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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 XVI.


"AT length the night has passed away, and the dawn of a new and, we all hope, a more prosperous day has broken upon the long-neglected Indian Mission in this diocese."

So writes the Bishop in commencing an article to the Mission Field with regard to what was in some respects the most interesting diocesan event of 1884.

The Bishop continues--

"It was in July, 1882, that I announced to the S.P.G. the resignation of the Rev. J. B. Good, which took effect in September following. The officers of the Society will know the efforts that have been continually made ever since in the direction of a reorganization of the Mission, and I cannot hope for a better opportunity than this of acknowledging the sympathetic and patient consideration with which the Society has waited for the development of the plan of reorganization which I laid before it two years ago. To have hurried that plan to a premature execution would have been fatal to its success, but nevertheless to have been allowed so long a time for preparation demands a thankful acknowledgment. I would not have it supposed that during two years no work has been done. Far from that, for apart from the permanent residence at Lytton of the Rev. R. C. Whiteway, I am much indebted to the Rev. G. Ditcham and the Rev. D. H. W. Horlock for the willing and valuable assistance they have rendered me, sometimes at the expense of much personal inconvenience. Still, the work has been necessarily desultory, and, in consequence, imperfect and unsatisfactory.

"With the greater thankfulness, therefore, I record the end of the interregnum and the happy inauguration of a new period in the life of the Mission. For two long years, and often with a desponding heart, I have been encouraging the Indians to look forward to the 'good time coming' when Church work, and specially education, would be resumed among them, and with greater earnestness than ever. And therefore, when the good time had come, it seemed fitting to usher it in with some amount of ceremony and observance. To this end, I summoned the Indians, far and near, as many as were able, to meet me in June, at a favourite camping-ground of theirs near Lytton, that I might introduce to them the Rev. R. Small, and publicly induct him into his office. I was desirous, too, of impressing upon their minds the reality of their fellowship with us in the Body of Christ, and therefore invited to be present the Archdeacon of Columbia and other clergy, engaged chiefly in white work, as well as a few representatives of the laity."

After describing the journey by steamer, rail, and road to Lytton, one of the party writes--

"On Friday, the 30th, we reached our camping-ground about 2 p.m., having ridden in from Lytton, a distance of about fourteen miles, a ride full of interest in every mile from the time we crossed the wooden bridge which spans the Thompson at its junction with the Fraser, and thence climbed up, on some surefooted Indian horses, hills which had literally in places to be climbed by the aid of steps cut in their sides; and as we rose higher and higher, we were able to look down on and trace for a considerable distance the course of the Thompson as it came down on our right to join the Fraser, which, facing us in our course, lay on our left. We could see for ourselves the geography of the land into which we were entering, how it lay in the fork between the two rivers. We passed in our ride two well-laid-out farms of no great extent, but rich to profusion through the fertility of the virgin soil, irrigated from some of the many cool, clear, rippling streams which crossed our trail every few miles.

"On reaching Pootanie we found our tents already pitched, and every preparation made for our comfort. Some few Indians came out to meet us, but there was no formal reception until later in the afternoon, after a short rest and such refreshment as cool water, grateful shade, and not unsubstantial 'tea,' were well calculated to afford. Having formally announced their intention, the Indians then came from their encampment towards the Bishop's reception-tent--a bell-tent pitched under the shade of a great pine tree--and marching past in single file, spoke to and shook hands with each member of our party, many of them, both men and women, recognizing Archdeacon Woods, who had visited the Hope, Yale, and Lytton Missions some years before the division of the diocese. The formalities of the reception over, there was little to be done until the next day, when there would be plenty of work for all. The Bishop announced the hours of the different Church services, the Sunday work was planned out, and other arrangements made clear, so that all should know what they had to do, and how far they were at liberty to follow their own devices. And now while we wait for the real work, which has brought us so far, to begin on Saturday morning, let us look round and observe the site of our camping-ground. Gentle swelling hills, covered with rich verdure--not grass in the sense in which the word is used in reference to cultivated pasture land, but yet every inch of the ground covered with a thick, rich, soft carpet of green, so thick and soft that to lie down on it was as restful as the most luxurious couch, so rich that the hundreds of horses belonging to the whole encampment, some tethered, but the greater part free, find ample pasture, while the wild flowers innumerable, and of so many various kinds, give an added beauty to what in itself is so lovely. On one small hill are two tents appropriated to the Bishop, Mrs. Sillitoe, and Miss Woods; on another are the tents assigned to the rest of the party; while the bell-tent stands midway between, Lower down, and on more level ground, is the awning--it cannot be called a tent--under which the table for meals is built. The word built is used advisedly, for the table consists of so many stout legs driven into the ground, and slabs laid on top; while benches run down each side, built after the same fashion as the table; the seat of honour at the head of the table being a round log sawn off so as to make a seat, and set up on end. The whole encampment is looped round by a stream of water of icy coolness and crystal clearness. Across a little valley stood the tents of the interpreter, Meshell, and his family and following, while the general camp of Indians was entirely out of sight, though close at hand, for one had but to walk a few hundred yards from the bell-tent and from the side of any of the low hills to look down upon a sight not easily, once seen, to be forgotten. A large low-lying plain, quite level throughout its whole extent, marked off from the forest and brush on its farthest border by the stream already described, was the place chosen by the Indians for their encampment. Our first view of it was after nightfall when the camp fires were lighted, and the work of the day being over, cooking, feasting, smoking, chatting, singing, or rest, pure and simple, varied the aspect of each group of tents.

"The work of the day--what was it? What had brought this crowd of Indians, men, women, and children, to the number of close on a thousand, from their different homes situated miles away in all directions? They were here to gather what was to them a valuable harvest of edible roots of various kinds, and the fact of their being thus assembled in one central spot afforded the Bishop his opportunity. Apart from the immediate proximity of both wings of our encampment stood the altar, with altar cross, flower vases, altar lights, and all that was needful for the due and reverent celebration of Holy Communion. The altar stood upon a slightly elevated platform, carpeted, as was the ground all round, with layers of young pine branches, the whole being under a screen, or, in ecclesiastical terminology, a baldachino, erected by the Indians before our arrival.

"On Saturday, the 31st, the greater part of the day was devoted to examining the credentials of those Indians who desired to present themselves for Holy Communion on Whit Sunday. Each Indian on being brought under Christian teaching is given a printed paper certifying that he is a catechumen belonging to a certain mission or section of a mission. When baptized, he is given another paper ruled for three separate entries, the first of which is filled in with the date and place of baptism. In due course, if all goes well, the second is filled in with the date of Confirmation, and the third with the date of his first Communion. These papers had to be examined one by one, the chief of a tribe, if a Christian, or the captain or watchman of a village being required to bear testimony that there was no charge against him. If all proved satisfactory, he was given a ticket signed by the priest who had examined his case. Among all who presented themselves as desirous of communicating, but two cases of any difficulty occurred. The examination of credentials occupied the three priests present a considerable part of the day. Throughout the afternoon and late into the evening new arrivals called for further examinations, so that the work may be said to have extended over the whole Saturday. In the course of the afternoon, the Bishop addressed the Indians on various subjects of interest and practical utility, suggesting to the men some questions (specially in relation to schools and education) for discussion by themselves in council. The women he addressed by themselves.

"Whit Sunday, June 1st, was indeed a glorious day, one to be remembered with thanksgiving by all who that day were gathered together in the secluded valley of Pootanie. It could not be but that one's mind was carried back to the first Whit Sunday, when 'the day of Pentecost was fully come.' True, there was no sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, no cloven tongues like as of fire, but none the less there was the felt presence of God the Holy Ghost.

"The accredited messengers of God were there with the message of His Gospel and the Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself, to assure these Indians, many of them already Christians and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, but many of them still heathen, yet with sufficient light and knowledge to comprehend the full meaning of the assurance that 'the promise is to you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.' When at the six-o'clock celebration--we believe the first in that place--one hundred and eleven Indians received the most comfortable sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, who could doubt but that a great and real work was being done among them? . . . On Whit Sunday there were three celebrations, the High Celebration being by the Bishop at 10.30. At the afternoon service the whole body of Indians was present, and Evensong having been said, the Rev. Richard Small, the Rev. G. Ditcham, and the Ven. the Archdeacon of Columbia gave short addresses--a plan adopted by request of the Indians themselves. At this service nineteen children were baptized by the Bishop.

"On Monday, June and, the Bishop, the Rev. R. Small, and Mr. Cantell remained another day in camp to further certain details of work, the rest of the party, with the exception of Mrs. Sillitoe, turning their faces homeward, and reaching New Westminster on the evening of June 3rd."

The foregoing account may well be supplemented by some extracts from the Bishop's own description.

"On Friday, May 30th," he says, "we were all assembled in camp at a place called by the Indians Pootanie, about fifteen miles from Lytton, among the mountains, between the Thompson and Fraser rivers, about three thousand feet above the sea-level.

"I have not time for topographical word pictures, but I verily believe there are artists in England who would not think it too far to have come for one look at Pootanie. The first glance around was one of wondering admiration, the second afforded the fullest justification of our presence, for the extent of the Indian camp showed that large numbers had responded to my call, and a great opportunity was before us. The Indian camp was on a flat at the upper end of a narrow valley, and beyond it the ground rose suddenly in benches and terraces. On the first of these was Meshell's camp, and ours on the next, and between the two, in a little natural amphitheatre, was erected a canopy of evergreens, under which, on a raised platform, was the altar.

"A flag floated over nearly every tent, in most instances the diocesan flag, blue, with gold cross and mitre; and the whole scene was bright and picturesque and, to most of us, novel.

"A fifteen-miles' ride and two thousand six hundred feet altitude above our breakfast level made the dinner gong a pleasant sound, and the Indians were thoughtful enough to send us a message to the effect that they would not expect us to receive them until after we had rested; and having formed a procession in their own camp, we presently saw them approaching us from below, in Indian file, of course, with stately tread, the men coming first, the women following.

"They wound up the hill in zigzag lines, the men uncovering as they approached. We stood in a line, and shook hands with each as they passed by. There were about nine hundred of them, and the ceremony occupied just an hour. After the reception we had Evensong, and the Indians returned to their camp."

The Bishop goes on to describe the work of Saturday, the examination of credentials, etc., an account of which has been already given.

"In the afternoon," he resumes, "all the women and girls assembled under the shade of a gigantic pine, at the foot of which my tent was pitched. I addressed them on the subject of domestic life, the duties and responsibilities of their sex, and the cultivation of womanly virtues; and explained to them the object of the girls' school shortly to be established at Yale under a branch of the Ditchingham Sisterhood. Mrs. Sillitoe then distributed among them handkerchiefs, aprons, picture cards, etc., gifts for the purpose from friends in England.

"After this was held a meeting of chiefs, captains, and watchmen, to whom I explained the plan of the Mission as reorganized under Mr. Small and Mr. Edwardes and the Ditchingham Sisters, particularly insisting on the principle of self-support as regards both the church and education. I requested them to discuss the plan among themselves, and to report the result to me on Monday. It subsequently transpired that they sat in council over this discussion till three o'clock in the morning!

"They then presented me with a list of cases occurring within their several jurisdictions of delinquency in various forms, and I arranged to hold a court of inquiry on Monday. The Sunday services were then announced, and the meeting closed with a potlatch, or distribution of knives, fishhooks, pictures, and tobacco."

Omitting the account of the Sunday services, which have already been sufficiently described, let us come to the picture presented of a Bishop's court among the Indian converts.

"On Monday, after breakfast, ... the whole throng of men, women, and children gathered on the slope in front of my tent to 'assist' at the court of inquiry. The 'cause list' included two cases of matrimonial difficulty, one of drinking and gambling, one of practising 'medicine magic,' and a long-pending charge against the late catechist It is creditable to the delinquents to say that they all put in an appearance, although, of course, they could not have been compelled to do so, nor were any of them under constraint.

"The matrimonial cases were easily arranged, and I had the happiness of restoring harmony to two wigwams. The drinking and gambling case was the more serious, inasmuch as the accused was no less a personage than the recognized chief of all the Thompson River tribes. It speaks volumes for the honesty and courage of these Church officers that they did not hesitate to present even their superior chief as an offender against the laws of morality.

"A lecture on the responsibility of his office and his Christian obligations was patiently listened to by the old chief. He then made a very humble, public acknowledgment of the justice of the charges, expressed his penitence, and only asked us to give him a little time in which to prove his sincerity. He then signed a written declaration to abstain both from whisky and gambling, and I told him I should require in two months' time certificates of his good behaviour in these respects.

"The charges against the catechist were fully proved, and he was deposed from his office. The 'medicine man' proved the most difficult to deal with, chiefly because, as of old, his profession brought him 'much gain.' He denied ever receiving more than $10 for his work, and claimed that, after all, his work was chiefly one of prayer. There was evidence, however, that he had received as much as $50 in some cases, and I pointed out to him that on the ordinary occasions of prayer he did not find it necessary to strip himself naked, and dance and howl, as his custom was when officiating as medicine-man. He positively refused to abandon the practice, and there was no alternative, therefore, but to excommunicate him, and, further, to threaten with excommunication any who employed his services. I do not venture to hope that the remedy will be altogether effectual, but it will mitigate the evil. Another remedy, and a better one, I would like to be able to adopt, viz. the appointment of a medical missionary. . . .

"As the result of the Indian conference on school matters, they informed me that they were quite prepared to contribute to the support of schools, and wished me to say how much I expected them to give. . . . The appointment of a new chief, the registering of the baptisms of the previous day, and issue of certificates, together with some minor matters, concluded the day. Next morning, after a short farewell charge, I called for three cheers for the Queen--a name of mingled mystery and confiding love to Indian ears--to which they responded heartily in English fashion, and then we broke up camp and returned to Lytton."

One more account of this remarkable meeting must be given, coming as it does from one of the Indians present, and written after the Bishop's death.

"In June, 1884," the account runs, "our Bishop came up to Lytton with Mrs. Sillitoe to go to Pootanie. . . . Mr. Hughes and I went to Pootanie ahead of the Bishop's party to choose a good place for the camp. Mr. Hughes when he saw Pootanie was very glad, and said it was the best place the Bishop could come to. All the hills were covered with fine flowers, red, blue, white, and green. We had horses ready to meet the Bishop at Lytton, and we sent notice all round to the Indians belonging to the English Catholic Church. At once they came to Pootanie as fast as they could, some of them hardly taking time to bring their blankets and food.

"The first day in camp the Bishop rested quietly in his tent, being tired from the long journey. The following day all the Indians dressed up to go to his tent to shake hands with him. They walked in a straight line to his tent. When they had finished shaking hands we looked where they had been walking, and it was a very big trail, because the Indians were so many. The same day we built a rough church and altar, the clergy and Indians all working together. The church was built of green brush and flowers, and we hung up all our flags."

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