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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 VIII.


OF the first part of this journey the Bishop gives his own account as follows:--

"We should never have started had we listened to the gloomy vaticinations of anxious friends. They painted the perils of the road in most ghostly colours, and ransacked the pages of history (an unwritten history at present, and existing only in the memories of the 'oldest inhabitants') for illustrations of the dire results of amateur coaching on the waggon-road. All kindly meant, no doubt, but scarcely helpful or to the point. For the point was to get to Cariboo, or rather, Cariboo was the point to get to, and, unless we could drive ourselves, the point was unattainable.

"In the first place, the public stage travels day and night and makes but few stoppages, and would give us no opportunities of making the acquaintance of people on the road, which was an important part of our purpose; and in the second place, the stage charges would be £15 a piece each way, and this was altogether beyond our means. So, having already one horse and what is here called a buckboard, we decided to buy a second horse and drive ourselves, rather than give up the journey.

"It does not take long to buy a horse in this country, and, having had an eye on a particular one for some time, an exchange of proprietorship and £12 made our team complete. On August 12th all was ready for a start from Yale, and with many words of caution, and a farewell almost as sorrowful as an Ephesian elder's, we set out on our drive of four hundred miles.

"There are few things more dull than a diary, and I will therefore spare you the infliction of days and hours further than clearness makes necessary, and aim rather at a connected narrative broken chiefly by Sundays, and otherwise only as interest shall seem to warrant.

"The first fifty-seven miles of our journey lay through the Fraser Canon, a narrow gorge in the Cascade Mountains, through which the river has at some time forced a passage by some power which it seems a weak expression to call supernatural. Here is a river five hundred and fifty miles from its source, without reckoning its windings, contracted between sheer rocky walls that approach each other in some places within fifty yards. Its depth is unknown, for so impetuous is the current that the heaviest plummet is carried furiously away before it can reach the bottom. And this at the lowest stage of water; while in June and July, when the winter snows are melting, there is in some parts of this canon a vertical increase of water to the extent of ninety feet. It is scarcely conceivable that salmon can make head against this torrent dashing along at the rate of eighteen or twenty miles an hour, with long stretches where the straight walls offer no opportunity for an eddying resting-place. And yet in every little eddy they were to be seen in such marvellous numbers that I am almost afraid to speak of them lest I should be accused of romancing. There was positively not room enough for them; they jostled one another out of the stream; in fact, there was more fish than water. Supposing a tub were filled with salmon, and then as much water poured in as there was room for--this would give you an idea of the appearance of the eddies as we saw them during the whole course of our first day's drive. Perhaps even a more striking illustration of the abundance of the fish is afforded by the fact that the Indians were selling them to the canneries for one halfpenny each. We get them even cheaper than that, for there is a cannery within a hundred yards of our house at Sapperton, from the proprietor of which we have carte blanche to send for a salmon when we want one. Unfortunately, we are away from home during the best of the season, and although, up-country, at roadside houses there is the same cheapness, and you get salmon at breakfast, dinner, and supper--toujours saumon, in fact--yet the culinary arrangements have the Chinese stamp too rudely impressed upon them, and one never sees a boiled fish.

"... If the character of the river is extraordinary, equally so is that of the road, and, to people with nerves, equally terrible. There are places here and there where the river is lost sight of, and the road passes safely enough through woods which form a perfectly secure barrier on either side, but for the most part the canon is so narrow and the cliffs so precipitous that the road had to be cut out of the rock, and in some places the rock is not only beneath one's feet and on one side, but overhead as well; while, on the other hand, the Fraser is sometimes so near that in high water it overflows the road.

"Here and there bluffs formed by spurs of the mountains have proved impassable by excavation, and then the road is built out from the face of the cliff and supported by struts. There are two such places between Yale and Lytton--China Bluff and Jackass Mountain--and after driving four times over them last year, I don't mind acknowledging that nothing could induce me to do it again but the call of duty. The risk is too great to run except of necessity. Not that these particular places are the most dangerous, for one may just as well fall five hundred feet as fifty. But the danger is more obvious. It is pressed rather too forcibly upon one's attention, and suspended conversation, a moment's introspection, a quick glance over horses and harness and wheels, and a 'taking fresh hold,' generally of things inward and outward, teach one with a force often wanting in sermons that 'there is but a step' between life and death. The width of the road is eighteen feet, ample enough--it might be supposed--to drive upon, and perfectly secure if it were across a plain, just as a plank is wide enough to walk upon when it lies upon the ground. But elevate the plank twenty feet above the ground and flank it with a wall, and it takes a Blondin to traverse it successfully.

"And so this eighteen-feet road, with a precipice on one side and an abyss on the other, seems to dwindle to a ribbon under the most favourable aspect, and it becomes something very little short of appalling when one comes face to face with ten yoke of oxen and a pair of freight waggons. By the rule of the road the heaviest team always takes the inside, and the oxen therefore invariably go to the wall. The light team looks anxiously for a lucky spot where nature or accident may have added a few inches to the width, and there, pulling up, awaits the rencontre. The dangers of the road teach men consideration, and in all our travelling up and down, we could name but one instance of anything but the most uniform courtesy and goodwill.

"An amusing circumstance which occurred on one of the first days of our drive illustrates the primitive character of the administration of justice in the country districts of the province. We had passed without stopping at a farmhouse where a number of people were assembled, and had driven on perhaps half a mile, when a shout behind us drew our attention to an Indian furiously galloping in our wake. We pulled up and allowed him to overtake us, and he handed me a scrap of paper on which was written, 'Have you got a Bible with you?' My acquaintance with Chinook is still in its infancy, and, though not a complicated language, its intelligibility was not increased by the gasping utterance of a man out of breath with hard riding, and I utterly failed to elicit from the messenger any explanation of the purpose of his mission. However, the fact that a Bible was in requisition was sufficient reason for turning back, and fortunately we had been overtaken at a portion of the road where turning back was not an impossibility. Arrived at the farmhouse, we found a court sitting, and a magistrate hearing a complaint of assault. The magistrate was a teamster. He had come along that morning in the course of one of his journeys, not expecting to be called upon to exercise his judicial functions, and was unprovided with the legal instrument for administering oaths. The farmhouse being equally unproductive, the course of justice seemed likely to be arrested, when lo! a deus ex machina! A bishop surely must have a Bible with him! But since the machine was whirling away the deus at the rate of eight miles an hour, it was necessary to send post-haste after him, and there was no time for more than the brief message we received. We soon had our 'pack' unstrapped, and produced the book, and when the witnesses had been sworn, left the court sitting, and went our way.

"Magistrates are not always so particular as this as to the character of the volume used on such occasions. There is a tradition that the book long used in one of the courts of this province was a copy of 'Gulliver's Travels,' and that the mistake was only discovered by a Jew, who, a little fastidious about kissing the New Testament, opened the volume that he might get at the right end, and naturally objected to swear on it at all.

"The second day out from Yale we reached Lytton, the dreariest, dullest, and driest place in the country. A great scarcity of water prevails, and there is consequently but little cultivation. Five days out of six a strong wind prevails, and the sand gets into one's eyes, and into one's throat, and down one's neck, and plays havoc with one's temper, and since the hotels are the worst managed houses on the road, one has comfort neither indoors nor out. Nevertheless, we were obliged to spend a Sunday there on the Indians' account. We had Matins and a Celebration in the court house for the white people at nine o'clock, and service in the Indian church at eleven. The native catechist said prayers in the Indian tongue, and then I celebrated Holy Communion, administering to twenty men and eight women--as devout a body of communicants as I ever ministered to. I could not preach, however, for want of an interpreter, the catechist not being yet competent for the office.

"We drove on in the afternoon seventeen miles to where there is a cluster of houses occupied by the C.P.R. engineers and their families. Here we had evensong, and I preached.

"We had now left the valley of the Eraser, and were following the Thompson. The Thompson River is chiefly interesting in a missionary point of view from the fact that it is the central field of our Indian Church work. From a few miles above Yale to Lytton, and then branching off in two directions up the Fraser and Thompson Rivers to Lillooet and Kamloops respectively, one language prevails, called commonly 'Thompson,' but more correctly, 'Neklakapamuk.' Into this language the greater part of the Prayer-book has been translated and printed through the instrumentality of the S.P.C.K. During fifteen years these people have been under instruction, so far as one missionary could cover so large a district. Churches exist in many of the villages, and a kind of service is held regularly by the chiefs and head men of the tribes, although they can do no more than repeat memoriter what they have learned at the mouth of the missionary, no opportunities of secular instruction having been afforded them as yet by Church or State. That they are capable of such is evidenced by the fact that there are individuals who by their own endeavours have learned both to read and write. A remarkable instance of this natural ability is furnished by a young man of whom I have frequently written. John Teetleneetsah lives on the Thompson, a few miles above Spence's Bridge. There he has built himself a house more comfortable than many in which white men live. He frequently writes me letters on the subject of his farm and about Church matters in his neighbourhood. This mission has been carried on by the Rev. J. B. Good, who has just resigned. I earnestly hope an endeavour will be made to establish a new departure, and provide these Indians with the one thing they require to lift them above their present civilization, namely, simple but efficient secular education.

"This is all, however, by the way. We are on the road to Cariboo, and must get forward.

"Two days' journey from the Thompson River brings us to Clinton, a busy little town almost in the centre of the province. It has two hotels, a large store, a school, and a court-house. Alas! no church. It is very prettily situated in a broad valley at an elevation of three thousand feet above the sea, and has a climate so bracing and dry that the inhabitants enjoy a perfect immunity from all those varieties of domestic insect life which sometimes seriously embitter existence on a lower level.

"... They have never had a resident clergyman or minister of any kind in Clinton, but depend for religious services upon the stray visits of missionaries located in districts around. If I am successful in establishing a mission station at Kamloops, Clinton can occasionally be served from there.

"Immediately on leaving Clinton, the road enters what goes by the name of 'Green Timber,' a high tableland about fifty feet across, covered chiefly with low brushwood, and abounding in lakes. At present wholly unutilized and too elevated for grain produce, this district might, at small expense, be made available for the pasture of unlimited herds of cattle in the days, not far hence, when bunch-grass shall have become extinct.

"I must not omit to notice in the interest of lovers of nature a most remarkable natural feature about fourteen miles from Clinton, called by the people 'The Chasm.' It consists of a deep fissure of rock about fifteen hundred feet wide at the top and about nine hundred feet deep. The road passes round the point of its commencement, and from thence one looks along the length of it a distance of about a mile, though it is said to extend much further. The sides of the chasm are perpendicular cliffs of rock for about halfway down, below which sand blown over the edge on either side has accumulated in sloping banks, on which is a growth of fir trees. The cliffs are clean cut, but here and there on the face of them are patches of a smooth and rounded character, evidently acquired under the action of fire. The cliffs themselves are of sandstone, with veins (apparently) of iron running through them at various heights. Along the margin the ground seems full of human bones in larger and smaller fragments, with specimens here and there of pointed flints. I hazard no conjecture on the origin of this wonderful freak of nature or its ghastly accompaniments. I am not afraid to be silent when more scientific heads than mine have been puzzled.

"On emerging from Green Timber we come upon a beautiful open country of rolling hills, of which Lake La Hache forms a kind of centre. Here agriculture and dairy farming are in full force, and nothing is wanted but a market to multiply a hundred-fold the present produce of the district. Cariboo is at present the farmer's only market, the cost of freight being too high to enable them to compete in the lower country, and unfortunately the Cariboo market is failing, for the reason that mining itself is failing, chiefly from want of encouragement by the Government. This was our second day from Clinton, and we had driven since morning forty-six miles, when we arrived at a comfortable farmhouse by the roadside, occupied by a large family of Church people. This was a log house, most substantially built, consisting of one great room in front, which served for dining-room by day, while round it were ranged, head to foot, clean, inviting looking beds to be occupied by the men of the family by night, and a wide open fireplace at one end, in front of which an ox could have been roasted whole; behind this room were three or four smaller rooms and a kitchen. Just the kind of place to reach late at night, tired and hungry, where one can feel the horses will be well looked after, and can sit down by the fire while the good wife prepares a supper of 'bunch-grass' beef of their own rearing, with wholesome homemade bread and rich butter and cream, all made pleasanter by the welcome, not only expressed, but made evident in the kind faces and manner of host and hostess, and the interest manifested by them all in one's self and journey.

"On the next day, by the margin of the lake (wherein are to be caught trout of from fifteen to thirty pounds in weight!), we passed through the same open rolling prairie country, with a farmhouse every six or seven miles, and great fields of grass and oats ready to gather for the harvest. Then across another 'divide,' and down once more into the valley of the Fraser at Soda Creek, about two hundred miles higher up its course than where we left it at Lytton.

"It was Sunday again, and we gathered a congregation in the large room of the hotel, our numbers being augmented by the arrival during the day of the mail from Cariboo. A scarcity of Prayer-books prevailing, the service partook of a somewhat old-fashioned 'parson and clerk' character, the latter role being courageously and indefatigably sustained by Mrs. Sillitoe.

"For the next two days our road lay along the river--sometimes on the very brink, sometimes high up the benches or terraces, which are a peculiarity of this river and its tributaries. . . . They are of sand and gravel, and full of gold, for which they are being worked profitably by Chinamen in many places, but the proportion of dirt to gold is so great that a large supply of water is absolutely necessary, and until means are devised for cheaply pumping the Fraser water to the level of the benches, mining operations will not be extensively pursued.

"Fifty-four miles separate Quesnelle Mouth from Soda Creek, and along the road are some of the largest and most prolific farms in the province. Oats are the chief production, but wheat, too, will ripen in most seasons, though early frosts sometimes surprise it. The fields are of prodigious extent, and though not so large as many in California, are to be found not infrequently of a hundred, a hundred and fifty, or even two hundred acres. Quesnelle Mouth is the junction with the Fraser of another large river which drains the western slope of the district of Cariboo. It is the chief forwarding station for the supplies of the Hudson Bay Company's stations in the north, and though still a town of some consequence, its fortunes have waned through the establishment of depots on the coast, and the advantages of quicker and cheaper communication by sea. Its enormous distance from the more settled parts of British Columbia completely shuts it out from any share in general trade. It is nearly two thousand feet above the level of the sea, and before us was an ascent of two thousand two hundred feet more in the sixty miles that still separated us from Cariboo.

"We had not appreciated the elevation much before, but now every mile seemed to make a difference. We had lovely weather, and the road was mostly smooth and hard, and driving in the dry, bracing air was very exhilarating. Moreover, a drive of four hundred miles is not an everyday occurrence, and now it was drawing to a close our hearts were naturally lifted up with thankfulness for the abundant prosperity and gracious protection accorded to us, and occupied besides with bright anticipations of the place and people we had come so far to see."

Here the Bishop's description stops. A drive of twenty-six miles on Wednesday brought him to Boyd's, and the next day, starting off at 8 a.m. and visiting various farmhouses by the way, he succeeded in getting over the remaining thirty-four miles, and reached the residence of Judge McCreight at Richfield by evening.

The description of the journey is thus completed by Mrs. Sillitoe--

"We had just one week to stay in Cariboo, and we began our visit very lazily, for our first evening was spent sitting over a fire and talking with our host. Although it was August, there were sharp frosts every night, and there seemed little prospect for the strawberry crop in the garden outside, for the plants were only just coming into blossom, while the first radishes of the season had that day been pulled for us. A night's rest, however, in such a climate, over four thousand feet above the sea level, made us as brisk as possible again.

"Our first visit was to S. Saviour's Church, which stands in the middle of the street at one extremity of the queer-looking town of Barkerville, which in the irregularity of its houses resembles in many respects an old German village. The church and the houses are all on stilts (so to speak) of various heights, for the reason that the process of hydraulic mining above the town is gradually washing the mountain into the creek below, and every year when the freshet comes down, it brings with it and leaves behind a large deposit of debris, locally called 'tailings,' which during the last twelve years has raised the bed of the creek twenty feet above its original level. The town, built in the first instance on the margin of the creek, has had to be raised correspondingly, but the houses being of wood, this is not a difficult matter. One store building that could not be so treated is now buried up to the roof. The side-walk is from six to ten feet above the level of the street, and varies with the height of the houses, so that walking along one is constantly ascending or descending a few steps, and it is necessary to keep a careful look out. Besides which, in many places the side-walk comes to a sudden end, without any warning or any barrier to prevent one tumbling over into the road below. How they manage in high water, when the street becomes a rushing stream, I don't know, but I heard of two children falling off and being nearly drowned before they were seen and rescued.

"The church was built eight years ago, and it was only used during one winter, and has since been shut up. In spite of this it looks as new as though it had just come out of the builder's hands.

"The services during our stay were remarkably hearty, and seemed to express the thankfulness of the people for again being able to take part in the services of their church. It made us regret that our stay was to be so short. On Sunday evening there was a general request for another service on the following Wednesday, with which the Bishop of course complied. The altar was covered with a dilapidated red cloth, and the alms dish was an old tin plate. A concert had been arranged to take place the evening of our last day in Barkerville, towards raising funds for putting down a second floor to the church, and repairs to the adjoining rooms. Mr. Blanchard, the clergyman in charge of Yale, had shortly before been up to Barkerville, and as the result of his visit, a petition had come to the Bishop for a resident priest, and a list of subscriptions towards stipend amounting to over $800. . . . The Bishop promised that as soon as the Yale Mission station could be filled, Mr. Blanchard should be at liberty to proceed to Cariboo. . . .

"But to return to our doings. Early in the week we visited a mine about six miles distant. We had dinner in a miner's cabin, and though we were unexpected, the dinner that was very soon ready seemed almost the work of a conjuror. Chicken, beef, strawberries, and peaches were among the delicacies set before us (all canned, of course), and tea, without which no meal is complete in this country. After dinner we went down the 'Brothers' mine on Jack o' Clubs Creek. It is one hundred and eighty feet deep. We saw the process of getting out the earth and sending it to the surface to be washed. Some of it was 'panned' out, as it is termed, for me, and, much to the annoyance of the miners, who are most generous, the pan showed but few 'colours.' Still I carried away with me some specimens of gold dust. The 'Brothers' mine connects with the 'Sisters,' and we crawled through the low passage between the two, and came up to the surface by another shaft. Next day we went to see the wash-up of an hydraulic claim, and the same day went down another shaft, popularly known as 'slum tunnel' from the amount of slime and mud in it. I brought away two very pretty specimens of gold.

"On Wednesday night the church was crowded for service, and so on Thursday night was the 'Theatre Royal,' a large building put up years ago for theatricals and concerts, not only all Barkerville, but numbers from the surrounding creeks, some six or eight miles distant, being present, besides a large number of Indians. The dogs had all accompanied their masters to the concert, and loudly joined in the applause. All efforts to quiet them or turn them out only made matters worse.

"We left Richfield on Friday, and a large party assembled to see us off. Just before starting a note was brought me, which, upon opening, I found to be from the principal residents asking me to accept a beautiful gold nugget, the largest found in the 'Brothers' during our stay in Cariboo. This nugget I have now in the shape of a bracelet, made as a broad gold band, with 'Cariboo' in raised letters on it, and I shall always greatly value it in remembrance of our first visit. We stayed for a few hours in Stanley, and spent the night at Beaver Pass, a few miles further on. Next morning, before starting, the Bishop married a couple. Sunday we spent at Quesnelle Mouth, holding services in the schoolroom, and the congregation was so large that many had to leave, not finding room. Our journey down was not so enjoyable as that on our way up.

"From Quesnelle Mouth to Clinton we had rain every day, and the roads were so fearfully muddy that we were obliged to walk the horses nearly all the way. The drivers of ox-teams told us they could only make four or five miles a day, having constantly to take the oxen out of the one waggon to hitch them on to the other team.

"We spent Sunday at Clinton, where the Bishop had Celebration and Morning and Evening Prayer. We reached Boston Bar on Wednesday night, and here made arrangements to leave our horses, as we were to return in a week for our journey through the Nicola Valley. The stage was quite empty, so we ascended to the very elevated seat beside the driver. Our friends need not have been so urgent on us to go by the stage and so avoid the great danger of driving ourselves, for we encountered more dangers in the twenty-five miles in this conveyance than on all the journey beside. Twice we were very near having an accident--the first time from a blast going off below us without any warning, so close as to blow the dust right in our faces, and of course frightening the horses; and a little later, while quietly driving along, a nut came off the whiffletree and fell on the heels of one of the leaders, and then the more he kicked the more the whiffletree flapped about, frightening both him and his three companions, till they galloped off, and it was some time before the driver could get them in hand again. Fortunately, the stages are very heavy and have powerful brakes, otherwise we should have been over the bank before the horses could have been stopped.

"We arrived in Yale late that afternoon, and the steamer landed us in New Westminster next evening. We were very glad to have a few days at home again."

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