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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 XIII. Onward and Upward (1878-1884)

"The labourers are few, the field is wide,
New stations must be filled, and blanks supplied."

THE Bishop reached Fort St. John, on the Peace River, during the latter part of April, and remarked that his trip from the coast was "unmarked by special interest, though not without much assistance by a kind Providence." He was much interested in the lava plain on the Naas River, "about twelve miles square, caused by a volcanic eruption from a neighbouring mountain. The Indian tale is," wrote the Bishop, "that some cruel children, playing at the mouth of a small stream, were catching the salmon, and, cutting open their backs, put stones in them and let them go again. The Good Spirit, being angry, set the river on fire, and burnt up the children, and the lava plain remains as the memento. I could not help thinking it a mercy, when I heard the tale, that some of our London urchins have never yet set the Thames on fire!"

Seldom did the Bishop refer to the legendary lore of the Indians, with which he must have been most familiar, except "to point a moral," and never "to adorn a tale."

Upon reaching his own diocese, sad news met him of a terrible famine which had ravaged his flock the previous winter. Food was scarce, "owing to the extreme mildness of the season interfering with the chase, and the mission supplies having failed to reach there in the fall." Mrs. Bompas was not in the country, for which the Bishop was most thankful; but his heart was sore over the suffering, not only of the Indians, but of the missionaries at the various posts. He gives a graphic picture of the sufferings endured in the diocese.

"Horses were killed for food, and furs eaten at several of the posts. The Indians had to eat a good many of their beaver-skins. Imagine an English lady taking her supper off her muff. The gentleman now here with me supported his family for a while on bear-skins. These you see at home mostly in the form of Grenadier caps. Can you fancy giving a little girl, a year or two old, a piece of Grenadier's cap, carefully singed, boiled and toasted, to eat? Mr. McAulay's little girl has not yet recovered from the almost fatal sickness that resulted. The scarcity brings out the strange contrast between this country and others. Elsewhere money 'answereth all things,' and among India's millions half a million sterling will relieve a famine; but send it here, and though a great sum among our scattered individuals, who can be counted by tens, yet it would do us no good, as for digestion we must find it' hard cash 'indeed."

This severe "wasting of the famine" induced the Bishop to launch a plan which for some time he had had in mind. He felt how uncertain it was to depend upon the supplies brought in from the outside, and to obviate the scarcity he knew they must endeavour to raise their own produce.

"A mission-farm in connexion with the mission," he wrote, "seems almost a necessity, for as the wild animals of the wood are ceasing to yield even a precarious subsistence, Providence seems to point us plainly to raise food out of the earth."

Peace River was the region chosen for the venture, "the country there being very picturesque, having some resemblance to the English South Down hills. The grass slopes are a great relief to the eye from the monotonous pine-forests, which are often almost our only view. The soil is fertile, and the country well adapted for farming; and though Peace River is at present a starving country, yet it is strange to see it spoken of in the papers as adapted by Nature to be a great granary for the two Continents of Europe and America."

A new mission was accordingly commenced at Dunvegan, "as this point is likely to prove one of the most important in the country, being a convenient door of ingress and egress to and from the north."

Mr. Thomas Bunn, who had done "patient and successful school work at Chipewyan," was placed in charge of the mission, while Mr. G. Gar-rioch had control of the farm which was started. Another farm in connexion with Dunvegan was begun at Smoky River, "so called from the constant smoke occasioned by the spontaneous combustion underground of coal and bitumen."

At Vermilion the mission was enlarged "by the addition of a school, in charge of Mr. Lawrence from Canada," and in 1880 the Bishop reported that "the mission-farm at Vermilion has been also enlarged, and is in a fair way to be productive enough to provide food for that and other mission-stations."

So encouraged was the Bishop by the success of his farming plan on Peace River that he began to think of a similar undertaking on the Liard River, further north, and he considered this section "better adapted for farming than any other part of the Mackenzie River country."

Besides the farming plan, the Bishop had another in his mind about this time, and that was to have a small mission-steamer placed on the Mackenzie River. As the farms would, he hoped, supply the mission with produce, so the steamer would not only carry all the supplies, but facilitate travel and advance the missionary work in the vast diocese.

He believed a steam-launch, with portable engines of about 20 horse-power, a rapidly revolving screw, and a furnace to burn wood or coal, could be taken in by the way of the Saskatchewan and Peace Rivers, and the hull built in the country. Such a launch, he estimated, could ascend the Mackenzie River, the longest river in British territory, for about 1,300 miles.

The movement thus begun by the Bishop caused the Hudson Bay Company to make a start in the same direction. They wished to remain the "lords of the north," and for a steamer to be placed on the river and controlled by others would, they believed, weaken their prestige among the natives. When the Bishop saw the Company meant business he at once gave up his own plan, for it mattered little to him who controlled the steamer so long as the method of travel was improved. This was not done till some years later, when, in 1882, the little steamer Graham was built by the Company at Fort Chipewyan, on Lake Athabasca. In 1885 the screw propeller Wrigley was built at Fort Smith, on the Slave River; and a few years later the stern-wheeler Athabasca was launched at Athabasca Landing for the Upper Athabasca River. ["The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company," chap, xxxviii., p. 395.]

But during the waiting season the Bishop had to continue his long journeys in the open canoe over the great network of waterways with which he was so familiar. In May, 1881, he began those marvellous trips which only a giant constitution could have endured. From the Peace River district he made a voyage far north to visit the Tukudh missions. Here he was much pleased with the hearty welcome given by the native converts, "whom," he says, "I have come to regard as my brethren in Christ." "It was a delight to me," he further adds, "to hear adults and children at each mission post read before me from the Tukudh books printed for their benefit; and as they have now begun to teach one another to read, our missionary will be somewhat relieved from the necessity of holding school for all."

But the Indians along the Upper Yukon, whom he "left weeping in contrition for their sins ten years ago," weighed much upon his mind, and he made a strong appeal for men to man the field. One of the Yukon Indians who had come to plead for the Bishop to visit his tribe pointed to a smouldering fire and said:

"That is how you have left us. You kindled the fire of the Gospel among us, and left it un-tended to die out again. Why have you done this?"

Is it any wonder that this missionary, standing by the smouldering camp-fire, with the dusky natives all around, and listening to their cry, "Come over and help us," sent forth his soul-stirring appeal for men to support his great undertaking in the northern wilds?

He also asked the Church Missionary Society "to take up work in the American territory of Alaska," adding "that international boundaries ought to make no bar to evangelistic efforts," and that "the whole of the Indians on the Youcon are thirsty for instruction, and are already partly evangelized by the efforts of Archdeacon McDonald."

The Eskimos, in their dense ignorance, worried him much, and he sent appeal after appeal for assistance. And the cry was not in vain, for the Bishop's brother, George Bompas, gave a substantial sum for the purpose. While the Bishop was in the North still pleading, the Church Missionary Society sent out the Eev. T. H. Canham to start a mission among the Eskimos. Mr. Canham reached Peel River one year later, and was cordially received by the Eskimos, among whom he at once began to work.

For some time Bishop Bompas did not know who the generous donor was, and when he at length found out he wrote to his brother George in 1884:

"I have only just heard that you were yourself the kind and generous donor. ... I feel very thankful for your generosity and for the direction it took. Just at the time of Archdeacon McDonald's absence it was this gift only that has enabled us to support in sufficiency the Tukudh Mission, as well as to press on efforts for the Esquimaux.

"You may, then, view the Rev. T. H. Canham, with whom I have been staying at Peel River during much of last winter, as your own particular missionary. He is making good progress with the Tukudh and Esquimaux languages; but, both being difficult, it is hard to acquire the two at once."

After spending the summer amongst the Tukudh missions, and travelling from May to August 2,500 miles, the Bishop returned south to Great Slave Lake to meet the incoming mission-party from England, and afterwards proceeded up the Liard Kiver from Fort Simpson, and visited two posts there, Liard and Nelson. This region he considered "debatable ground" between the Dioceses of Caledonia and Mackenzie River. "However," he wrote," as it appears at present quite inaccessible to Bishop Ridley, and has always been associated with our missions, I have worked it meanwhile, with the permission of Bishop Hills, irrespective of the question to whom it may ultimately be assigned."

Before winter the Bishop returned to Fort Norman, and had a terrible journey. The following letter written by Mrs. Bompas the next summer, and published in the little missionary magazine, The Net, describes most vividly what the Bishop endured:

NORMAN, "July, 1882.

"The Bishop's return to us was greatly delayed. We counted on his arrival for relief in our most pressing necessities, and I was weary of acting on my own responsibility and judgment, for daily there is very much in which the said judgment is called for. But iwe looked and longed for him in vain, and the river became more firmly locked with ice. Towards the middle of November I was roused one night from sleep and startled to the uttermost by the loud knocking at the door of two Indians, who shouted out to me:

"'We bring you tidings of Bishop; he is starving!'

"It did not take me long to spring up and examine the men as to the truth of their report, and perilous indeed was the adventure which I gathered from them. The Bishop had reached Fort Simpson some days later than was expected. Finding that ice was rapidly forming on the river, so that to proceed northwards by canoe was utterly impossible, he started on a small raft (which iwas hastily and badly constructed) with one Indian. On this they were beating about for days, in great peril amid the gathering ice. They reached at last La Violdtes' house at Little Eapid, and there had to remain for ten days until the river was fast bound. Then the Bishop started anew to walk with four Indians, one of whom went after a bear in the woods and wholly lost sight of the others. Their supply of provisions was most insufficient, and from losing the right track the journey occupied twelve days instead of, as is usual, six. At length, when within a day's reach of this place, the Bishop was so overcome with exhaustion as to be quite unable to proceed, their only meal, sometime previous, having been a fish and small barley cake between four men. The Indians left him in the woods and hurried on to tell me of his condition. My heart sank pretty low at such tidings, yet at the same time came the thought and firm conviction, which I trust was not presumptuous, that the Arms which had shielded my dear husband through so many dangers would befriend him still. But I felt there was no time to lose, and my first effort was to induce one of the young Indians to set off immediately to discover the Bishop in the woods, with Indian sagacity, and take him the relief I would send.

"'Whu-tale, Bishop is starving in the woods. I send him meat--chiddi, chiddi (quick, quick). You take it to him, eh?'

"Whu-tale, with true Indian passiveness:

"'Maybe to-morrow.'

"'No, Whu-tale; to-morrow Bishop must be here: he cannot stand until he has eaten meat. I want you to take it now, and go to him like the wind. If you go directly and bring Bishop safe, I will give you a fine flannel shirt.'

"Whu-tale, a little more briskly:

"'Then it would not be hard for me to go, and perhaps like the wind.'

"The next moment saw me emerging from my house, wrapped in my deer-skin robe, up the hill to the fort, where I had to rouse the Hudson Bay Company's officer from a sound sleep to obtain from him a supply of moose meat. The thermometer was nearly 30° below zero, and wolves in a starving condition had been seen lurking near the fort; but I thought of neither the one nor the other, and only rejoiced to get Whu-tale off, and waited with enough anxiety through the succeeding hours. After darkness had set in on the following day, the travellers appeared, trudging along on snow-shoes, weary and footsore, my husband looking hardly able to stand, and with his beard all fringed with icicles. It is wonderful how he had been preserved amid such perils, and brought to me at last in answer to many prayers."

Here the Bishop stayed all winter, and, notwithstanding his last fearful experience, left again in the spring among the drift-ice, intending to visit Archdeacon McDonald at Peel River, whose health was not good.

Of the risk the Bishop ran in this journey downstream with the drift-ice the following description in his own words will give some idea:

"The breaking up of the ice in spring in the large rivers, like the Mackenzie, is sometimes a fine sight. The ice may pile in masses along the banks to the height of 40 feet, or be carried far into the woods. When any check occurs to the drifting of the broken ice, so as to back the stream, the water may suddenly rise to the height of 50 feet or more, and flood the country.

"The rivers and lakes freeze in winter to a depth of from 6 to 10 feet, and the force and impetus of large masses of ice of this thickness, when hurled along the rapid current of a mighty river, are enormous. Few exhibitions of the power of the Great Creator are more imposing than when 'He causeth His wind to blow, and the waters flow.'"

Reaching Fort Good Hope, he heard better accounts of the Archdeacon, and, turning back, took Mrs. Bompas from Fort Norman to Fort Resolution, on Great Slave Lake, occupied by Messrs. Garton and Norn, "where," wrote the Bishop, "I have left her, I hope, a little more comfortable than last winter."

From Great Slave Lake he proceeded at once to Fort Chipewyan, where he was engaged some time placing the accounts in the hands of Mr. Reeve, who had been appointed financial secretary, owing to the accessibility of his station from north to south. [A mission-house was erected here in 1876, and the church opened on Easter Day, 1880.--(From notes found among the Bishop's papers.)] During the Bishop's stay here Captain Dawson, of the Royal Artillery, arrived from England with three men, in connexion with the International Circumpolar Expedition. At this place he made preparations for the building of a steamer by the Hudson Bay Company, "so that civilization," remarked the Bishop, "appears approaching us by degrees."

From Fort Chipewyan the Bishop went to Vermilion, on Peace River, and was "much encouraged by the sight of the good crops harvested from the mission-farms." After visiting Dunvegan, and other places along the river, he returned and spent three months at Vermilion, assisting Mr. Lawrence with the school. At length, becoming anxious about the lower missions, he started on foot for Chipewyan. This was a journey of about 200 miles, and many difficulties he must have endured before reaching his destination, which he did on March 1, in time to meet the spring letters, and confer with Archdeacon McDonald respecting the latter's intended trip to Manitoba and England.

At this place he heard that Mrs. Bompas was ill, which caused him much uneasiness. After spending a fortnight here with Mr. Reeve, he "found an opportunity of proceeding north again to Fort Resolution," which he reached shortly after Easter. He found Mrs. Bompas "in tolerable health, though having suffered rather severe hardships in winter, through the house not having been properly arranged in the fall to exclude the cold."

Though the Bishop had been absent from home for nine months, he only remained at Fort Resolution two weeks, and then pushed north to the Tukudh Mission, visiting the various stations on the way. Here he remained one year, and "was enabled to see nearly all the Indians at each of the three stations twice, both in winter and spring, and the Eskimos twice, both in fall and spring." His time was fully occupied, as the following will show:

"I held two Confirmations--viz., at Peel River and Rampart House--about forty being confirmed each time. I administered the Communion twice, to about forty communicants at each of these stations. I gave a daily address at Evening Prayer in Indian throughout the year, and the same twice on Sundays, always from the Gospels. I again went through the Eskimo primer with the interpreter, and wrote out additional prayers and lessons, and endeavoured to assist the Rev. T. Canham with the language. I made much effort towards the completion of the two mission-churches at Peel River and Rampart House, and left the former in so forward a state that we held prayers in it in spring, when it was quite filled by the Indian converts. Our cheerfulness was rather damped by the sudden death after New Year of their aged chief, good old Red Leggings, who has been from the first a mainstay of our mission there. I count him one that trusted in the Lord."

These are only the unembellished facts, and how we long for more interesting detail of that year's labour in the North! But only once does he allow us a brief glimpse into his work at Rampart House.

"The old Indian chief, specially asked me to administer the Sacrament to the communicants here, which I did, and about ten days after receiving it occurred his sudden death, for which, I trust, he was fully prepared. For the past six weeks I have been fully occupied in teaching a large band of Indians, and in holding school for the children. The sun here is hidden by the mountains all midwinter, and the days are so short that when the sky is cloudy we use candles at noon, and in clear days we can read by daylight only for two hours. I have spectacles, and my eyes are becoming dim by candle-light through the effect of using them in fire and twilight, which must be my apology for a poor letter just now; but our darkest winter days are now passing by. The glare of the never-setting sun is also injurious to the eyesight in summer; but, with these drawbacks, I have come to like the country, and should dread the recommencing life in England much more than ending my days here."

But the Bishop was longing for one change. The incessant moving about was telling upon him, and he asked that the diocese might be divided.

"I feel," he wrote, "much gratitude to Almighty God for the needful health and strength granted me for the past year's travel, but I do not feel so much energy for journeying as before, and may be unable to accomplish the same again."

He maintained that the great extent of the country, 3,000 miles long, rendered his own "superintendence of the missions rather superficial;" but," he continued, "if the zeal and affection of friends at home would provide an additional Bishop for Peace River, then I think the whole diocese, as large as half Europe, might be viewed as an end worth an effort to accomplish. If the diocese remains undivided, my itinerancies will be inconsistent with domestic life, and I have asked Mrs. Bompas to revisit England next year. If relieved of the charge of the mission accounts, and of domestic duties, I wish to surrender myself without reserve to the visitation of the mission-stations."

The Bishop did not think that he was sacrificing himself in giving up so much for the work's sake, for the compensation, he considered, was very great, as the following will show:

"This land of retirement and rest offers considerable attraction to a contemplative and sedate mind; and if grace is given to heart and mind to ascend and dwell above, the turmoil of earth is so far removed that the rest of heaven may almost be begun below; while our constant dependence on our heavenly Father's care and providence makes the life a good school for trust, and the scarcity of food impresses the truth that man shall not live on bread alone, nor his mind be fed alone by the giddiness of worldly gaieties,' but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord shall man live.'"

The Bishop had now spent almost twenty years of strenuous life in the North, and one naturally asks what was the outcome of those years of unceasing labour. Looking back to the year 1865, we find there were'then three missionaries in the huge field: McDonald at Fort Yukon, Kirkby at Fort Simpson, and Bompas with a roving commission. There was only one church, that at Fort Simpson. The work of translation had but begun, and thousands of Indians were roaming over the land to whom the name of Christ had little or no meaning. At that time, the attempt to enlighten those children of the wild, seemed almost hopeless, and the difficulties well-nigh insuperable.

Look, now, at the work twenty years later, and see if any changes had been made. Eleven men were in the field upholding the standard of the Cross. Ten stations were occupied and six churches erected, several of which were finished and others partly completed. The Bishop himself thus tells of the progress made in translating the Indian language.

"A manual has been printed in seven dialects of the country, containing a summary of Christian instruction, which even the Roman Catholic Indians tell us is better than the priests' books. Gospels have been printed in Slave and Chipewyan. The Tukudh nation long since signalized the power of the Gospel by turning completely from heathenism to Christianity. Full translations have been made into this language."

These are the facts that can be ascertained to satisfy the world's calculation. But who can estimate the blessings which have flowed into so many lives during that score of years--the hearts made glad, the weary comforted, and the dying soothed by the tidings from on high, delivered by those noble messengers of peace? These are the things which cannot be counted, and yet their price is above rubies and their influence eternal.

Too often people forget the great force of national importance exerted by a few missionaries scattered over a large extent of country. In the lone wilderness they are doing more than at times appears on the surface. In their efforts to save souls they are indirectly advancing the nation's interests. It has been well said: 'They have promoted civilization; they have furthered geographical discovery; they have opened doors of commerce; they have done service to science; they have corrected national and social evils; they have sweetened family life." [Eugene Stock's "History of the Church Missionary Society."]

Bishop Galloway, in an address before the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions at Toronto, in 1902, said:

"The statue erected to David Livingstone in Edinburgh represents the great missionary standing on a lofty pedestal with the calm confidence of the conqueror, his eager eyes turned towards Africa, the Bible in one hand, while the other rests on an axe. These are the suggestive influences that all missionaries stand for--the world's redemption and civilization. They have made the echoes of the woodman's axe keep time with the story of the Gospel in opening up the regions beyond. They have opened hospitals and established orphanages, and founded schools and colleges, and introduced the great doctrines of personal and civil liberty. They have taught the tribes of earth all these great rudiments of life; they have taught them how to use the plough and the plumb-line, and the saw and the hammer, and the compass and the trowel."

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