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 VII.


THE summer of 1881 was spent by the Bishop chiefly under canvas at Yale, with the special purpose in view of ministering to the spiritual needs of the navvies working on the railway in course of construction at that place.

Yale bore at this time a most unenviable reputation. Pay day was signalized by the most fearful riots, with which the all too slender police force was powerless to contend. Drunkenness and disorder filled the place day and night. Fires kindled by lights held in hands unsteady with drink were of almost daily occurrence, the jail was overflowing, and the justices weary. Tattered, dirt-bespattered drunkards rolled about the streets, wallowing in the mud, cursing and fighting, and driving all respectable people into the recesses of their homes, while saloon after saloon was added to the number, already terribly in excess of the needs of the community.

It was in such a society that the Bishop and Mrs. Sillitoe decided to spend their summer; and as the whole visit has been graphically described by Mrs. Sillitoe, we cannot do better than quote from her account.

"We left home on the first day of June. It was a real June day too, bright and sunshiny. Our first day's journey was not a very long one; it extended only to Maple Ridge, a settlement fifteen miles up the Fraser. The steamer landed us there about 10 a.m., and the captain promised to call for us again on his next 'up trip.' We passed three very pleasant days in this place. The steamer, according to promise, called for us on Saturday morning, and landed us late in the afternoon at Chilliwhack, where we had promised to spend Whitsuntide. Mr. Baskett is in charge of Chilliwhack and the surrounding districts, and we stayed with him at the parsonage."

Here let us interrupt Mrs. Sillitoe's narrative a moment to mention another incident in the Bishop's Sunday work, which illustrates both his manner of dealing with individuals and also the influences against which the Church had continually to be fighting.

An old Indian chief, named Whalem, had been inveigled into joining the Church of Rome, and had been rebaptized. He was also given to understand that his change of religion would result in a speedy recovery from a sickness under which he was suffering. This consummation, however, fortunately or unfortunately, was not realized, and Whalem now desired to be readmitted into the English Church. The Bishop had a long "palaver" with him, and told him that if he returned his recantation must be made publicly, and he must also give substantial proof of his sincerity. Whalem said he was weak and insensible at the time he was perverted, and promised to remain faithful for the future.

This proselytizing by priests of the Church of Rome was often a sore annoyance. Not all the Indians were as staunch as the young chief belonging to Mr. Good's mission, who replied to the priest's assurance that Protestantism would surely end in hell, that if Mr. Good was leading him thitherward, he would go along and take his chance.

But we must return to Mrs. Sillitoe's guidance.

"A picnic had been arranged for Whit Monday, and up to the very time of starting the weather, which for the last few days had been very wet, made us doubt if it would be wise to venture further. We did, however, make a start at 10 a.m., and were rewarded by soon seeing a clear sky. Our destination was Cultus Lake, some eight miles further on. A very slow and jolting ride over some rough ground brought us to the Chilliwhack river--a rushing, foaming mountain torrent. It was decided to have lunch here, and I was considerably surprised to hear that we were to proceed by canoe up the river. This seemed hardly possible. Soon two canoes appeared, each manned by two Indians, who had long poles for punting the canoes along. The canoes were the smallest and crankiest I have been in. Very gingerly we got in, and I was much amused by one of our Indians remarking, 'Hyas cumtax' ('She very much understands'), which referred to the manner in which I got in. The way to get into a canoe is to step in, and without another movement collapse at the bottom. It was very exciting work this making our way up the river. The poles with which the Indians punted bent till one thought they must snap in two. We had to land about a mile before the lake was reached, as the canoe could proceed no further. Following a narrow trail, across which many fallen trees were lying, we were not long in finding Cultus Lake. It is very beautiful, surrounded by mountains, but we had seen finer ones on our last autumn trip in the interior. 'The canoe ride,' as it is termed in this country, was the principal feature on our return journey. We seemed almost to fly through the water, and the skill with which the Indians turned and guided the canoe was simply wonderful.

"We left Chilliwhack on Wednesday afternoon, and were landed at Hope between three and four o'clock next morning. It had been a moonlight night; we had made capital time from Chilliwhack, as we had raced the greater part of the way with a rival steamboat, and we should have reached Hope that night, only that, when two miles short of our destination, some driftwood got foul of our rudder, and for some ten minutes we were at the mercy of the Fraser in full flood, with difficulty avoiding either bank. Then the captain 'guessed we had better tie up,' and proceeded forthwith to do so, much to our chagrin.

"It was useless to undress, as we might at any moment be clear and proceed, so we settled ourselves on a sofa and armchair. The cabin being very near the screw, we required no waking when the vessel began to move on, and, not having any delay occasioned by dressing, we were ready to land at once. We had sent on our tents a week before, and we found them pitched ready for us in a field adjoining the church. They were already occupied by our Chinaman, Sing, who bestirred himself on our arrival, under the impression that it must be quite time to get up. We, however, begged him not to disturb himself or us for the next four hours at least, and then turned in to our couch of fir twigs, fragrant as the proverbial 'roses.' When we had refreshed ourselves with sleep and breakfast, and got all straight, we proceeded to call on all our friends in the village. Our camp consisted of four tents--two of our own and two which had been borrowed. Ours were used as bedroom and drawing-room, the others as dining-room and for Sing to sleep in. All cooking was done in the open air. "The first night in camp is rarely a success, and ours was no exception to the rule. First of all, it rained, and we were not sure that the rain would not find an entrance. In the second place, it blew, and we were not quite sure that the tent would not be blown away, and leave us sub frigido Jove. In the third place, Punch was very restless, and spent the night galloping about, and now and then catching his feet in the tent ropes, and arousing the ire of Sam and Bran, the dogs who shared our calico quarters. Mr. Sheldon arrived next morning, and was not over pleased to find that an Ashantee hammock, in a rather ragged tent, was all the accommodation we could offer him. It still continued to rain very heavily, and, fires having become necessary, the Bishop and Mr. Sheldon had to go into the forest to bring in logs for fuel. But, though fires made our circumstances a little less cheerless, they could not dry a two-acre field, or keep off the rain as we went from tent to tent, so we were always more or less wet. Sing was greatly amused at the hammock having to serve as a bed, and sententiously remarked, 'Him very good catch fish; him no good bed.'

"The weather partially clearing on Saturday afternoon, we took a walk to dry and air our clothes, visiting some falls about three miles distant along the Hope trail, the only exciting incident of our walk being the crossing of a stream on a log which served as a bridge. Just as we had turned in for the night there arrived by steamer from New Westminster a greatly welcomed joint of beef.

"There was every appearance of Sunday being a fine day, despite the fall of the barometer. The services were Matins, Sermon, and Holy Communion at 11 a.m., and Evensong and Sermon at 6 p.m. Before evening the barometer vindicated its character, for the rain fell heavier than before, and our evening congregation was in consequence a small one. So as not to have any cooking on Sunday, we had kept our joint for Monday's dinner, but when Monday came bitterly did we regret this. The first news with which Sing greeted us in the morning was that the joint had disappeared. We wondered whether Punch had been carnivorously inclined, but as our Chinaman said he had noticed a strange dog prowling about, Punch was given the benefit of the doubt. The dog must have been very agile, for the meat was hung at least eight feet from the ground, and Sing's slumbers must have been somewhat heavy, as the dog must have sprung at his prey within a foot of the Chinaman's pig-tail. On Monday afternoon we took another walk, and on our return were told that the dog had again paid us a visit, and this time taken a fancy to our bacon. We thereupon instituted a search to find some traces of the culprit, and had not far to look, for just outside the fence lay the remnants of a bag of oatmeal, which our nimble visitor must, with no little difficulty, have dragged there and contemptuously abandoned, not fancying its contents. The following day, whilst we were out, he again got into the tent, and, finding nothing better to his taste, carried off our bread.

"On Thursday, June 14th, we left Hope by steamer, and in three hours reached Yale.

"Arrived at Yale, our tents were pitched behind the church, and it was not very long before we were straight and snug again."

After describing work in Yale and a temporary return to New Westminster to fulfil various engagements, Mrs. Sillitoe proceeded to describe the departure from Yale in order to be within easier reach of the railway camps.

"These cannot well be worked from Yale, so we found a very good camping ground about seventeen miles off, and by the side of a running stream. On our drive up the heat was intense, and I have never seen anything to equal the clouds of dust we met with. The road the whole way follows the course of the river, which above Yale is a rushing torrent quite unnavigable. The road at the best of times is a very dangerous one, there being nothing, in case the horses swerve or shy, to prevent them rolling down into the river below. Just now it is worse than ever, having been cut up by the railway works and plentifully strewed with large stones from the blasting, operations which they necessitate. It is, moreover, so narrow that one holds one's breath while passing another team. One conveyance stands still on the road's very edge, while the other creeps past on the inside an inch at a time, and with one wheel up the bank. There are places where one may pass more easily, and at these the drivers wait when they see another team coming; but some of the worst places occur where one cannot see ahead, and it is here that there is the difficulty and danger. Another source of danger is to be found in the fact that the blasting is perpetually going on, a loud report and a shower of stones being sometimes the first and only notice you receive of the discharge. I was told the other day by a gentleman in Yale that nobody who can avoid it now drives over the first thirteen miles of the road. 'If you are riding,' he said, 'you can dodge the rocks flying about, but if you are driving you are powerless.'

"The Fraser runs through the Black Canon, about two hundred feet below our camp, and the 'Line' on the other side passes along the face of the mountain, and where even that is impossible, through tunnels. The men are working on small sections, which can only be reached from above by means of ladders in some instances, and in others by ropes. The work consists entirely in blasting. It is a great amusement, as soon as we notice the men beginning to run, to watch the blasts go off. The rocks fly in all directions, and roll down into the torrent below. The day after our arrival we determined to make the tour of the camps. We started about 10 a.m., and had a very hot, dusty walk down to the bridge, a distance of four miles. Here, however, the hard work only began. We called in at 'Camp 8' at the bridge, but the men were just going in to dinner, so we did not stay. At 'Camp 10' there is quite a number of houses. The men there are at work in the big tunnel, sixteen hundred feet long, and several of the officers have their wives living in camp.

"We called on all the wives, had some lunch, and the Bishop arranged for a service on the following Monday. We then proceeded up the mountain, over a fearfully rough trail, with the sun blazing down upon us. A sharp descent brought us to 'Camp 11.' Here I was too tired even to enter, but sat outside in the shade of a tent while the Bishop interviewed the authorities. It was about three o'clock when we trudged on again, climbing up the steep rocky path. The heat of the sun on the one side and of the rocks on the other was fearful, and we were cheered by meeting two men riding, who told us that the worst had yet to come. And so indeed we found it, for the trail continued to ascend almost to the top of the mountains. Here we found the camp of one of the Government engineers, and near it a stream of the coldest and most delicious water I ever tasted. From this point we could look down upon our own camp on the other side of the river, still in a blaze of sunshine, whereas for us the sun had now set. A steep zigzag descent brought us to a fork in the trail, and we had to go about half a mile down the river again to get to 'Camp 12.' Then followed another hard climb, for about three quarters of a mile, and a still steeper zigzag descent brought us to 'Camp 13,' with the most exquisite waterfall I have ever seen. Here we had supper, and promised to pay a visit on the following Tuesday, that the Bishop might hold a service first, and later on in the evening assist in giving the men an entertainment. The boat was soon manned to take us across, a very large one--the A. Onderdonk, named after the contractor for the section, and manned by six men besides the captain. The river is a fearful one to cross, and this is the last of the boats remaining, the rest from other camps having broken away and been carried down. The course taken in crossing is a somewhat erratic one. The crew row for quite a long distance in an eddy up the shore, or rather under the rocks. As soon as they turn to cross, the stream catches the boat, and carries her down at a tremendous rate, the men meanwhile rowing with all their might, the captain steering with an oar. They strike an eddy on the other side, and have to row some distance up to the landing. A walk of about half a mile brought us to our camp, very tired, and very glad to be back again. I am the only woman who has ever walked over that trail, and not many men have done it either.

"We were obliged next day to return to Yale for the Sunday services. We left again at three o'clock on Monday afternoon, and arrived at the big tunnel at six. They had promised to have everything ready for service at seven, to allow our getting to our camp by daylight, but it was eight o'clock before they had the supper cleared away, and the room ready. We employed the interval in seeing the tunnel, going in on a lorry drawn by a mule. They had penetrated to a distance of four hundred feet at either end. The noise inside was deafening, the drills being worked by machinery, and shouting our loudest we could hardly hear one another speak. The men work in two shifts of twelve hours each--the day-shift lasting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with only twenty minutes for lunch, and the night-shift from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. There was a good congregation, which surprised me, as I should have thought that after twelve hours' work in the close atmosphere of the tunnel and the deafening noise of the engine, the men would have been too tired for anything but their beds. We did not get away till 9 p.m., and it was already dark. I cannot say I should wish to repeat that six-mile drive home, for in broad daylight it is bad enough. Twice the horses got frightened and started off, but a good driver and a good brake soon stopped them. In about the worst part of the road two men were lying drunk, and we had to go on the very outside to pass them. Had the horses swerved in the least we must have gone over into the river fifty feet below. We had not much difficulty in finding our tents, and were very glad to turn in.

"Tuesday was a bright day, and we sat under the trees, the tents being unbearably hot, and wrote letters and worked. Shortly before seven we started off for 'Camp 13.' The boat's crew was on the watch for us, and as soon as they saw us began to get the boat ready. She had got below a small 'riffle' in the river, and they set to work hauling her up with a rope, two men in the boat keeping her off the rocks with the oars. Suddenly the rope broke, and off she went with the two men in her at a fearful rate down the river. There did not seem to be a chance for the boat to escape capsizing in such a torrent. We commenced running along the road to watch. The men seemed to keep cool, and guided the boat cleverly past the rocks which stand up in the middle of the stream. Several times the boat got into an eddy, and it seemed as though they might get her to shore, but again the stream caught her, and whirled her along. The excitement of watching was intense. Twice they got into a whirlpool, and the boat spun round like a top. We watched them right through the Black Canon, and then a bend in the river hid them from view, but we continued to run on, remembering a part opposite 'Camp 11,' where the river broadens a little, there is a good eddy, and where Indians can cross in canoes. At one time we saw a log in the stream looking just like a capsized boat; but on we went, hoping almost past hope that as they had got safely through the Black Canon, they might escape, and just opposite 'Camp 11' we saw the boat tied up, looking as quiet and serene as if it were her proper place, and she had not made such a mad rush down the river. The men had landed and started across the trail home. The boat will have to stay down where she is till she can be brought across, and will then have to be carried up the road, which, I imagine, from her size, will be no easy matter. This mishap to the ferry effectually prevented our service, and in fact has cut us off from all communication with the camps."

It is no wonder that, with all the work open to him in Yale and its neighbourhood, the Bishop felt almost overpoweringly the need of more men to take advantage of such grand and pressing opportunities. Before starting he had written--

"Oh, the opportunities Yale just now affords! Hundreds of men are now going up every week, and what can one man do, and he only a deacon? I purpose being there all June and July, but we want ten men, and then we might do something. There is not a fitter illustration in the whole mission-field of the Lord's lament, 'The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.'"

And now that he returned he felt the need weighing on him with a thousand-fold its former force. In writing home an urgent appeal for help, he expresses in striking language his personal sense of the awful burden God had given him to bear in taking the oversight of such a work.

"I have acted," he writes, "and purpose always to act, God helping me, on the principle that the work is not ours, but His; that it is His will the work should be done, that He Himself is the real doer of the work. Only He moves some to come out to the field of labour, while He moves others who stay at home to provide those temporal means which enable the work to be prosecuted. Their obligation is as great as ours, and I doubt not they feel it as deeply. All, therefore, I need do, as God's husbandman, is to mark out the ground, to describe to those at home its character and capacity, and to explain how it may be most profitably tilled. I cannot doubt but that He will direct me in this, and for His work's sake enable me to carry it out. I am not so foolish as to suppose that my judgment will always be right, or my plans always allowed to succeed. We are all apt to lean on the arm of flesh; and so often as this is the case must come failure and disappointment. But guided by the judgment of the All-wise, and relying on the arm of the Almighty, with His glory only in our mind, then the work will be allowed to prosper in our hands, and the dew of the Divine Blessing will rest on it and on us."

Project Canterbury