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An Apostle of the North
Memoirs of the Right Reverend William Carpenter Bompas, D.D.

By H.A. Cody, B.A.

London: Seeley, 1908.

Chapter X. Bishop of Athabasca (1874-1876)

"He bowed himself
With all obedience to the King, and wrought
All kind of service with a noble ease,
That graced the lowliest act in doing of it."

FORT SIMPSON was chosen by the Bishop as his abode at first. It is situated at the confluence of the Mackenzie and Liard Rivers, and formed the most central and convenient point for managing the vast diocese. This position had been occupied years before by the Hudson Bay Company, and here, in 1859, Mr. Kirkby built the church and mission-house. [In 1874 the mission-house, which had been some distance away, was removed to the fort, and another building, given by Mr. Hardisty, of the Hudson Bay Company, was placed alongside for a schoolhouse. In 1881 these were removed from the fort and re-erected near the church.]

All around stretched the huge diocese of 1,000,000 square miles--and such a diocese! It has been well described by the Bishop himself in the words which follow:

"No shepherd there his flock to fold, No harvest waves its tresses gold; No city with its thronging crowd, No market with its clamour loud; No magistrates dispense the laws, No advocate to plead the cause; No sounding bugle calls to arms, No bandits rouse to dread alarms; No courser scours the grassy plain, No lion shakes his tawny mane; No carriages for weary feet, No wagons jostle in the street; No well-tilled farms, no fenced field, No orchard with its welcome yield, No luscious fruit to engage the taste, No dainties to prolong the feast; No steaming car its weighty load Drags with swift wheel o'er iron road; No distant messages of fire Flash, lightning-like, through endless wire; No church with tower or tapering spire, No organ note, no chanting choir."

Writing of the extent o£ his diocese, he says: "To represent the length and tediousness of travel in this diocese, it may be compared to a voyage in a row-boat from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Fort William, on Lake Superior, or a European may compare it to a voyage in a canal barge from England to Turkey. Both the length and breadth of this diocese equal the distance from London to Constantinople.

"If all the populations between London and Constantinople were to disappear, except a few bands of Indians or gipsies, and all the cities and towns were obliterated, except a few log huts on the sites of the capital cities--such is the solitary desolation of this land. Again, if all the diversity of landscape and variety of harvest-field and meadow were exchanged for an unbroken line of willow and pine trees--such is this country."

In this region the Bishop and his devoted wife began their great work together. At once an Indian school was started, carried on at first principally by the Bishop himself. Mrs. Bompas says:

"My ears often grew weary of the perpetual 'ba, be, bo, bu; cha, che, cho, chu.' These, with a few hymns translated into their tfwn language, and a little counting, were the first studies mastered by our Simpson scholars."

November 22 was a day long to be remembered at the fort, when the first confirmation took place in the little church, and four candidates received the Apostolic rite. The service was very simple, quiet, and impressive, and the church well filled. The Bishop gave an earnest address to the candidates from Eccles. xii. 1, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth." Outside, the world was cold and dismal, but within that little sanctuary in the far North there was much warmth and peace.

The following Sunday another service of great interest was held, when the Rev. W. D. Reeve was admitted to the priesthood. Such a service was never before performed in the diocese, and all who attended were much impressed.

Only a short time could the Bishop spend at Fort Simpson; other places needed his attention, and he had to be much on the move, visiting trading-posts and Indian encampments on the various rivers and lakes. About 300 miles away was Fort Rae, on Great Slave Lake, and the heart o£ the missionary yearned for the natives and whites gathered there.

On December 8, with Allen Hardisty, a young native who was being trained as a catechist, and several men from Fort Rae, the Bishop set out on his journey.

Concerning the preparation for this trip Mrs. Bompas gives us the following very interesting description:

"It was a clear, beautiful morning, November 27, 1874. The great frozen river glittered in the sunshine--not a smooth glassy surface, as you might fancy, but all covered with huge boulders of ice, and these, again, all thickly strewn with snow. Some of these boulders assume grotesque forms--you might imagine them great monsters which had come up from the river depths--while others look like birds, and some, again, have the appearance of a beautiful foaming wave, caught by the ice just in the act of curling.

"Here are our 'trippers,' as they are called, and all ready to start, and my Bishop in his fur cap and warm wraps, which I have made for him. His large mittens, formed of deer-skin and fur, are suspended from the neck, as is the custom here. William takes with him Allen Hardisty, an Indian who is being trained as a catechist. He packed the sledges last evening with their bags of clothing and provisions for the way--blankets, cooking implements, etc. There are the three sledges, and the dogs ready harnessed. I am rather proud of my 'tapis,' which, amid sundry difficulties, I contrived to get finished, with some help, in time. Now comes the word, 'Off; all ready!' our farewells are said, the drivers smack their whips, the dogs cry out and start in full scamper, the trippers running by the side of the sledges at such a pace that all are soon out of sight."

The trip was a hard one, and, failing to obtain any deer on the way, they struggled on for days without provisions, gaining the fort in an almost exhausted condition. But what did such sufferings matter to the Bishop? The Indians were reached, and, sitting by their camp-fires telling them of the great message he had come to bring, he forgot the days of want and the weariness of the way. [In 1876 the Rev. W. D. Reeve and family removed to Fort Rae, to establish a mission there. (From notes found among Bishop Bompas's papers.)]

Meanwhile, at the fort, Mrs. Bompas was anxiously awaiting the Bishop's return. Mr. Reeve took charge of the settlement, while Mr. Hodgson conducted the Indian school. It was a weary time--a time of darkness, for grease had given out, and there were few candles, as the deer were very thin. Never before had there been such a scarcity. Every particle was saved with jealous care, and doled out with the greatest caution.

But, notwithstanding the darkness, a cheerful time was spent at Christmas, when Mrs. Bompas brought in twelve old Indian wives and gave them a Christmas dinner. They tried their best to use the knives and forks, but at last gave up in despair, and had to "take to Nature's implements."

Then a Christmas-tree--a grand affair--was given for the Indian and the white children of the officers of the fort. The presents were made by hand, and Mrs. Bompas wrote:

"Years ago, in my childhood, when my busy fingers accomplished things of this kind, my dear mother used to tell me I should one day be the head of a toyshop. How little did she then dream in what way her words would be fulfilled! I actually made a lamb--' Mackenzie River breed'--all horned and woolly, with sparkling black eyes."

Many were the wonderful things made for that tree, and great was the delight of those little dark-skinned Indians as they looked upon their first Christmas-tree.

After the excitement had subsided dreary days of waiting followed, when one Sunday morning bells were heard, and a dog-team swung into the fort, and there, to the astonishment of all, appeared the Bishop, "with white snowy beard fringed with icicles, in a deer-skin coat and beaver hat and mittens--a present from Fort Rae." What rejoicing there was! and more rejoicing still when he poured into Mrs. Bompas's lap the long-looked-for home letters, which had been eight months reaching her.

"Dear, precious letters," says the faithful recorder of these early days, "for which I had so longed and prayed and wept for eight months past. The long silence was broken, the electric chain laid down between England, Darmstadt, and Fort Simpson!"

The Bishop lamented that it was impossible in such a huge field to carry on systematic work. He draws attention to the fact that St. Paul in his great journeys "found it possible to found small communities of Christians in only hasty visits to the various cities encountered in his travels. But," he adds, "St. Paul's labours were among civilized races," and he believed that to work well among the Indians a teacher must be "willing to surrender his life to a permanent residence in the heathen country as an adopted home"--to teach by example as well as by precept. But the Bishop became by no means discouraged in his efforts, and made wonderful journeys in the face of hardships and dangers, many of which remain unknown.

Shortly after his return from Fort Rae an incident happened which almost deprived the Church of this heroic missionary. He wished to visit Fort Norman, some 200 miles farther north of Fort Simpson, and made ready to travel in the dead of winter with several of the Hudson Bay Company's men who were going that way. On the morning of the departure Mrs. Bompas went to the Indian camp and asked the natives who were to accompany the travellers to look after the Bishop. One of the boys--Natsatt by name--spoke up and said:

"Are we not men? Is he not our Bishop? Koka" (i.e., "that's enough").

And so they started. As a rule, the Bishop was a great traveller, always keeping in front of the dogs, and running like a deer, with great powers of endurance; but on this occasion he lagged behind the sledge, travelling slower and slower all the time. Natsatt kept looking back, and when at length the Bishop disappeared from sight, he became uneasy, and presently said:

"Me no feel easy. Me not comfortable."

Leaving the rest of the party, who swung on their way, he went back to look for the Bishop; and there he found him helpless in the middle of the trail, bent double, with hands on his knees, trying to walk, having been seized with fearful cramps. At once Natsatt rubbed him thoroughly, made a fire as quickly as possible, and, after the sufferer was well warmed, with a great effort succeeded in getting him back to the fort. The day was extremely cold, 40° below zero. A few minutes more, and the Bishop would have perished on the trail.

Poor Natsatt, this noble young Indian, several years later, while hunting beaver, was drowned. He was the only support of his old mother, and was also one of the faithful choir members at Fort Simpson.

This story serves to show the affection felt by the Indians for their Bishop, and good reason was there for this love. He had given up much for them, and in their troubles and sorrows was always ready to help. Though his great object was the saving of the souls of the natives, yet he believed this work could often be helped by caring for their bodies. He had never studied at a medical college, but his keen powers of observation and the study of some of the standard medical books that he had always at hand stood him in good stead on many an occasion. He had witnessed so often the sufferings endured by his flock owing to snow-blindness in the spring that when he returned home for consecration he took advantage of the visit to attend several lectures at an eye hospital, and was henceforth able to treat the patients who came to him with splendid success. Great was the faith the Indians had in the Bishop's healing powers. Only a few years ago an Indian along the Yukon River who had been treated by the police doctor for some time was heard to say, "P'lice doctor no good"; and then with animation continued, "Ah! Beeshop heem moche good!"

Wherever he went the Indians came to be cured, bringing their sick and afflicted, and truly many an Apostolic scene was enacted in the great northern wilds. Shortly after he was made Bishop he amputated a man's leg above the knee, and the operation proved most successful.

The story of poor old Martha is a touching one. Her daughter's child, little Tommy--a miserable misshapen creature--was very sick. They sent for the Bishop, who did all in his power, but in vain: the child soon passed away. Through his tender care he won their hearts, and not long after the child's death Martha came to him one cold, dark night and begged the Bishop "to give her medicine to do her heart good; she had pain there ever since Tommy died." And there, in the quietness of the mission-house, the noble teacher talked with her, telling of the great Physician of souls, and sending her away comforted.

Great was the love the Bishop had towards the children of his flock, and this love often blinded his eyes to many of their imperfections, and at times caused him to take part with the children against the mission teachers. On one occasion, hearing the sobs of a child who was being chastised, he marched to the schoolroom door and sought admittance. This not being complied with at once, with a mighty push he drove open the door, seized the child from the teacher's grasp, and, placing it upon his knee, began to soothe it with parental affection.

A beautiful scene is that which shows us the Bishop seeking for one of his flock, a little girl who had wandered into the wilderness. Jeannie de Nord was a child of ten years, with a complexion scarcely darker than an ordinary English gipsy. A rogue she looked, and a little rogue she was, up to all sorts of fun and mischief. Her father, old De Nord, had left her with an aunt while he went away some distance to hunt. The aunt was neglectful of her little charge, and Jeannie, unable to bear this, started in search of her father. So little did the aunt care that two days elapsed before the word spread that Jeannie was lost.

No sooner did the Bishop hear of it than, like the true shepherd he was, he started with others in search of the little wanderer. They pushed on over the snow, following the girl's tracks, for she had taken her snow-shoes with her. She had no food or blanket, and the nights were cold, and starving wolves roamed the forests. And where was Jeannie? She had reached her father's abandoned camp one night, cold and tired. Groping about, she found his gun, which had been left there, and with the cunning of the wild she discharged the weapon, and from the spark thus obtained started a fire, which kept her warm through the night. All the next day she wandered in vain, searching for her father, and, tired and hungry, crept back to the abandoned camp and fell asleep. It was in the night that the rescue-party drew near, and some distance away discharged a gun to attract the girl's attention. Jeannie heard the report, and, thinking it was her father coming back, with a sigh of relief fell asleep again on her cold bed. When she next opened her eyes, it was to see standing before her the tall figure of the anxious Bishop, and to feel his strong loving arms around her as he lifted her from the ground, while the only word she uttered was "Ti tin die" (i.e., "I am hungry ").

The shepherd had found the lost lamb, but oh, at what a cost! The Bishop's clothes were soaking from the overflowing streams they had crossed as they wandered about, and he could hardly reach Fort Simpson, so great were the cramps which seized him, and for days he endured great suffering. But what did it matter? Little Jeannie de Nord was safe, and none the worse for her experience.

Four years later the Bishop was called upon to lay poor Jeannie to rest. Her father made her work harder than she was able. One day she started with the dogs and sledge for the woods, to bring in a deer her father had killed. The journey was a long one, and when she returned to the camp tired out she complained of not feeling well, and, lyingdown on her bed of brushwood, died thenext day. Such a scene as this wrung the Bishop's heart, and he did all in his power to bring the little ones into the mission-schools, where they could receive proper care. An interesting sight it was to see this shepherd returning from some long trip, bringing with him several wild, dirty little natives for his school.

Not only did the Bishop bring the Indian children into the mission-school, but time and time again he and Mrs. Bompas received some poor little waif as their own. A few years after his consecration little Jenny, a mere babe, was thus taken to their hearts. She came to them, so Mrs. Bompas tells us,

"At holy Christmas-tide, When winter o'er our northern home Its lusty arms spread wide; When snow-drifts gathered thick and deep, Winds moaned in sad unrest, My little Indian baby sought A shelter at my breast."

Upon this child they bestowed their affection; but, alas! notwithstanding the greatest care, it gradually wasted away. Long and patiently they watched by its side, and did everything possible to alleviate its sufferings. It was a sad day to them both when the little one passed away.

Some time later another was received into their home and hearts. This was Owindia ("The Weeping One"), who was baptized Lucy May. A terrible tragedy had been enacted at one of the Indian camps, from which the babe had been marvellously rescued. Her mother had been cruelly murdered by an angry husband, and as there was no one to care for her, the Bishop and Mrs. Bompas took the motherless child. Great was the joy they received from the little one, and, with much pride, several years later she was taken to England, where she died some time after. Mrs. Bompas beautifully tells the story of this waif in her little book, "Owindia."

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