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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 XXIII.


AT the end of 1890, the Bishop felt considerable perplexity as to the way in which the work of the diocese would go on in face of the various changes which the year had brought about.

"My report for 1890," he writes, "will not be one of unmixed satisfaction. Though there has been much to rejoice at, in growth and prosperity, there has been much sadness, on the other hand, at the departure from among us of some of the most devoted of our labourers. The loss in one year of Mr. Croucher, Mr. Small, who went to Corea, and Mr. Edwardes, who joined the Universities Mission to Central Africa, whose faithful service has extended over half the life of our diocese, seems at first sight almost like the irremediable break-up of our staff, and yet it is, I suppose, with the diocese as with the world at large, one drops out and another takes his place; a gap appears in the ranks, it is noticed for a moment, and in a moment more it is filled, and things go on as before, and we learn to see how God hath so ordered life and His Church that no one of us is necessary to the accomplishment of His purpose and plan. That plan is one, embracing all; and while each has his little part to play, it is his part only and no more, and his part ended, another is forthwith raised up, and the one plan progresses unbroken and undisturbed."

But there was, nevertheless, progress along the whole line. The clerical staff was seventeen, as compared with fourteen a year ago; an increase of three also appears in the list of lay-readers, and a corresponding increase in Church members, communicants, baptisms, marriages, and offertories. The only decrease was in the number of comfirmees--chiefly among the Lytton Indians, where the resignation of Mr. Small created a vacancy very difficult to fill.

Indeed, the Bishop's great anxiety this year was with respect to the Indian Mission and the finding of a suitable successor to Mr. Small.

"The history of our Indian Mission," the Bishop writes, "has been a very broken one this year. The loss of Mr. Small was a difficult one to repair in any case, but we have hitherto been unsuccessful in finding a successor at all. I gave notice of the vacancy, many months ago, to my representative, in England; but though many applications were received, there were none that Mr. Mogg could entertain, and, but for Mr. Wright's willing devotion, we should have been landed in a very serious difficulty. As it is, he is working single-handed, with the help that I have been able to afford him from New Westminster.

"The Indian school at Yale," the Bishop continues, "has not only made that progress, which we have now come to regard as a matter of course, but we have also been able largely to extend its accommodation, by the addition of a new building at a cost of over $3500, towards which a grant was made by the Dominion Government of $1500."

Of the opening of this new wing we have an interesting account in a letter written by one of the sisters. From this letter we take the following extract:--

"His Lordship and Mrs. Sillitoe arrived on Monday, December 29, 1890, and, as only two days could be spared for Yale, we had to crowd a good deal into Tuesday. About 6 p.m. a large number of Indians began to assemble, marshalled by 'George,' our mission servant and interpreter, and waited in perfect order till the procession had formed in the hall. From thence it started; the Bishop in cope and mitre, preceded by Aimie, a little half-breed girl of twelve, as crossbearer, dressed, like her confirmed companions, in white veil and red pinafore. Another child came after the Bishop, carrying the school banner, then four choir-children, then the remainder of the school, the sisters, and finally a troop of Indians. The last, nearly seventy in number, waiked in couples and in reverent order and silence. Upstairs wound the long procession, numbering just a hundred in all, singing the 6yth Psalm, going first to the children's dormitory and infirmary, then downstairs again to the refectory and schoolroom, suitable prayers and responses being said in each; ending with a short service in the little chapel, where there was hardly standing room. It had been arranged that the Benediction was to be followed by the annual Christmas tree for our children, in which this year their compatriots were to have a share. It was quickly lighted, and the presents were distributed by the good Bishop and other kindly helpers, and then the tree was removed, and the dusky crowd comfortably seated for the magic lantern--an exhibition of English cathedrals and abbeys--shown by the Bishop, and explained to the Indian spectators by the interpreter."

Thus progress at Yale was gratifying enough, but meanwhile Lytton was a sore trial of faith and patience. Every month the appeal was made, and still remained apparently unanswered.

"No suitable priest has yet been found for the Indian work. There never was a clearer-voiced call, 'Come over and help us,' than is contained in the appeals from the diocese for a really earnest, devoted man. There is really work for three men, and now only one is keeping it going. The Indians will be scattered, and, amid the enticements of the Romans on the one hand, and the denunciation of the Salvationists on the other, these poor, childish people are sore let and hindered. Midst the thousands of single priests in England, who are not specially tied by the circumstances of their lot, surely one can be found to go forth to this great work. It means self-denial and hard work--it does not mean good pay--but it means a great sphere for showing devotion to our blessed Lord."

The enforced return of Dr. Pearce, the medical missionary, to England, just when his work was beginning to tell, made the outlook still more gloomy.

Mr. Wright, in bad health, was doing his utmost to cope with the difficulties of his position, but with a district two hundred and twenty miles long, it was impossible to do much. Moreover, Indian work specially needed personal care, or it was liable to develop in unexpected and undesirable directions. On one occasion Mr. Wright wrote--

"I have just heard of an Indian woman, who was supposed to have died and has come to life again just as she was being put into a coffin. I suppose, some trance. When she came to, she said she had been to a place where some people were miserable and some happy, and all the happy ones belonged to the Church of England! This has had a great effect upon the unbaptized Indians, who now say they are all coming to us. Great care will have to be exercised about their preparation for Baptism under such circumstances."

At last the welcome announcement was made, though not until near the close of the year--

"The senior priest's vacancy at Lytton is filled. God has answered our prayers, and in a way we least expected. The Rev. R. Small has offered to return to his old work, and the Bishop has readily accepted his offer, Christmas, at latest, will see him back among the Indians, who so dearly love him. This is joyful news indeed, and let us not forget to thank God for His goodness. Mr. Small offered, of himself, to come back, as he heard his post was not filled, and the Bishop of Corea would not stand in his way. This action on the Bishop's part is most generous, and demands our gratitude. Thus the difficulty in regard to one vacancy is at an end. We still have to send out an earnest, devoted assistant to Mr. Small, either priest or deacon. He would have to live in the Mission House, and be ready to enter into the system of community life, which means some roughness and self-discipline."

To compensate for the lack of regular pastoral visitation from which the Lytton district suffered this year, the Bishop gave a considerable part of his own time to this particular branch of work.

A few extracts from letters will give some idea of what the work was.

Of the developments of the Mission and up-country districts, the Bishop writes--

"A railway is now being constructed from Sicamous to Enderby, and on past Lansdowne to Vernon on Lake Okanagan. This railway is bringing all these places into prominence, and opening up a district which, from a missionary point of view, is at the present moment as interesting as any we have. Enderby and Vernon are about twenty-five miles apart, Lansdowne lying between the two.

"At Lansdowne we have a church and a small parsonage; at Enderby the people are prepared to build, but have not determined which site to accept out of the several that have been offered; at Vernon the people are taking steps to obtain a site.

"Churches in these places are very unpretentious buildings, costing not more than £250, with a seating capacity of about a hundred, but even this apparently small amount is a considerable tax upon the few Church people who have to provide it, especially when it is remembered that they already contribute to the stipend of their clergy as well. . . .

"An incident of missionary life to close with. I heard of a dying man who wished to see a clergyman. He was in a hut or cabin eleven miles down the track. There was no train, nor any road, but the chief engineer of the line, who happened to be there, procured me a handcar and a crew to take me down and back. A handcar on a single line of railway, where freight trains run independently of time-tables, and where curves are as sharp as they have to be in this gorge of the Fraser river, is an exciting kind of travelling. In many places the track overhangs the river at a height of several hundred feet; at others it is carried over deep gullies or ravines on wooden trestles, of which our friends have seen illustrations in our lantern show, and the platform of a handcar, without a rail to hold on by, and five men occupying the space of about five feet square, is a position from which one can appreciate without effort the 'chances of this mortal life.' Without misadventure, however, my 'crew' covered the eleven miles in an hour.

"The sick man was a Churchman from the north of Ireland, who has been twenty years in this country, and has naturally lost sight of all old-country relations and friends. He is suffering from heart disease, and may be taken at any moment, and being dependent entirely upon chance visits of trackmen passing up and down the line for help, he more than probably will be alone at his death. I helped him as well as I could, and tried to persuade him to allow himself to be taken down to the coast, but he said he would rather die where he was than in a 'charity hospital,' and I am afraid he probably will."

"Temmelch Creek Camp,

"August 15, 1891.


"I shall not have time to send you a full account of our visit to the Indian district for publication in the September Record, but you shall have a few lines by way of summary. This is our last camp, and I am waiting to commence work while the people are building a stone altar in the church tent. This is the first time we have had to revert to the ancient type of altar. Hitherto we have had a village church within reach, or have been able to procure a few boards for an altar table.

"Our camp here is three miles from the nearest village church or Indian ranch, but the rock about is all of a slaty character, and slabs of it are very convenient for our purpose. I have endeavoured to cover as much ground as possible in the trip, my first object having been to impress upon the Indians generally the fact that we had not abandoned them. . . . Consequently, we have 'gone forward' every two or three days, halting at convenient places for assembling the flock. At each camp we have had congregations of from fifty to sixty. Most days we have commenced with a celebration at 6.30 and taken three services during the day, for instruction, baptism, confirmation, etc. Once or twice the afternoons have been too hot to sit out in places where shade was not procurable, and our evening sessions have been prolonged by the light of the camp fire until long after dark.

"It is impossible to speak in terms of exaggeration of the attention and patience of these people. They simply never tire of instruction. Such responsiveness is the great charm of the work, and gives it an attraction which is certainly too often wanting in the missionary's experience among white people.

"All the more strongly, therefore, is borne in upon me the necessity for supplying the vacancy--the necessity for finding the man ordained of God to take up the work. . . ."

Here, too, are some extracts from Mrs. Sillitoe's vivid description of the same visitation.

"I am writing under difficulties, with a tiny gold pencil and my paper on my knee, under the shadow of the church. We are camped out near an Indian village on a dry, dusty, and exceedingly barren flat, under a burning sun, with not a tree nearer than on the steep mountain sides which surround us. I am hardly correct in calling this a barren flat, for on it thrives a vigorous growth of cactus, and with the utmost care one cannot go many yards without getting one's shoes full of the sharp prickles. One night in rolling over in bed I got my side full of them.

"... On Wednesday, July 29th, we drove down the waggon-road about fifteen miles, and after crossing the Thompson river in an exceedingly ramshackle canoe, and climbing the steep bank, we arrived at this our first camp, Pakyst. Meshell was there already, and had our tents pitched. As it was getting dusk, I lost no time in unpacking our blankets, and as on account of the great heat we needed none for covering, we had a less hard bed than would otherwise have been the case. After that we had our supper of bread and marmalade by the light of a candle, the candlestick consisting of three nails in the top of a piece of wood driven into the ground. After supper we retired to bed rather than to sleep, for a strong gale had sprung up, which threatened to carry our tent away, and in the course of the following day the threat was carried out, and I had to fly about in all directions gathering up my scattered belongings. We have stayed three whole days in this camp, and the programme has been much the same as at Ashcroft. . . .

"Pakyst was a comfortless, hot camp, and it was without any regret that we left it on Saturday, August ist, walking three miles down the railway track to Spatsum station, while the tents and pack were sent on horses over the trail. The west-bound train was due at Spatsum at 3 a.m. on Sunday, and the long, weary night did we spend sitting on the platform; and as if that were not enough, the train was an hour and a half late, so not till 4.30 did we get away. Spatsum is only a flag station, and about ten o'clock the man in charge brought us a lantern, telling us to wave it, and he then retired. It was 6.30 on Sunday morning before we reached Lytton. ... It seems impossible that animals on four legs can walk as slowly as these Indian horses do. Arrived in camp, we found lots of Indians ready to help, and in a wonderfully short time the tents were pitched, a thick carpet of brush laid, and it was just getting dusk when we sat down to our supper, spread on the ground in front of our tent. After supper the Bishop arranged for the next day's proceedings with the Indians, while I made up the bed. Then we sat down over the camp fire, admiring the dim outline of the surrounding mountains, and the picturesque encampment about two hundred yards away in a grove of large pine trees, everything looking weird and ghostlike in the light of three camp fires. Then the stillness was broken by the sound of a bell summoning to prayer, and the whole camp gathered, and the low monotony of the voices sounded not unmusical, and wonderfully solemn and impressive, borne to us on the evening breeze. The Indians are most regular in their attendance at the daily offering of prayer and praise, both morning and evening, but are not as diligent as they might be in teaching the prayers to their children and to those adults who have not managed to pick them up, and the Bishop has had to speak very seriously to them about this. At 10 p.m. we turn in, but alas! there are many disturbances. First of all, the camp fire spreads, a most dangerous proceeding during the dry, hot weather, and it has to be beaten out, and later on there is an ominous pitter-patter on the tent, increasing to a steady downpour, and the Bishop has to go outside and loosen the ropes. Then a careful look round is necessary, for if anything is touching the tent, in comes the wet; even the cabin bags had to be taken down.

"It was still raining at six o'clock next morning, and the celebration had to be postponed, as our second tent, used as a church tent, is only big enough for the altar, and the congregation has to be in the open. About ten o'clock the rain cleared off, but it had lost us a day, as we had intended moving on that afternoon. All the day the Bishop spent with the Indians, giving instruction, catechizing the children, conferring with the chiefs and watchmen, and there was besides the interesting ceremony of the election of two new watchmen.

"The following day, August 5th, we commenced with a celebration at 6.30, after which the horses were hunted up; but with all the haste possible we did not get away till 11.30, too late to allow of our reaching the next rendezvous, N'chakup Camp, the same day. So we rode about twelve miles, passing on our way an Indian lying in his tent, ill from the bite of a rattlesnake. These reptiles are said to be very numerous in these parts, but from the fact that recovery from the bite is possible if the right remedy be used in time, I imagine they are not so deadly as in other countries. I am afraid I shall shock you if I describe the remedy; but remember it is a case of life or death. The bite is usually on the foot or leg, and a tight string is at once tied above the wound to prevent as far as possible the circulation of the poison in the blood. After that the patient is dosed with raw spirit until the system becomes saturated. The poison causes intense pain, and it takes a long time for it to work its way out. As there is a strict law in force in British Columbia forbidding the sale of liquor to Indians except on an order from a clergyman, doctor, or J.P., it is no easy matter for them to obtain the required remedy in time. It is curious that the Indians, who are skilled in the use of herbs, should not yet have discovered an antidote. Our camping-ground on the night of the sth was a most unpromising one--near the bed of the creek, with nothing but rocks and sand, and it was too late to allow of much brush being collected, so our bed was none too soft, and the tent was badly pitched, so did not entirely keep out the rain which fell during the night. Towards six o'clock in the evening we reached N'chakup Camp, leaving the proper trail about half a mile back. Oh, if you could have seen that last half-mile I think your hair would have stood on end! First we skirted round a sandy, gravelly bluff--the trail was, I am sure, not more than six inches wide, and at every step the horses sent the stones and sand rolling down the precipice. Then we started zigzagging down the mountain side, and it was no easy matter to stick on the horses' backs. My contempt for Indian horses on a good road is unbounded, but in dangerous places and broken-away trails, my contempt changes to confidence and admiration.

"For grandeur of scenery N'chakup Camp is unrivalled; in other ways it was not well chosen. There was no shade and the ground was sandy. Certainly the Indians did their best for us, covering the sand with brush, and bringing cottonwood trees and planting them around, but the shade these threw was a very poor apology for the real article, and the inside of the tent during the day was like a furnace. Happily, the surrounding mountains are high, and the sun disappears at 5.30 p.m. It rises, however, at 6.30 a.m., and it is well to clear out of the tent as soon as possible after that.

"At N'chakup Camp we spent three whole days, and every moment of the Bishop's time, except what was grudgingly snatched for meals, was devoted to the Indians. . . . One afternoon we crossed the river in order that the Bishop might visit a sick child. The Fraser is extremely swift, and the boat had to be towed a long distance up the shore before the crossing was attempted. I have pretty strong nerves, and like being in a canoe; but this craft was an exceedingly cranky and leaky flat-bottomed boat, and was besides overloaded, and two or three times I thought we should have capsized. The sick child was lying under a kind of shelter made of rush mats. She was about seven years old, and did not look ill, but was lying quietly sleeping; and in this way her parents said she had been lying for the past three weeks, taking nothing but an occasional spoonful of cold water. We could give them but little advice, but sent them from the camp some condensed milk to mix with the water. Near the sick child sat an old Indian, stone blind, who was led forward to shake hands with us by his equally ancient spouse. A decrepit old pair they were, and not pleasant to look at. Our return journey across the river was not beset with so many dangers, as we were the only passengers, and pleasanter, as the sun had set.

"On Monday we were up early so as to start before the sun got hot; but although we breakfasted at 6.30, we did not get away till nine, and then rode on till 3 p.m. in such heat as I do not care to recall. Not wishing to repeat the experience, we started next day directly after breakfast, leaving the pack to follow, and succeeded in reaching Lytton at midday. Here, by a curious coincidence, we met the Sister Superior on her way back from England. We were four days late in returning to Lytton, and the Sister seven hours late, yet we arrived within ten minutes of each other. It was but poor hospitality we had to offer, as the house had been shut up for over a week, and we could not expect the pack for an hour or two, but in our delight everything else was forgotten. The afternoon, however, was not entirely devoted to talk, as there was plenty to be done. The camp kitchen had to be gone through and stores replenished, clothes had to be washed, and callers to be received.

"Next morning we were up at four so as to start the Sister off by the five-o'clock train, and by eight o'clock we were jogging down the road. We had now two additions to our party--Mali, one of the Indian girls from Yale, who was spending her holidays at Lytton; and Philip, the Lytton church servant, whose duty it was to shepherd the horses. His work proved no sinecure, for the horses were always trying to run home. In recommending him, Meshell said that although not very young, he was a capital worker, and could stay awake all night if we wished. As we had never curtailed the night's rest of any of our Indians, we considered the recommendation uncalled for. When, however, I found what an intense desire the horses evinced to return home, I could see that Philip had a good deal of staying awake to do; and, poor man, he was not even allowed the peaceful enjoyment of the services, for every now and then there would be a stampede, and off would fly Philip in pursuit. Our camp that night and the following was at Staziani, at the foot of Jackass Mountain, not a hundred yards from the old Mission House. When the headquarters of the Indian Mission was moved to Lytton, the place was sold to an Indian, and looked well cared for. There was not time to get through all the work before midday on Friday, August i5th, when we left for our next camp, so the five couples to be married followed the Bishop down the road. On the way one of the watchmen met us to ask the Bishop to baptize a dying child, a little mite of three months old. Such a disappointment we had that day: we were riding a short distance ahead of the pack, and a bear crossed the road behind us, but in front of them, and we never saw it. Temmelch Creek was our last camp, where we stayed till the igth. The ground was rough and rocky, but it was near a lovely creek full of delicious trout, which we greatly appreciated. We had intended breaking up camp on the 18th, but the Indians required so much instruction and preparation that we were obliged to stay an extra day. Very unfortunate it was for us, as all Monday it rained, and it was most troublesome work getting everything dry before packing up. We left behind a memorial of our camp in the altar which the Indians had built with the flat stones out of the creek. We had a most pleasant trip in the canoe across the Fraser, and then a steep climb up the bank on the other side brought us back to civilization in the shape of the C.P.R. Hotel at North Bend. On August 20th the Bishop, accompanied by Meshell only, went down to Spuzzum, and his day there brought the trip to a conclusion."

Of the other events of the year, the daily tasks at New Westminster and the routine of Confirmations in the country parishes, there is no need now to speak. Suffice it to say that, all things considered, the diocese was now in a condition to excite admiration and astonishment among those who knew the difficulties which had been encountered. The Rev. Allan Pitman, who stayed for some months of 1891, expresses in the Mission Field his delight in the work he saw proceeding. In concluding his article, he says--

"I cannot help it if these remarks seem too laudatory; they ought to have shown me something I could criticize. Or perhaps it is that the sun of that land, where it is always shining, where the air is always fresh, where the sound of the water falling, rushing, gliding, is ever within hearing, where all life seems freer, where the sadness of the Indian past is altogether obscured by the promise of a golden future--perhaps it is this and things like this which have made me strike the 'major' with never a note from the 'minor.' That I must leave to those who can play the whole piece; but I guarantee that any one who visits the diocese of New Westminster will be as startled and delighted as I was with the amount of work and love which must have been poured out on the diocese, and the rich return it has yielded."

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