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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.


OUR only qualification for writing this short preface to Mr. Gowen's excellent work is that we loved, and still warmly love, our old Bishop.

He was to us, for years, not Bishop only, but father, brother, guide, and friend.

Perhaps some apology is needed for our rashness, for we are not men of great reputation or position, either in the Church or the world.

Nor can we lay claim to the possession of what are called "literary" gifts or experience, for we have seldom seen ourselves in print. Love makes us bold.

When others, greater and better men, and in every way more fitted for the task than ourselves, were, for various reasons, unable to take it in hand, it was given to us by those we could not, if we would, refuse. This must be our plea for the kind indulgence of our friends.

For ourselves, and those who were closely bound to Acton Windeyer Sillitoe by ties of kindred and friendship, we gratefully thank Mr. Gowen for giving us this memoir, and for all the valuable time and work he has so generously and lovingly expended upon its production.

It was necessary to curtail and slightly revise it before finally sending the manuscript to press, and with Mr. Gowen's kind permission, one of us (Mr. Edwardes) undertook that somewhat delicate duty. Separated from the author by some six thousand miles, it was impossible to confer together. If faults there are, then they must not be attributed to Mr. Gowen.

To one ever engaged in good work on behalf of the Diocese of New Westminster, we must express our gratitude for the kindest and most patient help in revising the book, and in making arrangements for its publication.

Our thanks are also due to Messrs. Alfred Ellis and Walery, of Baker Street, W.; Messrs. Notman and Son, of Montreal; and Mr. Thompson, of Vancouver, B.C., for their kindly expressed permission to copy photographs taken by them.

This little memoir has been compiled mainly from Bishop Sillitoe's own diaries, from old numbers of the New Westminster Diocesan Gazette, and from Mrs. Sillitoe's and the Bishop's letters written to various missionary publications.

The author does not pretend for a moment to give an exhaustive biography of the Bishop's life, nor to do more than give, from the matter placed at his disposal, a graphic summary of the life and work and difficulties of the first Bishop of New Westminster, during the fourteen years he occupied the see.

If a more adequate appreciation of the man, and his varied gifts and splendid character, especially his spiritual gifts, is looked for, it must be remembered that his letters and diaries did not lay bare his inner self, and that even if they had done so, death does not prohibit reticence. With all his lovable qualities and gifts of sympathy, he was not one who wore his soul outside. There was about him a reserve and dignity in spiritual matters which men understood and respected, as they always do.

He was full of wise, honest, practical common sense, both in the affairs of his Master, and in dealing with the men and women about him.

But his spiritual power and gifts were discovered by all who came in close personal contact with him. If any went to him in spiritual trouble or difficulty, a wonderful depth of sympathy and wisdom, and a rare combination of the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and human nature, were at once at their service.

And that was exactly the man needed for such a country as British Columbia, and to influence for good the lives of those adventurous spirits who, in rough days, had left the old country to begin life afresh in the far West, under new conditions and with new prospects.

Many a man in British Columbia could testify to faults and vices struggled with, and possibly overcome, through the Bishop's quiet personal influence, appeal, and sympathy.

He did not frighten men with talk too pious and conventional, but quietly, in familiar intercourse, and with a few kindly, direct, homely words to begin with, the way was opened up to higher and holier things--sometimes to God's grace and pardon and strength. But such things were not talked of, or written about, and for that very reason men trusted him. He understood before many words were said.

It was his constant endeavour, even when harassed by trials and difficulties himself, to cheer and encourage his clergy in their work; to keep their tone high, and their sacred duty to the Church and their flocks ever before them.

He realized the great spiritual dangers to which they were exposed in isolation and loneliness, and the lax moral atmosphere in which they sometimes had to live and work. One by one they were called down to New Westminster for a spell of refreshing, bracing change and intercourse, till they could return to their distant posts with renewed zeal and vigour, both of body and soul.

As often as possible, too, he called the clergy together for a synod, or a short retreat, that, together with their Bishop, they might spend a few days apart with God, for the deepening of their spiritual life and the interchange of mind with mind.

Hospitality was with Bishop Sillitoe a sacred duty. His house was always open, and all kinds of guests were ever welcome, from Her Royal Highness the Princess Louise, and the Marquis of Lome, to very humble folk. He allowed nothing to stand in the way of the fulfilment of this part of a Bishop's duty--not even failing health, and the daily struggle to stretch a small income to meet the many demands made upon it.

Every one who received his hospitality found alike a kind, courteous, unselfish, considerate gentleman in their host.

Of his wide influence and his great ability it is unnecessary to speak. It was recognized throughout the broad Dominion of Canada, in the western states of America, and widely at home in England.

Some may think that financial troubles and worries have been treated of at too great length; but it is well that the truth should be told.

Those who knew the Bishop most intimately during the closing years of his life were only too well aware that constant anxiety in these matters hastened his death. The anxiety was never for himself--for he was unselfish to the core--but it was his earnest desire and care to see his diocese well equipped, the Church spreading out her branches and occupying new ground as the population increased, and the clergy receiving to the full, however straitened his own resources, the small stipends due to them, too frequently in heavy arrears.

His English committee, a body of his most trusted and honoured friends, did their very best to supply the needs of the diocese and to lessen his anxiety, but latterly their kind efforts could not well be supported in British Columbia itself. A wave of commercial depression was passing over the country, and one disaster after another left the settlers less and less able adequately to help themselves in providing for the needs of their Church.

Bishop Sillitoe would not approve of all we have written. He would have wished us to say nothing of him, but to say a few prayers for him, that God would grant him peace and refreshment and growth where the faithful departed wait, and eternal joy and rest hereafter.

His memory is still warmly cherished in his old diocese, and in the hearts of those for whom he laboured.

Many loving, gentle hands still carefully tend the grave at Sapperton, where his tired body awaits the resurrection day, though none of his own kindred are there to show their love and reverence in this last way.

In the face of great difficulties the good Bishop spent, and was spent, in the service of his Lord, and laid well the foundations of the Church in his Western diocese.

His name will ever be bound up with the history of the Church in the Dominion of Canada, and is worthy of honourable mention among those who have gone forth in Christ's holy Name, and at His call, and have given themselves a willing sacrifice for their God, His Truth, His Church, and the precious souls of men.

Trusting to the kind and indulgent judgment of friends, this little book is sent out as a slight contribution to the missionary annals of our Church, and in memory of a true and faithful servant of God and pastor of men.

We would conclude with one word of the country in which he laboured; but it is too beautiful to describe. At this moment its subtle charm and its westerly breezes find their way into the street of the Cornish city whence we write.

There is no country on earth to equal it for grandeur of scenery and healthy, vigorous life. There, are mighty, snow-capped, fir-clad mountains, whose summits pierce the clouds; impenetrable forests of kingly trees; great rivers, and turbulent, brawling streams, rushing on their hasty way to the great waters of the blue Pacific; quiet lakes of emerald and opal hue; fertile valleys for the use of man; and over all the fair blue sky.

Who ever lived and worked in British Columbia and did not love it? It is a country in which one learns to thank God for His wisdom and His goodness in creation--a country of such exquisite beauty and healthy climate as to make life at once worth living, and God to be thanked for His manifold gifts. It is easy to predict a great future for such a country, for, added to its beauty, there is untold wealth of gold and other minerals, inexhaustible forests of valuable timber, vast salmon fisheries, abundant and as yet undeveloped coal-fields, and splendid opportunities and attractions for farming, ranching, and fruit culture.

Already, young as the country is, the Great Canadian Pacific Railway, the Imperial highway from east to west, passing as it does through some of the grandest and weirdest scenery in the world, is bearing an ever-increasing flow of population westward. Year by year towns and cities are springing up; places, which a few years ago did not exist, are now numbering their inhabitants by thousands.

Vancouver, the beautifully situated terminus of the Canadian Pacific, can rival even now in prosperity, and the appliances of modern civilization, many an older Western city.

The country, which began its modern history and development half a century ago, on passing from the hands of the Hudson Bay Company to the position of a Crown colony, is now an integral confederated province of the Canadian Dominion. Its people are loyal, zealous, devoted, as is the whole of Canada, to our Queen and Empire. British Columbia is yet in her infancy, but will rise in the future to a proud and prosperous position.

The Indians, the original inhabitants of British Columbia, are gradually dying out before the white man and certain sad consequences of his civilization.

The remnant are a more industrious people than their fathers. Many are at regular work upon the Canadian Pacific Railway, others have their little ranches and fertile farms, while others work the banks of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers for gold.

Bishop Sillitoe loved them well, and spared no efforts for their temporal and spiritual welfare. Missionary work has been blessed among them, and many an Indian has lived and died in the faith of Christ, and the fear of God.

None can tell of their origin, or speak for certain of their past; but we are told by those who understand such things that, at least three thousand years ago, they were in British Columbia. Many a strange and beautiful legend has been told to the writers of this preface by the Indians, as they have travelled amongst them--legends of the Indian version of the creation of the animal world, and others which seemed to give a glimmering of some dim and ancient knowledge, even of the truth of the Ever Blessed Trinity.

Once simple, happy, healthy, free, it is sad and pathetic to think of them as a fast dying race, the victims of our sins, our vices, and diseases.

Yet it is a comfort to know that, in spite of the white man's poor representation of Christianity, the power and the love of Christ have won their way into hundreds of Indian souls. His Blessed Name is honoured, and His saving Truth held fast.

Member of the Bishop of Truro's Staff, sometime Mission-Priest at Lytton, B. C.

Archdeacon of Yale, and the Indian Missions in the Diocese of New Westminster.

TRURO, June 30, 1899.

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