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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 III.


AT 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 29, 1880, the Sarmatian put out from Liverpool with the Bishop's party on board. The voyage across the Atlantic was not devoid of peril from the quantity of ice encountered, "hundreds of acres of it, ten and fifteen feet thick," and "icebergs--some little ones with smooth round tops, like hillocks; others, enormous ones with straight-up, cliff-like sides. One was fully two miles long, and at least two hundred feet high. Struggling and crashing and frequently obliged to lie to, in company with four other big steamers and a perfect fleet of sailing-boats, the good ship ploughed her way through a hundred and forty miles of ice, nearly half of it fully twenty feet thick."

The Bishop conducted several services on board during the voyage, both for the emigrants and for the saloon passengers, and gained some little experience of the various classes of people on their way to settle down in the great Dominion.

The landing was made at Quebec on May, the 12th, and thence the Bishop journeyed by short stages to Montreal and Toronto, keeping Whit Sunday at the former place, and Trinity Sunday at the latter. Then, as there was no C.P.R. in those days, the journey had to be made to San Francisco, which was reached on June 8th. Thence by boat the Bishop journeyed to Victoria, arriving on June 14th; and, leaving Victoria on the 18th, he reached New Westminster, the first point in his own diocese, on the same day.

The first impression of New Westminster is thus given--

"This is really a very lovely place, though of course we have the advantage of the first fresh brilliancy of summer to heighten its natural beauty, but the whole situation is well chosen and picturesque. The ground rises suddenly from the river on both banks, so that in the town the houses stand one above another; every one has a view, and indeed a view more or less panoramic, since abundance of space has given nearly every house a garden. The opposite bank of the stream is covered with pine forest, rising suddenly to about a hundred feet above the stream, and over this ridge, from the higher parts of the town, is seen the snowy summit of Mount Baker, nearly seventy miles away to the south-east. Down the river, to our right, about a mile distant, two fir-clad islands divide the stream into three great arms, and form a basin just above them fully two miles wide, across which we look over to the mountains of Vancouver Island; while upstream, to our left, the view is bounded by the mountains of the Cascade Range, thirty miles off, and still, at midsummer, largely covered with snow."

But lovelier even than the scenery it was to enter into the sanctuary which was henceforth to be in a very real sense a home. A special service was held in Holy Trinity Church, the cathedral designate, at which Litany was said and the Te Deum sung.

The next morning (Saturday) there was a celebration of Holy Communion at eight, and the following day the Bishop preached morning and evening to large congregations of his new flock. In a very short time he had fallen in love with his see-town and its churches. Upon the architectural demerits of the cathedral he was indeed (and not unjustly) severe, but with the work going on there he was much pleased.

Sapperton, a village a mile and a half from New Westminster, now included in the city limits, he selected for his residence, as there was the old Archdeaconry House ready to hand and a beautiful little church. The latter he thus describes--

"S. Mary's Church stands in the grounds of the Archdeaconry House, and is a model of what all wooden churches might be and ought to be. It was designed and built by the sappers, who came out on the original survey expedition under Colonel Moody. It was the 'fashionable church' of those days. Government House stood near; officials and their staff had their residences round about; an English tone pervaded the little society; and they took pride in the church they had built for themselves, and in its services."

Getting down to business without delay, Bishop Sillitoe at once began to find out for himself the work before him. After a day or two spent in New Westminster organizing an S.P.G. committee and other work, he went down the river with Mr. Baskett to visit Ladner's Landing. Here he made his first acquaintance with the salmon canneries, then as now the life of the riverside districts. Here, after the good folks had astonished him with the processes of can-making and the farming, with land producing twenty-four tons of onions per acre, and cabbages twenty-four pounds in weight, the Bishop in his turn brought forth the good things he had come to bring.

There was a large congregation at the service held, and the Bishop writes--

"It was very cheering and a little pathetic to see the people turning up as the hour approached by all manner of conveyances, some by boat on the river, some in waggons, some on horseback, and of course many on foot. . . . After the service we had a meeting. ... I told them I thought they could raise £80 if they tried, and that if they did, I would undertake to provide an equal sum and find them a clergyman. I have since heard that that £80 has been promised and that probably more will be forthcoming; and that they are also prepared to undertake by degrees the erection of church and parsonage, for which they offer sites."

Back in New Westminster, and preaching at Sapperton and elsewhere during the week, the Bishop held his first Confirmation on the Sunday following at Holy Trinity Church, when thirty-five candidates were presented by Archdeacon Woods. During the week thus inaugurated a great Congregational Meeting was held in the Drill Shed, at which the Bishop established a formal acquaintance with the citizens of New Westminster, and the next day went down by steamer to the North Arm to make the acquaintance of some of the logging camps.

"We called first," the Bishop writes, "at a logging camp, where we were hospitably entertained. About thirty men, all whites, are employed. The work consists in felling timber up in the forest, which, being stripped of its bark, and sawn into lengths of about twenty-five feet, is dragged by mules or oxen down a specially constructed road to the river, where a number of logs are roped together in the form of a raft, technically called a boom, and towed away to a saw-mill. The road consists of logs laid cross ways about three paces apart, called skids, with smaller ones between to form what is termed bridging. In the centre of the skids a hollow is scooped out, in which the log is dragged along, a boy preceding the train with a can of oil to keep the way greased. This oil presents irresistible attractions to bears, who watch the passage of a team, and then regale themselves on what the friction has left of the savoury delicacy. The oil is extracted from a fish called the oolachan, which abounds in these waters, and is of such an oleaginous character as to burn like a candle after being dried in the sun."

A service was held in the camp, at which about fifty were present, although a small proportion consisted of Church people. The Bishop was from this day forth quite at home in the logging camps, where all men admired his frank and manly spirit.

The same week found the Bishop on his way by stage to Burrard Inlet and Moodyville to visit the large saw-mills and logging camps there. Granville, as the settlement was then called, impressed the Bishop as likely to become an important place, and his impression was justified, for the Granville of 1880 is the Vancouver of to-day, the busy terminus of Canada's transcontinental highway.

It would be wearisome to give an account of all the work done by the Bishop during these first few days, so we set down here only a few instances of its wonderful variety, leaving the reader to imagine the days not spoken of as not idle, but filled with a multiplicity of engagements such as speedily rob bishops of any hope of leisure time.

A new scene was reached on July 7th, when a visit was paid to Yale, the centre of the Rev. J. B. Good's earnest and successful work among the Indians. At this time, however, the railway works had brought a large increase of population. It had now risen to the number of two thousand, including the Chinese labourers. As a consequence, the town gained an unenviable notoriety for rowdiness and license, and the work among the Indians was terribly hampered by the intercourse of the aborigines with vicious and unprincipled white men.

Several days were spent at Yale, during which the Bishop inspected Mr. Good's work, appointed Silas Nalee as catechist, worked hard with his usual devotion in training the choir, married an Indian girl to a Chinaman, and had his first experience of British Columbia rain. As a consequence of exposure to the latter, he spent the Sunday in bed.

We have here the report of a correspondent to a Canadian paper, describing the railway works, to help us in our glimpses of the Bishop's work at Yale.

"A few days ago," he says, "we drove to the engineer's camp about five miles from here. The drive was beyond description beautiful--huge mountains on all sides, and the river foaming below. The waggon-road runs high above the river. One is thankful to have a steady horse and a careful driver; for a shy or a swerve on the part of the horse, and we should be sent hundreds of feet down into the river, running in places at the rate of twenty miles an hour. The water is now fifty feet above what it is sometimes, and in the canons it rises one hundred feet during the freshets. The windings of the road are such that at times there seems to be no outlet, but mountains in front and around, and in some places the mountain quite overhangs the road. The air was heavy with the scent of meadowsweet and syringa, and the ferns were quite beyond description. ... At the engineer's camp, at the special request of the employés, the Bishop of New Westminster held a service, at which every one was present. ... I attended an Indian service this afternoon at which representatives of two different tribes were present. It was a curious sight; some of the women were in fashionable dresses, and others almost in rags. The first prayer was sung beautifully--it was like monks chanting a Latin psalm; but the hymns were pitched too high, and were dreadful. The Bishop preached, and one gentleman interpreted to the Yale Indians, while another translated for the edification of the Spuzzum Indians. . . . It was very amusing to see the Bishop gesticulating and pointing, and then to hear one interpreter in a deep voice repeating the sentence in the Yale tongue, dropping his voice at the end of each sentence; while the other, in highly pitched tones and elevating his voice as he proceeded, gave it in the Spuzzum tongue."

After this, the journey was renewed by canoe to Hope, fifteen miles being made by the two Indian paddlers in an hour and a half. Then Yale was once again reached, and the Bishop shared in the excitement of a big fire. The church and mission house had a very narrow escape, taking fire twice, and being under a rain of cinders; but strenuous efforts succeeded in saving the property. Others were not so fortunate, and, worse than all, two men were so severely burned that they died the next day. The Bishop buried them, and on the same day that he laid them to rest received five members into the Church by baptism.

Agassiz and Chilliwhack are the next places to appear in the Bishop's itinerary, and once more Yale was revisited, and an arduous day was spent by the Bishop in examining and preparing the adult Indian candidates for baptism. An open-air service was held in the evening, and on the Thursday the baptisms were held, also five marriages. These latter convinced the Bishop that, in the case of Indian weddings, a rehearsal was absolutely necessary, unless the officiant had unlimited time at his disposal.

The Bishop returned to New Westminster on August 6th, having fairly tasted of the work before him, at least, in the lower country.

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