"Roll back the curtain of our night, and shine
Till all the world shall see Thy light divine."
THE following letters are not in any sense a continuous history of the British Columbia (formerly known as the North Pacific) Mission. Rather, they are snapshots taken at varying intervals, and developed by a skilful hand, so bringing out details of scenery and work with a vividness that is sometimes almost startling. The prevailing thought in the mind of the reader will probably be, that beautiful as are the rushing streams, the gloomy forests, the snow-clad mountains of British Columbia, far more beautiful to the Indians are the feet of those who have taken good tidings and published peace to them. The wilderness and the solitary place have indeed been glad for them, and the desert has rejoiced and blossomed as the rose.
Fifty years ago no attempt had yet been made to reach the Zimshian Indians and other tribes on the north-west coast of the great continent of North America--now Christianity is the rule and Paganism the exception. Neat villages, with their churches, schools, and well-ordered homes, testify to the power of the grace of God to civilize as well as to Christianize. Medicine men have laid down their charms and submitted to the Cross of Christ, and hymns of praise resound where once were heard the fearful sounds of the heathen pollack.
The story of the starting of the Mission in consequence of Captain Prevost's appeal on behalf of the Indians in 1856 has been already told in Metlakahtla and the North Pacific Mission, by Mr. Eugene Stock. Begun by Mr. Duncan, a young layman, in 1857, and continued by him until his secession from the C.M.S. in 1881, it grew with startling rapidity. The first baptism of Indians took place in 1861, and in 1863 the Bishop of Columbia admitted fifty-seven adults into the visible Church. The settlement of Metlakatla was established in 1862, and the first stone of the church was laid in 1873. In 1879 the Diocese of British Columbia was subdivided, and the northern portion became the new Diocese of Caledonia, the Rev. W. Ridley, formerly a missionary in the Punjab, but who had been obliged to resign his work there on account of health, being consecrated as its first Bishop on July 25th, 1879.
This slight sketch of the Mission will prepare the way for the statement written by the Bishop for the Church Missionary Gleaner before sailing for his new diocese:--
"The Diocese of Caledonia stretches from Cape St. James and Dean Channel 52 deg. north latitude to the 60th parallel; from the Rocky Mountains to the North Pacific Ocean, and also includes the numerous adjacent islands.
"The best known place in it is Metlakatla. Our lay missionary, Mr. Duncan, laid the foundation of that Indian settlement in simple faith, and it has become the most prosperous of its kind. To the 60,000 aborigines of the province the Metlakatla community of Christians is as a star of hope. Before it arose we feared that as a race they were doomed to extinction. The twenty millions of Indians our forefathers found in North America have dwindled down to two millions. Civilization threatens to blot out inferior races, but on it their disappearance leaves a blot and a crime. Its pioneers--drink, violence, and debauchery--destroy their new virtues, leaving them more wicked than before, and only less dangerous because less vigorous. I thank God that most of the Indians of my diocese, especially the Hydahs, have been so savage as to make the trader's risk greater than his hope of gain.
This section of the people now draws upon our sympathy. A great opportunity is ours. The material prosperity of Metlakatla has aroused in them a spirit of emulation, and shed upon them a gleam of hope. The Christian's heart cries, 'Is there a future for them among the nations?' and from Metlakatla comes the answer, 'Yes, only do as you have lovingly done hero.' The trial is being made at four other mission stations in my diocese, and success is already visible. The greater the breadth of sea between the islanders and the mainland the better for their future. Their ignorance of the benefits of civilization is a greater good than a knowledge of them, until they are fortified morally and spiritually by the Gospel against its evils. The enterprise of commerce, which we shall be glad of then, is beforehand with us now in bridging over the broadest channels, so that the plague is begun. We must enable the missionary at once to emulate the merchant. The very noblest Indians must be enriched with the pearl of great price, or they will sell themselves to perdition while we tarry."
The Bishop made an appeal for a steamer, and it was not very long before he had the joy of knowing that friends in England had come to his help. Before the vessel arrived the Bishop was overtaken by a gale in a small canoe in which ten men were crowded, and wrote afterwards, "How I longed for my steamer; unless I get one a new Bishop will soon be wanted, for the risk in these frail crafts is tremendous, and a short career the probable consequence."
On August 12th, 1880, the little vessel was launched, and was well named the Evangeline, for its errand was to carry the Gospel to the Indians up and down that indented coast and among the many islands. It was not available for river navigation, and even on the sea expense was sometimes saved by the use of a sailing boat. The Bishop was captain and often chief engineer also. Some years later he wrote to the S.P.G., "What would your Committee think could I have stepped out of my engine-room into their board-room, wiping my black hands in cotton waste to remove the grease before I could shake hands?"
The description of Metlakatla, written by the Bishop on his arrival there in 1879, shows how it first struck him, both by its natural beauties, and also by the wonderful transformation that had taken place in the twenty-two years of evangelization, and of training in the habits of civilized life:--
"Metlakatla has not disappointed me. The situation is excellent. There is no spot to compare with it this side of Victoria. During this week the weather has been charming. Frosty nights, but the days mild, as in Cornwall at this season. Numbers of the worn-out old folk have been basking in the sun for hours daily. Squatting in the long grass, they looked the very pictures of contentment. They all gazed on the sea. No wonder if they loved it. Besides being the store-house from which they took their food, it is the chief feature in one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen.
"We are at the entrance of an estuary that winds about labyrinth-like, until it leads up to a stream more than twenty miles distant inland. Outside are large islands, their lofty heads pine-clad, and the same garment reaching to the very waves on all sides. These are God's breakwaters. Inside, wherever the channel widens, there are smaller islands, so disposed as to make it impossible to say what is island and what continent. These are gems in a setting that perfectly reflects the grass and pines fringing the sea's glossy service, as well as the background of snow-patched mountain.
"Yesterday the stillness was reverential, and quite in keeping with Sunday rest. Scores of graceful canoes were drawn above the tide. Not a paddle broke the silence. As Admiral Prevost and I stood in the mission garden we heard in the distance the howls of a pack of wolves. A flight of crows or rooks claimed a moment's attention. Besides this nothing disturbed the calm sea, or the stillness, but the wing of some wild fowl splashing the sea as they rose. Before we turned to the house we were ravished with the splendour of the sunset. The giant that had run its day's course transformed the scone. He touched everything, till sea and sky vied with each other in glorious effects. The snowy peaks to eastward blushed.
"But, after all, the Sun of Righteousness has produced a far more beautiful transformation in the character of the Indian, and the change is not fleeting. The church bell rings, and, from both wings of the village, well-dressed men, their wives and children, pour out from the cottages, and the two currents meet at the steps of the noble sanctuary their own hands have made, to the honour of God our Saviour. On Saturday I had made a sketch of the village. Mr. Duncan remarked, as the people streamed along, 'Put that stream into your picture.' 'That would never do,' I said; 'nobody would believe it.' Inwardly I exclaimed, 'What hath God wrought!' It would be wrong to suppose that the love of God alone impelled them all. All, without reasonable cause to the contrary, are expected to attend the public services. A couple of policemen, as a matter of routine, are in uniform, and this is an indication that loitering during service hours is against proper civil order. This wholesome restraint is possible during these early stages of the corporate life of the community. But history is likely to repeat itself. Heathenism is prostrate, Christianity dominant. Persecution has ceased. The fiery trial is over, so that the baser metal is sure to pass current. At present one strong will is supreme. To resist it, every Indian feels would be as impossible as to stop the tides. This righteous autocracy is as much feared by the ungodly around as it is respected and admired by the faithful. Thus are law and Gospel combined with good results."
The Bishop did not then foresee that a time of trial was again approaching the little Christian community, from which, through God's grace, it emerged after some years with added growth and stability.