Project Canterbury

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 XXV.


THE first day of 1893 saw the Bishop enthroned in his newly constituted cathedral. The ceremony took place after the Te Deum at Mattins, and was conducted by the Archdeacon of Columbia, who at the same time was installed as Canon in the chair of St. Nicolas. The episcopal throne was subscribed for by the ladies of Holy Trinity Church, and is a beautiful piece of work, of oak, and nicely carved. As mentioned in the last chapter, a promise had been given by the Bishop to visit Eastern Canada on behalf of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. The tour commenced in weather such as, fortunately, British Columbia does not often see, but a letter of Mrs. Sillitoe's, dated April 13th, will give a fair outline of the trip:--


"... When we left on February 4th there was, beside the cold, a heavy snowfall, and we hadnot proceeded many miles on our journey before we began to be delayed. We were, in spite of all delays, comparatively fortunate, for before we had been twenty-eight hours on the road we had caught up with the trains which had left the day before and the day but one before us. At Donald we were all moved into the first train, and instead of being almost the sole occupants of the Pullman, we had rather a crowded car. From Donald we made slow progress, the train having to be sent on in sections, in spite of our having two engines, and by breakfast-time on Monday morning we were only at Field, which we should have reached on the previous evening in time for supper. From Field up to the summit of the pass to the Rockies, a distance of seven miles up a very steep grade, we had four engines, one of which, 'Jumbo' by name, is an unusually powerful one, used for pushing the trains up this grade. But, although we had four engines and only six cars on the train, the cold was so intense that the wheels would not grip the rails, and it took us over an hour to make the ascent. The scenery was never seen to better advantage; there had been an unusually heavy snowfall, and the sun was shining brightly, the sky of an unclouded and dazzling blue. We spent all day in the Rockies, being delayed at every station with thawing out frozen pipes, and also in repairing the mail car, the back of which had been pushed out in the struggle up the steep ascent. Tuesday morning found us steaming over the plains of the North-West, which look terribly monotonous in an unbroken expanse of snow as far as the eye could see. Our only excitement was caused by herds of antelope, which were often seen quite close to the line. Swift Current, where we stayed for twenty minutes, was the coldest place I have ever been in; indeed, so cold was it that, although we went out for a walk, we had to hurry back again to the car, not being able to stand it. I do not know what the temperature was the day we passed through, but for several days before the thermometer had stood at 65° below zero, and with a blizzard blowing at the time it was impossible to venture out. One poor man who went a short distance to report a train snowed up got frozen to death, and was found stiff in an upright condition. To give you an idea of what such cold is, going out in it makes one's eyes water, and each tear immediately becomes solid ice. In Winnipeg we were delayed five hours in order to be joined with the train that left Vancouver twenty-four hours after us. We walked up to the hotel for dinner, a distance of about one and a half miles; and although it was only 35° below zero, I got my cheeks very sore. From Winnipeg on nothing of importance happened. As we were bound for Toronto, we had to change cars at North Bay, and, unfortunately, instead of the change taking place at 6 p.m., as it should have done, it came at 4 a.m. We reached Toronto at 2 a.m. on Saturday, thirty-three hours late, and we had been travelling since 2.30 p.m. on the previous Saturday. We were the guests of the Bishop and Mrs. Sweatman, and as we had been expected early the previous morning they had arranged for a large 'At Home' from four to six that afternoon. Happily we reached the house in time for it. The next day the Bishop preached in the morning at St. Thomas', and in the evening at St. Alban's Cathedral, holding meetings during the week both in Toronto and Guelph. The second Sunday we spent in Hamilton, returning again to Toronto for more meetings. In Canada there is a wonderfully useful organization of women called the Women's Auxiliary to the Domestic and Foreign Mission Board, a branch of which is to be found in almost every parish. The wonderful organization of this body makes it a very powerful auxiliary to the Church. Wherever we went I addressed meetings of the Women's Auxiliary, so as in some measure to relieve the Bishop. Our third Sunday was spent in London, Ontario. It is most amusing how they have tried to copy in every way the older namesake. The Bishop, for instance, preached in the morning at St. Paul's Cathedral, on Monday we drove through Piccadilly, and over the River Thames across Westminster Bridge. During the week we visited Brantford and Port Hope, and by Sunday reached Montreal.

"From Montreal we went to Richmond, Quebec, Lennoxville (the Church boys' school and college for the diocese of Quebec), Sherbrooke, Kempville, and finally Ottawa. We should have visited three more towns, but in Ottawa the Bishop became so ill that the doctor forbade further work, and he was obliged to cancel his three last engagements. We stayed nearly a week at Ottawa, and at the end of that time got permission from the doctor to start off home. Unfortunate permission, as it proved, for either the Bishop was worse than the doctor realized, or else he caught fresh cold leaving. He was very ill all the journey home, and on arriving our doctor pronounced him to be suffering from pneumonia, and sent him straight off to bed, where he still is, though that is more than a fortnight ago; and although he is now on the mend, his progress is very slow."

From the effects of this illness the Bishop never really recovered, and although with indomitable will he persisted in rising to the call of duty, it was obvious that every effort was made painfully and laboriously.

These efforts, however, were by no means few or far between. The combined labour as Bishop and as rector of Holy Trinity was enough to take the strength of the most vigorous of men, yet the Bishop's illness was not permitted to interfere with the arrangements for Confirmations made in all parts of the diocese. A visit to the Kootenay country is, under no circumstances, an easy one to take, yet in order to introduce the Rev. H. S. Akehurst--who had come to succeed Mr. Reid--to his flock, the Bishop once again made the acquaintance of Nelson, at the beginning of August. The following account is given in the Gazette--

"The Bishop left home on Monday, August 7th, and travelled direct to Field, the most easterly point in the diocese, on the railway line, exactly five hundred miles from New Westminster. The Rev. J. C. Kemm met the Bishop at Field, and a service had been arranged for the evening of the 8th, which was held in the C.P.R. Reading Room, and was well attended. ... AVhile the Bishop was at Field, the Rev. H. S. Akehurst arrived from Qu'Appelle, and after a stop over of a day, proceeded with the Bishop by way of Revelstoke and the Columbia river to Nelson, where the party arrived on the evening of the roth. Friday and Saturday were occupied in calling upon members of the congregation in Nelson, and on Sunday services were resumed for the first time since the departure of Mr. Reid. The Bishop celebrated Holy Communion at 8 a.m., and preached both morning and evening, Mr. Akehurst taking the rest of the service. Nelson maintained its reputation for excellent choir singing, and the services, especially in the evening, were very hearty. On Monday evening a social meeting was held, at which the Bishop formally introduced Mr. Akehurst, and an address of welcome was presented to him on behalf of the congregation. . . . After five days spent at Nelson, the Bishop with Mrs. Sillitoe and Mr. Akehurst started to visit other points on Kootenay Lake. Numerically these 'points' are many, for the real estate fiend has blocked out town sites every few miles without regard to anything but his own aggrandisement, a feat in which he is only too successful, for it is no exaggeration to say that one-tenth of the money sunk by the unwary investor in those embryo cities that will never be born could have accomplished such a development of mineral resources of the district as would have advanced by many years the prosperity both of the country and of the investors themselves. There are, for example, largely advertised 'towns' on the lake which consist of a shack and a tent or two. There are 'towns' where instead of new buildings going up, the existing buildings are being torn down to be removed elsewhere. And yet the maps of these 'towns' are to be seen posted in every real estate office throughout the land, and lots are being sold at prices which will certainly never be warranted during the present century. It is waste of breath probably to preach caution to the man to whom the hope is held out of cent per cent on the purchase of a town lot, but it would be largely in his interest if a fee, say of $1000, were required for the registration of a map of a new town site. Such a fee would have relieved the country of most of the bogus town sites that exist, and would have saved many thousands of dollars to the pockets of a too-confiding public.

"Kaslo, however, forms an exception to this criticism. It has taken hold, and has evidently 'come to stay.' The site itself is convenient and spacious, the buildings substantial, and the stores furnished in a manner equal to any in the province. The growth of this town has been phenomenal. In June, 1892, it had no existence, in October it had a population of 3000. Since then it has been overshadowed by the cloud of the 'silver question,' and having been caught in the very bud of its youthfulness, it has felt the check more seriously than older places have done. Nevertheless its very youthfulness, when the reaction sets in, will give it opportunities of vigorous revival above places of maturer development. . . .

"Friday and Saturday were employed in visiting the people and making arrangements for Sunday's services. The only church at present is one built for the Presbyterians, which was kindly placed at the disposal of the Bishop. A celebration of Holy Communion was held in a private house, and services in the church at ii and 7.30. A large congregation attended in the morning, but in the evening the building was packed with over two hundred people, many having to stand throughout the service. It was impossible to estimate the proportion of Church people present, but there is good ground for believing that they form the most numerous body in the town. At a business meeting presided over by the Bishop, the vestry was organized, and an undertaking given that $30 a month could be contributed to the stipend fund. For the present a room will be hired for the use of the congregation, and no attempt will be made to build before next year. The Town Site Company have made an offer of one hundred feet square for a church, but no selection has as yet been made. A further offer was made to the Bishop of a five-acre block for hospital or school purposes, objects which must be delayed until church accommodation is provided. "On the return journey Lytton was visited again."

This visit to Lytton had a special object, which was nothing less than the consummation of a three years' endeavour to provide a Church hospital for Indians.

As long ago as 1890 Miss Rosetta Lansdowne of Manchester, a devoted friend of the Mission, had appealed for funds for such an institution. In the course of this appeal she wrote--

"On being admitted to Christ's religion in Holy Baptism an Indian is required to renounce many of his old customs; among these, and perhaps the hardest of all, is to give up the medicine-man. These men are supposed to possess supernatural powers. He pretends to go in search of the spirit of the sick person in order to fetch it back. Having succeeded in this, he places it in the body of the patient, after which he is expected to recover. The mode of proceeding is to cover his head with a piece of rush matting to prevent his seeing, then to use the incantations--dancing, howling, and singing. When he has found the spirit he replaces it, dipping his hands into a basin of cold water, and then passing them round the face of the sick person, keeping up a continual muttering. In cases of extreme danger three or four men act together, on the principle that unity is strength. I suppose what we should call 'public opinion' is on the side of the medicine-man, and we all know the strength of that in England. When therefore we are told that 'the first adult publicly baptized by the Bishop, though prostrated by sickness ibr several months, has resolutely refused the offers of the medicine-man and the solicitations of his friends,' we may feel that it has been 'a triumph of faith.' A fully qualified medical man, Dr. A. Pearse, went out as medical missionary, November, 1888, the S.P.C.K. having promised the Bishop a stipend for him of £150 for the first year, and £100 for the second and third. He writes, 'The Indians are subject to many of the worst constitutional diseases, more particularly to consumption, which often runs a rapid course; and from the same causes, together with dirt and injury, the eyes frequently suffer. During the past five months I have attended about a hundred and fifty cases of illness, and the result of my efforts so far gives me great encouragement. They have no idea of cleanliness, or of making a poultice or dressing a wound, though they are quite willing to submit to treatment. A small hospital placed at some central point would help our work very much.'"

Miss Lansdowne gradually accumulated a sum of $500, to which the Bishop added $100 collected during his eastern tour, and a grant of $500 obtained from the Indian department at Ottawa. This amount covered the cost of building, while various friends in the diocese contributed sums towards the furnishing, and Sister Frances, of S. Luke's Home, Vancouver, gave valuable help in superintending the furnishing and supplying a nurse.

It was, therefore, a source of great gratification to the Bishop, so familiar with the trials of sickness himself, to declare open this House of Refuge for the sick Indians of the district, who, however superstitious, ignorant, and uncivilized, were yet members of the same great family of the All-Father.

The opening took place on August 26th, and is thus described--

"A large gathering of the white and Indian inhabitants of Lytton and the neighbourhood took part in the opening of the new Indian hospital on Saturday evening in the Mission grounds. The Benediction of the building was performed by the Lord Bishop of New Westminster, assisted by the clergy of the Mission and the Rector of Esquimalt. A procession, consisting of the clergy, acolytes, the Bishop, vested in cope and mitre, and the visitors, passed round the hospital, singing Ps. xviii., after which the various wards and offices of the house were visited, and special prayers said in each. Subsequently the visitors were entertained at the hospital in a most pleasant way by Sister Frances, who has kindly consented to undertake the work in connection with the hospital for some time. The little building is an ornament to Lytton, and reflects great credit upon all who have so generously given help towards its construction and support, both in money and kind, and also upon Mr. E. Disney, the builder.

"In one day Sister Frances, assisted by a band of willing helpers, had converted the empty building into a model cottage hospital."

No sooner had the Bishop arrived home from Lytton than it was time for him to leave again to attend the General Synod of the Canadian Church in Toronto. After the trying journey in the spring, and the exertions necessary after his recovery, it was really more than the Bishop should have undertaken, but his energy deceived not only all around him, but himself also, and he went.

The following letter and its prefatory note from the Monthly Record, published in England, shows this to have been the case:--

"Since the last publication of the Monthly Record, the Bishop's health has been gradually restored, and, with great thankfulness to Almighty God, a complete recovery can now be announced to his friends.

"It appears to have been a far more serious attack than we at home thought it to be, and it makes us all the more thankful that he has been spared to carry on the important work of the diocese at a very critical time. From all accounts, there seldom, if ever, has been a more depressed state of commerce in the colony; and the Church suffers. An extract from a letter lately received from the Bishop gives a graphic account of the present situation--

"'New Westminster, B.C.,

"'September 7, 1893.


"'Before I leave for Toronto, to attend the meeting of the General Synod, I must get a letter written for the October meeting of the committee. I cannot sufficiently thank you all for many kind expressions of sympathy, as well as for the forbearance which spared me the trouble of letter writing when I was unequal to it.

"'This year has been quite the most trying of my episcopate, personally and officially. My terrible journey through the eastern provinces in February, March, and April was in itself labour enough for a year, as my subsequent illness testified. In that time I travelled nearly ten thousand miles, preaching every Sunday twice, and sometimes three times, and lecturing afternoons and evenings nearly every day but Saturday. There was little wonder I came home a wreck. That God granted me recovery is, I venture to hope, a sign that my work for Him is not yet done.

"'But apart from personal labour and trial, the year has been throughout the province the most disastrous in its history. There has been, comparatively, no business done. The lumber trade is at a standstill; mining is unprofitable on account of the silver crisis; large numbers of people have been compelled to leave, being unable to gain a livelihood. In every town in the province there are hundreds of houses unoccupied and stores unlet. To give you an illustration--the Endowment Fund of the Bishopric includes five stores or shops in New Westminster. Two are empty, the tenant of one has paid no rent this year as yet, and I have had to reduce the rent of the other two to $35 a month, in place of $60 they were paying two years ago.

"'Happily the salmon-canning industry has had a good year--a better one, indeed, than has ever been known. The fish have been running prodigiously, and kept running during the whole open season. But we must wait for a general revival of trade before we can expect a general improvement. Meanwhile, the Church is the first to suffer. Offertories have diminished one half, and there is not a parish in the diocese which has not difficulty in meeting expenses. I have collected literally nothing this year for the Diocesan Fund, and but for what I collected in the east, our Chinese work must have been suspended. I worked chiefly for that and the Indian hospital. . . . The question of maintenance now arises.'"

To reach Toronto in time for the General Synod, which opened on September I3th, the Bishop had to hurry his up-country visits; but he reached the synod in time, and took an important part in its deliberations.

It is impossible yet to estimate rightly the importance of this historic gathering. The attainment of the consolidation of the whole Church in Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the creation of the two Archbishoprics of Canada and Rupertsland, are in themselves sufficient to mark an epoch in the Colonial Church. That men of varying and even opposing schools of thought should alike sink their differences and hail consolidation was a notable sign of the times in Canada. A deadlock was indeed threatened on one occasion, and it is to the credit and honour of the Bishop of New Westminster that he played no small part in composing the differences that threatened to render the meeting of the synod a failure.

At the thanksgiving service held at the close of the synod the sermon was preached by Bishop Sillitoe from Eph. iii. 20, 21, and in a few words at the beginning of his discourse he well gathered up the reasons for thankfulness as to the past and joyful anticipation as to the future.

"What," he asked, "is the work that we have accomplished? We call it the consolidation of the Church in the Dominion of Canada, Three years have been spent in preparation for this--three years of patient deliberation and communion of minds and hearts, consummated in the act of the past week, which has welded together the scattered fragments of which the Church in the Dominion has been hitherto composed. And we are here to praise and thank our God for what He has enabled us to do. And rightly and properly so. But the thought that is in my heart at the present moment, and with which I desire to inspire your minds as well, is a thought of the insignificance of that which we have accomplished in comparison with the possibilities of the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. It is a fault of our nature to be satisfied in spiritual attainment, and the fault is equivalent to a limiting of Divine grace and power. Search the universe, and you will never find a halting-place. Forward! Onward! is the eternal law, and it is the law of the unseen world as much as of the seen. It is a law of the spiritual world as much as of the natural. It is a law of Christ, it is the law of the individual soul. Human ends may be attained, human aims may be accomplished, but myriads of efforts could not exhaust the immeasurable grace of God. 'God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to His power that worketh in us.' What a limitless field is opened to us here! What an expanse of opportunity! How is it possible for the thought of attainment to enter in? Here is association with the Infinite, association with the Omnipotent! We marvel at the achievements of scientific research in the application of steam and electricity to the uses of men. What are these in comparison with the power of grace which God has given us by the Spirit through the Church? "

The Archbishop of Rupertsland, in addressing his synod a year or two ago, spoke gratefully of the assistance Bishop Sillitoe had rendered in word and action towards bringing the first General Synod of the Canadian Church to a successful issue.

In a similar manner, the Bishop of Nova Scotia bore testimony before his synod at Halifax.

"Well do I recall," said the Bishop, "his strenuous endeavour to avoid not only the impending deadlock, but the threatened failure to consummate the consolidation of the Church, when the Bishops and elected delegates met in the city of Toronto in September last; for it was largely owing to his pleading with his fellow-Bishops, and his advocacy of a conciliatory attitude towards those whom some of us looked upon as taking a position unwarranted by facts, that harmony was restored, and peace came to cement and perfect our union."

Commenting on this, the Canadian Church Guardian says--

"We feel sure that every one who took part in that historic meeting will be glad to find this now open tribute paid to the late Lord Bishop of New Westminster, whose strong personality and wise judgment, as well as winning manner, impressed itself upon all who were present, and won so great a benefit for the Church in Canada."

And had the Bishop done nothing more for Christ and His Church, he would not have departed this life with scanty sheaves of harvest for the Master's garner.

But the labour went on, in spite of almost continuous sickness. Confirmations at Penticton and Vernon were held on his way home. Arrived home, there was a meeting of the Diocesan Synod to be faced, with all its attendant anxieties.

It met, the Bishop's last synod, on November 15th and 16th, but, owing to the Bishop's illness and inability to leave his room, the session was constituted by a quorum meeting in the Bishop's library. This being done, the synod resolved itself into committee of the whole to debate the subjects set down upon the agenda paper. After the discussions were completed, the reports were presented again to the Bishop in his room, and the synod adjourned, many feeling that the Bishop had bravely and from a sense of duty subjected himself to a strain which was physically beyond his powers. But his willingness thus to endure enabled the diocesan business to be carried on, and the votes of sympathy and thanks passed to him and Mrs. Sillitoe were no mere formal expressions of feeling.

Thus concluded the practical work of a year which the Bishop may well have felt to be the most laborious in his episcopate, including, as it did, two difficult and tiring journeys to the east in the interests, not of his own diocese alone, but of the whole Church of Canada, and indeed of the whole Church of God.

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