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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 XV. Beyond the Great Mountains (1891-1896)

"These are the tones to brace and cheer
The lonely watcher of the fold,
When nights are dark, and foemen near,
When visions fade and hearts grow cold."

MEANWHILE changes were taking place beyond the mountains, along the great Yukon River, the Quik-pak of the Russians. Gold had been discovered, and the reports of the Government surveyors were attracting miners to that region, and it became necessary that more complete episcopal supervision should be made. The Bishop, writing concerning the matter, said:

"The missionaries now labouring in the district referred to are very isolated, and much need the support of episcopal oversight, which it is hoped may be no longer denied them. From the Mackenzie River it appears impossible to superintend the district. A visit thither from the east side of the Rocky Mountains would involve a journey of 5,000 miles or more, and an absence of two years. The Rocky Mountains form a natural barrier between the Mackenzie River and the large country farther west."

The result was that in 1890 the Provincial Synod of the province of Rupert's Land sanctioned the division of the Diocese of Mackenzie River. Archdeacon W. D. Reeve became Bishop of the eastern portion, stretching to the Arctic Ocean on the north and the Hudson Bay on the east, while Bishop Bompas gave himself up to the work along the Yukon River. Archdeacon Reeve was consecrated in Holy Trinity Church, Winnipeg, on November 29. The Very Rev. Dean Grisdale, in preaching from Acts i. 8, referring to the loneliness and burden of responsibility associated with the new office, said:

'Of these burdens the noble-hearted Bishop Bompas has had his full share; yet now, for the second time, he has resigned his diocese, that he might go to the regions beyond."

Even after the division was made Bishop Bompas had no small sphere of work before him. His new diocese comprised 200,000 square miles--more than twice the area of Great Britain, and the third largest diocese in British America. It stretched from the Diocese of Caledonia on the south to the Arctic Ocean on the north, and was separated on the west by the 141st meridian of west longitude from the United States territory of Alaska. To this new diocese the Bishop gave the name of "Selkirk," and when some called the appropriateness of the name into question, he bravely defended it in the following paragraph:

"Selkirk, I presume, may be shortened from 'Selig Kirke,' or 'Holy Church,' which does not seem offensive as the name of a diocese. Manitoba means, I suppose, 'Spirit Narrows,' and Athabasca, 'Plenty of Narrows,' and Saskatchewan, 'Strong Current,' and Moosonee, 'Moose Deer Walk,' and Qu'Appelle, 'Who Calls?' And I hardly see why 'Selkirk' should be deemed an inferior name to these." [The name of the district was changed to "Yukon" in 1907.]

Before Alaska was purchased from Russia by the United States Government in 1867, Fort Yukon was the centre of missionary activity of the Church of England along the Yukon River. It was visited by Mr. Kirkby from Fort Simpson, on the Mackenzie River, in 1862, and in the same year the Rev. Robert McDonald was placed in charge. Great was the work done by this latter noble missionary during the eight years he was there. No better testimony can be produced of the influence he exerted upon the Indians for many miles around than that of Archdeacon Stuck, of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States, thirty-six years after. Travelling in the winter of 1906, he reached the Chandelar village, sixty miles from Fort Yukon, and, in an account of these Indians, writes:

"And here I found a most interesting thing--that as long as thirty years ago the older ones among these people had been under the instruction of the men of the English Church Missionary Society, and were furnished with Prayer Books, Hymnals, and complete Bibles of Archdeacon McDonald's translation, carefully treasured, and that one of their number conducted regular service. They were still praying for 'Our Sovereign Lady, Queen Victoria, and Albert Edward, Prince of Wales,' and I suppose are still; for though I took a lead pencil and struck out these prayers, and tried to explain that they were living under the Government of the United States, and that Queen Victoria was dead, I doubt if my remarks made much impression against what they had been taught by Archdeacon McDonald, whose memory they revere. And I cannot blame them much; they owe us little enough--I was the first missionary of the American Church who had visited them."

Bishop Bompas, before his consecration, had paid two visits to Fort Yukon, and travelled up the river to where another stream, the Forty Mile, joins the Yukon, the site of the mission started in 1887 by poor Ellington. To this spot the Bishop turned his attention in 1891 as a suitable site for his abode. Crossing the Rocky Mountains, he spent the winter of 1891 and 1892 at the lonely Rampart House.

Writing on April 2 to his brother George from this place, he tells of his great happiness in Scripture studies: "The symmetry of the construction of Scripture,' he continues, "presents ever new wonders, and is similar to God's works in Nature, the pencillings of summer flowers, the plumage of the birds, the harmonies of music. Nor need this surprise, for Christ tells us that His words will abide when heaven and earth shall pass away. Again, He says: 'The words that I speak to you I speak not of Myself--that is, they were dictated by the Holy Spirit, the Author of all Scripture, and were thus measured by the cadences of that heavenly music which we may suppose to be the speech of angels, and which resounds in a thousand echoes by the transposition of its letters. Our words are reechoed from the rocks, not because the rocks have a mouth, but because the air has been created with such an elasticity as to reverberate the words spoken. So the words of God in Scripture are capable of a million turns, because the language in which they are spoken was arranged from the first to admit of its secreting God's messages of love and peace, and afterwards restoring them. Now that men can bottle up the human voice, and cause its words to be repeated at a distant time and place, they need not deny to God the skill they have themselves, when they know they cannot make so much as a feather or a blade of grass."

On July 2 the Bishop wrote from the same place to his sister, and says: "The last few days I have been pleased with the following points. First, by finding that there seems to be no word for 'danger' in Hebrew or Syriac. Secondly, being scandalized by the omission of the words 'and of an honeycomb' from the Revised Version of Luke xxiv. 42. I thought the best way was to try the experiment of eating dried fish with syrup. I found it so delicious that I strongly recommend it to you, and think it will fully convince you of the genuineness of the words. Thirdly, I have been profited by noticing the frequency of the command to 'wait,' which I am trying to fulfil just now. You are perhaps aware that the common expression in the Psalms, 'Wait on the Lord,' really means, 'Wait for the Lord.' . . .

"I have just been for a short walk in the woods, and find a few flowers in even this Arctic clime, such as a pretty wild-rose, lupin, and bluebell. There are also berry blossoms, and plenty of the white blossom of what we call 'marsh tea.' These blossoms really make rather pleasant and aromatic tea. The leaves, when used for the same purpose, are rather bitter. Raspberry shoots, birch buds, and some other berry-trees, are also at times used to make tea in the absence of the genuine article, but they are rather medicinal. The west side of the mountains is, on the whole, more flowery than the east side."

In the spring he went down the Porcupine River to the Yukon. It was here he met Mrs. Bompas, who was returning from England. They had not met since 1887, and Mrs. Bompas vividly describes this meeting. After speaking about the trip up the river from St. Michael's, she mentions the great excitement which ensued on July 26, when "two Indians came on board, bringing news of the Bishop, who is at the next village,' Showman.' But a delay took place owing to the boiler being cleaned, and it was not until midnight that 'two bells' sounded, a signal for the boat to stop. I pricked up my ears, and then another bell, which meant 'stop her.' It must be for wood, of course; but I sprang from my berth, and looked out of my small window to see a pretty Indian camp, and--my husband on the beach, grey and weather-beaten, but in health better than I had expected."

Accompanying Mrs. Bompas were the Rev. T. H. and Mrs. Canham, the Rev. G. C. and Mrs. Wallis, and Mr. B. Totty. After the Bishop had joined them a conference was held, when it was arranged that the Bishop and Mr. Totty should occupy Forty Mile, Mr. and Mrs. Canham Fort Selkirk, two hundred miles up-stream, while Mr. and Mrs. Wallis should go to Rampart House, on the Porcupine. Mr. Wallis, it will be remembered, succeeded Mr. Sim at this latter place, and, having returned to England after several years of earnest labour, was returning, bringing with him his bride to the lonely post. Mrs. Bompas, speaking of their landing at Fort Yukon, to ascend the Porcupine River, says:

"Here the Wallises left us, and their great cargo of 100 pieces was put on shore. Mrs. Wallis's tent was pitched, and I fixed a few flowers and a verse on her tent-pole to cheer her up, as she was a little down-hearted."

Anxious days followed the Bishop's arrival at Forty Mile. The miners kept coming into the country, and there was no man at hand to work among them. Then the white men exerted a baneful influence upon his Indians, demoralizing them through drink, and in many other unlawful ways. He had to contend with the same difficulties as other missionaries in like circumstances. It was Hans Egede, the great apostle to Greenland, who, in 1730, said that while able in perfect security to sleep in the tents of the natives, he had to keep a watch, and fire-arms by his bed, as a protection against his fellow-Christians. Bishop Bompas remarked, after several years' sad experience with the whites among his little flock that "the advent of white population strengthens the call for missions to the natives. While they are in the minority in population, they are not so in Church attendance. At Dawson, with a population of 4,000 or 5,000, no weekday services can be maintained, while at Moosehide, Klondyke, with only 500 inhabitants, frequently fifty attend daily Evening Prayers."

But notwithstanding the anxiety, work went on apace. The Indian school made fair progress, and steadily were the natives brought into the fold. The winters were times of great loneliness, and often eight months passed without hearing from the outside world. The miners had the law in their own hands, and, with rare exceptions, kept good order. Occasionally a disturbance would take place which worried the missionaries much. In 1893 Mrs. Bompas wrote:

"A terrible quarrel reported among the white men on Sunday night, resulting in one being shot through both legs, and another stabbed in the breast. Oh, for some police, or anyone to keep order!"

"I hope for the arrival of some Government control," wrote the Bishop, "but the miners have themselves now checked the drinking among the Indians by deciding that the next person who gives a drink to an Indian shall receive notice to leave the country in twenty-four hours. As the alternative to obeying the miners' laws is generally a revolver or a noose on the nearest tree, they are pretty well complied with, and they might possibly do the same with a policeman if he interfered with their own drinking."

As the miners continued to arrive, vice and crime increased. The Bishop realized that, if life and property were to be safe, strenuous steps must be taken. It was, therefore, largely through his efforts and representation to the Dominion Government at Ottawa that the North-West Mounted Police were sent into the country, and then law and order prevailed.

In January, 1895, the Bishop gave a description of Forty Mile: "A town is laid down at Forty Mile, and they have two doctors, library, reading-room, debating society, theatre, eating-houses, and plenty of saloons, as public-houses are called in the West, besides two stores, or shops, and a few tradesmen. One debate was as to which has caused most misery in the past century--war or whisky? It was decided to give the enviable preference to whisky. This was truly appropriate to a mining camp. They had a feast on New Year's Day, of which every soul in the neighbourhood was invited to partake, both whites and Indians.

"We have just now about twenty miners who attend our Sunday afternoon English service, and afterwards we lend them some books to read; but I have not a very good selection for them. They mostly ask for history of travel, and this I do not possess. I have some magazines, and they have taken the Leisure Hour more than any other book."

And yet for the Bishop and his devoted wife the miners had nothing but the prof oundest respect. Though many of them were indifferent to all things spiritual, still, they could admire nobleness when they beheld it, as they did every day in the two faithful soldiers of the Cross in their midst. As a token of their esteem, on Christmas Day, 1892, a splendid nugget of gold was presented to Mrs. Bompas, with the following address, signed by fifty-three miners:

"It is proposed to make a Christmas present to Mrs. Bompas, the wife of the Rev. Bishop Bompas (for which purpose a collection will be taken up amongst those who are willing to contribute), and that the present shall be in the form of a Forty Mile nugget, as most appropriate to the occasion, as a mark of respect and esteem from the miners of Forty Mile, irrespective of creeds or religions, and, further, that it be distinctly understood to be a personal present to the first white lady who has wintered amongst us."

From time to time we catch brief glimpses of the life in the mission-house. Occasionally Mrs. Bompas lets in a little light, which is most interesting. We see the Bishop turning from the cares of the diocese to provide for some Indian child, or do necessary work around the house. She tells how the Bishop "has been busy carpentering and devising a number of things for our comfort--a beautiful cupboard to hold the girls' clothes, shelves and brackets, new bench for dining-room, bedsteads mended, a new door for our little dining-room, frames for double windows, new dining-table, and old one repaired. This, with his self-imposed duty of waiting upon every one, superintending the kitchen, and doctoring any sick members, has filled up his time the last few weeks. I feel thankful when for a short time in the evening he retires to his study and takes up his beloved Syriac."

But, alas for "the beautiful cupboard and shelves" which the Bishop had so carefully made! Boards were very scarce, not enough even to make coffins in which to bury the dead, and the shelves had to be taken down to make a coffin for an Indian who had been brought in from the distant hunting-grounds. Mrs. Bompas, who relates this incident, tells most pathetically of the trials they had in connexion with burying the dead on the Mackenzie River. The Indians would beg packing-boxes from the Hudson Bay Company's officers, and as these were generally too small, arms and legs would often be seen hanging out of the box as it was lowered into the grave.

Whenever the Indians arrived from some hunting-grounds, the Bishop was kept busy almost night and day attending to their wants, and instructing them in the faith, if only for a few days. This teaching was by no means lost, for out on the hills and mountains the Indians had their daily services, when appointed leaders would instruct the others. Occasionally there would be turbulent spirits among these natives, but the Bishop was always able to control them. One day two Indians became engaged in a serious fight close by the mission. One, Roderick by name, was determined to kill the other, and was making desperate thrusts with a long, sharp knife. The Bishop, observing the encounter, made for the contestants, and, taking Roderick by the collar, quietly said, "Come." But the Indian still fought and slashed with his knife, the Bishop all the time retaining his hold and saying, "Come, come with me." After much effort he succeeded in separating them, and, half leading, half dragging, drew Roderick to the mission-house. Then the Indian, completely exhausted, sank upon a large stone near by. Ere long he began to realize how he had been saved from committing murder, and, reaching out his hand, seized that of the Bishop to thank him for what he had done.

As the miners continued to arrive, the Bishop became much worried over the change that took place among his Indians, and sadly he wrote:

"Nothing could be of a greater contrast than the squalid poverty and want of all things in which the Indians here lived thirty years ago, and the lavish luxury and extravagance with which they now squander hundreds of dollars on needless food and dress, if not in a still more questionable manner. The Indians now place such high prices on any meat or fuel, or other things which they supply to the whites, such as leather or shoes, that it is hard for your missionaries to live with economy among them, and the worst of all is that the younger Indians are only too apt to imitate the careless whites in irreligion and debauchery."

Each spring was a season of anxiety to the Bishop and his household. The mission-house was on an island, and when the ice of the great Yukon was going out there was often great danger. As the mighty blocks of ice moved by, and then jammed and piled high, the water would rise and flood the building. Several times they were awakened in the night to find the water rushing through the house, and were forced to climb aloft till the waters subsided. Through these dangers they were mercifully delivered by Him who had preserved them so often before.

In 1893 the Rev. G. C. Wallis was compelled to return to England, owing to the ill-health of his wife, and this necessitated a change in the missionaries who remained. Archdeacon and Mrs. Canham accordingly went to Rampart House; the Rev. B. Totty, who had been admitted to Priest's Orders on July 15, 1894, and who had spent the winter of 1893 at Rampart House, was sent to Fort Selkirk, while the Bishop and Mrs. Bompas remained at Forty Mile.

Thus the Bishop was left with only two men, and the outlook appeared very discouraging. But just at the right moment there arrived on the scene a young man who was destined to be of great service in the pioneer work of the diocese. This was Mr. R. J. Bowen, who had been in the preparatory institution of the Church Missionary Society at Clapham for a short time, and who volunteered to go to Bishop Bompas as an industrial agent. This was in 1895, and not long after new conditions arose in the diocese, which taxed the minds and energy of the mission-workers to the utmost.

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