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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 X.


THE Bishop only escaped participation in the accident referred to at the close of the last chapter through having been obliged to defer his up-country trip for two or three days, but on October 5th he left home to pay his first visit to the Nicola Valley and Kamloops. A short abstract of this journey is given as follows:--

"After visiting the settlement at Nicola in severe weather, Kamloops was reached on the 18th, and next day a Confirmation was held in the Court House, the Rev. J. B. Good having gone on previously to prepare the candidates. A meeting of Churchmen and others was held on the 20th, at which the Bishop announced that a lady was coming out from England to undertake school work in the district. . . . From Kamloops the Bishop and party travelled to Cache Creek.

"On his way down from Kamloops the Bishop paid a visit to an Indian farm on the south side of the Thompson, nine miles above Cook's Ferry. The farm is in the occupation of a young man named Teetleneetsah (referred to in Chapter VIII.), who, although not the chief of this tribe, ought to be, if intellectual and industrial superiority were among the qualifications for the office. ... A boat had been provided to convey the Bishop and Mrs. Sillitoe across the river, and a salute of an uncertain number of guns greeted them on landing. Teetleneetsah and his wife conducted them with much ceremony to the house, and chairs of state, covered with bear-skins, were provided for them at one end of a large room, Teetleneetsah occupying a place by the Bishop's side, and his wife by Mrs. Sillitoe, while the opposite extremity of the room was occupied by about forty Indians of the neighbourhood, with their chief prominently in front. The room was gaily decked with evergreens, and on the walls were some pictures of no mean order--one a life-size portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, and another a representation of Balmoral Castle; besides which were one or two sketches by the hand of Teetleneetsah himself. After the usual compliments, the chief informed the Bishop that the next building to be erected was a 'Church house,' which they hoped to have ready for use this winter, and they would be glad of a flag and a bell. The Bishop promised to supply these, and then gave a short address, complimenting the Indians generally and Teetleneetsah in particular, on their progress and industry, which, if persevered in, would, he said, enable them in the future to take a position second to none in every useful and profitable pursuit. A short service concluded the proceedings."

Flag and bell were duly sent, and an interesting letter of thanks was received in acknowledgment of the welcome gifts, together with a present of fur for Mrs. Sillitoe.

"89 Mile Ranch, Thompson River,
"January 18, 1882.

"To Bishop and Mrs. Sillitoe, New Westminster.

"We received some time ago the flag and the bell sent us, for which please accept our sincere thanks. Mr. Campbell, of 89 Mile Stables, read us also the piece you put in the Gazette regarding our tribe. We cannot thank you enough for the praises we received, and we will always try to do right towards the white people, and will be most happy to receive another visit from yourself and Mrs. Sillitoe when you will come again on your tour to the mainland. We just commenced to put up the 'Church house,' and we are sawing lumber ourselves--two of us sawing timber and two more putting it up. We had a big meeting on Christmas Eve in Teetleneetsah's house, praying to Jesus Christ, and Teetleneetsah reading to us all he could. We do not forget Sundays; we are holding service every Sunday. We do not forget either the good advice we received from you.

"Simichulta wishes to be remembered regarding what you sent him, and says every time he sees it he remembers you. Also Mrs. Teetleneetsah thanks Mrs. Sillitoe for the work-basket sent her. We would write to you long time ago but we were trying to get hold of something in the shape of fur--a foxskin, silver grey,--but after many hunts all we could get of any account at all was what we send you along with this letter. It is sent by Simichulta, the chief, and Teetleneetsah, second chief, and they will count themselves happy if you will accept it as a small gift, and we are sorry we could not get anything better; and we will be expecting your answer to this short note as soon as convenient, and also your advice.

"The chief Simichulta's youngest daughter is very sick, and two other young lads of our tribe are not keeping well at all for some time back. We are having good winter up here--the mildest for years as yet; our stock is doing very well out on the mountains. We remain

"Your obedient servants.
"X Simichulta's mark,

"X Dick Blimdouse's mark."

Arrived in New Westminster once again, the Bishop found himself confronted by work amply sufficient to keep him busily employed during the winter.

The synod committee kept up meetings as frequently as was necessary, and got through an immense amount of work. There were many different questions needing solution, such as--

1. The expediency of applying for State recognition.

2. The position of the diocese relatively to the mother Church.

The misunderstandings, rife at the time, in connection with the Church in South Africa, made it all the more necessary to proceed very warily. Scylla and Charybdis threatened equally; for, if it were necessary to pay due heed to the special legislative power of the province of British Columbia, it was equally advisable to remember the source whence all the Church's gifts and endowments were derived. The Bishop of Tasmania was at the time declaring that "the 'Church of England' is, outside of England, a misnomer," and was strongly advocating the formation of independent Churches in communion with the mother Church. On the other hand, the Chief Justice of Cape Colony, in alluding to the Grahamstown case, expresses himself thus:--

"I feel bound to express my individual opinion as to the necessity of legislation, whether Imperial or Colonial, to regulate the relative rights of the Church in S. Africa and the Church in England in respect to their endowments under private deeds of trust, and to legalize the transfer, to the Church of S. Africa, of property secured by the law for the uses of the Church of England."

It will thus be seen that the synod committee had thorny work before it, and wise and strong counsels were necessary to prevent the idea of a diocesan synod coming to shipwreck altogether.

It was not till the end of February, 1882, that the draft constitution of the proposed synod was ready for printing and distribution, and the wise step was then taken of calling together a general conference of Churchmen to consider it again.

Of this conference we shall speak in due course, but, in sending out the copies of the draft constitution, the Bishop wrote--

"It is of the highest importance that the constitution of the synod should be adopted by as full a meeting of Churchmen as possible, and it is hoped, therefore, that no one will fail to be present except for the most urgent reasons. It is suggested that Churchmen unable to come should give written authority to sign the constitution on their behalf to some friend who expects to be present."

No more democratic form of government could be imagined than that of a diocese under a constitution drawn up and sanctioned in such a manner.

In other ways, the Bishop was at this time devoting himself to the social and moral development of the laity of New Westminster. Two instances may be mentioned out of many.

First, he flung himself heart and soul into the movement for reducing the number of liquor saloons, by which New Westminster was being demoralized. Fifteen saloons to a population of 2500 seemed a sufficiently large allowance for a not very thirsty community! and so large a provision could only result in bringing many, hitherto strong, within the reach of almost irresistible temptation.

But if in this way the Bishop exemplified his desire to save men from the false pleasure which lured them to perdition, on the other hand he was strenuous in endeavouring to secure for men the true pleasure which would lift up their lives into a region far removed from sordidness and vice. We shall have reason often to mention the passionate love of Bishop Sillitoe for music, and his great gifts in this respect were used in the highest of all ways--the raising of the standard of the Church's service to the highest level attainable with the material at his disposal. There was no recreation so delightful to the Bishop to the end of his days, even when worn with illness and wearied out with a long journey, as to take the conductor's baton, and infuse into the choir of Holy Trinity Church something of his own estimate of the quality of the praise we are bound to offer to Almighty God. And it may also be said with truth that to no one so much as to Bishop Sillitoe is the city of New Westminster indebted for the creation and maintenance of a high musical standard, and a sincere appreciation of the most beautiful among the arts.

It was at the close of this year that a very interesting presentation was made by the Bishop to Holy Trinity Church, New Westminster, a presentation serving to link the church in that old Westminster by the Thames with its smaller namesake on the Fraser, and also connecting the diocese with the illustrious name of Dean Stanley.

During the rectorship of the Rev. John Sheepshanks (now Bishop of Norwich), the church of Holy Trinity had received the gift of a beautiful altar cross from the Mayor of Coventry, in which city Mr. Sheepshanks was preaching for his colonial work. The benefaction, valued as it was by many, was not by any means unanimously approved, and the report of the churchwardens in 1875 announces with sorrow that some sacrilegious fanatic had stolen the cross from the church. According to rumour, it was thrown by the thief into the Fraser, and was of course never recovered. Its place was filled by the best substitute which could be obtained, and no further objections were raised.

In the mean time, however, the see of New Westminster was created, and Dr. Sillitoe appointed and consecrated. In November, 1881, we have the following letter written to the churchwardens:--


"During the term of office of your predecessors, I made them an offer of an altar cross and four pedestals, presented to me by the late Dean of Westminster, England, as a mark of sympathy and union between the old and new cities. The altar cross is made of wood which had formed part of the Abbey of Westminster from the time of King Henry V. The pedestals were those which had for many years supported the altar slab in King Henry VII.'s Chapel. These were valuable gifts, and their value is now increased by the recent death of the donor. It seemed to me that the most suitable place in which we could treasure these mementoes of the old church of England, was the parish church of the chief city of the diocese, and hence my offer. . . . I now hereby renew it to you, and I do so without further conditions than that, with respect to the cross, due precautions shall be taken for its safe custody, and with respect to the pedestals, that I shall be consulted as to the use to which they are put.


The gift was unhesitatingly and gratefully accepted by the churchwardens, and Dean Stanley's cross was placed above the altar, where it stands to-day. It bears the following inscription:--

"Presented to the first Bishop of New Westminster by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster, being a portion of a rafter of Westminster Abbey of the date of King Henry the Fifth."

It will ever remain a token of the famous Dean's breadth of sympathy, and of his intolerance of sectarian prejudice of every kind.

The history of the pedestals referred to is as follows: Up to about thirty years ago there was no altar in Henry VII.'s chapel. The marble slab existed, but the pedestals were missing. Drawings of them, however, were in possession of the Dean, and in accordance with these he had new pedestals modelled and the altar erected. About fifteen or sixteen years ago, in overhauling the contents of a lumber room in the roof of the Abbey, the original pedestals were discovered, and were at once substituted for the new ones, which were given by the Dean to the newly-consecrated Bishop of New Westminster. A further interest attaches to them, inasmuch as it was at this altar (before the substitution of the original pedestals) that the Revisers of the Old and New Testaments assembled for a celebration of the Holy Communion, previously to commencing their labours on June 22, 1870.

Unfortunately no place has yet been found for them in the Cathedral, although it was the Bishop's desire that a new altar should be constructed in which the pedestals should form the supports. It is to be hoped that this wish may in time be carried out.

So the year 1881 passed away, bearing with it its burden of many cares and anxieties, but leaving much good work accomplished, and foundations laid for work yet to come.

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