolution before the Archbishop of Canterbury, and received his cordial support; and after many months of hard work in raising endowment funds, I had the happiness of a successful result."

Generous help towards the endowment of the two new sees was given both by private individuals and by the two great missionary societies of the Church, and on July 25, 1879, the first of the two new Bishops, Dr. Ridley, was consecrated to the see of Caledonia.

Shortly afterwards the announcement was made that the Rev. Acton Windeyer Sillitoe, chaplain to the British Legation at Darmstadt and to the Princess Alice, had been selected to fill the see of New Westminster.

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