Project Canterbury

A Bishopric for the Arctic Circle

From Mission Life (periodical), Vol. V (1874), pages 276-277.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of Melanesia, 2006


UNDER the auspices of the Church Missionary Society, Missionary operations in North West America have been carried on for about fifteen years on the banks of Mackenzie River, and west of the Rocky Mountains, towards Alaska.

Although hitherto included in the Diocese of Rupert's Land, no English Bishop has yet been able to visit any part of this district, owing to its extent and remoteness, so that a visit there might entail on the Bishop of Rupert's Land an absence of two years from the Southern part of his diocese.

The proposal has therefore been made by the present Bishop of Rupert's Land, with the full approval of the Church Missionary Society, and has received the sanction of His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, that this northern district shall be formed into a new Diocese.

This diocese will embrace an area about twenty times that of England and Wales, and to traverse it in its extreme length involves a journey of about 3,000 miles. The district extends along Peace River, Mackenzie River, Peel's River, Porcupine River, and Upper Youcon River, together with the other rivers of the North West Territory of Canada, which fall into the Arctic Sea. It will contain the three large Lakes of Athabasca, Great Slave Lake, and Great Bear Lake.

The population is estimated at about 8,000, consisting of Indians and Esquimaux, together with a few residents of European birth or parentage, who are engaged in the fur trade.

Only Roman Missionaries and those of the Church Missionary Society have been labouring in the district comprised in the intended Diocese of Athabasca.

The Indians nearly all profess Christianity, and are under the instruction of the English Missionaries or of Roman priests. The Esquimaux are still unconverted, but willing and desirous to receive the instruction of the missionaries. The most northerly tribe of Indians, resident in the Rocky Mountains, have already made considerable advances in religion, and show much affection to their Missionaries, and an eagerness for more teaching.

The Beaver tribe of Indians on Peace River are objects for special sympathy, as they are rapidly dwindling in number from disease, and likely soon to become extinct, unless physically and morally improved by such medicines, and instructions in a careful and healthy mode of living, as a Missionary established among them will be able to give.

[277] The climate encountered by the Missionaries in the proposed diocese, especially in its northern portion within the Arctic Circle, is necessarily severe, the winter being eight months long, when the temperature ranges as low as 50 degrees or more below zero. The sun scarcely appears above the horizon at noon in mid-winter, while it is seen throughout the twenty-four hours for several weeks in summer.

The clergy hitherto engaged in the district have been only three in number, with four lay assistants. For this staff of Missionaries, together with a schoolmaster, the Church Missionary Society has undertaken for the present to provide, as well as to defray for the present the expenses of the Episcopate.

The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge has set apart the sum of £500 towards the endowment of the proposed see, to be paid at such time as the sum of £4,500 shall be otherwise raised.

The standing committee of the same Society has also proposed a further grant of £500 for the erection of not less than six school churches; and a supply of libraries and school books to the value of £50, and a further grant of £66, being the estimated cost of printing translations in seven various dialects of the native population. There is at present only one church in the diocese.

Under these circumstances, and since the claims of the neighbouring Diocese of Saskatchewan are just now being brought prominently before the Christian Church in England, it is thought best not to make any general appeal to the public sympathy on behalf of the Diocese of Athabasca, in respect to the ordinary Mission work.

At the same time, there are so many ways in which the physical and social condition of the Indians and Esquimaux might be raised, by assisting them in industrial efforts, and especially in building and farming, that it is though best to invite contributions for this purpose from any Christian friends interested in the welfare of the Indian and Esquimaux races.

Besides pecuniary contributions, gifts of warm clothing, or sewing materials, not too bulky, and especially small articles of haberdashery, will be acceptable.

All such contributions and gifts, addressed "for Athabasca Diocese," will be received, acknowledged, and forwarded by the Church Missionary Society, Salisbury Square, Fleet Street; the Rev. R. C. Billing, 10, Barnesbury Square, London; Mrs. Loft, Trusthorpe, near Alford, Lincolnshire; and the Rev. W. C. Bompas (the Bishop designate), 15, Stanley Gardens, Kensington Park, London.

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