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 VI.


IT is not to be expected that a Bishop's work, any more than any other man's, can be always interesting. There are those who fancy that the life of a missionary in foreign parts, and particularly that of a missionary Bishop, must be one long series of exciting and thrilling adventures. Unless these are forthcoming, the idea gains ground that there is not much in his work after all. It is difficult to see why more should be expected of the daily life of a colonial missionary than of a clergyman at home, except in so far as he may move among new and unexplored surroundings. Drudgery comes alike to all, and no novelty of environment, no romantic scenery, no peril of travel, can save a biography from being for the most part a record of duties performed over and over again, till every charm is gone from them, except that which belongs inherently to duty done for duty's sake.

So the spring of 1881 passed quickly with Bishop Sillitoe, in routine work of that uninteresting but necessary kind by which, more than by any brilliant exploits, the foundations of dioceses are well and truly laid. There was abundant parochial work, both at Sapperton among his own special flock, and at New Westminster, where he was an ever-welcome assistant to the Archdeacon. The arrangement of Lenten work afforded employment dear to the Bishop's heart, for in that which concerned the deepening and strengthening of spiritual life in the hearts of earnest and sincere believers, he ever found a peculiar joy. Mission work was dear to him too, but he did not allow it to blind him to the needs of the growing Christian, nor did he ever permit his public work to distract his attention from that which must be done more or less in private in dealing with individual souls.

A night school at Sapperton, at which there was an average attendance of about twenty, occupied the Bishop and Mrs. Sillitoe several evenings a week, and then there was the rowing here and there, up or down or across the river, to visit lonely settlers, hold services wherever such could be arranged, and consult with fellow-workers as to the extension of the work.

On Sunday, March 13th, the second ordination was held at New Westminster, when Mr. Bell was ordained deacon, and the Rev. G. Ditcham raised to the priesthood. During the preceding Ember week, the whole clerical staff of the diocese, supplemented by Mr. Bell and Mr. Whiteway, assembled at S. Mary's Mount. The early days of the week were spent in the examination, conducted by the Archdeacon of Columbia; Thursday was devoted to the reading and discussion of the Epistle to the Philippians; and Friday was observed as a day of retreat and devotion, addresses being given at intervals by the Archdeacon and the Bishop.

The two newly ordained clergy went out at once to their work, and the Bishop, after making arrangements for a conference of Church people to be held in the autumn, quickly followed on a round of spring visitations. The following extracts from letters of Mrs. Sillitoe's will give some idea of the general character of these visits. The picture of the Bishop in the kitchen blacking boots, as given in the first extract, and that of his helping to put out a fire in the third, will afford to the uninitiated some valuable glimpses into the daily life of a colonial diocesan.

However, we will let the letters tell their own story.

"April 23rd.--We left Sapperton last Saturday, and the steamer landed us at Chilliwhack the same afternoon. Mr. Baskett was at the landing, and we were driven to the parsonage by the chief farmer of the settlement. You may like to picture us in our morning's occupation at the parsonage. The Bishop is in the kitchen blacking boots; Mr. Baskett also there washing up the breakfast things; I am sweeping out the dining-room and doing our bedroom. We were driven on Tuesday to a farm to inspect a cow we were thinking of purchasing, but she proved too expensive. As we were returning, a lynx or panther ran across the road in front of us, and then doubled back again behind the waggon and into the woods. We unfortunately had no gun with us. In the evening, whilst we were taking part in an entertainment held at the school towards providing funds for completing the parsonage, there was an alarm that the parsonage itself was on fire. Off we rushed, splashing through the deep puddles in the school-yard, through a hole in the fence, only to find it was a false alarm. On Wednesday we left in a canoe for Maple Ridge. The Bishop's throat was still so bad that we should have postponed our visit there, only that he had been obliged to disappoint them on a former occasion, and was determined not to do so again. Captain Jem, an old Indian, and his wife Susan were the paddlers. Their two small children had to accompany us, as they could not be left at home alone. There was a third paddle, which the Bishop and I took by turns, and we became quite skilful in handling it. We left Chilliwhack at 9 a.m., and did not reach Maple Ridge till 6 p.m., very tired and cramped and cold. The cost of the canoe was six dollars, so you see how expensive travelling is out here. We ran against a snag (a log, one end of which is fast in the river bottom, the other end slanting up out of the river), but our Indian woman was equal to the occasion. With bare feet she climbed on to the snag, pushed the canoe off, and then jumped or rather crept back again. We had service on Thursday morning at Maple Ridge, and in the afternoon went about four miles up the river, landing on the other side at Derby to see a church and parsonage built there about twenty-one years ago, when that place was selected for the capital. I cannot say much for the architectural beauty of the church, but it is in good repair. The boat we went in was of the very crankiest description, dug out of a log, and it leaked so much that the Bishop and I had to bale the whole time. I am not given to be nervous, but I own to having felt very thankful to be on dry land again. Immersion in the Fraser means almost certain death, even for the best swimmers, the water is so intensely cold, and the undercurrent very strong."

On May 6th the following programme is outlined:--

"We are off to-morrow for Trenant, staying there till Tuesday; the following Sunday we shall be at Burrard Inlet for the dedication of the new church. The third Sunday in May we shall be at home, and on the last Sunday go down the North Arm. After that we go up the river, and shall be at Chilliwhack for a Sunday, and then go on to Hope, where we intend to camp out under canvas for some time; thence on to Yale, where we shall be for the two last Sundays in June."

The visit to Trenant, or Ladner's Landing, as it is generally called, is referred to in a letter under date of May i6th.

"On Saturday, May 7th, we left by the steamer, taking our horse Punch with us, and in almost an hour reached Trenant. In the afternoon I rode Punch and the Bishop Mr. Bell's horse to make a few visits. The corduroy roads are bad enough, but where not so made are still worse. It is not till May that people can ride at all without getting 'mired.' The Bishop's horse in one place refused to jump a ditch, and walked deliberately into the mud, into which he disappeared all but head and shoulders, the Bishop having only just time to roll off first. We got back at 8.30, tired with our long day, including a rough ride of fifteen miles. Next morning, Sunday, after eleven o'clock service at the school, the Bishop and Mr. Bell rode to Mud Bay, fifteen miles distant, for afternoon service. I could not go for lack of a third horse to ride. This was a very tiring day for the Bishop, not so much from the length of the ride (thirty miles), as from the nature of the roads making the riding very slow. The following day, Monday, I was able to borrow a horse, and we all three rode out to a small hill, which it is wished to obtain as a cemetery, and then on to a cannery further down the river, returning to Trenant by water. On Tuesday afternoon we were to return home, and there being no particular business cut out for that day, we congratulated ourselves on the prospect of a quiet time till two o'clock, when the steamer would call. The Bishop had just sat down with his book, and I with my work, when the lady in whose house we were staying rushed in to say the next house was on fire. Off we flew, and found that Mr. Bell had just arrived before us. All three then set to work to extinguish the fire. There was only one man on the premises, working in the garden; the owner of the house was absent at his cannery, and his wife, who was at home with a three-year-old child, was naturally very much alarmed. Mr. Bell got through a trap-door between ceiling and roof, and the Bishop on a ladder outside. There was a difficulty in getting water, as the tide was out, and I had to cross a shore of soft mud. We managed to extinguish the fire before aid came from the cannery, though but for our being on the spot the house must have been burnt down."

On Sunday, May 15th, S. James' Church, Granville, was dedicated, and proved the commencement of a great work, one of the most important in the diocese. The Bishop, accompanied by the Rev. G. Ditcham, was met at the church doors by the members of the church committee, and the service of dedication then took place. Immediately after Holy Communion was celebrated, the Bishop being both celebrant and preacher. The church was much admired, and was declared to be a credit both to the architect and to the diocese. It is worthy of note that the Communion vessels used, a handsome double set, including alms dishes, were presented to the diocese by the Rector of S. James', Wednesbury, England. They were afterwards burnt in the Vancouver fire in 1886.

The visit to the North Arm of the Fraser River is thus described by Mrs. Sillitoe--

"May 28, 1881.--We started from here yesterday morning at nine o'clock in a little steamer, the Princess Louise, which carries cargo. The crew consisted of the captain (a German) and his two sons, one of ten years old, who was steersman, the other of twelve, who was engineer. As rain was falling heavily, we had to take shelter in the pilot house; but before long the weather cleared, and the sun broke out. After various stoppages to deliver cargo, we arrived at 12.30 at the house of an English family, with whom we were to stay that night. The Bishop had promised when next he went up the North Arm to visit the Indian chief at his ranche. So after dinner we again started in the steamer. Though the distance in a direct line to the chief's residence is very short, yet, there being no road, and the ground very soft, we had to go a distance of eight miles by water before reaching his ranche. A shrill whistle from the steamer brought down Pete, who piloted us through a very soppy meadow to the chief's house. Similano, the chief, and his wife Sh'alee, came out to meet us, and after shaking hands, we went into the house. We were ushered into a large room, with a kind of bunk running all round. Bunk and walls alike were covered with matting, which the Indians make. The matting was so clean that I seated myself without hesitation, while the Bishop (through an interpreter) talked with Similano, Sh'alee in the mean time squatting on the not too clean floor. She had her hair hanging down in two plaits, the parting dyed a deep brown. After a while I expressed a wish to see the blankets they make from the hair of the mountain goat, and Sh'alee fetched two bright-coloured mats--curious, but not very pretty. All round the room were bundles of reed mats. George, the engineer, told me that they are kept for a potlatch, the Chinook word for a gift. (Cultus potlatch is the expression for a gift, no return for which is expected.)

"A potlatch is a large party to which the giver invites all his tillicums (friends), and gives away his presents. Sometimes it is a flour potlatch, when numbers of bags of flour are given away, sometimes blankets or mats. At one potlatch I heard of lately, two hundred pairs of blankets were given away by a chief. The giver is no loser, as he seems always to get an equivalent at other potlatches.

"Our visit ended, we shook hands all round and left. Noticing outside a strong platform on high poles, we found on inquiry that at a potlatch the blankets are thrown from this platform, and scrambled for by the guests. We examined curiously some canoes in process of manufacture, being dug out of the trunk of a tree, and our remarks afforded Similano great amusement, making him go off into fits of laughter. We did not get back from our expedition till seven o'clock.

"The following morning, Sunday, we started at half-past nine for the church, picking up on the way, as we did again in the afternoon, various boat-loads who would form the congregation.

"In the evening we again embarked, and steamed up the river homewards, arriving about eight o'clock."

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