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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 IV.


THE month that followed the visitation of the Yale country was spent at home in necessary but prosaic duties, and in establishing some sort of diocesan organization--one day a committee meeting to discuss the condition of the beautiful peal of bells presented by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts for the cathedral; another day arranging for and conducting a service at the Provincial Penitentiary, writing reports for S.P.G., arranging for school-building, rowing up and down the river to take services at the logging camps--at some of which, by-the-by, no one turned up--and so on, ad libitum.

Work of this kind filled up the time till the beginning of September, when a very interesting visitation was made of the Osoyoos country, which may well be described in detail.

The Bishop left New Westminster on September 8th by steamer, accompanied by Mrs. Sillitoe, George the Indian, and "Punch" of the genus Equus.

At Hope a landing was made, and an agreement with the Indians for Antoine and five horses at $4.50 a day, and Susap and one horse at $1.50 a day. In spite of rain the stay at Hope was busily occupied in buying stores, paying visits, administering baptism, and recovering strayed horses.

On Friday the cavalcade started at 7.45 a.m., the Bishop, Mrs. Sillitoe, George, Antoine, and Susap riding, and accompanying them three pack-horses carrying luggage. Twenty-four miles were accomplished during the day--a good distance considering the rain and soft roads. Then came camping out. The night was cold and frosty, and the beds hard to those inexperienced in their use. They are made of twigs of fir or cedar, in the spreading of which the Indians are adepts. If skilfully laid, they form a very easy, springy bed, but woe betide the unfortunate traveller who tries to sleep on a brush bed when not scientifically spread.

Next day, Saturday, Mrs. Sillitoe describes the journey thus--

"Our way was a narrow trail round the mountain side, and there were some frightful places to cross. 'Punch' jumped beautifully with me over a tree lying across the road fully three feet in diameter. It was amusing to see the pack-horses get over. They managed by jumping to get their forelegs over, and were then quite at fault; finally, with their hind legs they scrambled over like cats."

Groves of young fir trees, through which rippled beautiful trout streams, tracts of burnt timber, forests full of grouse, and, moreover, infested with myriads of caterpillars--then the open country at 2 p.m. After this came the descent through a bleached forest full of grasshoppers, and at last the halt at Powder Camp, where the night's camp was made.

On Sunday, after a hunt for the horses and a bath in the creek, service was held in camp, and the day's rest was a welcome preparation for the toil yet to come.

Next day for several hours a very rough country was experienced, but the labour received its recompense when the party entered upon a beautiful open and undulating country like an English park, with this difference, that white pines took the place of the ancestral oaks. In the middle a great herd of cattle was encountered.

Similkameen came in sight during the afternoon from a high bluff overlooking the river, and, after one hour's descent, the river was reached, only to find the bridge broken. Camp was made on the level plateau at 5 p.m.

On Tuesday twenty-six miles were traversed by Five Mile Creek, through the canon, past Indian ranches, over the fork of the stream to a camping-place 2200 feet above the sea. Wednesday's experience was a similar one, ending in a breezy night, during which the would-be sleepers could only watch the straining cords of the tent and wait for the day. On Thursday two divides were crossed, and the first sight was obtained of Osoyoos Lake (790 feet above the sea). Here a welcome rest awaited the travellers, and a hearty reception. On the following Sunday everybody in Osoyoos attended the services.

The Bishop observes that the soil here was apparently barren, but with sufficient irrigation it seemed capable of producing anything. Potatoes were seen weighing three and four pounds each, and garden turnips twenty-seven inches round, while melons and tomatoes ripened freely in the open air.

On Wednesday, September 22nd, Osoyoos was left behind for Penticton, along a good trail across the mountains, with copses in the hollows of the hills, and small lakes full of wild fowl. Rain fell all day, and after twenty-two miles' travelling, even a bad camp, wet, hard, and without brush as it was, proved very welcome.

The Bishop reached Penticton on Thursday, September 23rd, a promising settlement on low land separating Okanagan Lake from Dog Lake. The approach was through a marsh, where the horses sank to their knees in mud. Once arrived, however, troubles were for a while at an end, and the Indian train was dismissed and sent back to Hope.

Leaving Penticton on horses borrowed for the occasion, twenty miles more were accomplished, and a point of the lake reached opposite Mission. No soul was then living within many miles of the house in which the Bishop was staying, and the four younger children of the household had only twice before seen white people other than members of their own family. The Bishop baptized the children, and then proceeded with his journey. The first attempt to cross the lake was unsuccessful owing to the coming on of the darkness, but a second attempt was made soon after, and the Lequines' house reached after some wanderings.

On Saturday a further stage brought the Bishop to Mr. Forbes Vernon's farm in the Mission Valley, where services were held on Sunday in the barn. About twenty men were present, and everything went well with one exception, described by Mrs. Sillitoe--

"A small contretemps occurred during afternoon service in the shape of a hen who, having laid an egg, flew upon some hay to announce the fact, and so persistently and loudly that the Bishop could not proceed with his sermon till she had been turned out. Among other unbidden visitors at the same time were the little chipmunks running lightly and gracefully along the rafters--little animals in size between a rat and a mouse, but in appearance more like squirrels, having long bushy tails."

Mr. Vernon's was left behind on Monday, and Lake Head was reached after a journey of twenty-three miles. The Bishop describes the scenery as being very beautiful, especially near Otter Lake, in which there was a wonderful reflection of the surrounding mountains. Calls were made all along the road as usual.

On Tuesday the Bishop rowed down to the landing, and took passage on the Lady Dufferin down the river to Eagle Pass, and up another long arm to "Cape Horn" through the narrows. All day long the only people seen were one Indian family in a canoe. The Bishop's party had, like the Apostles of old, "forgotten to take bread," and as the boat was scantily provisioned, they suffered some inconvenience, but managed to appease their hunger by sharing some bread and beef with the crew.

Next day at 8 a.m. they entered a small lake, and thence passed into the Thompson River, where they came across an Indian fishing-camp, and witnessed the spearing of hundreds of salmon, although the fish were at this time out of season. One baptism was administered en route.

At 5 p.m. Kamloops, one of the largest towns in the upper country, was reached, and, with a feeling of being once again within the borders of civilization, the party put up at Spelman's Hotel.

Kamloops boasted an hotel, a store, a flour-mill, and a saw-mill; but the Bishop did not stay at this time, taking a drive of forty miles on the Friday to Grand Prairie.

On Saturday the return journey was made to Kamloops, and here on Sunday there was a full day's round of services. The Court House was used as a church, and this in the evening was filled to overflowing. Next day was occupied in visiting, and the Bishop began to give practical attention to the calls he had heard everywhere for a Church school. Large families, he found, were growing up without education for the want of some centrally placed boarding-school conducted on Church lines. A Roman convent school had just been started in Kamloops, but parents naturally objected to send their children there. The Bishop went over this, and he also tried to find some suitable premises which might be converted into a school--with what amount of success we shall see by-and-by.

On Tuesday the journey \vas resumed by steamer as far as Savona's Ferry, where the Bishop stayed for service, and also looked up candidates for confirmation.

The next point was Ashcroft--a very English settlement, for two of the farmers were found keeping a pack of foxhounds with which to hunt the coyotes.

An incident occurred during the stay here which we give in Mrs. Sillitoe's own words--

"Whilst we were sitting in the drawing-room one evening during our stay at Ashcroft, an extraordinary noise was heard. Some supposed it to be an earthquake, but we finally came to the conclusion that it was nothing more than the moving of some chairs or tables overhead. The next morning, however, we heard that the sound had been caused by a tremendous landslip three miles distant from where we were, and which had dammed up the river until it should have forced its way through this immense dam. However, in company with our hosts, we drove to the river to judge for ourselves. We found that the dam was half a mile long and eighty feet high. The river above had already risen forty feet over its usual level, and was almost dry below. As it had still forty feet to rise before it could break through, and as it would then almost certainly carry away the only bridge by which we could cross, we decided on continuing our journey to Cook's Ferry, where we were able to cross safely. It was painful to see the salmon--some floundering in shallow pools, others lying dead in the dry bed of the river."

From Cook's Ferry the journey was resumed to Nicomen, where there were many Indians mining in the river-bed rocks, and from thence to Lytton, the well-known Indian Mission Station, like Yale, under the charge of the Rev. J. B. Good.

Returning, New Westminster was reached on October 25th, after an almost continuous journey of six weeks, and covering nearly eight hundred miles.

The next day the Bishop wrote to England--

"We returned yesterday from our journey through the interior of the diocese; we travelled a distance of over seven hundred miles, through a country very rarely travelled by ladies, and into a portion of which no Church of England clergyman has ever before penetrated. I don't say this to exalt our performance, for in truth the 'hardships' we underwent were rather of a pleasant and exciting character than otherwise; but I want you in England to feel that we do not call upon you for earnestness we do not ourselves endeavour to feel in practice. We do not intend to 'sit at home at ease,' and send you lively reports of wants derived second-hand from the complaints of others, but to go and see for ourselves, and force no demands on your faith and charity beyond what we can make ourselves personally responsible for."

The visitation must have brought cheer to many a lonely settler. Everywhere the Bishop found himself able to supply touch with home. Here he would come across a schoolmaster acquainted with friends in England; here a postman who was an old Woolwich cadet; here a University man, now the solitary inhabitant of a log hut, whose only other occupants were a cat and some chickens; here a blacksmith from a familiar parish in England; and here a Yorkshireman with mutual friends and acquaintances--all ready to give and receive a friendly greeting.

It was a journey, too, which helped to make the Bishop familiar with no inconsiderable portion of his huge and bewildering diocese.

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