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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 XIII. Enlarged Opportunities

"O heavenly gale supply the force
To waft us nearer to the source
Of grace abounding."

THE territory covered by the Dioceses of Caledonia and Selkirk was now about to rise into world-wide importance. For years, as we have seen, gold had been found by a few enterprising miners, but now there came a gigantic rush for the newly-discovered goldfields, and the name of Klondyke became familiar to many who would have been puzzled if asked to point it out on the map. It was decided that Bishop Ridley should take the entire superintendence of the work in Lake Atlin and Lake Bennett district, and the S.P.G. made a grant for that purpose. In 1899 he journeyed there to make the necessary arrangements, He gives the following account of what he saw:--

"Lake Bennett, July 21st, 1899. "The easiest and perhaps the clearest way of helping you to locate me on your map of British North America is to give you my latitude and longitude. Look out the 60° parallel and note where the 135th meridian crosses it, then descend southward ten miles on the meridian. There stands my tent, the same I have often described as measuring ten feet long and eight wide. Last November I came within forty miles of the same spot, but was not well enough to face the White Pass in the teeth of the driving blizzards that then prevailed. I turned back before the raging elements. Lately they invited me forward with their smile.

"I embarked on a steamer from Vancouver called the Cutch, because she was built for the Rajah of Cutch, who tired, I suppose, of his beautiful and staunch steam-yacht. So she was bought for the China trade, and eventually crossed the Pacific, where she is a favourite. She picked me up at Metlakatla on her voyage from Vancouver to Skagway, where she landed me, after a very enjoyable voyage along the smooth channels that separate the countless islands from the mainland of British Columbia and Alaska for a thousand miles.

"The November voyage was a rough one, not so much because of heavy seas, but on account of the unpleasant gales. All the other vessels at that time sought shelter, ours braved the northern blast and reached Skagway, at the head of the Lynn inlet (or canal as we call these inlets), thickly coated with ice, looking like a fairy ship, but to us on board like an iceberg disguised as a ship. To those on the dock as we made fast, she must have been a vision of beauty, if they had eyes for it. On board that pleasure was denied us. The cold wind was terrible. Below we were comfortable enough, but I prefer the deck in all weathers.

"It was necessary to use axes to free the cables before the ship could be moored. As we passed up Lynn Canal we crossed the seaward end of one of its branches called the Taku Arm. The blizzard here was abeam, and my cabin on deck was to windward. The sea was one mass of short, stinging waves, and from their foaming crests the gale licked off the briny water and hurled it at the ship's broadside with a tornado-like howl. Where it struck it stuck. The moment the water reached my cabin window, a good eighteen feet from the loadline, it froze and froze until light was shut out. These northern winter's gales can be cruel! The colder interior is nearly always calm when the cold is intense, say from--30° to--60°. It does not there distress one at all; but here on the sea it goes to the marrow, and makes one consider how long one could face it and live. Last week Bishop Bompas complained of the cold here at Bennett.

"From the ship's berth at the Skagway wharf is a bridge-way I thought a mile long, but it is rather more than a quarter of that perhaps. I really felt that if there had not been a handrail I would never have dared it for fear of being blown off. It was the worst cold I ever met, though not much below zero.

"The Church people of the town seem to be a very hospitable folk. I found myself at their choir practice in the evening, tired as I was, and their apparent devoutness, and grief at having no resident clergyman, so touched me that I promised to either come back on Saturday for Sunday from Bennett, forty-two miles, and give them the benefit of the Church's ministration, or else send the S.P.G. clergyman stationed at Bennett. The latter was so charmed that he almost lost his heart among them.

"I was fortunate in reaching Skagway after the railroad was opened to Bennett. The ordinary cars ran nearly half-way when we had to ride on the platform set on wheels and called here 'construction cars.' We got up among the baggage and each chose for himself the package that made the best seat, and to that we held fast. But this I felt thankful for, because I am getting too old to walk long distances now. This reminds me that to-morrow is my sixty-third birthday. The figures make me look older than I feel. Now that my health is so much improved by this dry climate, I seem to feel as young as when I came here twenty years ago. But when a week's walk looms in front, my grey beard pleads for pity for my feet. The Rev. F. Stephenson I sent in before the snow was removed by the April sun, and he had a six days' walk from Skagway to Atlin, having, besides the land journey, to walk about 100 miles over frozen lakes that now bear a fleet of steamers and hundreds of boats on their bosom.

"My journey by rail from Skagway was first along the level delta bearing a dense forest. In its heart were the railroad workshops, a Swindon or Crowe in miniature. After a few miles we began to climb the eastern mountain slope, gaining on the white thread of a river at the bottom of the valley. In ten miles we ascended 2,900 feet, and certainly it is a thrilling experience that would be trying to the nerves but for the surprise and admiration called forth by the grandeur of the mountain gorge. The fir-trees grew to a very moderate size ,for half the distance, then became scrubby, and finally ceased, unless apologies be accepted for trees.

"Having made the ascent--in one gulch so narrow that the switchback plan was adopted--we found ourselves among nature's paving-stones, great round backed granite rocks that looked like a troubled ocean turned to granite at a peremptory word of command. We snaked between the billows, or skirted bogs and lakelets due to the melted snows, or over the glacial deposits left in many a vast hollow that otherwise would have held a lake. Some miles beyond rose the ancient mountains, treeless and naked but that the snow remaining in the fissures and gloomy gorges cross-stitched the sullen range.

"It was a scene of awful desolation that chilled the soul and made one ready to pity the puny flora, while one admired its daring to live at all. Tiny firs, bearing all the marks of decrepid old age, bent by the northern furies and gnarled by the awful winters, looked up pathetically into one's face, instead of offering to the traveller a welcome under sturdy branches, such as I am accustomed to in the southern parts of this vast diocese. The juniper humbly crawled from rocky hollows and crevices, but rarely ventured above the highest parts of the granite dome that gave it scanty shelter against the black tempests from the weird north, the terrific north. When the train stopped I slipped off my perch and made a rush for the nearest flowers, and surprised myself by their variety. These, like the mountains, attain to a maturity denied everything else; the latter as if in pride as earth's pillars, the former as sharers of a faith in resurrection, live their short life of beauty to please Him who clothes them, and therefore rise to perfection through the ages that wear away the mountains. You should see the puny trees; then you would form some idea of the cruelty of the fierce winters. I gathered a pine with cones on it and placed it, root and all, among the flowers in my left hand to mingle a little extra greenery among the bright flowers. Its record on this page is happier than if I left it to its cradle--a baby tree, until it slowly died.

"As we descended from the White Pass towards the lakes we met timber again, of small dimensions, and at the margin of the lakes I found so great a variety of ferns and flowers that it would take several pages even to name them. It is a bright compensation for the terrors of winter to those who endure them.

"All along the route skeletons or carcases of pack-horses lie in gruesome numbers, telling of the toil and agony of the thousands that struggled on over the snow before the railway was built. Twenty thousand are said to have been stabled on the frozen lake this spring, to rest a while, on the road to Klondyke. A few yards behind, my tent is a perfect skeleton, from which I have learnt more of the anatomy of the horse than I ever expected to obtain. It is the relic of sacrifice to the average miner's god. But justice as well as a love of adventure compels me to own, though compulsion does not express the pleasure of it, that many of them are not only strong but godly men.

"Well, here I am with the desolation miles away, among the granite hillocks and mountains, and with the lake about 200 feet below and in front. I look out on a scene of characteristic attraction. The mountains that embrace the lake remind me of the eastern shores of the Bed Sea, dismal enough in dismal winter; but the bridge of azure and the rippling turquoise lake below impart a charm to the granite setting of the gem that only needs the glory of the rising or setting of the sun to complete a picture of rare beauty.

"I am rambling on as if it were easy to sketch it with my pen, which would be presumption indeed if I thought it possible. This is really an introduction to letters that may hereafter be written of work done. I am now exploring, so far as the Indians are concerned, and ministering to the whites with two clergy here for the summer.

"In about an hour I embark for Atlin City, 109 miles distant. There, I am told, are three tribes of Indians that, till gold was found, were inaccessible from the coast. After my week at Atlin I may add some further information, but for the present my pen must rest."

"Dennett, Aug. 2nd.

"I arrived here from the gold-mines, 125 miles distant, about two hours ago, and hasten to finish my observations before I strike camp again.

"This is a much more windy place than Atlin, 118 miles farther on, and therefore the open-air guards one from the mosquito pest to some extent. It is a very bracing place, rocky and dry. No fault can be found with the climate here.

"The only Indians in the place are Zimshians whom many years ago I baptized on the coast. They sought me out, and never miss a service. Boat-building is their trade, and very well paid they are in it. Some of these boats are mere barges, flat bottomed and square ended, but they run the rapids safely and carry large cargoes and horses to Dawson on the mighty Yukon River. It is possible to embark in boats not more than thirty miles, as the crow flies, from the sea at Taku Arm of Lynn Canal, and proceed along rivers and lakes for nearly 3,000 miles to Behring's Sea, and thence to any shore washed by the ocean. This great waterway is now open to the globe-trotter. From Liverpool he could reach Dawson, the Klondyke capital, in twenty days.

"The Bishop of Selkirk, Dr. Bompas, has the full tide of civilization forced upon him to his sorrow. He lives three miles from Dawson, and therefore must see his heaven lighted up at night by the electric demon. A week before my arrival he stood where I now write. Would that he waited the few days that I might have had the honour of welcoming him to my diocese! He thought Bennett and Atlin were within his, and therefore ventured so far. Arriving here he found he had trespassed beyond his jurisdiction no less than fourteen miles! The newspaper man who reported an interview with him states that he hurried northwards and buried himself once more in the frozen north, that no man knows as he does, and no other man loves but for the sake of its gold. This report, copied into an American paper, added striking glosses to the account. What would the dear Bishop think if he saw himself described as the most devoted of Catholic (meaning Roman Catholic) bishops in the wide world! This gloss evidently was by a Roman newsman who covertly hit at the snug and comfortable lives of Protestants who assumed episcopal authority. Bishop Bompas, the paper said, was so modest that he would not talk of the countless hair-breadth escapes from awful peril and death, treating them as phases of everyday life not to be counted worthy of notice. Now that Borne can no longer take the credit of such splendid heroism, you may be sure it will cease to be admired in that quarter.

"I must not further enlarge on this subject or I shall not again get so hearty an invitation from the Bishop as the one now before me, dated July 6th, and written on this spot. At Dawson, on my way to his Indian Mission, he says Mr. Naylor, the clergyman there, 'will be only too happy to lodge me either in the Mission-house or in the church, where we sometimes find quarters.' I quote this to show the use we sometimes, yea often, put our churches to, such as they are. Then he adds, 'Access from Dawson is only by boat.' How he must rejoice over those three miles of water between the Indians and himself and the noise and riot of drinking saloons and gambling hells at Dawson! Yet this habitual retirement and shrinking from civilization must seem strange to many of you.

"I cannot now accept my next-door neighbour's invitation, and this grieves me. I could get to his side in three days! Could I spare them, the journey would be full of pleasure without an hour of toil, unlike the one I have taken since I began this letter. I am so stiff and sore from this, that I am glad to sit down, and find an excuse for sitting, in writing this.

"Just over the border and within my brother Bishop's diocese are some Indians at Tagish and also some whites, whom he asked Mr. Appleyard, our clergyman settled here for six months, to go over and minister to. So Mr. A. went and I took his duty here.

"Ten days ago I started for Atlin City and thence to the gold-diggings. There I spent a busy and happy time. The day after my arrival I went to hunt Indians, and found a number of huts where they live. The first thing I did was to write all the numerals up to a thousand--a queer way of beginning missionary work you will say. It is important to do no harm at the start, and to ask questions easy to answer. Next came the names of the fingers from the little finger of the left hand to the thumb of the right.

"Before I got through, I had planted a little confidence among the youths from whom I sought information. Later I met at the ranche an Indian from the coast who claims that he has some white man's blood in his veins. He came to me a few days later and brought four young Indians with him. Knowing a little English we could talk. As he talked he turned hack my coat to look for something. What do you think it was for? He had met on one occasion a Roman bishop who passed through the country with a priest and baptized many as they went. So said my friend, pointing to himself, 'Mo Catholic.' He had turned back my coat to look for a pectoral cross. Catholic or Heathen I was interested in him, but later on the whites bade me to be careful how I trusted him, because 'he is a smart but worthless fellow, the worst of the whole crowd,' meaning the Indians.

"He is a burly fellow, and rude enough for any rough. Yet he may have some good qualities and be worth digging for. He knows no more of Christ than the other--what shall I call them?--Heathen. He towered above his companions, and is evidently, though a foreigner among them, a man of much influence corresponding with his energy. His humour, too, is grim enough for anybody. Pointing to the largest of the hotels in the city, he said it would be his when all white men leave the country. He looks forward to this yet did not wait idly for it, but got some gold claims into his possession, and sold them for a sum of money that makes him rich. I fear he will be an hindrance in teaching the Indians he lives among. One of the objects I had in view in getting hold of their numerals was to find out whether their language has any affinity with those I already know, and this is one of the readiest ways of ascertaining.

"My impression is that these three bands of Indians called by the whites Tagish, are related to those Mr. Palgrave is bravely working among on the Stikine: if so, this may be regarded as an out-station of that. One of them, a small man, not more, I think, than 4 ft. 8 in. in height, with hair reaching lower than his knees, marched through the streets as unconcerned as if white men were trees. Pride in him stood on tiptoe. He was a medicine-man, followed at a distance by a boy as tall as himself. How strange for him to see white men building in the midst of his forest, fishing in his streams, hunting on his mountains, and he all the time believing himself the largest man and perhaps the happiest: certainly he was the dirtiest, which would count with him among the cardinal virtues, pride coming next, and then gluttony. Most people saw him with amusement. I know one who pitied him, but what could he do? He prayed that the Light of the world might reach the dark avenues and shine through his heart. The problem with me now is how to evangelize these wanderers. They do not remain long in the same place, but go after game from place to place.

"I sailed along this group of lakes 109 miles, walked over the ridge for two miles to Lake Atlin, then crossed the six miles over that to Atlin City. There I was accommodated in a room belonging to a bank, and went to a cafe for my meals. In this city I bought a house for the missionary, the Rev. F. Stephenson, spending £100 on that and the beginnings of a church. At present service is held in a large tent.

"Then I went forward to the gold diggings, went down by the creek-sides into the 'claims,' as the 100-foot squares of land are called, and 'panned out' a pan full of 'paying dirt,' earning five shillings in fifteen minutes. I saw plenty of nuggets and handled bricks of gold, each worth about £600. Strange to say, in the midst of this wealth sought among rocks and soil there is much destitution. I held service in a big tent here also. One hundred and seventy were present, and twenty-five horny-handed miners received the Communion there.

"In the evening, seven and a half miles distant, I recognized three men who were present at the morning service, which shows at least, by their fifteen-mile walk over stumps and stones, how much they relish the Gospel. I saw a few Indians at the diggings, but could not talk to them. Gold has a strange fascination for men. I confess that as I washed out the 'dirt' from my pan and saw the yellow sediment, I had a slight tremor of pleasure as if I had found the philosopher's stone. When there is no gold at the bottom the dirt is said to be 'dead.' The gold gives it life. It is in a small way related to the joy of finding souls after toil for Jesus. This gold is living indeed.

"The country I have travelled over is the most beautiful I have yet seen. No one from these parts need go to Italy for blue skies, and lakes; soft airs, or mountain umbrageous to the snow-line, where the green glaciers are fountains of streams that laugh all through the summer--they have them all after windy Lake Bennett is crossed and lovely Atlin is seen. The climate is all one could wish--the days breezy, the nights calm, cool, yet most genial beyond anything even Devonia, my own dear home, can boast. Even now the nights are not only balmy, but light enough to read by without artificial light. Lake Atlin is about 100 miles long, with no one knows how many islands dotting it. One is a mountain range in itself; others are low, with open glades in the forest covered with beautiful flowers and stocked with edible berries. The clear blue waters abound with fish--trout, grayling, white fish, and other finny beauties. The streams and waterfalls--oh, how beautiful! I was about to break out into poetry and so spoil my prose."

The Bishop wrote at the same time to the S.P.G., which had made him the grant for carrying on the work:--

"I have no diocesan fund, and never had, unless the occasional gifts for current expenses be so called. I have more and more learnt to trust God to provide as necessities arise, and He has provided. The need is laid before him in simple faith, and He opens the hearts of some of His servants to help as help is needed. I am often down (as miners say) to bedrock, not knowing how to act; but 'tis there the golden promises are fulfilled. If my career were to end to-morrow, my successor would not find a debt of £100 in the whole diocese, and yet the desire of my heart is almost accomplished. When we get into spiritual touch with the Indians on Lake Atlin the whole diocesan field will be occupied. I ought to publicly own the goodness of God in letting His servant see such a glorious completion of evangelistic work in his episcopate. Of course, on these foundations the work of edifying must now go on. In some respects it is the more arduous work, calling out the best qualities of our best men. There is no denying that pioneering, with all its difficulties and hardships (as some imaginative people call the exercise of a healthy and vigorous life), contains the romantic strata of adventure and the zest of peril. I like to see it in my younger brethren, and seldom check even its extreme, because experience will do this soon enough. A soft creature can never become a missionary, even if paid as one. Such do not stay with me. No soldier's heart beats more bravely than the hearts of my brothers in arms scattered over a diocese larger than England and Prance together. They have wrought wonders, and will be remembered out here for ages to come as the vanguard of Jesus in the enemy's land."

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