"All we have we offer,
All we hope to be:
Body, soul, and spirit,
All we yield to Thee."
THESE words were never better illustrated than in the lives of the Bishop and Mrs. Bompas, who on May 12, 1874, set their faces towards their great field of labour. Friends and loved ones came to bid them farewell, among whom was Bishop Anderson, late of Rupert's Land, who presented the Bishop with a beautiful paten for his cathedral in the new Diocese of Athabasca. The good steamship China, of the Cunard Line, received them, and soon she was cutting her way through the water bound for New York. Consecrated, married, and sailed all in one week! Such was the record of the Bishop, who declared it was the hardest week he ever experienced. Never again was he to look upon the shores of his native land, or visit the scenes of childhood; the northern wilds of Canada needed him, and there he remained till the last.
Accompanying the Bishop and Mrs. Bompas were several missionaries, forming in all a most interesting company: the Rev. Robert Phair (afterwards Archdeacon) and Mrs. Phair, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw, Mr. and Mrs. Reader, Miss Moore, Mr. Hines, and Miss Bompas, eldest sister of the Bishop, who was returning to Lennoxville, in the province of Quebec.
The Bishop was kept busy during the voyage, not only in looking after the welfare of his party, but also in cheering up the steerage passengers, thus making the tedious trip more bearable by his words of comfort.
"A strange motley set were these poor emigrants," says Mrs. Bompas, "about 150 in number, some whole families--father, mother, and children--dragging their thinly filled mattresses along with them, and all carrying a few tin implements for cooking. A number of young girls there were, all neatly dressed, with jet-black hair, and a pretty scarlet 'snood' around their heads."
On Sunday a hearty service was held in the saloon, at which most of the passengers and some of the seamen were present. The Bishop gave an address, and Mrs. Bompas led in the singing of the two hymns, "Thou art gone up on high," and "Lord, as to Thy dear Cross we flee," in which all joined most earnestly.
Off Newfoundland they encountered icebergs and much rough weather, but reached New York safely on Whit-Sunday, and attended the morning service at St. Mark's Church, where, for the first time, the Bishop and Mrs. Bompas knelt together and received the Holy Communion. In the evening the Bishop preached at the request of the Vicar. Here a shadow was cast over the party by the death of the Phairs' little child, who caught cold on the steamer.
"I have been in to see it," wrote Mrs. Bompas, "lying like a little wax doll, so blessed to see it at rest after its sufferings."
From New York they took the train for Niagara, and, having visited the famous waterfall, travelled on to Chicago and thence to St. Paul's. After a tedious trip they arrived at the Red River, and took the heavy, flat-bottomed boat bound for Winnipeg, as the village around Fort Garry was already called. Slow progress was made up the river, and on one occasion the boat stopped to take a raft in tow, making the journey very tiresome. But the time was whiled away in the study of the Indian languages and in reading.
At length Winnipeg was reached one Sunday morning, and the great-hearted leader, Bishop Machray, gave them a most cordial welcome. Bishop Bompas preached that evening in St. John's Cathedral, and public thanks were offered to God for their "merciful guidance hitherto."
During the week Mesaft. Shaw and Reader underwent their examinations for Deacons' Orders, and the next Sunday were ordained in the cathedral. Mrs. Bompas describes this service.
"We started early for St. John's Church, the cathedral of Manitoba. A pretty walk across the prairie took us into a neat little square-towered church standing near the river. There was a good congregation, fairly good choir (the boys of St. John's College, which is close to the Bishop's). Service nice and quiet. William preached. Bishop ordained candidates. After service the Bishop invited us into his house to luncheon, so we all went, and there were a number of other guests. After a short time he came and took me and sat me in the seat of honour."
That evening Bishop Bompas preached in the cathedral, and after service Bishop Machray walked part of the way home with him and Mrs. Bompas. Not until thirty years later did this missionary stand in that building again, and then in touching words referred to that Sunday and his departed friend.
Ahead of them lay the long journey of two months by open boat to Fort Simpson. They had missed the boats of the Hudson Bay Company, and after some difficulty another was obtained, in the hope of overtaking the former. It was a "brilliant cloudless" June morning when they crossed the prairie towards St. John's Cathedral, and sighted the "river looking still and silvery in the morning light," and found the boat, their home for weeks to come, "moored just below St. John's College." Farewells were said, the boat pushed off, and they moved on their way, leaving the Bishop of Rupert's Land waving his hand from the bank of the stream.
It was a tedious journey, as day after day they glided forward. Not only was the heat intense, but the swarms of mosquitoes proved a great annoyance.
"I had come prepared for intense cold," wrote Mrs. Bompas, "and we were destined to endure tropical heat. All up the Saskatchewan, Stanley, and English Rivers the banks slope down like a funnel, and the July and August sun scorches with vertical rays the heads of the travellers. We were seated in open boats, each with a crew of ten or twelve men, who spread our sails when the wind was fair, and took them in when the wind failed us. Eighty-six was on some of those days our average temperature, and I had come provided with the thickest of serge dresses, as none of my friends had realized the possibility of anything but frost and cold in these northern regions. Besides this, we had to encounter swarms of mosquitoes, crowding thick around us, penetrating our boots and stockings, and invading our robabou soup and pemmican, etc. I remember the bliss it was in those days in camping-time to escape from the rest of the party, and, getting rid of boots and stockings, to sit with my feet and legs in the cool water of the river, to soothe the intolerable irritation of the mosquito bites."
But in the midst of all this there were times of refreshing, and at various places hearty were the greetings that awaited them. One morning they reached St. Andrews, on Red River, and there before them appeared a pretty stone church, with wide square tower and a comfortable-looking parsonage-house, with a nice veranda, and a few scattered cottages around. It was a pleasant home scene, and there they found the Vicar, the Rev. John Grrisdale (afterwards Bishop of Qu'Appelle), and about sixty others, who had been waiting all the morning to receive them. After luncheon had been served a little service was held on the veranda, and, as they left, the bell of the church rang out a peal of farewell, and all on shore gave a hearty cheer.
Welcome also awaited them at St. Peter's Mission, where Archdeacon and Mrs. Cowley gladly received them, and at The Pas, where the native clergyman, Mr. Budd, was stationed. At this latter place service was held in the yard for Indians, and the Bishop gave an exposition of the Creed in the Cree language.
All along the way Indians were encountered camped on the bank, and at times a halt was made while the Bishop spoke a few words to them. One night they stopped near a number of natives, and service was held. Among the party was a poor woman totally blind. The Bishop knelt by her side and told her of the blind man in the Gospel story, and repeated to her several passages of Scripture, to which the woman listened with much eagerness, and seemed greatly pleased.
The many long, hard portages formed a great impediment to their progress, and through the scorching heat, fighting myriads of mosquitoes, the party had to carry the provisions overland and drag the boat up the rapids. The Bishop willingly took his share of the labour, and though of great strength, overtaxed himself in lifting a heavy box and sprained his back, or, rather, re-sprained it, as he had been injured some weeks before in hauling at the boat. He suffered much agony from the sprain, which troubled him somewhat during the rest of his life.
An incident happened on this trip which serves to show the Bishop's forgetfulness of self when others were to be considered. A young Indian lost his hat overboard, and, being unable to obtain it, suffered much from the heat as he toiled at the oar. The Bishop, seeing his discomfort, at once placed his own hat upon the Indian's head, and insisted that he should wear it. The sight of the native with the flat, broad-brimmed episcopal headgear caused great amusement to the entire company.
At Fort Providence they found the Rev. W. D. Reeve (afterwards Bishop) and Mrs. Reeve, and took them on board. "It was pleasant," wrote Mrs. Bompas, "to see the greeting between the Bishop and his old colleague."
On September 24 they came in sight of Fort Simpson, and much excitement took place. The red flag of welcome was soon hoisted, and Mr. Hardisty, the chief officer, and the whole settlement came to the shore to meet them. So hearty was the reception that they did not perceive the shadow, the grim shadow of starvation, that was hanging over the fort and land. There was only one week's provisions in the Company's store, and game was very scarce. At this point the new party arrived, bringing six extra mouths to be fed, besides the boat's crew, and yet the Company's officers received them with the utmost courtesy and good temper, and did their best to look and speak cheerfully. Most of the men around the fort had to be sent away, and there was difficulty in collecting dried scraps of meat for the wives and children. At length there came a lime when there was not another meal left. The poor dogs hung around the houses, "day by day growing thinner and thinner, their poor bones almost through their skins, their sad wistful look wnen anyone appeared. Even a dry biscuit could not be thrown to them." But just when matters reached the worst two Indians arrived, bringing fresh meat, and the great tension slackened.
"From that moment," says Mrs. Bompas, "the supplies have never failed. As surely as the provisions got low, so surely, too, would two or three sledges appear unexpectedly, bringing fresh supplies."
Little wonder that the Bishop acquired that great trust in Providence that caused him to say that "a restful trust in Heaven's bounty will lead to a cheerful content even in the far North, and make a man exult in the consciousness that his God is still present with him there."