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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 XIV.


THE Indian work of the diocese had a large share of the Bishop's thoughts in 1883. The resignation of the Rev. J. B. Good had necessarily drawn the Bishop into closer personal relationship with the Indians and their spiritual needs, and during the journey just described he had seen a great deal of the work that might have been going on provided the men and the means had been at hand.

In the early part of the year the Rev. G. Ditcham went, at the Bishop's request, on a tour of inspection through the whole of the district comprised in the Lytton Mission. Commencing at Chapman's Bar, he travelled, on foot all the way, to Lytton, and from there to Nicola, Ashcroft, and Lillooet. Visiting each village, he questioned the chiefs and watchmen on the moral and religious condition of their people, inspected the churches, and made a careful enumeration of the members of the Church baptized and confirmed. His report was on the whole very satisfactory, but all along the line of railway construction the Indians were found suffering grievously from the increased temptations to drink, which the increase of licensed houses had naturally brought about.

The same fact is elicited by the evidence of others at the time. In most of the Indian villages many material improvements were observable. Churches had been finished, and some attempts at any orderly arrangement and adornment of the houses had been carried out. The pleasure of the people at having a clergyman to visit them was shown by the most open and cheerful welcome, and the enthusiasm in the prayers and close attention in the address was very cheering. Every now and then was heard the "Oh! oh! oh!" of some one in the congregation, and occasionally several voices would exclaim together, "Good, good!" "Good is the word!" "The talk is good!" When taught by such a story as that of the Roman sentry standing at his post till death, they would show all the eagerness and attention of children. An account in the Gazette goes on--

"Oh, but what weak Christians many of them were! The Church needs to train them by her ancient discipline, at the same time remembering that they are only children in Christ, bearing patiently with them. The Indian missionary should be that alone, doing nothing else, and should be on his beat continually. He will have many enemies, but at the same time will find not a few friends."

The following further extract from the Gazette speaks of the sad condition of the Indians at the time--

"So many are the crooked ways by which bad intoxicating liquors find their way into the hands of Indians that in this province at least a change in the law is required at once. Something should be done, and that quickly, to stop a traffic which is a heavy expense to the exchequer, and causes untold misery to the Indians who wish to live quiet and orderly. From one end of the country to the other, from Cariboo to the sea, in every town and settlement, is heard the one complaint. Whisky finds its way in abundance to every rancherie. In New Westminster men well known to be in the business go at large. At Burrard Inlet the mad cries and demon shrieks of drunken Siwashes sound over the water; at Yale there is no trouble in obtaining the 'chain lightning;' while tales are told such as this of the hell it causes in the villages higher up the river.

"A drunken son had his father down on his back and beat his head on the floor; three men tried to hang themselves; the whole rancherie was drunk, and this in one day. The chiefs say they are powerless to stop it, and so great is the evil that it has outgrown the ability of the whole country to put an end to it under the present laws."

During the year a great deal of good work was accomplished by the Rev. D. H. W. Horlock, acting under a commission from the Bishop. He visited the Spuzzum Indians at the beginning of July, and was warmly welcomed.

The Bishop's efforts to provide supervision for some part of this immense field of work were rewarded at last by the offer of two English clergy to come out as missionaries to the Thompson River Indians. One was the Rev. Richard Small, then chaplain to the House of Mercy, Ditching-ham, the present head of the Lytton Mission; the other was the Rev. H. G. Fiennes-Clinton, late Principal of Bishop's College, Calcutta, and Vice-Principal of the Missionary College of S. Boniface, Warminster, now Rector of S. James' Church, Vancouver. This accession to the ranks of the Bishop's aides-de-camp greatly cheered and brightened his heart, and gave him fresh stimulus in the further development of the diocesan work.

We append Mr. Horlock's interesting report, and a copy of the statement signed by all the male householders of the tribe in the presence of the magistrate of Boston Bar.

"Left Yale February 28th by handcar borrowed from the C.P.R. Co., and worked by Mr. Wright, the two Indian interpreters, and myself. We arrived at the crossing of the Fraser about three o'clock, and with some difficulty procured a boat to cross. Arrived at Boston Bar, I called on Mr. Pearson, J.P., to whom I had written by the previous mail, asking him to give notice to the Indians at Yankee Flat of my coming. He assured me that the whole tribe would be in waiting for me on the following morning, and kindly consented to accompany me on the visit. Mr. Pearson also called my attention to the affairs of a tribe living three-fourths of a mile from Boston Bar, and asked me to visit them. I did so immediately, and found that they had half built a church, being obliged to relinquish it for want of funds to purchase the necessary materials. I found there a young man apparently dying of pleuro-pneumonia. Here, as everywhere else, the Indians are without medical attendance. The chief being absent at work, I left word for him to call on me in the morning. He did so, and complained bitterly of the spiritual destitution in which he and his tribe were placed. I hear on all hands that he is a really good man, and has been making the most strenuous efforts to keep his tribe from the usual effects of approximation to the white man--drunkenness and fornication. At his urgent request, I consented to visit the tribe the following day and give them a service and address.

"Crossed the river 8 a.m. on Friday and worked the handcar to the settlement. There we found the whole tribe assembled--numbering about forty adults and twenty children--in the chief's house. The Indian service was very creditably performed, after which I addressed the tribe concerning the proposed school, and found a perfect unanimity as to the expediency of establishing it. I also expressed a hope that a church would also be built ere long, which they seemed exceedingly anxious to effect. After I had finished, the chief, who is a splendid fellow, asked permission to speak. He said neither himself nor his people could think what 'the Church' was doing to leave him thus entirely alone and neglected; certainly it was not acting according to our Blessed Lord's commands. All he said was in sorrow, not in anger. I replied with the oft-repeated excuse of 'no men'--God only knows how my soul revolts against it. I promised to do all I could for them--of course, it is but little. In common with all other tribes I have visited, almost none were baptized. I shall have to visit the place again in a fortnight to baptize the infants. How can one see a great field of work like this and not try to do it? And how can I do it? The whole tribe are excessively anxious to have a school established, and a church, and I believe would do all in their power to help.

"Business ended, I baptized a dying old man, and then left for Boston Bar. About six of the chief men of the tribe accompanied me in their canoe, to attend the other service. The Indian service was sung very sweetly, the most musical I have ever heard, the chief who conducted it showing really great untaught musical ability. I promised this tribe I would endeavour to get them the necessary lumber for completing their church as soon as possible. ... I had to listen to the same bitter complaints repeated, and to reply in the same strain, of course. ... I left Boston Bar at 2.30 and arrived at Yale at 5.15--a fine run of twenty-five miles. I must try to visit these tribes once a month, till something is managed permanently. . . . One cannot help feeling that the Church will have to answer for many souls lost during these past years of trouble and grievous temptation to the Indian tribes."

The statement referred to above is as follows:--

"We, the undersigned Indians of Yankee Flat, desire a certain sum of money due to us from Mr. Onderdonk to be paid over to the Lord Bishop of New Westminster, for the purpose of building and establishing a day-school for our children in the neighbourhood of our village."

It was signed by twenty-three householders of the tribes and by the witnesses to the act, and so forwarded to the Indian Superintendent.

We append a description, by the Bishop, of the Indian Mission and its needs and possibilities.

"The Indian Mission at Lytton--S. Paul's Mission, as it is called--includes all Indians speaking the 'Thompson River' tongue, and extends from about eight miles above Yale to the foot of Nicola Lake, a hundred and twenty-three miles along the main waggon road, with an offshoot from Lytton in the direction of Lillooet, and another from Spence's Bridge as far as Ashcroft.

"The number of the people is variously estimated at from two thousand to two thousand five hundred, of whom about one-fourth have received baptism, and about one-tenth have been confirmed. These are the results of the sixteen years' work of the Rev. J. B. Good, who resigned the Mission last year. . . . This year we hope to invoke God's blessing on a faithful endeavour to bring the widest influence of Christianity to bear upon this people, not only to build them up in spiritual things, but to minister also to their mental and physical improvement and elevation. The Mission staff in this wide and important field has consisted hitherto of but two persons, for whose support the S.P.G. has made annual grants of £300 and £50 respectively. The catechist resided at Lytton, where his labours were limited to saying prayers in the absence of the missionary. He was a catechist only in name, because he was never able to acquire sufficient knowledge of English to study for himself, and was not, therefore, more perfectly instructed than the congregation. Mr. Good resided for a while at Lytton, but for the last six years of his incumbency he occupied the Mission House at Yale, visiting the Lytton district from time to time as other duties allowed. Under these circumstances, the wonder is that the Church retained any hold at all upon the people, and it is the most eloquent testimony to their steadfastness that they accepted thankfully such desultory and deficient ministrations as were afforded them, and are to this day true and loyal to their first instructors in the faith.

"Now for the due administration of such a mission it is equally imperative that the missionary should occupy some central headquarters, and that he should at frequent intervals visit the distant villages; and so the first conclusion arrived at was, that at least two men must be associated together in the work. I obtained the consent of S.P.G. to a division of their grant of £300, to which I propose adding £100 more from private sources, and I have found (D.G.) two devoted men who, for the reduced stipend, have given themselves to the work. . . . Not hastily or unadvisedly, but after long and prayerful consideration, have these appointments been made, and I earnestly plead, on behalf of these new fellow-labourers, for a share in the intercessions of the Church that their devotion and labours be not in vain.

"For a priest's house at Lytton I am indebted to the generosity of the Rev. R. C. Whiteway, who has placed his cottage at the disposal of the mission. With a little enlargement, at a cost of about £50, it can be made sufficiently commodious for the purpose. One of the clergy will reside at Lytton permanently, while the other journeys to and fro through the district. The one in residence will, in the first place, be responsible for the daily offering of the Sacrifice of praise and prayer, and, secondly, will combine with his spiritual ministrations the elementary instruction of young men and boys. This department of the Mission we propose gradually to extend by making provisions for the accommodation of pupils from distant villages, by the erection of workshops, and by associating with the Mission priests a lay brother competent to give instruction in the technical and industrial branches of education.

"When we shall have been allowed to accomplish this, we shall have wrought a social revolution in the land, for we shall have elevated the people from the servile condition of hewers of wood and drawers of water and given them an equal chance in the race of life. Whether they are capable of this is, of course, a question which we must expect to have raised. I have no doubt about it, or I should be less hopeful about making the experiment. There are already examples enough of self-improvement under the present very limited opportunities to warrant the highest expectations, and the opinion is shared by all who have brought unprejudiced observation to bear upon Indian character, amongst whom I may venture to include our late Governor-General. There is another branch of the work to speak of before I have done, and one, though second in order, by no means second in importance. If the men are to be raised socially, industrially, physically, the women must be raised too.

"The girls of the present generation will be the wives of the young men and boys we are going to educate, and, apart altogether from their right inherent to equal privileges, we must raise them mentally and spiritually if we would not have them unconsciously neutralize our efforts on behalf of the other sex. But there is a higher view than this to take, for if, amongst ourselves, the influence of woman is perhaps the strongest auxiliary for refining and purifying the nature of man, why may we not expect an equally happy result to follow the cultivation in these dusky maidens, of the more gentle and tender instincts and attributes of womanhood?

"And by the good Providence of God this auxiliary work has been placed within reach of accomplishment. A year ago a call to undertake it was heard at Ditching-ham, and was immediately responded to, and three Sisters of the Community of All Hallows' are ready to come out as soon as we have provided the necessary premises. They come at their own expense, and maintain themselves, if necessary, for a year or more, and the cost to the Church amounts to no more than the hire or erection of a suitable house, and the purchase of furniture. It is not yet decided whether to hire or to build. At the close of railway construction (that is, within twelve months), various buildings will be for sale which could easily be adapted for the purpose, though there are none such actually at Lytton. On the other hand, special buildings would be most convenient, and Lytton the most suitable site. The maintenance of pupils in the institution will be the most serious expense, for I cannot put the cost per head at less than £20 per annum, and the Indians themselves must not be depended on to contribute much.

"Now I have done. I have striven to write without exaggeration; I have even denied myself the expression of the enthusiasm I feel in the contemplation of this work (an enthusiasm warranted, I believe, by the grandeur of the possible results), because I would not risk the loss of a single practical mission helper by an apparently over-coloured picture. I know what I feel, and that the future will justify me.

"I ask only God's blessing; with that all we need besides will follow."

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