Project Canterbury

Leaders of the Canadian Church
Edited by Canon Bertal Heeney

volume two
Toronto: Musson, 1920. 299 pp.

by Rev. G. W. Nicholson, B.A.
Rector, St. James' Parish, Winnipeg

EARLY on the morning of November 18th, 1847, a tall, dark, weather-beaten Indian "with strong frame and quick eye," stepped into the home of the Rev. R. James and began to talk of the welfare of the Christian Church. It was Pegowis the Indian Chief. He had come, he said, to talk over things of the deepest interest. He wanted more Indians to know about the new religion ; he wanted to tell how sure he was of the truth and power of all he had himself believed; most of all he wished to know when another Bishop would visit them to confirm and encourage.

At the very moment when, away in the wilds of North America, Pegowis was asking this question, Bishop Mountain who had made his famous trip from Montreal to those distant scenes and had been deeply impressed by the needs and opportunities, was writing to the Old Land to urge upon the people of the Mother Church the necessity of sending to this new-born church a chief pastor.

The Spirit of God was moving the hearts of the people far across the water. The Church which had been gradually awakened to its missionary responsibilities was eagerly asking what should be done next. In 1849 at the annual meeting of the Church Missionary Society, a resolution was adopted embodying these words: "That this meeting, while it would thankfully acknowledge what God has wrought in these latter days by His Spirit and His Gospel in the world, cannot but contemplate the millions of heathen and Mohammedans, to whom we have free access, but to whom no messenger of salvation has been sent by us, with feelings of humiliation; and desire to impress on one another and on their Christian brethren, the obligation laid upon us at this time to be more constant and earnest in prayer to God, to pour forth His Holy Spirit and further increase the number of faithful missionaries." The same meeting rejoiced to record that at length arrangements had been made for the extension of the Episcopate to Rupert's Land and prayed "that the measure may be blessed to the bringing of numbers of Christ's sheep who are dispersed abroad in that vast wilderness to the fold of the great Shepherd and Bishop of Souls."

It was but twenty-nine years since John West had arrived to take care of the long neglected people who had come to the Red River Settlement. He had been rapidly followed by other noble missionaries; the results of the labours of these men present an apologetic for Christianity, than which there is no stronger in the records of missionary enterprise the world over. It seems almost incredible that it is within the memory of some still alive when the Indians wild, cruel, and barbarous, used to wander over the plains where now are waving fields of grain or populous centres of industry; that heathen festivals were celebrated on the very spots where to-day men sing the praises of Him who came to bring the world out of darkness into His marvellous light.

Eighteen-forty-nine, only twenty-nine years after John West arrived, but there were four little churches in the settlement, one further up the river among the Indians, another at Manitoba Station, half way between the Settlement and Cumberland, while away out at Cumberland itself was a church and pastor ministering to the needs of the people, and with the help of a catechist visiting Lac la Ronge, two hundred and fifty miles further on.

These first missionaries had come chiefly for the purpose of ministering to the needs of the white population, but like those great prairie fires which leap across miles of land in a moment of time, Christianity leapt across the barren stretches to distant points not thought of before, and aborigines were flocking to the missionaries to learn more of the story of which they had heard something from their fellows. Some idea of what was going on can be gathered from a few letters sent to the Church Missionary Society and put in the report of May, 1849:--"The churches continue to be well attended. There are no. unworthy motives, but a steadfast and sincere regard for the Sabbath and its public services. . . . The schools are in an encouraging state, and have gone forward with great regularity. . . . The Sunday schools are more numerously attended than last year. . . . This evening I started my Young Men's Bible Class. Several youths about twenty years old came, each with his Bible." Of Cumberland Station it was reported, "At this inhospitable post the Rev. J. Hunter has continued his labours .... the few Indians at this place who are still heathen, are from time to time appealing for Christian instruction and baptism; while at Moose Lake the Indians are following their example. . . . During the past year I have baptized ten men, twelve women, forty-three children, making in all sixty-five persons. These, added to the three hundred and fifty-nine last reported, make a total of four hundred and twenty-four who have been baptized at this station .... the Indians are very serious and devout at all our services, especially at the Lord's Supper. ... I am very busy at present. The Indians give me no time to write, coming in every minute to hear the Word of God. Indeed, I have no time to eat sometimes."

All this was wonderful, but it was not the best that could be done. These missionary churches were far from contact with the outer world, more than five hundred miles to St. Paul over a dangerous road. The easiest way to reach the Red River from Montreal was to go back to England, sail to the Hudson's Bay, then travel by dog train or carriole, over miles of waste to the settlement. The missions were scattered five hundred miles from Red River to Cumberland, a month's journey to the stations on the Bay. If there was rejoicing at the missionary meeting in England over the prospects of the appointment of a Bishop, much more was there in Indian camp and clergyman's home in the Great Lone Land.

To David Anderson fell the unspeakable privilege of being the first Bishop of the Church in the West. When the call came he was only thirty-five years of age, but already he had been vice-principal of St. Bee's College and Curate of All Saints' Church, Derby. A great service was held on May 29th, 1849, in Canterbury Cathedral. It was the first time a consecration service had taken place in this building since 1570, and now two men were being consecrated not merely to higher service in the Church, but to missionary tasks destined to bring about results which none present ever dreamed of.

Bishop Anderson waited but a short time before leaving for his new sphere of labour, so, on June 7th, another pioneer of the Church set his face towards the setting sun. The little party-- the Bishop, his three motherless boys and his sister, who became his constant companion and helper--reached York Factory on August 16th, proceeded quickly to the Red River settlement, where they arrived on October 3rd. Work was waiting for him, for on the very day of his arrival Rev. John McCallum, master of the little school called the Red River Academy, died.

Education was one of the Bishop's strong points. Although no one foresaw the great future ahead of this western country, Bishop Anderson was a man of foresight, and prophesied that one day there would be a very large settlement in these quarters. The importance of developing the schools to their fullest capacity, therefore, strongly appealed to him. He started a school for girls and called it St. Cross School. He himself taught in the boys' school. One day he looked at the little buildings and said he hoped soon there would be a large college for the training of men for the ministry, and that if this were accomplished in his day he would give it the name of St. John's College, and for a motto he would take the words, "In thy light shall we see light." This wish he lived to see fulfilled, for in his charge to the Synod in 1856 he says: "At St. John's a Board of Trustees has been established who will act as guardians of the property connected with the Collegiate School. Books now bear the stamp, device and motto of St. John's College."

His interest in educational matters is shown in the way he encouraged his clergy to study. He established a diocesan library which soon contained over a thousand volumes. A Cambridge student recently said he considered it a misfortune that missionaries went out to heathen countries encumbered with the whole of the Old Testament. What would he say if he had seen the examination papers set for Mr. Horden and Mr. Cochran, missionaries to the heathen? Like many who have come from across the water-- even Bishops--he carried a good deal of the conservatism and pedantry of the older countries which was a hindrance rather than a help. One of these conservatisms was, a Bishop shall be dignified, and dignified David Anderson certainly was. When once we have seen a "modern" Bishop walking down a street of a northern town pushing a wheel-barrow before him laden with the trunks of students coming to the diocese for summer work, chopping wood or driving tentpegs, we cannot resist a smile when we read that the first Bishop of Rupert's Land was gently carried from the canoe to the shore lest he should wet his feet. And we are not a little shocked to find that three years after his arrival, when the devastating flood was sweeping all before it and every man was looking out for himself as best he might, the Bishop records that he was called upon to do manual labour, and hastens to explain that under pressing circumstances this is necessary in such a country.

He was a man of his day. None of these things obscures the real worth of the man or the work he did. His greatest influence was not in education, nor in organization; others could follow and complete that. He was a second Paul; a man whose soul burned with the love of Christ and men. "Do you remember Bishop Anderson?" an aged saint of God, who, over ninety years of age still walks with faltering step Sunday by Sunday to the house of prayer, was asked. "Why, yes I do; fine man he was," he replied. "I remember the first sermon he preached in this country. His text was, 'God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ/ " That expressed the man. I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. It was not as a cold organizer, a constructor of machinery that he went from station to station, it was with a heart afire with love of the Saviour and a desire for the welfare of his people. He talked about the "luxury of doing good, for which alone life is worth living." Among the tents he sat with the Indians telling them the old, old story. He gave them all he had to relieve their misery, his sister having to take charge of the family purse for fear he would ruin himself by his generosity.

He was deeply moved by the wretched condition of the natives. While furs had been sold in London for fabulous prices, while people had rejoiced at the profits reaped, and captains of boats were rubbing their well-warmed palms together, the Indians, within gunshot of centres of civilization, improvident if you will, human beings nevertheless, killed and ate their own children in the winter to save themselves from the ravages of hunger. A thimbleful of beads for a silver fox! Years after this Bishop Horden wrote, "It greatly pained my heart when asking for one or another to receive the answer, 'He was starved to death two years ago,' or 'She died of starvation some time ago.' " With such a sight before him and with such a text within him he sped from place to place over a vast, trackless and dangerous region, preaching, confirming, encouraging, persuading. His great ambition was that the country might be won for Christ. He believed that that was the remedy for its suffering. When, on his memorable trip down the Albany River to James' Bay, a way had to be cleared through the bush that the portage might be made, and his men were hewing down the trees, he kept saying to himself, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."

The details of his work, like the story of many other interesting events of the early period of this western land, are lost forever. Fascinating must have been the story if all were known.

Mr. Tait and Bishop Anderson broke the trail across the prairie from the Red River to St. Paul, a hazardous undertaking. The Rev. Mr. Taylor, who later crossed this road, wrote: "We had six weeks or more journeying over the extensive prairies which lie between the United States and this country. We had been in the wilderness exposed to the savage hordes of Indians and the wild beasts scarcely less fearful."

Of what happened on these long and lonely journeys and visitations we know little, but from the scant records we learn that when he came to oversee the work of a diocese which extended from Labrador to the Rocky Mountains and from the boundary line of the United States to the frozen north, there were five clergy at work, with six or seven stations, and when he left he had placed no less than twenty-three clergy at their posts.

His trip from the settlement by canoe to James' Bay, like Bishop Mountain's from Montreal, will always stand out as one of the great achievements of early Church enterprise in this land. The journey was begun on June 28th, 1852. Birch bark canoes were loaded with supplies, a bright farewell to his little boys, the paddles dipped lightly in the water and the frail crafts shot down the speedy stream, not to appear again for four long months. Let him tell of the start himself: "At a very early hour all was activity and bustle. I found many to say farewell and see me off; the canoe was at last launched into the water. It had been decorated by the kindness of one of my scholars, with such colours as could be procured. It bore a mitre painted on the stern, and on the reverse side a representation of the Union flag. Many followed me to the canoe. On the bank Pegowis, the Indian Chief, and some of the other Indians were assembled to shake me by the hand and give me their best wishes. When I jumped in I took my seat and we proceeded rapidly on our way."

On they went from day to day, camping by night wherever they could, resting (and on each Sabbath holding services at least twice), speaking to the Indians the word of life; tortured by mosquitoes, exhausted by intense heat and at times almost frozen by the cold. Of part of his experiences he gives the following description:

"July 4th, Sunday.

"I went over in one of the small canoes to visit the Indian encampment, and to bid farewell to them all. There were two or three tents. I entered the largest, and there found the son of Wassacheese sitting in solitary state. I was about to sit down where I saw some articles expanded, and where at first I thought he had prepared a seat for me, but I found on a second look that these were idols of the chambers of imagery, the instruments of his art as a conjurer, and the feast spread out for the spirits. I asked him to explain his magic art, and he said he would, if I would give him some flour. I gave him instead a little tobacco, and I heard his tale. He showed, as a special favour, that which gave him power--a bag with some reddish powder in it. He allowed me to handle and smell this mysterious stuff, and pointed out to me two little dolls or images, which, he said, gave him authority over the souls of others. ... I said, I hoped he would ere long give all this up; that I had already baptized Jummia, as noted a conjurer as himself, now John Summer at Fairford; and I hoped that he would soon follow his example."

On the way he found a woman who had been badly frozen and was suffering intensely from the results. An Indian who had blown his arm off with a gun, a wretched old man, appeared on the banks of the river pleading for help because all his family were dying, evidently of tuberculosis. Everywhere were signs of the wretched condition of these people. Their spiritual condition brought as much misery to them as their physical, and they were as eager to embrace the Gospel when they heard it as they were to secure help for their bodily needs. When the Bishop reached Moose he was amazed to see the earnestness of those Indians who had embraced the Gospel. "So closed the public services of our Confirmation Sabbath; never did I feel more interested in those brought before me. . . . Later in the evening I strolled along the bank to the lower wood, to satisfy myself that all was quiet; all was still and had a Sabbath air, and from many of their tents I heard the hymn of praise ascending."

While here the boat arrived from England bringing not only long-looked-for news, but bearing another servant of the Cross, Rev. E. A. Watkins and his wife. The Bishop arranged that he should proceed at once to Fort George and start work there.

Having waited long enough to see the light shining on another point of the inhospitable shores of the Bay, having ordained one more to the priesthood, confirmed, comforted and cheered many, he turned his' face toward home again, leaving behind hearts that had been warmed by his message and kindness. Eyes were wet, lips sent up a prayer to heaven that he might soon return, and while the guns fired a farewell salute the little craft disappeared round the bend--he was gone, but another Pentecost had taken place and the little Church of Christ had been strengthened in the faith.

While all this was going on he was keeping up a correspondence with friends in the Mother Land, endeavouring to fan the flame of missionary zeal. He was successful. Money was secured for the erection of a cathedral. Unfortunately the plans were drawn in England, where they did not understand climatic conditions or local needs. There were few, if any, in the settlement who were competent contractors for a task such as this. The result was that with poor plans, poorer mortar and inadequate skill the stone building was not a great success.

Better fortune attended the efforts to erect a church on the Assiniboine River, where settlers had gradually assembled themselves, and there on the very spot where the wild orgies of the Indians had taken place, within sight of the place where the skulls hung among the trees, another temple was erected to the glory and praise of the Eternal God.

So the work went forward, the foundations were strengthened, the kingdom extended. The years 1849-1865 mark the change from the old to the new. When David Anderson came missions were scattered over a wide territory; there were churches, but there was not the Church. He gradually brought these scattered units into touch with one another, and though distances were great and facilities were few he called a Synod to discuss the welfare of the work. The Church was now in the land.

Having spent fifteen years in the Great Lone Land, he returned to England to deliver up his charge to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

A scholar of no mean ability, a true father in God to his clergy, a friend to the Indians, above all a deeply spiritual man whose contribution to the life of the Church is not to be reckoned in buildings, funds, or organizations, but in a spiritual quality which cannot be measured, without which the outward signs of religion are worthless, he laid down the reins of government to take up one of a more executive character. He lived long enough to see the vast diocese divided and sub-divided, and having endured years of physical pain, he went home to his Father who rewardeth every man according to his work.

Project Canterbury