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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 XIII.


THE year 1883 was one of very great activity and considerable progress, marked by a very extensive journey into the interior, and by a new start in the important Indian missions at Yale and Lytton. Many other incidents of the year are deserving of notice, but we must pass them by with only the briefest mention. The Bishop was able this year to carry out the project (long entertained) of opening a boys' school at New Westminster, and, on All Saints' Day, Lome College was inaugurated with good (though, unfortunately, delusive) prospects of success. Confirmations were held as usual in various parts of the diocese, and two ordinations at New Westminster, at which three clergy were added to the working staff of the diocese. The annual meeting of synod was held in October, when a very important charge was delivered by the Bishop, dealing with the financial position of the diocese, the appointment of attorneys for S.F.G. for the diocese, the marriage laws, and other pressing questions. On the vexed question of his financial responsibility, the Bishop spoke very strongly, as was only too necessary. Yet, after ten years, this question was still the canker eating away at the Bishop's heart, and it is not too much to say that the worry consequent on financial difficulties did more than physical disease to shorten the Bishop's life.

The return of Archdeacon Woods from a busy tour of deputation work in England, towards the beginning of June, opened the way for the Bishop to make his long-contemplated visit into the remote interior of the diocese.

A start was made, even before the Archdeacon's return, early on the morning of May i6th, when the Bishop and his indefatigable wife left the wharf at Sapperton for Chilliwhack, Yale, and the interior.

Nicola was reached on the 26th, in time for a full day's services on the Sunday. The following days were occupied with an examination of the pupils of the Mission School, and in visiting the settlers in the valley. The school was shown to have thoroughly justified its establishment, and seemed to be highly valued by the settlers.

On the return journey to Spence's Bridge a call was made upon Naweeseskan, an old Indian chief. He was lying at home alone and very sick. Except himself all the men were in the mountains herding horses and cattle. Naweeseskan has perhaps done more for the improvement of his people than any other chief in the district. He is opposed to the ruinous custom of potlatches, and is able, therefore, to spend money on substantial buildings and home comforts. The whole village presented a striking contrast to the miserable shanties that constitute the houses of Indians generally. The houses are all first-class log buildings with shingle roofs, and the church would be a credit to any prosperous white settlement. It is to this tribe belongs the so-called "Prophetess Mary," a victim of catalepsy, who claims to have received a revelation from heaven while in a trance.

Spence's Bridge was reached on June 2nd, and arrangements were made for next day's services. On Sunday, June 3rd, there was a large gathering of Indians in their little rough chapel at 8 a.m. Between sixty and seventy were present, some having come up from Nicomen, and a few from Pakeist. Prayers were said in Indian by one of the watchmen, and then the Bishop celebrated the Holy Communion, and gave an address through the interpreter.

On June 6th a departure was made for Ashcroft, where service was held for the household, and two sermons preached in the Indian church. We have here an interesting glimpse of the Bishop's method of work among the Indian population. One of the watchmen had died, and at the next Indian service his cap and badge were formally returned to the Bishop, who thereupon had to make selection of a successor and duly invest the chosen one with the insignia of his office. The choice fell on Harry Nitaskut, a native of Lytton, but long a resident of Ashcroft, were he acted as whipper-in of Mr. Cornwall's pack of hounds. Four Indian children were also baptized, and a marriage solemnized between two young people of the tribe. A preliminary examination of the bride and bridegroom was held to elicit their ideas of the sanctity of the marriage tie, and they were warned that the union, ratified in the Church, was indissoluble, except for just cause, by the Church herself. The young lady seems to have been very shy, and it was only after much persuasion that she could be induced to make a public profession of her love. This, however, being at length accomplished--the suggested postponement of the ceremony possibly had something to do with it--the prescribed vows were exchanged, and the pair were pronounced man and wife.

Other services were held here during the week, and on Thursday an early start was made for a drive of fifty-three miles, which had to be accomplished before evening. There were several fresh arrivals in the Green Timber to be called on, and a long halt had to be made in the middle of the day for the horses' sakes. The road, however, was in splendid order, and no difficulty was experienced in reaching the Hundred-Mile House by half-past six, eleven hours from Clinton, including three hours and a half rest on the way. Here was found a candidate for Confirmation, who was examined and her Confirmation appointed for the following Sunday at a house sixteen miles up the road, where service was to be held. A short drive of sixteen miles, and two or three calls along the road, occupied Saturday afternoon, and about six o'clock Mr. McKinley's house on Lac la Hache was reached. Mr. Blanchard--the clergyman in charge of Cariboo--arrived from the opposite direction about half an hour previously.

The drive along the margin of William's Lake was inexpressibly beautiful. The road follows the course of the valley past one or two comfortable Indian settlements till the lake is reached, and then mounts up by a steep incline to a picturesque bluff some three hundred feet above the lake, past which a prettily wooded flat is traversed for two or three miles, until, around the foot of the lake, the valley expands into a seemingly limitless garden of meadowland and cornfield. At this farm the travellers received an hospitable welcome; and after supper--though the visit was unexpected--a congregation of some five and twenty men was soon gathered together, and a short mission service held, the hymns being well taken up.

The Bishop was much struck by the beauty and productiveness of the Lac la Hache Valley, but the next day the journey was resumed, and the Hundred-and-Fifty-Mile House reached.

A meeting held the following day to consider the building of a church affords an illustration of the vague ideas entertained respecting the Church, and of the weakness induced everywhere by sectarian differences. The meeting was not restricted to Churchmen, and while all wanted a church, the general opinion leaned to the idea of a public church for the use of all denominations. The Bishop explained that he could not use the Diocesan Fund for such a building, but that of course he would rather see a church of any kind, if used for public worship only, than no church at all. So the committee was appointed to consider cost and obtain contributions.

Barkerville was reached on the 25th, and it was a great refreshment once more to be within a real church, and enjoy the privilege of daily services. It was more than five weeks since Yale had been left behind, six hundred miles had been travelled, and this was the first Church of England building the travellers had seen, except here and there the humble temples of the Indians.

The Bishop was much pleased to note the success of the work which he had inaugurated in the previous year. Adjoining the church was the Rectory, from which Mr. Blanchard could watch the movements of the greater number of his parishioners, and although the building only contained three rooms, it was commodious enough for a bachelor, and warm enough to keep him comfortable in the by no means unknown temperature of 40° below zero. This severity of climate is due, not to latitude, but to elevation, since Barkerville is in the neighbourhood of four thousand feet above the sea level, while the only approach to it is over a divide five hundred feet higher still. There was considerable snow on this divide when the Bishop crossed, the last week in July.

The Bishop was still more gratified at the evidence of spiritual progress on the Sunday. Ten years of spiritual famine had been a sore trial for many, and there could have been but little wonder if some had been altogether exhausted by it, or permanently enfeebled. But lost ground seemed to have been quickly recovered and new ground occupied. Large congregations attended all the services, and the Confirmation in the evening was very impressive. Four of the male candidates were adults.

On July 16th the Bishop pursued his journey southward as far as Hundred-and-Fifty-Mile House, and here, for the first time, found the road impeded by fire. The stage, however, had gone through ahead of them, so they drove on without much anxiety. Service was held at Hundred-and-Fifty-Mile House in the evening. A drive of forty-six miles next day necessitated an early start. A halt was made at the Blue Tent for a baptism, and other calls made during the day. At the farmhouse where the last halt was made, the evening was spent in preparing a woman for Confirmation, and next day the sacred rite was administered, and Holy Communion celebrated for the family and neighbours. The following evening saw the journey to Seventy-Mile House completed, and here a burial awaited the Bishop. The travellers arrived for the Sunday at Clinton.

Almost immediately after leaving Clinton a shroud of smoke was entered, with which the party was enveloped for many days. Almost every object was obscured; the sun seemed obliterated, breathing became a difficulty, and the loveliest landscape in the world seemed converted into a dismal wilderness.

Ashcroft was reached on July 27th. Various services and classes were held during the next few days. Of the Confirmation the Bishop writes--

"I do not like the work of preparation of Indian candidates, for I am not accustomed to it, and don't understand it; but these poor souls have been waiting so long that I could not for shame wait longer. When, when am I going to have a man from England for the Indian work? I cannot keep it going myself. If it languishes, it will not be through my fault, though I shall have to accept all the responsibility and blame."

Next day the Bishop passed on from Ashcroft to Cache Creek, making several calls by the way, and after a night's rest at Savona's, Kamloops came in sight the following afternoon.

Of this latter part of the journey the Bishop gives us the following account:--

"It was fearfully hot at Ashcroft. There is no water in the neighbourhood and the earth gets so hot that the air passing over it becomes heated. Moreover, the whole country was on fire. We drove into the smoke about twelve miles out from Clinton, and we have never been out of it till to-day, and now only comparatively. . . .

"It may not seem to some people that driving ordinarily not more than twenty or thirty miles a day in a fairly comfortable trap need exhaust an ordinarily healthy man, and yet, whatever any one may think, a day's journey under such conditions as ours is quite enough work for twenty-four hours. After breakfast comes a visit to the stables, and in most instances such a job as cleaning the collars--a matter otherwise unlikely to be attended to. Then the axles require oiling, and if you don't see it done, or do it yourself, the men will put on axle-grease instead of oil, and give you a rare job the next day cleaning your axles; or (as has happened three times this trip) they will put on harness oil, for no other reason than that they see a can of it in your box, and they can't conceive that you should take the trouble to clean your harness, so conclude that this is for the axles. Then the 'pack,' or luggage, has to be strapped on, and this I never suffer any man to do for me. If your pack is not on tight, or you are not sure that it is so, you have to keep one eye behind all the time. We have only once lost anything this year, and I have never been able to understand how it happened. Well, then you 'hitch up.' You may as well do it yourself, because you must look over everything when done, or they will send you away with twisted traces, or the martingales strapped on to the collars, or some such mistake. Then your day's journey begins. The roads are fairly good, but nevertheless there is seldom a hundred yards when you can venture to take off your attention. It's either going up hill, and you have to see that both horses are doing their share of the work, or it's going down hill, and then you have to watch everything; or, if you get a bit of level and straight road, you have to look out for rocks, over which you may spring an axle or dent your wheel. Then you come to a creek, and you pull up and unstrap your bucket, and water your horses; and then you drive on till you come to your midday halt, and there is unhitching to do, stabling and feeding. Then there comes a second half-day just like the first, except for the matter of oiling axles. When you reach your journey's end, you don't feel any cacoethes scribendi, not a bit. . . .

"I try hard not to think of money, but the thought will creep in sometimes. The responsibility of seeing people paid is very heavy. Men are continually coming into this colony, and a very good class of men, I am glad to say. Another district--the Kootenay District--is being opened out; a number of miners and farmers, the latter comprising English gentlemen, are going in. This means more work for me and longer journeys. All this points to our living some day in a more central part than New Westminster."

The Bishop attended to the spiritual needs of Kamloops, and proceeded on his journey. Travelling by way of Grand Prairie and Salmon River Valley, the whole of which was literally on fire, and the road so encumbered with fallen, burning trees as to render progress very tedious and somewhat dangerous, Spallumcheen was reached on the 10th, and a kind welcome found at the house of Mr. Fortune. This stage completed the one thousand miles. As the community here was a very scattered one, the Sunday service was held at 2 p.m., when a large congregation assembled, and the Bishop preached a harvest thanksgiving sermon.

Of the remainder of the journey we have Mrs. Sillitoe's account--

"There could, I think, be scarcely imagined a more dismal picture than was presented by the tract of country situated around the head of Okanagan Lake. The smoke here was denser than anywhere else, and the country, naturally bare and destitute of trees, and parched with the long drought, derived increased dreariness from the overhanging shroud of smoke that effectually concealed everything beyond a distance of a quarter of a mile, and completely blotted out the sun.

"The following day, however, a change occurred. A storm was evidently gathering throughout the day, and in the evening it burst with all the fury of a cyclone, the roar of which we could hear a full quarter of an hour before it fell upon us, tearing huge branches off the stronger trees, and levelling the weaker ones with the ground, and raising a cloud of dust that darkened the air even worse than before. In about half an hour the wind ceased, and for a few minutes there was a dead calm, succeeded shortly by a second outburst as heavy as before, but from the opposite quarter. Very little rain fell, but the atmospheric disturbance had worked a wonderful change in the appearance of things. The smoke had been rolled away, and in place of a dismal waste there was a fair prospect of harvest fields and craggy hills and grassy vales. . . . For us the storm came most opportunely, for our next day's journey from Mr. Vernon's to the Mission is one of the most beautiful drives in the country, and to have been deprived of its enjoyment would have been a very great disappointment. Even apart from the lovely scenery, it rejoiced one's heart once more to see the sun shining in the clear blue sky. . . .

"At the Mission we had to part company with our buckboard, for the waggon-road goes no further; a trail--and unquestionably the worst in British Columbia--is the only means of reaching the country to the south of this. Along this trail we started next morning, under the guidance of a good-natured friend, who, much to his own hindrance in time and convenience, volunteered to pilot us and drive our pack-horse as far as Penticton.

"There are some curious roads in British Columbia. Even the waggon-road (par excellence) itself, much vaunted as it is, is pretty full of places where its purposes would have been more effectually attained by a little less engineering and a little more common sense, not to say anything about defects of management, which seems to aim at the largest possible expenditure for the most meagre of results. But the trails! The trails give one the idea of having been constructed for the purpose of being abandoned. They are very good here and there, where Nature alone is responsible for them; otherwise they give one the impression that human ingenuity had been exercised in rendering them as tortuous and difficult as possible.

"But of all the trails the roughest and steepest and worst is that we were now on. It speaks volumes for the enterprise of men that they ever go on them at all, and volumes more for the surefootedness of animals that men ever go over safely. And yet this is the trail over which the mail is taken once a month, and one would suppose that there was implied in that a sufficient argument for its being kept in efficient repair at the public expense.

"... Here Mr. Wade kindly welcomed us in the absence of Mr. and Mrs. Ellis, who only reached home the following Sunday. On Sunday, August 19th, we had celebration of Holy Communion at 7.30, Mattins, Litany, and Sermon at ten, and a mission service in the evening. On Tuesday, with an Indian guide, we set off on the last stage of our journey southwards, and reached Osoyoos, thirty-five miles distant, in ten hours and a half. Osoyoos, on the Canadian side of the line, consists of but two families, and it was arranged therefore that service should be held on the United States side of the line, where a considerable number of people reside, and where was also the encampment of the troop of United States cavalry that had formed the escort of General Sherman. About ten o'clock we started in a row-boat for the foot of the lake, and proceeding to the camp, found arrangements made for the accommodation of quite a large congregation.

"The service was held al fresco under a leafy awning in front of the officers' quarters. Sacks of oats formed the seats, and an erection of camp chests the pulpit. The sacrament of baptism was first administered to four children, and then, in the absence of sufficient Prayer-books, a mission service was held, with hymns, and the Bishop preached.

"After being hospitably entertained by the American Collector of Customs, the Canadian visitors returned across the line on horseback. We took four days to return to the Mission, having only to make Okanagan by next Sunday. . . .

"The next day we were again bowling along in the buckboard, and after four days' trail-riding, nor heat, nor dust, nor smoke could have wrung a complaint from us. We were not tried, however, for the road to the head of the lake is in splendid order; there was no dust or smoke, and the day was pleasantly warm. The magnificent scenery displayed itself to advantage, and, in addition to all, there was the joy of feeling that our faces were really turned towards home at last.

"We reached Coldstream in the evening. On Sunday, September and, Mr. Vernon's men were engaged with the hay harvest twelve miles up the valley, consequently our gathering was but a small one."

After recording visits to Grand Prairie, Kamloops, Nicola, and Indian settlements, and work done at each place, Mrs. Sillitoe continues--

"Sunday, September 16th.--The Bishop celebrated Holy Communion in S. John's Church, Yale, at 8 a.m., and preached morning and evening, preaching also in the Indian church in the afternoon, and addressing the Sunday school children. At Evensong there was also a Confirmation.

"On Monday morning the Bishop and Mr. Sillitoe left Yale by the William Irving, and landed at New Westminster at midnight."

The whole journey lasted exactly four months, and extended over a distance of 1682 miles. The Bishop preached forty-eight times, and celebrated Holy Communion thirty-one times, baptized fifteen persons, and confirmed twenty-nine. The whole sum raised by offertories and donations amounted to $403.50, and the expenses to $230.

The expenses would have amounted to far more but for the generous hospitality extended to the travellers in almost every district, both by Churchmen and others, and by innkeepers as well as by private individuals. And in this acknowledgment must be included the worthy blacksmith at Spallumcheen, who would accept no remuneration for a long half-day's work. These many acts of kindness formed a refreshing compensation for the weariness, hardships, and dangers of the road, and that it needed some compensation will be vouched for by any one who, whether for pleasure or profit, has travelled in the interior of British Columbia during the summer of 1883.

One result of this extended tour was to convince Bishop Sillitoc of the need of organizing three new missionary districts, and of appointing a resident clergyman to each, with as little delay as possible. How this desire was brought to a happy fulfilment we shall see in future chapters.

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