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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 XII. A Race with Winter (1877-1878)

"The watery deep we pass
With Jesus in our view;
And through the howling wilderness
Our way pursue."

WHILE Bishop Bompas was carrying on his steady work along the great inland streams, a storm was brewing in an active mission centre on the Pacific coast. Mr. Duncan, who had been sent out by the Church Missionary Society, was working among the Indians at Metlakahtla with good results. Bishop Hills, of Columbia Diocese, several times visited the settlement, and baptized a large number of converts. But Mr. Duncan objected to the Indian Christians being prepared for Confirmation, thinking they would make a fetish of it. Time and time again the Church Missionary Society sent out ordained men to Metlakahtla, but Mr. Duncan would not listen to them, and remained most headstrong in his views. Matters thus reached a climax. Bishop Hills well knew if he visited Metlakahtla it would only add fuel to the flames, as Mr. Duncan, for certain reasons, had taken a dislike to him. He therefore acted a wise part, and wrote to Bishop Bompas, asking him to go to Metlakahtla as arbitrator.

It was late in the season when the letter reached the Bishop, but without delay he prepared for the trip. At any season it was a great undertaking, but at that time of the year the difficulty was very much increased. In a direct line the journey was a long one, but to reach the coast the distance had to be lengthened by a circuitous route over rivers, lakes, portages, and mountain summits.

Then, winter was upon them.

"All the latter part of September," wrote the Bishop, "the frost and snow had been more severe than I had ever known it before at the same season, so the whiter had decidedly the first start in our race."

It was a cold, frosty day, that 8th of October, 1877, when the Bishop left Dunvegan in a stout canoe with several Indians on his long race to the coast against stern Winter. For five days they moved up the river, contending with drifting ice which met them coming out of "tributary streams," and on the 13th Fort St. John was reached, where they "were kindly entertained for the Sunday by the officer in charge" of the Hudson Bay post. From this point they left winter "behind for a fortnight, and were fairly ahead in the race." But every day they expected to be overtaken by their competitor, and arose from their "couches anxiously every morning, foreboding signs of ice or snow."

Rocky Mountain House was reached on the 17th, where a large hand of Indians was found assembled. The Bishop lost no opportunity of speaking a word to the natives wherever he met them, and the seed thus sown bore much fruit in after-years. For the first time he found no sickness in the camps, which fact he attributed "to their unusually liberal use of soap and water, as compared with the tribes farther north."

Ahead of them was the Peace River Canyon, and, after making a land portage of twelve miles to avoid this dangerous spot, they again proceeded by canoe. But the work was becoming harder all the time. The current was very swift, and the canoe had to be poled all the way. In trying to ascend the Parle Pas Rapids, the current was so "strong that their canoe turned on them, and was swept down the stream, but, being a large one, descended safely."

"On the very morning that we left Parsnip River," wrote the Bishop, "the ice began again to drift thickly to meet us, and had we been only a few hours later, we might have been inconvenienced by it, showing us that stern Winter was still on our track.

"Most of the time that we were passing through the gorge of the Rocky Mountains the weather was foggy, but when the mist cleared we saw the bold crags and hilly heights closely overhanging the river in snowy grandeur. The mountain terraces and picturesque scenery on this route have been described by Canadian explorers."

For eleven days the Bishop and his men poled their craft against the stream, and, with many dangers passed, reached McLeod's Lake Fort on October 29. Here they were hospitably received by Mr. McKenzie, the officer in charge, and an opportunity was given to see the Indians who were at the fort. A rest of two days was made here, and then they started across the lake. This was a difficult task, as the ice was beginning to stretch from shore to shore, and they had to force their way as best they could around the corner of the solid mass.

From Lake McLeod a long portage of eighty miles was made over frozen ground to the beautiful sheet of water known as Stuart Lake, on the shore of which the officer at Fort St. James gave them a hearty welcome. Here the Bishop was on historic ground. Seventy-one years before those famous explorers, Simon Fraser and John Stuart, discovered the lake which took the name of the latter. ["History of the Interior of British Columbia," by the Rev. A. G. Morice.] Fort St. James, which was erected on its banks "long before Victoria and New Westminster had been called into existence," was the regular capital of British Columbia, "where a representative of our own race ruled over reds and whites." [John Stuart was Lord Strathcona's uncle, and was largely instrumental in bringing the young Scotchman to Canada in]

A stay of four days was made at this place, during which time heavy snow-storms raged over the land and ice began to form in the lake, which threatened to bar further progress. This body of water, which is about fifty miles in length, had to be traversed, and the Indians refused to make the long journey at that season and in such weather. During the delay the Bishop was invited to hold Divine service at the fort on Sunday. Never before had the place "been visited by a Protestant missionary, the Roman Catholics only having laboured in the region, and Mr. Hamilton, the Hudson Bay Company's chief officer there, brought up a family of ten children, without having for more than twenty years any opportunity of seeing a Protestant minister."

After much difficulty the Indians were persuaded to go forward, and, leaving Fort St. James on November 7, arrived at Fort Babines, on the lake of the same name, on the 14th, after encountering a furious snow-storm on the way. The Babine Indians in this region, being all Roman Catholics, were naturally suspicious of a Church of England missionary. "However," said the Bishop, "they treated us well."

From Fort Babines they started on the land-trail over the mountains to Skeena Forks. This was a difficult undertaking, and winter overtook them once again. At the beginning of the portage, the snow was several inches deep, and as they ascended the mountain it deepened continually, till they were forced to dig out their camps, "to sleep in a foot and a half of snow, and without snow-shoes the walking was heavy. We were invading Winter's own domain," continued the Bishop, "and it was little wonder if he was severe with us."
On descending the western slope the next morning, the snow diminished rapidly, and they "camped at night in the grass without a vestige of snow remaining, and only saw stern Winter frowning down from the heights behind."

Having reached the Skeena Forks, they were given a hearty welcome by Mr. Hankin, who informed the Bishop that, till the previous year, the Skeena River had never been knpwn to continue open so late, being generally frozen the first week in November, and now it was the 17th. The next day the descent of the Skeena was begun by canoe, in fear and trembling, lest the ice might "drift down from behind." And the race began in earnest, for a heavy snow-storm swept over the land, and Winter once more made a last effort to block them. But through the tempest sped the determined missionary, and to his joy found that, on nearing the coast, the mild breezes of the Pacific were too much for grim Winter, and he steadily retreated, leaving the little party unscathed.

On November 23 Port Essington, at the mouth of the Skeena, was reached, and after spending one night there with Mr. Morrison, the Bishop proceeded "twenty-five miles by canoe along the coast to the north to Metlakahtla, which he reached on the 24th, "this being the tenth canoe," he remarks, "that we had sat in since leaving Dun vegan."

Mr. Duncan cordially welcomed the traveller, and 124 of the Christian Indians were confirmed and communicants' classes formed. Mr. (afterwards Archdeacon) Collison received both Deacon's and Priest's Orders, and was placed in pastoral charge of Metlakahtla. Thus it looked as if the Bishop's visit would bring about a lasting peace; but, alas! after he left the condition of affairs became as they were before, and the history of the struggle that followed is a sad one.

Bishop Bompas spent four months on the coast, making several trips in canoes to visit the Indians at various places. His visit was very beneficial, and he wrote that he felt "a good deal invigorated both in body and mind by the change, and not at all loath to return to the more northern regions, which seem to me much less isolated and inaccessible now that I have made the connexion between them and the wild western slopes of the Pacific. It had long been my expectation that Athabasca and Mackenzie districts would gradually become more approachable from the west, and this idea is now confirmed."

The Venerable Archdeacon Collison, of the Diocese of Caledonia, writes from Kincolith, Naas Mission, of the visit of Bishop Bompas to the Pacific coast:

"It was Mr. Morrison who met the Bishop on his arrival at Port Essington after what he described as 'A Race with Winter 'down the Skeena. He was so travel-worn that Mr. Morrison mistook him for a miner as he disembarked from the canoe. 'Well, said he,' what success have you had?' The Bishop replied that he had been fairly successful, evidently relishing the joke. Just then Mr. Morrison saw the remains of his apron, and, recollecting that he had heard that a Bishop was expected at Metlakahtla from inland, exclaimed,' Perhaps you are the Bishop who I heard was expected?' 'Yes,' replied the Bishop, 'I am all that is left of him.' He remained at Metlakahtla that winter, where he succeeded in confirming a large number of candidates. By the first steamer in spring he came over to me on Queen Charlotte's Island, at Massett. I had a little bedroom specially prepared for him in the new mission-house, but he preferred lying down on the floor, as he said he was not accustomed to sleeping in rooms. He was about to lie down just across the doorway when I begged him to take another position, as he might be disturbed by some one entering late or early.

"I returned with him to the mainland on the steamer. We went up together to the Naas River by canoe, a voyage of some fifty miles to Kincolith. The owner of the canoe, who was a chief, was steering, and I was seated near him towards the stern, whilst the Bishop was seated forward. As the Bishop raised his arms in paddling, in which we were all engaged, it revealed a long tear in the side of his shirt. Suddenly the chief asked me in a low tone in Tsimshean, 'Why is the chief's shirt so torn?' I replied: 'He has been a long time travelling through the forest.' He was dressed very roughly, and wore a pair of moccasins. When we reached Kincolith, he purchased a coarse pair of brogans in the little Indian store there. He was in the habit of sitting, after the others had finished their meal, eating a small piece of dry yeast-powder bread, baked by Mrs. Tomlinson or one of her Indian girl boarders, and he would exclaim, 'How sweet this bread is to my taste after roughing it so long on the trails!' He informed us of the privations both missionaries and Indians had endured owing to scarcity of food during certain seasons, on more than one occasion having had to boil and eat the skins of the animals that had been caught in the hunt for their furs. I ventured to suggest to him that this might be avoided if they could only grow potatoes and pit them securely. We had taught our Indians to do this. The Bishop feared they would not mature in his diocese, but promised to remember it. Afterwards I was informed he had introduced the potato with success.

"The Rev. R. Tomlinson and I accompanied the Bishop when he started to return to the head of canoe navigation on the Naas River, and some distance on the trail. We had a prayer-meeting at the point where we separated in the forest, in which we joined in prayer for needful blessings--the Bishop for us and God's work in our hands, and we for him in his journey and labours for the Lord. He gave away his great-coat and a pot to the Indians, and started on the second stage of his return journey accompanied by one young Indian."

While on the coast it was but natural that his thoughts should wander to his native land.

"From the Pacific coast," he wrote, "a few weeks would have taken me to England or any part of the civilized world; but I preferred to return north without even visiting the haunts of civilization (except so far as the Indians are cultivated at our missions), on the ground that such a visit renders the mind unsettled or disinclined for a life in the wilds."

Brave soldier of the Cross, how willing he was to sacrifice anything for the Master's cause! Leaving the coast, he started in the spring up the Skeena River, and once again plunged into the wilderness among his dusky flock.

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