Project Canterbury

Leaders of the Canadian Church
Edited by Canon Bertal Heeney

volume two
Toronto: Musson, 1920. 299 pp.

[Also spelt Cockran, and Cochrane.-Ed].

by Sheriff Colin Inkster

FROM the arrival of the Rev. John West, to the present day, two churchmen stand out pre-eminently, Archdeacon Cochran, and Archbishop Machray. (While making this statement there is no reflection intended on the saintly and scholarly Bishop Anderson, nor on the silver-tongued orator, Archdeacon Hunter, nor on the Divines of later years). Strange to say, both these men were of great stature, commanding presence, and strong personality, and each in his own sphere performed his duties industriously, conscientiously and well.

They both arrived at the scene of their labours when their peculiar qualifications were required for the development of the Red River Settlement, and of Rupert's Land. Mr. Cochran came when the climate and fertility of the Red River Valley had become known as suitable for agriculture through the efforts of the Lord Selkirk settlers. Discharged Hudson's Bay servants arrived in large numbers from the Saskatchewan country in the west and from Albany and the James' Bay district in the north-east.

Bishop Machray arrived in October, 1865, a few days after Cochran had passed away, and the rule of the Hudson's Bay Company was waning. About this time also, the Government of Canada acquired the territory of Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company, thus introducing a new order of things and promoting immigration to this country.

William Cochran was born in 1798, in Chil-lingham, Northumberland. He Was ordained deacon December 19th, 1824, and was priested the following year by the Bishop of London. Shortly afterward he was married, and left with his bride for the Red River Settlement.

In the course of time, four children were born to them, one of whom, having graduated from Oxford, was ordained to the Ministry by Bishop Anderson. He officiated in St. John's Church, and taught at St. John's Parochial School. When his father went to Portage la Prairie to establish a mission there, he accompanied him, and assisted in preaching and teaching. Owing to poor health he left for Toronto in 1864, and died shortly after his arrival in that city.

Mr. Cochran, on his arrival, immediately took charge of what is now St. John's Parish, officiating in the little wooden chapel built by Mr. West. The great majority of his congregation were Presbyterians, Lord Selkirk settlers. Though Mr. Cochran's preaching was acceptable to this people they never became reconciled to the Church of England Liturgy, and it was deemed wise to make certain modifications in the church services in order to quiet their prejudice. When the first resident Presbyterian Minister, John Black, arrived here in 1851, three hundred of them left the church, yet they always spoke of Mr. Cochran in the most kindly manner.

Mr. Cochran gave his services almost exclusively to St. John's until 1830. In 1831 he moved to what was then called the Grand Rapids, now St. Andrew's. At this spot, he bought from the Hudson's Bay Company, for the Church Missionary Society, twenty chains of land for which he paid 7s. 6d. per acre. In this selection he showed great foresight and worldly wisdom. Probably nowhere in the whole length of the Red River could a more beautiful site for a Church be found, for it is situated at the head of St. Andrew's Rapids and commands a beautiful view of the Red River to the south.

He obtained as a gift from the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company eight chains of land on either bank of the Red River, at the Grand Rapids.

In the same year, 1831, he commenced a building at St. Andrew's that could be used both as a church and a schoolhouse. This building was finished and opened for service the following May. As Mr. Gunn relates, "Mrs. Cochran taught the girls five days in the week and the boys were taught by a young gentleman of fine education."

"The reverend gentleman," says the same writer, "when not engaged in Parochial duties, took an active part in examining the children in their school work, praising the diligent and reproving the slothful." And in another place Mr. Gunn refers to Mr. Cochran as follows: "This zealous and indefatigable preacher of the Gospel admitted the dwellers of the vicinity every Sunday into his private dwelling during the first year of his new charge." It must be remembered that Mr. Gunn was an ardent Presbyterian, so that these remarks coming from him show in what esteem Mr. Cochran was held by others than those of his own communion.

It was Mr. Cochran's custom, when farming operations commenced in the spring of the year, to ride along the bank of the river, and if he saw a plowman who was doing poor work, he would dismount, talk kindly and encouragingly to him, and make such changes in the rigging of the plow and in the hitching of the oxen as he considered necessary, then go a round or two with the man and perhaps make further changes, until everything worked satisfactorily. And so he went through the parish assisting in all things. It should be remembered that the plows used in those days and also the harness were home-made. There were some plows imported from Scotland, but owing to the sticky nature of the soil, these did not prove satisfactory; and the half-broken oxen presented another difficulty. I remember a student of St. John's telling me that if there was one thing in the world which would make a man swear, it was driving oxen. He is now a Bishop.

The building erected 1831-1832 could not now accommodate the parishioners, so Mr. Cochran was determined, with the help of his people, to build a stone church. He called a meeting of the Parish for that purpose, and the following is taken from his journal.

"December 31st, 1844, I held a meeting for the purpose of ascertaining what means we could raise for building a stone church. Almost all the males attended. I addressed them on the zeal and liberality of the children of Israel, when it was proposed to build the Tabernacle. If Moses found a willing people, the present assembly were equally so. Silver and gold they had none, but stones, lime, shingles, boards, timber and labour were cheerfully contributed, and to such an amount as completely astonished me. Never since the day of Pentecost was self so completely ignored. The shingle makers proposed to give ten thousand shingles each, and the lime burners four hundred bushels of lime each. The mason proposed to dress the stones for one corner and lay them gratis. Boards and timber were promised in the same liberal manner. One black curly head, a descendant from the line of Ham by his father's side, stood up in his leather coat and said: 'I shall give £10.' The eyes of all were turned towards him and a smile played on every countenance. I said, 'I believe our brethren think you are too poor to raise such a sum.' He said, raising his arms, 'Here is my body, it is at your service. It is true, I can neither square a stone, nor lay one, but there will be the floor and the roof, turn me to them and then you will see, if God give me life and health, the value of the sum will be raised.' In material and labour above £700 was promised."

So preparations were immediately commenced to collect material for the new church. Men went out to the pines for logs to be sawn by hand into boards. Others went out to the cedars for shingles. These were sawn into blocks of the proper length, then split to the proper thickness, then shaved with a drawing knife. Shingles made in this way will last forty or fifty years. The lime burners were also busy in carrying out their promise. In the spring quarrying for stone commenced, Mr. Cochran doing his full share of the work. He would bring his lunch of bread and cheese with him and drank the Red River water. Many stories are told of his trials of strength with the other men. It is said of Mr. Cochran when it came to shifting stones a favourite remark of his was: "This is where I shine."

Mr. Truthwaite, a leading man in the community, informed the writer that a certain day was fixed to commence digging for the foundation. He left his home at five o'clock expecting to be the first on the ground, but when he got there Mr. Cochran had already several feet dug. The corner stone was laid by Mr. Smithurst, on the fourth of July, 1845, but the building was not completed until the following year. The church is eighty-one feet by forty, with a tower twenty feet square. It stands as it was built with the exception of the spire, which was blown down in July, 1868, by the most terrible cyclone that ever passed over this country. The church was also re-seated some years ago, by the ladies of the Parish. "This House of God was built entirely at the expense of the parishioners, with the exception of fifty dollars donated by an officer of the Hudson's Bay Company, and £30, collected by Thomas Cochran's friends when attending College in England. It was opened without a penny of debt."

One can imagine the amount of labour and cost entailed in order to put up a building of that size, under circumstances then existing, when one considers that every board in it was whip-sawn, and every board and moulding planed by hand. All the nails, paint and glass were brought from England via Hudson's Bay, and from there by York boats, and carried on men's backs over many portages.

The consecration of this church took place in December, 1849, and was the first Episcopal act of the first Bishop of Rupert's Land.

Until 1832, Mr. Cochran's labours were chiefly amongst the Europeans and those of mixed blood. Now he had made up his mind to Christianize the Saulteaux Indians, who were generally camped at Netley Creek. Before undertaking this new work, he got permission from Governor Simpson. He had several interviews with Pegowis, the chief of the tribe, through an interpreter, Joseph Cook. The Chief himself was amenable to reason but his councillors and medicine men were strongly opposed to throwing aside the customs of their forefathers. They argued that if they gave up their conjuring, their drums and their rattles, the Manitou would be angry with them, and would not prosper them in their hunting and fishing expeditions. In reply to their many excuses for adhering to the religion of their fathers, Mr. Cochran made the following rejoinder: "Six times has that river been frozen, since I came to your country, and as many times has it been opened again. Six times have the flocks of wild fowl passed and re-passed. I diminished not their number, nor retarded their flight. Yet you see I have enough. Every time you have passed my house I have fed you when hungry, and often sent you away laden with provisions. Still, I am not in want. I have a house, a field, a garden, cows and pigs. I have enough to feed my family, my servants, the Indian children, and give to the passing stranger. Now, if you will let me farm at your encampment, it shall be entirely for the benefit of yourself and your tribe. I will teach you; I will supply you with hoes and with seed. I will send a man with oxen to plow the land, I will help you to build comfortable houses and to preserve the corn and potatoes for winter use." With such arguments as these he gradually won over the leading men of the tribe. Pegowis, as we have already noticed, had expressed his willingness to follow the religion and customs of the white man. At length after a very hard, long, cold winter, when the snow was deep and game scarce and difficult to get, the head men also began to relax, when they considered how the white man always lived in plenty while they and their families had scarcely enough to keep body and soul together. So Mr. Cochran, shrewd man that he was, began to see an opening, and lost no time in coming down with men, oxen, plow and provisions and a leather tent in which to live. (The leather tent was made of buffalo skins and was used altogether by Plain Indian hunters and traders in the old buffalo days.) Thus Mr. Cochran stayed and worked with his men all week, clearing and plowing the land, going home every Saturday night and returning to his work on Monday.

Mr. Cochran relates an incident that is too characteristic to be omitted. After some of the land had been plowed, he asked the Chief to give him a couple of men to go to St. Andrew's for seed. The men were to go up by canoe, while he went on horseback to prepare the seed. But they absolutely refused to move until one proposed that if Mr. Cochran would take charge of the canoe he would ride Mr. Cochran's horse up to the Rapids. Mr. Cochran had to submit. He and the other Indian paddled against a strong current, which at that time of the year is most difficult. But this great missionary was equal to any emergency that might present itself.

The first season appears not to have been propitious for crops; a frost in August injured the wheat and potatoes, but they were able to reap a fair crop of barley. The Indians now began to realize the benefit of tilling the ground, and every season after that they were more amenable to Mr. Cochran's example and teaching. He helped them to build houses for themselves. He helped them to erect a windmill where they could grind wheat of their own raising. He helped them to build a wooden church and schoolhouse. When that church was incapable of holding the increased congregations, he helped them to build a substantial stone church which stands to-day as another monument of his labour and energy.

When the Wolseley Expedition came up the Red River in 1870, after travelling hundreds of miles along rivers and over portages, without seeing any sign of civilization, they were perfectly astonished to see this substantial stone church, a sure sign of Christian teaching. And when some of the officers landed, they were further surprised to meet the missionary in charge, the Rev. Henry Cochrane, a pure Indian, who showed them through the church and cemetery, and who spoke to them in the purest of English.

After the departure of Mr. Jones in 1838, Archdeacon Cochran had, like St. Paul, the care of all the churches. As they extended over thirty miles along the Red River one can easily imagine what a task this was. Four congregations had to be ministered to by Mr. Cochran single-handed, for fourteen months. In the summer, spring and autumn, he travelled on horseback, over roads almost impassable and in the winter by horse and carriole. There was no escape from his labours, rainstorm and sunshine, snowstorm and blizzard, 90 in the shade or 40 below zero, he had to meet his appointments; no such thing as being able to ask a brother clergyman to give him a helping hand.

Referring to his services at the Indian Settlement, he says: "I leave home with my heart glowing with love and with a desire to praise God and proclaim the message of salvation to my fellow creatures; I ride on, a snowstorm drifting in my face almost blinds my horse and myself; my hands and feet are benumbed; my face perhaps blistered with the intensity of the frost; the chill reaches my heart, and I seem to have lost all spiritual feeling. But when I hear two hundred voices joining to sing the praises of Him whom lately they knew not, my heart grows warm again. I remember His promise who had said: 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.' and I too can rejoice in Him."

Mr. Cochran carried on this arduous work until the arrival of Mr. Smithurst in the autumn of 1839, who immediately took charge of the Indian congregation and was surprised and encouraged by the state in which he found the people.

After many years, in spite of his powerful frame and iron constitution, the terrible and continuous strain of mind and body which he had imposed on himself since his arrival in the settlement began to tell in failing health, and he was obliged to give up his work of love, that he had so far successfully carried out, and go with his family to Canada by the Lake Superior route to recuperate his shattered health. His return to the Settlement was felt to be unlikely, but to the surprise and joy of his people, he was so much improved that he was able to come back the following year. He could not resist the call of duty. On his return to the country he took charge of the Upper Church for a short time. Here again, he built a house, later called St. Cross; subsequently this structure was occupied by Mrs. Mills, an English ladv of high accomplishments, and her two daughters, who opened in it a ladies' school. Mrs. Mills, having returned to England, was followed by a certain Mrs. Oldershaw; thus it appears that the education of the young ladies was not neglected. On Bishop Machray's arrival he had the building remodelled and used for many years, with certain additions, as the home of St. John's College.

In 1850, Mr. Smithurst having left the country, Mr. Cochran for the first time went to live among the people whom he was the means of bringing from a state of heathen darkness to the light of Christianity.

That he was a powerful preacher everybody admitted. His style might be called unique. He was fearless in his denunciation of evil-doers, and told the faults and failings of his congregations in plain language. Even the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company did not escape his reproving tongue when circumstances demanded it, notwithstanding the fact that a part of his income was derived from that company as its chaplain. One of his favourite themes was the material hell. Many stories have been handed down from father to son concerning his pulpit utterances. On one occasion a certain parishioner, while attending a dance, drank rum to such excess that he died in terrible agony. The following Sunday Mr. Cochran preached a special sermon on the evil of drunkenness and referring to this unfortunate man's death he made use of the following language: "He danced and he quaffed and he quaffed and he danced, and dancing and quaffing, he went down to hell." Another time on a sultry summer day, he stopped in the midst of his sermon and called to one of his Bible Class teachers: "Corrigal, you are sleeping." Corrigal answered: "I am not, sir." "Well, what were the last words I said?" "'Corrigal, you are sleeping.'" That rejoinder produced a laugh through the congregation in which Mr. Cochran himself joined.

Mr. Cochran's conduct amongst his parishioners and in the pulpit created a standard for his successors. One of the most respectable and reliable members of our communion once stated: "I don't know what the church is coming to. Now we have a young minister, a very nice young man indeed, we all like him and he is quite a good preacher. He comes down to the house occasionally of an evening and after sitting a while he pulls out his pipe and commences smoking. After a while the girls produce the cards, and then they play till all hours of the night. Fancy Archdeacon Cochran doing anything like that! I have never known him to come to my house without reading a portion of scripture and offering up a prayer. Now, it is quite different."

Anyone reading Alexander Ross' "History of the Red River" will notice what little sympathy he has for the Anglican clergy; in fact his reference to them is always in the most slighting manner. Yet he refers to Mr. Cochran in the following terms: "This excellent minister was not only a pulpit man, but the plow, the spade and the hoe were all familiar to him. Few men could be more persevering, more zealous or more indefatigable. While he kent everyone busy he was himself the busiest of all."

When the church at St. Andrew's was in course of construction a report had come to Mr. Cochran that some of the workmen had procured a keg of beer and were intoxicated. When Mr. Cochran was looking over the building a day or so after, one of the leading workmen said to him: "Mr. Cochran, this building is so big, I am afraid that your voice will not be heard from one end to the other." Mr. Cochraa said, "Well, Duncan, we will see how my voice will carry. You go to that end of the building and I will go to the other." Mr. Cochran said in a loud voice: "Duncan McCrae, do you hear me?" "Yes, sir, I am hearing you fine," was the reply. "Duncan, I hear that you got a keg of beer a few days ago, and some of you got drunk; do you hear that?" "Yes, sir, I hear that too." "I hope this will not happen again, do you hear that?" "Yes, sir." "That is enough. I am satisfied that I can make myself heard."

Chief Pegowis is entitled to something more than a passing reference. During his residence in the Red River Settlement, no Chief had greater opportunities for good or evil than he. His grandson, Mr. Henry Prince, informed the writer that his grandfather came from eastern Canada, and the name Pegowis, or Peguis, signifies "destroyer." He arrived at the Red River a stranger, with a very small following, but through his force of character and straightforwardness became the recognized Chief of the Saulteaux, and was also acknowledged as such by the Swamp Crees, who came to the Red River from Norway House and from as far north as York Factory. Pegowis was one of the signatories to the treaty made by Lord Selkirk with four other Chiefs, on the 18th of July in 1817. At the time of the battle of Seven Oaks, what an opportunity had Pegowis to exercise the savage lust of blood! He had it in his power, if so inclined, to annihilate every member of the Lord Selkirk Settlers and, had he done so, without doubt he would have been liberally rewarded by the leaders of the North-West Fur Trading Company. But he stood aloof and kept his warriors well in hand, and used all his influence to protect the defenceless whites, men, women and children. In later years he was at all times received at the homes of these white settlers and their descendants with the greatest kindness.

The writer has in his possession a parchment, on which is written:

'"These are to certify that Pegowis, the Sault-eaux Indian Chief, has uniformly been friendly to the Whites, well disposed towards the settlement of Red River and altogether a steady, intelligent, well-conducted Indian. In consideration of these facts, and being now in the decline of life, unable to maintain himself and family by the produce of the chase alone, it is hereby certified that I have assured him of an annuity for life from the Honourable The Hudson's Bay Company, of five pounds sterling, commencing with a payment of that amount this day.

Fort Carry, 1st January, 1835.

(Signed) Geo. Simpson, Governor of Rupert's Land."

Pegowis died in 1864, and both Archdeacons Cowley and Hunter officiated at his funeral.

We also find that when Mr. West arrived at the Red River Pegowis showed him a document which read as follows:--

"The Bearer, Peguis, one of the principal chiefs of the Chipeways or Saulteaux of Red River, has been a steady friend of the settlement ever since its first establishment and has never deserted its cause in its greatest reverses. He has often exerted his influence to restore peace; and having rendered most essential services to the settlers in their distress, deserves to be treated with favour and distinction by the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company and by all the friends of peace and good order.

(signed) SELKIRK.

Fort Douglas, July 17th, 1820."

This Chief should be entitled to the same rank in Canadian history as Tecumseh and Brant.

Many stories of the Archdeacon's muscular encounters with bad men are kept alive and related with pride by his people and their descendants. One of these was told me by a man who was for many years a servant of his. He related how that on a Sunday, when he accompanied the Archdeacon to St. Peter's, they were met by an Indian, who complained that his wife had been induced to leave him, by a depraved half-breed. Mr. Cochran, addressing his servant said, "Jack, this will never do. Go to the woods and bring me three oak saplings as thick as your thumb." Armed with these, and accompanied by his servant and the deserted husband, he made his way to the Indian's tent and called upon the offender to come forth, which he refused to do. Forthwith, Mr. Cochran overthrew the tent and set upon the half-breed, first with one rod and then with the other and finally with a third, until he had impressed upon his back, and probably upon his mind as well, the meaning of the tenth commandment. The encounter was not by any means an uneven one in its early stages, for the half-breed, like the preacher, was a man of powerful build. Having washed himself after the struggle, the doughty champion of morals returned to the church and delivered his sermon to the assembled congregation.

On another occasion, while riding on "The King's Road," as the highway was then called, he met one of his parishioners somewhat intoxicated, who at once began to indulge in abusive language. Mr. Cochran leaped from his horse, pulled the offender from his mount, gave him a thorough thrashing and sent him about his affairs, while Mr. Cochran continued his journey much as if nothing had happened.

In 1857, the Archdeacon, with his family, moved to Portage la Prairie, and was soon followed by a number of his old parishioners. He built a parsonage, a church which he named St. Mary's and a schoolhouse on the banks of the Assiniboine. There he not only established a mission, but he and his followers became the pioneer farmers of the fertile Portage Plains. In forming a settlement here he was strongly opposed by the Hudson's Bay Company, and the Governor and Council of Assiniboia. It was outside the jurisdiction of the latter body. It was feared that if the community brought into existence through Mr. Cochran's efforts became numerous, trouble might arise through the lack of any constituted government. But a man of his calibre could not be curbed. So long as he was living, his very presence kept the community free from any serious disorder. After his death, however, there were several murders committed, and many crimes of lesser degree.

The Archdeacon, having established a church and school at the Portage, other inhabitants soon followed and settled nearby, along the Assini-boine River. He also built churches and schools at High Bluff and Poplar Point and for a time he and his son ministered to these congregations until assistance came from the eastern part of the settlement.

His mission among the Indians at the Portage was not as successful as it was at St. Peter's. The Indians were more nomadic, and many of them followed the buffalo hunting for a livelihood. And they had no substantial Chief like Pegowis, to advise them and keep them under control. However, he had quite a large number of converts.

The closing scene of this heroic life is picturesque. In the early part of June, 1865, a line of carts crossed the Assiniboine River, at Fort Carry, bound for St. Cloud, Minnesota, then the most northerly terminus of the St. Paul and Pacific Railway. Among them was one with rude canvas top, beneath which sat the Ven. Archdeacon and Mrs. Cochran, who were leaving the Red River Settlement, after forty years. They were on their way to Canada, to spend the rest of their declining days. I happened to be travelling in the same party, and saw much of them. Every night, weather permitting, he held a service.

In his addresses he dealt with subjects material and spiritual. Once he laid stress on the raising of sheep, and said that instead of having our carts laden with furs and hides, they should be loaded with wool.

From the International boundary southward, there are a number of little streams emptying into the Red River. These could not be forded, as the banks were steep and the bottoms muddy, so temporary bridges had to be thrown over them. As ours was the first brigade to travel over the route that spring we reconstructed bridges as we came to them. The Archdeacon was always one of the first on the spot, and worked with his own hands as well as gave orders to those about him.

One day when we had stopped for our midday meal, along came a company of American cavalry. Their horses took fright at our strange-looking carts, and commenced prancing and wheeling around. The riders gave vent to profanity. The Archdeacon immediately jumped up from his meal, without coat or cap, and said to them: "You are not brave men or you would not mention your Maker's name in this way." He talked to them for a few minutes. Some of them went on, while others stopped to hear what he had to say, and when leaving, thanked him for his good advice. The sight of this old man, with his white hair waving in the summer breeze, stopping and reprimanding a body of horsemen in a foreign country is one of the most courageous acts I have ever witnessed. Certainly he was a man instant both in season and out of season, bearing testimony to his Master.

Having finished the journey to St. Goud, the Archdeacon and Mrs. Cochran bade us good-bye, expecting never to return to the scene of their labours.

Strange to relate, the following September, both of them reappeared. Having reached Canada, he felt that his health was failing rapidly and decided to return at once to the west, whose scenes and people he loved. He arrived at Portage la Prairie during the harvest. His illness soon became worse and on the first day of October he passed away, and was laid to rest, according to his wish, in the burial ground of St. Andrew's Church, the chief scene of his great work. A limestone slab before the entrance marks the place where the body of this remarkable man lies buried. There is also a beautiful memorial window in the east end of this church to his memory, the gift of his many friends.

Taking a retrospect of this truly pioneer missionary, what a wonderfully many-sided man he was: a great preacher, teacher, a master builder, a master organizer and farm instructor. He was a member of the first council of Assiniboia and chaplain of the Hudson's Bay Company. He was made first Archdeacon of Assiniboia, by the first Bishop of Rupert's Land.

Hargrave, in his "History of the Red River," writes, "It can be no disparagement to any of the now comparatively numerous clergymen who sojourned from time to time in Rupert's Land, to claim for Archdeacon Cochran a high pre-eminence of usefulness amongst them. His forty years' residence in the country, the laborious nature of the work he performed, his isolation for a great part of the time from clerical assistance and the vast amount of charitable expenditure incurred by him in material aid of all kinds conferred on his parishioners have secured for him a commanding influence among the generation who knew him, and without doubt his memory will continue in high estimation long after that generation shall have disappeared."

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