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Snapshots from the North Pacific
Letters written by the Right Rev. Bishop Ridley (Late of Caledonia).

Edited by Alice J. Janvrin.

London: Church Missionary Society, 1904.

Chapter XII. A Memorial Mission

"Soon tearful mists will fade from sight,
And calmer joy reach softer light,
Where larger thoughts will clearer glow,
To mingle with Thy overflow."

IT will be remembered that in 1896 the Bishop made a journey up the Stikine River to see what could be done towards evangelizing the tribes in the north of British Columbia. Difficulties had always stood in the way, but now by God's providence they were removed, and the new Mission was started as a memorial to her who had laboured so lovingly among the Indians. The Rev. F. M. T. Palgrave offered himself for the arduous post, and was taken into local connexion for five years. The Bishop wrote in May, 1897:--

"Hope dawns at last on the Stikine River and the large district of Cassiar in the extreme north of British Columbia. Long ago I vainly tried to reach them, but was driven back to the Skeena instead. The difficulties in my path indicated God's order.

"Now we have a chain of flourishing mission stations from the mouth of the Skeena River to Gishgagas, 250 miles to the eastward, cutting through the Coast and Selkirk ranges of mountains, and almost reaching to the watershed sloping towards the great prairie land drained by the majestic Mackenzie River. The next river to the north of the Skeena is also fairly gripped by the chain of Missions called the Nishga.

"Only to the far north on the Stikine River is Satan's reign undisturbed, unless my visit to it last year may count as a challenge--a taking possession in God's name. The darkness is still dark as death, and Christ's banner not planted. But the time for it seems near.

"A few weeks ago thus it happened, in this order. A lady at Torquay was debating in her mind what she should do with £25. She sent it to me for the Stikine Mission, with the promise of sending as much annually. A lady at Ipswich sent £15, another in Edinburgh sent £5. Then came from Canada, from an unmarried clergyman, who has had a year's medical training and is a tried linguist, an offer of service. He had read my letters in the February C.M. Intelligencer, and at once wrote to me stating that if I agree he will go to the Stikine Indians this summer. Having found all I could to satisfy me of his fitness I have told him to go and to expect to see me after him in August next, if he cannot wait till then on the sea-coast. He is animated with a burning desire to devote himself to those poor degraded and sinned against Indians. He was ordained to an English cure of souls, but having (in 1892, I think) heard me speak at Plymouth of the work in my diocese he felt called to the Mission-field, went as far as the Province of Rupertsland, gaining valuable experience, and now goes to the farthest west as a pioneer, a most honourable distinction.

"Do my readers perceive bow it has all come about? It is an instance of a seed falling into the earth, dying, and then bringing forth fruit. It is life out of death; the outcome of sacrifice. Until she died who with me sought the Lord on behalf of those long-neglected Indians, the door seemed barred tightly and could not be darkened by the shadow of the missionary of Christ. Now that on earth her prayers are ended the door is opening. I have lately received a pathetic petition from the Indians begging for a teacher. His feet will be thither tending and soon, I hope, will pass the threshold.

"Is it not a sign of life out of death? It may be life through the interest of a higher life. If she can read the heart of Him which was pierced for these Indians, it may be as in a mirror that can only reflect the pure and good, she sees His plans and glories in them with adoration, just as we below, tracing His will through His works, bow down in blessed hope.

"I like to think a missionary whose earthly toil is over may still in spirit remain one as long as there is an unsaved soul on earth, and then with the angels share in the rejoicing over the last penitent when the number of God's elect shall be accomplished. Then the interest in the salvation of sinners may be swallowed up in the greater joy of welcoming the home-coming of the last trophy of the Cross, the complete triumph of the Redeemer.

"This should be the Church's aim, for she is the appointed agency to effect it up to the point in time when Christ's re-entrance on the scene of His humiliation will magnificently complete in person what He is now by His Spirit enabling us to do in extending His Kingdom.

"This forward movement to the Stikine is to hasten this glorious consummation. It is a small part of a perfect whole in which each member of Christ's body is privileged to claim a share. What if Arctic cold clasps the river, the mountains, and valleys, in icy folds! Christ's ambassador will not be bound. His feet will be free, his voice heard over the awful silences telling of his Lord's great pity for his loved, but too long neglected, Indian brother and sister.

"I shall think of the solitary man of God and plead his wants daily before the Throne. So can my readers with equal effect. Think of him toiling over that far-off, lone land of distances! What faith in his Master's word; what hope of winning against all odds; what love for wandering, sin-stained, and unlovely souls! He will be, of all in my vast diocese, the most out of touch with all on earth that the average man counts precious as life and absolutely necessary to it. To visit him from my house at Metlakatla the probability is that I shall often have to sail 560 miles to Victoria to embark on the American steamer to Alaska, 700 miles distant, then proceed up the river 180 miles to the head of navigation, and then walk I know not how far. Then comes the returning, so that the total distance travelled to see him and his work may be 2,500 miles! Yes, God's road-makers must work without stint in making His path straight.

"So far as the journey is concerned the enterprising traveller might well be satisfied. The river scenery itself is very striking from end to end; but the first fifty miles is unique in my experience. The course of the river is nearly at right angles to the three great ranges of mountains it cuts through--the Rockies, the Selkirk, and the Coast. The latter is higher than the two beyond and culminates in Mount St. Elias, that monarch of the northern continent at the extreme north-west of my diocese where its snowy head looks pre-eminently grand from the western ocean.

"Such treasures of snow I have never seen as on this range near the Stikine mouth. There the vapoury ocean tribute, brought by the south-west and south-east winds for most of the year, is transformed into fairy crystals that fall and fall over this treasure-house of snow until the mass, compactly pressed, glides gravely down the mountain steeps and fills the valley with glaciers.

"Happily our missionary has no mission here because no man there abides. He presses forward until he reaches the great divide, and then for a parish has a sparsely peopled region larger than Ireland. He must be the shepherd seeking the lost on a sea of mountains, among awful solitudes. Excepting in the linguistic notes I made last year the language is quite new to science and unwritten. It is no easy task to master the language."

The next letter is dated from Glenora, on the Stikine River. It is more in the form of a journal, for an attack of influenza, and the subsequent weakness which lasted for three months, entailed arrears of work which made letter writing a difficulty. The Bishop's rule of writing, when possible, while everything was fresh in his memory, accounts for the vividness of his descriptions, and for his power of transferring his impressions to others.

"June 11th, 1898.

"Before I write of my present doings, your readers will like to hear of a visit in midwinter to Sheuksh and his tribe. I had a letter on the stocks describing it, but illness overtook me, so that it was never launched. It would be ancient history to me now, so that I could not put any heart into its revival. It shall now fall into the form of a log.

"Jan. 1st.--Dr. Webb, who was wintering with Mr. Gurd at Kitkatla, arrived at Metlakatla. Miss West was, we feared, too ill to recover; but one evening two Indian women came to ask my advice on some question, and as they were leaving I casually expressed a wish that Dr. Webb were present. They went off to the Church Army meeting then going on and spoke of my wish. At once ten men volunteered to fetch him. One of them came to me announcing this resolve, and said they would start next morning. Off they went, battling with a head wind that rose to half a gale, but on the third day they reached Laklan, Sheuksh's town, fifty miles across the sea. Two days sufficed to bring them back, with the doctor. After he had spent some time in charge of the case, they took him back again, thus completing a distance of at least 200 miles on the high sea in a canoe. Not a cent would they take as payment. Do you think that such a thing could be done at home? Would any parish provide ten volunteers and an open boat to cross, say, from Dover to Boulogne, twice and back again, to get medical aid for a sick worker in the Church? Impossible. Love and gratitude nerved those Indian hearts to do this, and to feel proud to do it. They did a precisely similar thing the winter before. We thank God for sparing Miss West's life. She is now recovering, after a journey to England. I never thought she would survive. I quite look forward to her return. Though somewhat frail in health, her rich experience and natural energy will be of great value in helping on the work and advising the other ladies of the Mission, who naturally look to her as their head, and miss her now very much.

"Jan. 11th.--I embarked in a big canoe with nineteen Indians from the Fort Simpson Church Army, now a body of about 130 people, who regard me as their general. A delegation from our Metlakatla Church Army came along in another large canoe with twenty paddles. We wore off on a sort of ten days' mission to the Kitkatlas, and. to consecrate the new church built by them at their own expense. But for the rain it would have been pleasant. We sang and sang, hour after hour, as we paddled along with a moderate head wind. Our voyage over, we halted about four hundred yards from the shore; no one in the village discovered us in the darkness. The lights twinkled in the street lamps and from many a window, but all was silent until we burst out in song. This signal opened doors and attracted crowds to the shore to receive us as we paddled landwards. Our baggage was picked up by many hands. I was led to the Mission-house, and my party to Sheuksh's, whose guests they became.

"Next day I consecrated the new church, held a confirmation, preached three times, and received many visitors. Then the Indians who came with me began their mission. From dawn to late in the evening the sound of prayer, sacred song, and preaching was heard, excepting at meal times, and even then the grace expanded into long intercession. Mr. Gurd called it a religious epidemic. Nothing else was done. God and the soul were the only topics. From day to day the number of awakenings was brought to me. There was excitement, but no extravagance that I knew of. A day was fixed for our leaving, but when the morning dawned the pressing requests to stay another day prevailed, to my regret. The weather was then favourable and the fair wind strong enough to take us home in one day.

"Next morning was calm, but very ominous of dirty weather approaching. After a few miles of paddling, the gale burst on us, and we ran before it with reefed sails at a piping rate. As we got into open water a fearful sea rolled after us, threatening every moment to poop us. Twenty miles further brought us to two islands with a narrow and winding channel dividing them. A large steamer loomed up ahead. The pilot mistook the channel and ran his ship ashore. It was a lee shore, and we dared not attempt to approach her and her 400 passengers. There was no danger of their destruction because the shore was close and water deep. All safely landed, but their experiences were distressing on shore, camped on the deep snow without protection for a long time. We sailed along to the far end of the island, eight miles distant, where under the shelter of the land we beached our canoes and then camped in hardly less discomfort than the wrecked folk at the other end of the island.

"We were on the deep snow, with the falling snow turning to sleet, trees uprooted by the howling gale falling with a crash. Two lanterns were hung to the branches of a tree, and swung about in the wind. To kindle a fire was almost impossible, and therefore cooking was out of the question. Everything became soaking wet. I suppose we ought to have been miserable, but we were not. Before lying down for the night we had prayers. I own to have been weary and longing to observe ordinary limits, but no loss than thirteen hymns were sung, the words from memory, and a short prayer between each hymn. It took a little over two hours! All were cheery but myself, and I kept as bright a face as I could as men and women prayed on and on. After forty-eight hours we put to sea, which remained rough, but we safely reached Metlakatla.

"On the Sunday spent among the Kitkatlas an interesting ceremony took place. The wife of chief Sheuksh had been elected by the Kitkatla band of the Church Army as one of their officers. At one point of the service in the church Samuel Walsh, the blind captain, led by a sergeant, presented Sheuksh's wife to me for admission to the office. On the holy table the red ribbon had been placed. She knelt at the chancel rails. I then charged her to be faithful to Jesus, to be an example of holiness, to watch over the women of the tribe, especially the young ones, and to remember she must give a final account to Jesus at the great day. Then I placed the ribbon round her neck and told her to think of it as a token of being bound as a servant to our Master. Old Sheuksh was in the front pew all the time on his knees, his lips moving as if in prayer, and his eyes fountains of tears. What a contrast with the savage past!

"Soon after this I was at Glaxton trying to get the hospital a bit shipshape. The gold fever has reached the Indians, so that I think but few will remain for the fishing, and therefore the hospital will not be in much request this year. But this fever will not last, and there stands the hospital ready for its blessed mission of healing.

"On the 6th of May I started for the Skeena River, en route to Hazleton, and was delighted to get into the bright sunshine of the interior, away from the weeping skies of the coast. The winter had been mild, but the snowfall on the mountains very heavy. Instead of a gradual blending of spring with summer, the warm weather rushed upon us.

During the latter part of April the thermometer in the shade in my garden rarely fell below 60 degrees Fahrenheit between eleven a.m. and five p.m. The consequence of this charming and unusual weather was the swelling of the river a fortnight earlier than the average. Instead of finding it at a good stage for sailing on we met the freshet, which gave us endless trouble and caused some risk. When we got to the canyon it was full of a raging flood, so that we had to moor below it for a long time. As soon as a few cooler nights came, which checked the thaw on the mountains and diminished the downrush, we entered the canyon.

"But it was a fearful sight. Fixed in the rocky sides are ring-bolts here and there. The sailors, like cats, climb the rocks, and pass on long cables with iron hooks at the ends. One was of steel wire, 1,300 feet long. As soon as it is hooked on to the ring-bolt the steam capstan on the bow revolves, and on we go at the rate of nearly a yard a minute! The great stern wheel revolves as rapidly as the engines can work it, and churns the water with fury as it rushes past us at the rate of more than twenty miles an hour.

"The speed is not the only serious feature. Worse than that are the boiling whirls that rise from beneath, you know not where beforehand, springing like the beginning of a giant geyser, then pouring a flood of water from below to spread from a centre with force enough to sweep aside our steamer, 125 feet long by thirty feet beam, as if it were a bit of drift wood. One blow made by a rock, as we were swept against it, broke through the planks, happily just above water mark, rolling up an iron plate as if it had been a piece of leather. The greatest skill, courage, and resource are necessary to overcome such difficulties.

"God is most merciful in sparing me from disaster amid these frequent perils. Some people have called it a charmed life; it is rather a living in the hollow of God's hand.

"I was much touched by the Indians at Hazleton coming to comfort me, as they said. They had not seen me since my bereavement. The Heathen seemed as much concerned as the Christians, and all wanted photographs of my late wife. I had several with me and gave them to some women who had been blessed in their souls through her ministry. How they handled them! So tenderly! Tears were brushed aside. Few words were spoken, but there was much squeezing of my hands in token of sympathy. I had to promise to send some more copies of her photograph, especially to the native teacher, who told Mr. Field she was the first who ever taught him saving truth. Many might truly say the same. The most refined Christians in England could not have behaved with greater delicacy.

"Now let us talk about the Stikine River. It took me more than a month to reach my present quarters from Metlakatla. I stepped on board ship very feebly, but full of the hope of full restoration to health as I journeyed on. Thank God, I am making steady progress. Last Sunday i administered the Holy Communion in a large shed belonging to a railway contractor. At 10.30 I preached to two hundred soldiers an route to Klondyke, or, to be more exact, going to Fort Selkirk, in the diocese of that name. It is but a name now, being, I am told, deserted, but as it is at the junction of two great rivers it is a good place for barracks. There are four Victorian nurses proceeding under the military escort. Like the soldiers, they have to walk more than 180 miles to Lake Teslin, and then go by rafts or boats, there to be built, right on to their destination. All the party seemed to value the unexpected means of grace, and loud were the cheers as I waved to them this morning at seven o'clock a parting salute at their embarkation on a steamer for Telegraph Creek, where the long walk begins.

"Mr. Palgrave heard of my arrival and walked on here to see me. Twenty-six miles did not seem much of a walk to him. Last Sunday he took a service near here, then walked to Telegraph Creek, a distance of thirteen miles, for a five p.m. service for the Indians and a seven o'clock service for the whites. That over, he walked back to my tent, and arrived at midnight. It is as easy to walk at night as in the day because of the clear sky and light. You can road at any hour of the night without artificial light. Indeed, it is easier to travel by night than by day because of the heat. In my tent, though it has a double roof, the thermometer stands at 91 degrees Fahrenheit. This sun bath is trying in some respects, but my health is improving steadily.

"There are about 2,000 white men in my neighbourhood, and on the whole very steady and well-behaved men they are. The hardships endured in getting here, partly on the frozen river (now in flood) and partly in boats rudely made on the banks, have been fearful. Many have died from them. The transportation companies have grossly misrepresented the easiness of the routes. I pity the poor fellows very much. Many are in distress because the exorbitant charges for transportation have exhausted their funds. They are selling their food supplies at 150 per cent, less than their cost, to realize a little money to pay their way onward. Unless they meet with rapid success in mining they will be in dire distress next winter.

"Mr. Palgrave will pursue his arduous work at Taltan, the chief Indian centre of the vast district. I earnestly plead for him your prayerful sympathy, and for the benighted Indians, that they may receive the message of salvation effectually."

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