Project Canterbury

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 V.


WHEN one kind of work was impossible it was the Bishop's happy faculty to turn straightway to that which was possible; and so, when the end of summer made it impossible to do much in the way of up-country travelling, the time had fortunately arrived when it was possible to do most in the cities on the coast.

So, although for the two or three months which closed the year 1880, the Bishop did not go far from New Westminster, yet he had anything but an idle time.

It was a time, too, which was marked by much deepening of the spiritual life in and around him. He knew too well that the only result of activity sometimes is to be "busy, but not for God," and he feared "the barrenness of a busy life" as much as idleness itself. To escape this, it was his constant practice year by year to have a short retreat for himself and his clergy in which they could gather up their spiritual force and gain closer touch with the Source of all power.

This year the retreat was held at Sapperton, commencing on October 30th, and so including the first anniversary of the Bishop's consecration. It was a time deeply appreciated by the wearied workers--one of those times when the human tenderness of our Master is felt, as He says, "Come ye apart and rest awhile."

The Sunday following the Bishop held his first ordination.

It is needless to dwell much on the work of this time, but we may mention that it included the opening of a girls' school, in accordance with the Bishop's earnest desire to establish an educational institution on Church lines, and the taking of the first steps towards the publication of a diocesan magazine.

Beyond this he was hard at work, preaching, organizing, and working everywhere in the neighbourhood, sometimes riding over to Granville, a journey so slippery that many hours were consumed where now we glide over in electric cars in less than one. The snow came on November 30th, but still by stage, canoe, sleigh, or on foot the Bishop accomplished his work.

With the winter well advanced and the engagements in the neighbourhood of the cathedral city fulfilled, the Bishop's desire grew to undertake a winter visit to some of the remoter parishes, and at the beginning of February he started out.

With regard to this trip a local newspaper made the following significant comment:--

"A LIVE MISSIONARY.--The Bishop of New Westminster, accompanied by his wife, paid Yale a missionary visit last week, and held services in S. John's Church. Even hardy pioneers shrank from making the trip at such a season."

But as the reader may like to have some fuller account of this adventurous journey, we cannot do better than quote Mrs. Sillitoe's own description.

"The Bishop had been since Christmas wishing to go to Yale, as Mr. Good was in Victoria with his family, and the place, therefore, was left without a priest, Mr. Blanchard being only in deacon's orders. But the river being frozen, no steamboats were running. Now, to travel the whole distance by road is costly, and occupies a good deal of time. He determined, therefore, to wait till the river should be open, at least as far as Chilliwhack, whence we might get on overland. At last a thaw having set in, with almost incessant rain lasting for nearly a week, the Gem, one of the smallest of the steamers, arrived from above, where she had been for some time frozen in. George, our Indian, was sent into New Westminster, and late in the evening brought us word that the Gem would start next morning for Chilliwhack. It was not till after night-school--which lasts from 7.30 to 9--that we thus learned for certain that we should be able to go. We had consequently not much time to make arrangements for our absence, or to pack up; but packing up is a simple process when one does not take more baggage than is absolutely necessary.

"The Gem did not get off as early as was expected, and it was nearly nine o'clock on Wednesday, February 9th, before she called for us at the Sapperton wharf. Our three dogs very much wished to accompany us. The day was fine but the wind cold. The Gem is not a passenger boat, and has, therefore, no proper accommodation for passengers, but two chairs were provided for us near the boiler, and the officers did all in their power to make us comfortable, whilst they were profuse in their apologies that the accommodation was no better. We had not long started before the tiller-rope broke, and the boat swung in, and threatened to go ashore. The accident was soon remedied, and we steamed on again. Towards one o'clock, feeling very hungry, we began to speculate on the probability of getting dinner, and as we could discover no place resembling either kitchen or dining-room, we considered our chances small. However, at one o'clock dinner was announced, and we followed our guide over bales and boxes of goods, till we reached a small place partitioned off from the engine-room. It could not have exceeded six feet in width, and of this two feet at least was taken up by two bunks, in one of which a man slumbered peacefully. A long narrow slab against the partition was our dining table, and between that and the bunks there was scarcely room to slip in. The Bishop sat on a flour-barrel at the end of the table, and as the machinery was working close behind him, he had to be careful lest his coat-tails should be caught.

"We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner, and soon left to make room for other hungry people, as only five could sit down at once, and there were several other passengers as well as the crew. As our chairs had been taken for the dining-room, I had to ensconce myself on a big case with a bale at my back, and so managed to make myself very comfortable, amused also listening to our very loquacious fireman talking to the Bishop. He was an American, and spoke with great scorn of British Columbia farmers, saying they would stop the boat to send off eleven eggs, and ask if the boat would wait whilst the hen laid another to make up the dozen! I give this only as a good story, not that I would have anything so libellous believed of our farmers. From all accounts they are doing very well now, and if there has been formerly lack of energy, it was for want of a market. We arrived at Chilliwhack at 6 p.m., and found Mr. Baskett on the landing-place awaiting us. A sleigh was soon got ready to take us to Chilliwhack proper, about a mile from where we landed. The mail sleigh left for Yale at eleven the same night, but we had arranged to remain the whole of the next day at Chilliwhack. We spent most of the day on Thursday trudging about in the snow, and visiting whites and Indians. The Chilliwhack Indians want a little 'Church house' of their own, and there was a great deal of talk as to where it should be built and about the cost. The Bishop promised on his next visit to look at the site they propose.

"Our driver wished to start at seven the next morning (Friday), but we objected so strongly that he consented to make it eight o'clock if we would be punctual. He it was, however, who kept us waiting, and it was 8.30 before we made a start. Our conveyance was a very primitive one, a long shallow box on runners, a plank laid across as a seat, and, for my comfort, some hay behind to lean against. The day was very fine, not very cold, and the sun shining brightly. The road not being used except for a short time in winter, when the river is closed by ice, is not kept in repair, and a nice shaking we had, scrunching over stones, through the rocky beds of streams, and over other almost impossible places. There are dips in the road as deep as a ditch, and into these the sleigh goes, standing up on the front end, and then on the back. We had to keep in as best we could, since there was nothing to hold on by. At one place one runner was on the rock, and the other on the ground; the Bishop was on the lower side, and out he was thrown with one foot only left in the sleigh. I followed helplessly, and then came the hay. Happily, we were going slowly, and the driver noticed us, and pulled up. A yard further and we must have been deposited in the bed of a stream, which, although not deep, would have given us an unpleasant wetting.

"Our driver told us there was one 'bad' place, where the road goes round the face of 'Murderer's Bar Bluff.' A few nights before he was driving some of the mail passengers, and seeing they were quietly asleep, intended to drive round without waking them. One man, however, started up just as they were coming to the place, and seeing the character of the road, without a moment's hesitation rolled out at the back of the sleigh. It so happens that just at this part of the road there is no snow, but a smooth sheet of ice, with nothing to prevent the sleigh slipping off the road down into the river below. The sleigh got round safely, but the efforts of the passenger to get around on foot seemed hopeless. So slippery was the ice that he could not even stand, and at last had to take off his boots and follow barefooted till he succeeded in reaching the sleigh. Our autumn trip had made us callous to such places, and we were driven safely round. At three o'clock we reached the Indian village of Oham'l, and there stopped about an hour to rest the horses and get dinner, which was prepared for us by an Indian woman. There were not many people on the road, but we met one picturesque-looking Indian, with gun slung at his back, moccasins on his feet, snowshoes in his hand, and surrounded by five dogs. About 6.30 we reached Hope, the last part of our drive being in bright moonlight. We were tired, stiff, and very cold, but had thoroughly enjoyed our drive. Dock and Boundary, our two steeds, were as pleased as we were to have reached the end of their day's journey.

"The Bishop had arranged that a team should meet us on the other side of the river on the following morning, Saturday, to take us on to Yale, and at half-past ten Captain Bristol, the mail-guard, came to say that a canoe was waiting to take us across. We started on foot over the hard snow, down the steep bank of the river, and then paddled across, landing on the ice on the other side about half a mile higher up. The ice was so slippery and the wind so strong, that had I been left to myself, I should have been reduced to take the same measures as the gentleman going round the Bluff. Happily, there was no necessity for this, as Captain Bristol had provided a small hand-sleigh, on which the Bishop and I seated ourselves, and we were drawn, or rather, the wind blew us, across the ice to the shore. The sleigh which awaited us was of the same description as that we had had the day before, only now it was nearly filled with goods, and we had nothing against which to rest our backs. Twice we had to get out when the sleigh went through streams, the bridges over which had been burned. It was thought more than probable that if we remained in the sleigh we should be overturned into the water. The snow on this side of the river was much deeper than on the other, and for about eight miles we could hardly advance beyond a walking pace. Nearer Yale there had been more traffic, and we progressed more rapidly. We found Mr. Whiteway and Mr. Blanchard at the door of the Mission House to welcome us on our arrival, and very soon we felt ourselves quite at home again. Many Indians came to the Mission House in the course of the afternoon and evening to see the Bishop.

"The following day, Sunday, Holy Communion was celebrated, and other services held for both whites and Indians.

"On Monday the Bishop was occupied the whole day arranging business matters and seeing people. On Tuesday morning we started homewards, the morning being fine and bright, though the East wind was very cold. During the night the thermometer had been as low as 10° Fahr. Thanks partly to the numerous wraps with which our sleigh was provided at Yale, we were warm enough, and the road being in better condition than it had been on Saturday, we managed our fifteen-mile drive comfortably. Soon after leaving Yale, two deer crossed the road a few yards in front of us. At the river, after being again drawn over the ice in a hand-sleigh to the open water, we found the canoe awaiting us, and were paddled across by two Indians. It was no easy matter to climb the steep, slippery path on the other side; but that accomplished, we soon reached the inn, where as usual we received a hearty welcome.

"On Wednesday morning at 7.30 we took our places in the sleigh, this time seated on the bottom, and without any hay for our backs. The bare boards seemed very hard, and every jolt shook us severely. The cold was intense, and we watched the sun rise, first over one mountain and then over another, longing for it to reach and warm us too a little. We had intended to get out and trust to our own legs going round the Bluff, thinking it safer, as one of our horses had lost a shoe. Our driver, however, never stopped, thinking that he could take us safely round. My heart seemed to stop beating as I felt the sleigh sliding, sliding, till one corner where I sat was off the road overhanging the river. The chain which forms a drag round one of the runners turned the hinder part of the sleigh outwards. Happily, the horses kept a firm hold of the ice, and we were soon on safer ground. The road round the Bluff is not more than fifteen feet above the level of the river, but it is directly below, and runs, as at all the bars, very swiftly. The road certainly was worse than when we came up, but on the whole we felt little disposed to quarrel with our jolting.

"We reached Chilliwhack about four o'clock, and found the place in great excitement over a 'Social' that was to take place that night, and at which I had promised to sing. I was very tired, and it was kindly arranged that both my songs should be in the second part, so that we might remain quietly in the hotel during the first half.

"Much to our relief, the Gem arrived that very evening. Ice had formed on the river during the last few cold nights to such an extent that there had been grave doubts whether she would be able to get up. We embarked about nine on Thursday morning, and were soon on our way down the river. There was much floating ice, and, for the protection of the boat, rough planks had been nailed on to the bows. The ice, however, made short work of these. Then they tried lashing two trees at a sharp angle before the bows, but the ice soon cut the lashings through. At Langley there is a small loop of the river, into which the captain tried to go to land the mails, but it was so blocked with ice that this was found to be impossible, and it was a difficult matter to get out again. It took a whole hour to get out where we had been but a few minutes getting in.

"The Gem is not a boat in which one can feel much security. The ice here was but a few inches thick, while that we passed through last year in the Gulf of S. Lawrence was some feet, yet we were in more danger in the Gem than we had been in the Sarmatian. After getting out of our difficulty, and proceeding a short distance down the river, we encountered a fresh obstacle. The ice was closely packed across its entire width. The captain determined to try to get through, but soon found he must back out, and quickly, too, if the Gem was not to be fast shut in, as large masse^ of ice were coming down from above. When, after hard work, we were clear, it was decided to make fast to the shore and wait till the ice broke up. The ice had done some damage, which the crew set to work to repair. We were in sight of Maple Ridge, a settlement where we should have been hospitably received, and should have found comfortable quarters. We made for it, but, alas! there were no means of crossing the slough which lay between us and the wished-for goal, so we had to return to the steamboat, and spend the night on board. The weather had been warm all day, and rain seemed imminent. The captain and the engineer gave up to our use a small cabin on deck, their own sleeping quarters, and into this five persons were crowded. Sleep was out of the question, and at midnight (it was snowing hard), when looking out, I heard a curious roaring sound down the river. The captain came soon after, and explained that it was the tide coming up, lifting and breaking the ice, which by morning would be floated out to sea. He proved to be right, and at 6.30 on Friday morning we made a fresh start.

"The engineer told us that during the night, finding that the boat was making more water than he could account for, he took a light and went round to examine, and found that one of the main planks had been started by the ice, and that but for a coating of ice she would have filled still faster.

"By 9 a.m. we were landed at Sapperton, heartily glad to be at home again, after a trip which, in spite of its roughness, had been on the whole thoroughly enjoyed."

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