Project Canterbury

Leaders of the Canadian Church
Edited by Canon Bertal Heeney

Toronto: Ryerson, 1943. 191 pp.


The First of the Prairie Bishops

WE shall try in this sketch to turn a few pages of Anglican History in the Red River Valley. In particular we shall trace the founding of our Diocese, and sketch the personality of the man who first held the office of Bishop in these remote parts of the Vineyard of the Lord.

We need the inspiration which comes from such a study; for the task of that day is still the task of ours, and the time is short for making our own contribution to the Cause so well inaugurated by our Fathers in the Faith of Christ.

Let our first glance be at the early days of the Mission. We all know how it was started. It came direct from England through the Hudson's Bay. Credit for the Movement must be distributed; it cannot go to one person or one cause. It might be said, in Biblical phrase, 'The Time was fulfilled,' 'the field was ripe,' the men and women were ready. The Holy Spirit not only initiates, but correlates events, men and spheres of work, and often the one to whom most credit is due is left without a name in history. Are we to give, for example, no share of honour for the Mission, to the unnamed men and women here from the old land before the missionaries came? What cherished memories they had of home and parish church! What letters went forth wet with tears of longing for Sundays in England or in Scotland! A cry went up to God from the banks of the Red River! It was such as rose from the banks of the Nile and entered into the ears of Jehovah! Thus, when many had done something to make ready the way, John West came, soon to be followed by others--men like himself, truly sent from God.

But among them there was no Bishop or Overseer. As this was also a temporary condition in the newer regions of the early Church, so here in the Red River Valley--it could not last. In fact, the strongest argument for Episcopacy, in its original sense, is ever the argument from necessity; it arises out of the nature of the work --that of overseeing the growing and expanding Church.

And yet no written appeal for a Bishop, so far as I can find, was sent forth from the Mission itself in its earliest days. They were great individualists, those lonely missionaries, each absorbed in his own task with all his powers. And apparently there was little desire on the part of the home authorities to send a Bishop. Either they did not realize the need, or they thought it wise to spend hard won pounds in ways more essential to the cause. Whatever the reason for the silence, we read nothing of the great Society's determination to send a Bishop. The inspiration for the project came not from the workers in the field, not from the authorities at home, but from a source of influence heretofore unrelated to the Red River Mission--the Church on the St. Lawrence.

These two mission fields were independent in origin and very diverse in character. It is not that the Church on the St. Lawrence was so much earlier in its beginnings; thirty years is all that need be allowed for seniority.

The differences between them went deeper and are worth a moment's attention. For example, the Church came to the East with the soldiery; to the West with the fur traders. In the East, it was of little account till the War of Independence. It came across the Border with the Loyalists; their sacrifices for the Empire not only founded English-speaking Canada, but secured to it the Anglican Communion. In the West, the main body of the settlers was different --they were mostly Scots and Presbyterians. The Church was influenced accordingly -- a Bishop was never thought an essential of Church government, nor yet a guarantee of loyalty to the Crown. In the East, he was the symbol of both.

Moreover, the Church by the St. Lawrence was nurtured almost exclusively by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, with a consistent tone in favour of the Episcopate. The Church by the Red River was born of a different mother, of a Society so strong in its sense of spiritual touch with the Source of Life, as not to feel, to the same degree, its dependence on visible government of any form.

Now, in the Providence of God, the time had come when the two streams of Church influence were to flow in the same channel through the efforts of one of the greatest and most consecrated men who ever held the office of Bishop in Canada--George Jehoshaphat Mountain.

At the time Dr. Mountain was administering the affairs of the Diocese of Quebec, but "Under the name, style and title of Lord Bishop of Montreal." The Diocese of Quebec then included the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Lake Superior. One would have thought this vast region enough to satisfy the zeal of any Bishop, but the Pauline spirit was in him and he longed to visit the limits of the West.

I have not been able to find that a written appeal was first made to him by the missionaries at work in this region. Of course there was a well traversed route in those days between the two points. Men travelled with furs and merchandise, and the news of the Church must have travelled with them. Moreover, the Hudson's Bay Company was then very active in Montreal and had an important post at Lachine, where the Trading House stands to this day. It is likely, moreover, that the Governor of the Company, Sir George Simpson, counted for much in helping the Bishop to a decision. Certain it is that he rendered the greatest assistance to him in carrying the undertaking to a successful issue.

And so it is probable that, from many quarters, Dr. Mountain was encouraged in what he describes as his "long cherished project." It received at once the endorsation of the Church Missionary Society, and its cost was gladly borne by that noble-hearted body of men and women, but for whose godly vision and sacrifice there would have been no Anglican Church in this rich and beautiful plain by the Red River.

This early episcopal voyage is probably the most vital and picturesque incident in Canadian Church History; we should, therefore, give it more than a passing glance. The canoe was such as traders used on the same route in those days; the crew, picked by Sir George Simpson, were tried voyageurs, then less in demand than formerly. There were fourteen of them in all --eight French Canadians, six Iroquois from the Caughnawaugha, and all were Roman Catholics. The guide was a superb man in his calling, and of pure Indian blood. The Bishop, in his episcopal habit, was seated in the centre of the canoe, and near by him, his chaplain and his personal servant. Surely a strange and colourful party whom Providence had brought together for the founding of an Anglican Bishopric in a distinctly Protestant Mission.

While the voyage is in progress we may study the central personality, and try to see what manner of man it was who inspired the Bishopric of Rupert's Land. His spirit of devotion to Christ and His work is sufficiently attested by the undertaking itself, since he was never rugged. For Church expansion he had the fervency of St. Paul; the result is that his utterances burn like coals of fire, and his sermons are streams of silvery eloquence. His address to the people of England, and to the great Society, urging the formation of a Bishopric in the West, is a thrilling and powerful appeal. Poetry was ever on his tongue; like a brook that ripples in its current, so his prose constantly breaks into song. On this trip he wrote many poems which form a volume of deep interest, and of no little merit. And in all his writing there is evidence of easy familiarity with classical authors, such as few clergymen nowadays possess.

The final stage in the voyage is noteworthy. It was Saturday evening, after thirty-eight days' travelling, when the great canoe passed into the waters of Lake Winnipeg; there was still a good day's paddling to the Red River. The Bishop's heart was set on spending Sunday in the Mission: he talked the situation over with his guide, who knew every paddle stroke of the way, and was assured that the venture might be made with reasonable prospect of success. The proposal was then suggested to the crew, and with a cheer it was accepted; though they had travelled all day, since dawn, they were ready to work all night as well, and with a song of the Voyageur rising from French and Indian throats, their red paddles drove the great barque forward with renewed zeal towards its destination.

As the sun was going down with indescribable glory, the party halted on a small island in the lake for tea. When they set out again on their night's voyage all were in the exalted spirit of adventure. Then the storm clouds rose where the sun had disappeared, and through much of the night the rain fell in torrents. There were no lights to guide them to the mouth of the Red River. The shoreline is flat; reeds stand there in masses; it would be easy to lose the party by mistaking one of the openings among the rushes for the inflow of the river. What a fine picture is that of the Indian guide getting out of the canoe, and wading about in the darkness to locate the true channel for the party entrusted to his care.

Dawn came at last, and they found themselves to the current of the river of their longings. A few hours' paddling brought them to the Indian Settlement, just before Morning Service. Deep feelings were stirred as they sighted the little church standing on the river bank, and soon the party stepped ashore, to be greeted by the Missionary. The bells were ringing and the natives flocking to the House of God. The contrast between this happy state of the natives, and that which had met their eyes everywhere since leaving the Valley of the Ottawa, fifteen hundred miles away, was to the glory of the missionaries on the Red River. It stirred not only the Bishop to songs of gratitude, but his tired crew to admiration and to tears. I like to the coming of the chief Pastor on that Sunday morning, but I like also to remember the night of darkness, and of faith, and of brave struggle which went before it. And I like to that God's reward in the venture is not for the Bishop only, but for the simple heroes of other races and of a different communion in who spared not themselves in the crisis.

From the Indian settlement it was a triumphal I procession for the Bishop to the Lower Church, then to Middle Church, and so on to the Upper Church: flocks of Indian children, crowds of native men and women, witnessing to the converting power of the Gospel of Christ; churches overflowing with officials and employees of the great Company and with hardy Scotch settlers, who, by their sturdy lives, were doing here on the Red River a work for king and country only equalled by that of the Loyalists in old Canada. No prince ever received, in the name of his sovereign, a more stirring welcome than did the Bishop of Quebec on his visit to the Red River, in the Name of the Lord.

Meantime, another event was taking place, as by God's appointment, which rendered possible the setting up of the Diocese of Rupert's Land. Mr. Hargrave states it in the following paragraph:

In 1838 the late James Leith, Esq., a chief factor in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, bequeathed a sum of about £12,000, to be expended for the benefit of Indian Missions in Rupert's Land. Mr. Leith's family disputed the bequest with his executors, and the result was a process of litigation closed in 1849 by Lord Langdale, then Master of the Rolls. His Lordship's decision was partly based on an offer voluntarily made by the Hudson's Bay Company proposing that should the sum in dispute be set apart for the purpose of endowing a Bishopric in Rupert's Land, the Company would add to the interest thereof, an annual sum of three hundred pounds sterling, thus rendering the income of the See about £700 per annum.

[Thus] "to the Hudson's Bay Company, along with this bequest, we are solely indebted for the financial basis of the Bishopric."

From a legal standpoint it is worth the notice of modern churchmen, that "the Diocese of Rupert's Land was established by Letters Patent under the Great Seal."

It is interesting to note this direct linking of our Diocese and our Church with the British Sovereign. It suggests a duty and a privilege which is ours by birthright--to keep our Empire united and free both in Church and State in the interest of the cause of Christ. It also reminds us that we are now looking upon the state of things in Canada before synods were born and bishops elected; and of the long, fierce fight which had to be waged before that constitutional privilege was acquired; and of the real and unrecognized contribution which our Church in Canada has made to the working out of that new order of things now obtaining in Church and State, by which complete constitutional and executive independence is found to be consistent with unity of Church and of Empire.

At length affairs were in readiness at the Red River, and on Wednesday morning, October 3, 1849, the Right Rev. David Anderson reached the Indian settlement. In the evening of the same day he arrived at the Lower Fort, which thus became, through the courtesy of the Hudson's Bay Company, the first episcopal residence on the Red River. One of the Bishop's first acts was to write a letter to Bishop Mountain, in which he sets our minds at rest on two important points; one, the source of the urge which led to the founding of the Diocese of Rupert's Land, and two, the call which echoed in the soul of Dr. Anderson.

The Diocese owes so deep a debt of gratitude to your Lordship for its formation, and for the interest with which it is regarded by the Church at large, that one of my first desires on my arrival has been to write to tender my thanks for all that you were enabled to do in 1844, and for that account of the condition of the people which drew the attention of the Christian World to the necessity of a resident Bishop. ... It was from (your) simple and forcible statements that I felt so interested in the condition and prospects of the Indian that I at last determined to accept the call to the Bishopric.

Thus the founding of the Diocese and the calling of the Bishop are both traced to their source in the visit and in the appeal of George Jehoshaphat Mountain.

The Diocese to which Bishop Anderson came may be thought of in a restricted sense, consisting only of a few parishes along the Red River. But it may also be thought of in a wider sense, without limit in area and possibilities for Church expansion.

In the Valley, the honour of first hearing the Bishop's voice in public worship, goes to St. Andrew's, then called the Lower Church. His account of the Service on that occasion shows how deeply it affected his emotions.

"The appearance of the congregation," he writes, "is very devotional; they respond well; they sing with heart and soul. The first burst of music, when they all joined in the Psalms of Praise, quite upset and overpowered me; indeed, I have not heard any sound sweeter in my ears since I left England."

The Upper Church, however, was the centre of his labours from the time of his arrival. In fact, upon the creation of the See it was made over to the Bishop, and has ever since remained in reality the Cathedral. Its name, St. John's, in honour of the Apostle, was given it by Bishop Anderson himself, and to his choice is due also the term "Bishop's Court," as the title of the Episcopal Residence.

Parishes, however, were not the Bishop's only concern: in the Valley, when he came, there was extensive educational work already established. In his first Charge, he spoke of it in the following terms:

To the schools of the settlement I can bear willing and conscientious testimony. They are very numerous, more so than the population would require, were it not that the houses are built only on the river bank, and chiefly on one side. A solid, substantial and scriptural education is thus afforded. There is no excuse for any child growing up without instruction, as in each school there is a proportion of free scholars, through the liberality of the Church Missionary Society. There is, as the result of these schools, together with the respective Sunday Schools, an amount of intelligence among the young which agreeably surprised me on first coming hither, and from which I augur the happiest consequences as regards the rising generation.

One school in particular attracted the attention of the new Bishop. It was in a class by itself, and was then a private venture, under the direction of a clergyman of the Church. He had been admitted to Holy Orders by Bishop Mountain on his momentous visit, and strangely enough died on the day Bishop Anderson reached his destination. It was at the request of the dying master, Rev. John Macallum, that the headship of this School passed to the Bishop, a sacred trust surely, left by a worthy pioneer in the cause of education. The Bishop's impress was given it at once, and still lingers in the title "St. John's," and in its motto, significant of the purpose of the institution and of the mind of the man who gave it--"In Thy Light shall we see light."

It thus appears as the policy of the original missionaries and of the first Bishop, that the Church and the School should ever stand side by side as two phases of the one undertaking in the cause of Christ. It is one of the real gifts our Church has made to the life of the country, this ideal of the human mind enlightened, free, and yet religious--an ideal in education never more needed than in our own day.

We must now glance for a moment at the larger field. Outside the Valley, at the time of the Bishop's coming, there were but a few points occupied, and only two of these had ordained priests.

Bishop Anderson was an extensive traveller throughout his episcopate. He began to go abroad over his Diocese in the spring of 1850, visiting first the Mission of Cumberland. It was the Indian, Henry Budd, while still a layman, who lighted the torch of the Gospel on the far Saskatchewan River. He it was who also planted the flagstaff of the Faith where The Pas now grows and prospers, guided and encouraged, however, in his efforts by the Rev. John Smithurst of St. Peter's, who acted as Priest in Charge of these distant points at great sacrifice to himself. Later (1844) the Rev. James Hunter took over the work, and was still there when the Bishop came. It is a tribute to these faithful men that, on the first visit, the Bishop was able to consecrate a church and a burying ground, and to confirm 110 Indians. " I bless God," wrote Mr. Budd, "that He has sent such a man as the Bishop to us."

In the winter following his visit to Cumberland, the Bishop journeyed to Manitoba Station, or Fairford, then in charge of the Rev. Abraham Cowley. I mention it here, not only to show the Bishop's efforts at Church expansion, but as affording an opportunity of illustrating his way of travelling and his power of chaste and graphic writing:

My own dress was a large beaver-skin cap, with ears of fur meeting under the chin, and a heavy coat, not strictly episcopal in form. These things I wore of necessity, and had the buffalo coat by my side in case of requiring it. Thus equipped, I seated myself, or rather reclined in the carriole, which is made very light, and only large enough to hold the body, with a few blankets and buffalo robes wrapped closely round. On a projecting board behind was the box containing my robes and a few necessary articles, and following us was a sledge, with our food and that for the dogs, and a few presents which I was taking with me. . . . From the lightness of the carriole I had at first many a capsize; but as I got accustomed to the motion I could balance myself, so as to throw my weight in the opposite direction when I saw it inclining to one side. At times, over it went without any such warning . . . the first intimation I received of my situation was to find that I was dragging along, with my elbow in the snow.

Three years after his arrival, the Bishop made his first canoe voyage to Moose. In length and picturesqueness, the tour ranks with that of Bishop Mountain, though not perhaps in importance to the Canadian Church. But for us in the West, it is of real value, not only lighting up the character of the man, but revealing, as by a flash, the background of our Diocese, and of the Western Church as a whole. The record of his experience is a fine piece of writing; some passages are worthy of Robert Louis Stevenson, yet the book is not read, and is little known even among our missionary enthusiasts.

Friends had gathered at the Lower Fort to see him off, on Monday, June 28, 1852. Boys from the school had decorated the canoe with a mitre on one side of the stern and a Union Jack on the other; at the bow there was a rose and a duck on opposite sides. The party breakfasted at the Indian Settlement, with the great Cockran and his wife. Miss Anderson had accompanied her brother to this point. Before setting out there was a time of prayer--the greatest of the Red River pioneers, and the first of the Bishops in prayer--truly an impressive picture!

The route led up the Winnipeg River, through a chain of lakes into the Albany, and so to the Bay, a distance of 1,200 miles. A quotation will tell of the arrival at Moose, and will further illustrate the Bishop's style:

Aug. 3rd.--The morning (of our arrival) was lovely, and in the river the sail was of some use; but the water was still too shoal. We waited at one point for the tide, which we at last caught, and were carried up by it to the Factory. Some of the hay-boats were passing up at the same time, and this gave it more of animation; they went briskly with their little sails, but we were anxious that they should not gain upon us and carry the tidings of our arrival. . . . Nothing could exceed the kindness with which we were welcomed by Mr. Miles, chief factor, and all connected with the Fort. All were down on the little jetty to receive us. Mr. Horden was at the time engaged with service--found at work, as a Bishop might wish to find all connected with him; but he soon joined our party.

The whole place is far prettier than I had expected. The Fort, with its double veranda and a sort of belvidere above, the church with its little spire and the modest parsonage on one side of the Fort, and, stretching in the other direction some neat cottages with little gardens in front, formed rather a foreign than an English aspect.

Thus the Bishop's policy of Church expansion was working itself out in every direction.

We must now turn our thoughts again to the Red River. It would be interesting to give a sketch of the Bishop's daily life, centring here in Bishop's Court, and spreading throughout the settlement in which he lived for fifteen years. There is abundance of material for such a study, and a simple, attractive picture it might prove. We can only glance, however, at such a scene in passing. Now he writes quietly at his desk, is interested in building a windmill, or turns to gardening; now he instructs in simple truths at School or Confirmation Class; now his house is surrounded and its lower rooms are filling with the muddy waters of the overflowing river; now he gathers in the church for prayers the distressed inhabitants, and then sends them off to the heights for safety; now he confirms whites and natives in one of the churches, ordains a native to the sacred ministry, welcomes new comers to the field, or rejoices in the social intercourse which the settlers provide; now his clergy are called together for mutual counsel, thus giving origin to the Synod of later times; now he sets apart the Archdeaconries of Cumberland and of Assiniboia: and always, he is interested in the doings of the Church at home, in Eastern Canada, and in the country to the south; and ever he is in touch with Him who liveth and abideth forever. All these things and a thousand other matters of interest, one would like to dwell upon, but I shall conclude this sketch with the impression left on my own mind, of the personality of our first Bishop of Rupert's Land.

He was a man of scholarly ability, with a gift for languages. Like his forerunner, Bishop Mountain, his familiarity with the Classics is the envy of many moderns, and apt references and quotations abound in his writings. The Greek Testament was a companion book on his many long voyages. When at Moose for three weeks, he took Mr. Horden through two of the shorter Epistles of St. Paul, expounding as they went.

It is worth noting also that he was a lover of music, and had quite an extensive knowledge of the art. In fact, he brought a small organ with him, and we read of his chaplain, Mr. Hunt, playing it during the voyage to York--symbolic surely of the music of the Gospel they were bringing to the West. When at Moose, on his first visit, he often played in concert with the employees of the Company grouped about him for the purpose.

It is, moreover, high praise to say of the Bishop, how little one feels himself in the presence of a prelate--how much in the presence of a man. Great as the office is, God's greatest work is man. Weakness in the garb of authority becomes self-assertive. One never felt this with Bishop Anderson--there was sufficient personal strength to keep the office in its proper place and consequently in its proper dignity.

And what a very gentle man he was! In this western world it may be that we overrate the value, perhaps the power, of the clergyman who is all vigour, zest and activity. We tend to be too like our age, all motion and interaction, machine-like, noisy; often mistaking hurry for work. The character we have been observing is a corrective to this way of thinking; we see in him the power of gentleness. Some might write him down a weak man, but such a view would be superficial, he was strong enough to be gentle.

Strange as he might appear on the film of our day, he is not less a contrast to the old life of this West. It had seen plenty of the stern, the cruel, the ferocious. In this man's sublime gentleness, men saw the Christ character, and were attracted by it. It made a divine impression on all who approached him, and is like an aroma on every utterance he has left.

Akin to this, and in some degree the cause of it, was a rare spirituality of mind. It was not a mood put on for occasion like a garment--he knew no other way of thinking and feeling. He had been " transformed by the renewing of the mind." Often those who saw him must have said, as of old, "He has been with Jesus." Hence his gentleness and his heavenly mind.

There is another phrase which one must use concerning him, unreal as it sounds on our lips today--"He knew the love of souls." This, and the love of Christ, was the motive of his devotion, and the spring of his sacrifice. Some men have these qualities of mind added to a controlling love of Church, or of Social work, or of Nation, but not so Bishop Anderson: his were the primary and final sentiments of the Christ mind--the love of Christ and the souls of men. This accounts for what one finds in the study of the man--that the outward fabric of the Church and her service-forms count for less perhaps than their real value, because in the temple, like Isaiah, he had "seen the Lord high and lifted up." This was the absorbing vision and the all important.

Consequently the natives were his first love. "To the Indians, especially, I feel that I am sent." During his first sermon, it is reported that gradually and unconsciously he got from behind the desk on which his Bible lay, and advanced with extended arms toward that part of the room in which they were sitting, his voice tremulously expressive of the affection which moved him.

Contrasting, in one particular, the two Bishops whose lives touch each other in the founding of Rupert's Land, one might say:--every utterance of Bishop Mountain was eloquent, and in great moments his words glowed like coals from the Altar; Bishop Anderson had no eloquence--his addresses were ponderous and often dull, but his prayers must have been those of a man who had immediate knowledge of God. One is reminded, in this characteristic, of the great Archbishop of Montreal (Dr. Bond). Though one often heard him in class, lecture, and pulpit, one remembers little of what he said--eloquence was not native to him. One will never forget, however, his family prayers--like those of Bishop Anderson, so often extemporary. When he knelt down in our midst and said, "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His Holy Name," the very heavens opened.

As a man Bishop Anderson was strikingly handsome, particularly in his early days on the Red River: having the features of the well-bred, the mind of the scholar, the manner of the true gentleman, the heart of the missionary, the self-forgetfulness of the Christian; without rug-gedness, yet quietly persistent in the ways of the Cross; with many a defect of character no doubt, and lacking many a quality we might have looked for in one who held his position and was given his opportunity for the Church; but of defects, we have no heart to write or speak in this place. Rather we shall recall the great Apostle's utterance--"I judge not mine own self." The day of the Lord will declare it--of what worth the life each of us has lived, of what value the work each of us has done. Let us only remember, that to this man, this singularly gentle man, was given in the providence of God, something like distinction for all time to come, in that he was made sole overseer in those primitive days, and the first one, of a region now divided into ten vast Dioceses of the modern Church, all bent we trust, on spreading, as the first Bishop did, the message of the eternal Christ--crucified--yet alive for evermore!

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