WHEN on a visit to one of his mission-stations during his later years, the Bishop was asked to write a few lines in an autograph album. He at once complied with the request, and wrote the words, which he felt applied to him as they did to Gideon and his 300, "Faint yet pursuing."
Years of strenuous work were telling upon his gigantic constitution, and he began to realize that ere long he must lay down the staff of office. For some time he had his attention turned towards the southern portion of the diocese, to the Indians who were gathered at Caribou Crossing, which had become quite an important railway centre. In August, 1901, he and Mrs. Bompas bade farewell to all at Forty Mile, and started on their journey up the river. Whitehorse was only in its infancy, and the Rev. R. J. and Mrs. Bowen had just returned from England to take charge of the Church work. In the little tent they received the venerable couple, and did all in their power to minister to their comfort. The accommodation at Caribou Crossing was most meagre. A tent which belonged to Bishop Ridley gave them shelter for a few hours, when, hearing of a bunk-house across the river, they at once rented it, and afterwards purchased it for 150 dollars. It was dirty and uncomfortable, but the Bishop placed a rug and blanket on the big table for Mrs. Bompas to rest on, while he went to explore. The house was infested with gophers, which ran along the rafters, causing great annoyance. But notwithstanding the toil of the day, Evening Prayer was held in Bishop Ridley's tent. Here services were conducted till the fall, when the weather grew so cold that Mrs. Bompas's fingers became numb as she played at the little harmonium, which she had brought with her. After that services, morning and evening, were held at the mission-house, "which," as Mrs. Bompas tells us, "had been used as a road-house and post-office, and possessed one good-sized room, over the door of which there still exists the ominous word 'Bar-room' (now hidden behind a picture); and in this room we had to gather, Indians and white people, for Sunday and weekday services, for baptisms, marriages, and funerals, for school-children and adult classes, etc."
In 1903 Bishop Ridley, of Caledonia, paid a visit to Caribou Crossing on his way to Atlin. His description of the episcopal residence and the life of the venerable occupants is most interesting, and a few extracts must be given here.
"There on the platform stands the straight and venerable hero of the North, Dr. Bompas, the Bishop of Selkirk. I jumped from the train, and, though I had never met him before, I grasped his hand and exclaimed: 'At last! at last!' We knew each other well by letter only. He was as placid as the mountains and the lakes they embosom."
Then a glimpse is permitted of the "Bishop's house, built of logs, on the sand. The flooring-boards were half an inch apart; so shrunken were they that it would be easy to rip them up and lay them down close together. Then the roof: it was papered, with battens across the paper. I was anxious to see inside less of the light of heaven through the rents. Ventilation is carried to excess. Everything around is as simple as indifference to creature comforts can make it, excepting the books, which are numerous, up to date, and as choice as any two excellent scholars could wish.
"The question that has often sprung from my heart has been this: if this poor £30 affair is by comparison delightful, what of the contrivances that have sheltered them in the past forty years?
"Never in my life did I value hospitality so much, or feel so honoured, as here under the roof of these grand apostles of God. Two septuagenarians of grace and broad culture, whose years have been spent nobly in God's eyes, have deliberately chosen an austere type of service, not for austerity's sake, but for Christ's sake, under circumstances the average citizen of the Empire would feel to be past endurance. They are as happy as heroic. She, accomplished far beyond the standard one meets with in London drawing-rooms, unless among the most cultured circles; he, a fine scholar, steeped in Hebrew and Syrian lore, as well as in the commoner studies of the clergy, live on, love on, labour on in this vast expanse, little trodden but by the Indians for whom they live and will die.
"If such lives fail in Christ's cause, that cause is doomed. Let those who criticize cease their cackling, and try to imitate by self-sacrifice such lives as those I have just touched on, and they, too, may have some share in the betterment of mankind, the expansion of Christ's kingdom, and the eternal welfare of humanity."
Bishop Bompas notes in one of his reports that Caribou Crossing "forms the centre of a hitherto unoccupied area, and forges, perhaps, one of the last links of the chain of the Church Missionary Society stations which girdle the world."
Anxious days followed the Bishop's removal to this place. Clergy were scarce in the diocese, and when Mr. Bowen left Whitehorse earnest appeals were sent "outside" for men. Then it was, upon the Bishop's earnest request, that the Rev. I. O. Stringer arrived in November, 1903, to take up the work laid down by Mr. Bowen. Much pleased was the Bishop to have Mr. Stringer so near, and at once marked him as his successor.
Then followed the death of his old friend Arch-hishop Machray, and as senior Bishop of the province of Rupert's Land he was summoned to Winnipeg. A message reached him from Mr. John Machray, nephew of the late Primate, telling him of the Archbishop's death, with the addition: "As senior Bishop it is important that you should attend a conference of Bishops in Winnipeg to select a successor."
Though the Bishop shrank much from leaving the north to mingle with the bustling world, yet, after a few minutes' thought, he sent back the following answer:
"I will try to be with you by Easter."
And on Easter Eve, April, 1904, with Mrs. Bompas, and Susie, a little deaf-and-dumb girl, he was met by several of the clergy at Winnipeg, and was present at St. John's Cathedral on Easter Day, though only as one of the congregation, being too much overcome by the crowd and bustle of the city to take any active part in the service. [This girl was placed in the Deaf and Dumb Institution at Winnipeg. She died on February 26, 1907, of tuberculosis, aged ten years.]
On the following Sunday he was able to preach in St. John's Cathedral. "His sermon," so Mrs. Bompas tells us, "was in his usual earnest and un-embellished style, referring to the last time he had officiated in that church, nearly thirty years before, alluding with pathos to the many who had left the busy whirl of life during that period, and expressing his great pleasure that, among the many changes that were taking place in the Church, the services of St. John's Cathedral still retained something of their old, almost austere, simplicity."
Many and varied must have been the thoughts which surged through the Bishop's mind during his visit to Winnipeg. He was on historic ground, made sacred by the names of noble men who had toiled so hard for the Master's cause. There was John West, the pioneer missionary of the Church of England in the country; Archdeacon Cockran, the "sturdy Northumbrian from Chillingham," who did such a great work for the Indians and half-breeds; Archdeacon Cowley, of undaunted courage and determination, able "either to build a stone wall or to go through one" as occasion required; and the noble Dr. Anderson, first Bishop of Rupert's Land, "whose heartiness and practical good sense were conspicuously manifest for sixteen years in the forests and over the snowfields of Rupert's Land."
But there was one figure which the veteran from the North most sadly missed, and whose absence was the cause of his visit to Winnipeg. It was his firm friend and adviser of long years, the venerable Archbishop Machray. He saw him for the last time in 1874, standing on the Red River bank, near St. John's College, waving his hand in adieu to him and Mrs. Bompas as they proceeded northward.
They had been set apart the same year in England for work in the Canadian North-West, and while one bravely upheld the standard of the Lord in the far North, and ministered to scattered bands of Indians and a few white people, the other laid the strong foundation and planned for the welfare of the Church over the vast diocese. No more fitting tribute could be given to this great Bishop than that made by the Ven. Archdeacon Ker, in St. George's Church, Montreal, March 13, 1904, a portion of which must be included here:
"As the great Hebrew captain (Joshua) was permitted to see the twelve tribes of Israel encamped around him in peace, according to their lots, so in like manner the Archbishop of Rupert's Land was permitted to see the Israel of God encamped and entrenched around in their dioceses, Saskatchewan and Moosonee, Mackenzie River and Athabasca, QuAppelle and Selkirk, Keewatin and Calgary--each diocese according to its boundaries. . . . He lived to see all this--to see towns and cities spring up magic-like while he gazed; to see his college grow into a university, and the clergy of his diocese increase by scores and scores; to see the Church of England in Canada united in one bond of faith and love, working with one heart and one mind for the universal extension of the kingdom of God. All this he witnessed; and long years before, when he stood the lonely missionary at Fort Garry, his master mind saw and saluted the coming glory. And when at last the silence of the desert was broken by the tramp of the hosts carried thither in search of new homes and new hopes, the Archbishop was ready, and, so far as he could prepare her, the Church of England was ready to deal with the manifold difficulties presented by the new conditions.
"The memory of such a life, such an example, is the splendid heritage of the Canadian Church. It is many-sided, and suggests many thoughts worthy of consideration. The dignity of personal self-sacrifice for Jesus Christ's sake; the dignity of the lonely watcher, who in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ waits for the dawn; the dignity of the labourer in the Master's vineyard who toils at his task, whatever or wherever it may be, in blazing summer and frosty winter, all through life's weary day, only ceasing his labours when the sun has gone down in the west for the last time, when the sight has gone for ever from the eyes, when the hands are folded in death, and the great soul has been summoned to its kindred in the Paradise of God." ['The New Era,' May, 1904.]
The Bishop's time was fully occupied during his stay in Winnipeg. There were old friends calling upon him, reporters seeking interviews, meetings to attend, and addresses to deliver, which wearied him very much. His voice was feeble, and could not be distinctly heard at the gatherings where he told of his northern diocese. But what did that matter? The people thought rather of the man--the man of whom they had heard such wonderful things--and cheered him heartily.
The Archbishop of Rupert's Land, in an address at the 107th Anniversary of the Church Missionary Society, at Exeter Hall, London, April, 1907, thus referred to the visit of Bishop Bompas to Winnipeg:
"Dr. Bompas, that splendid veteran missionary, who came down at the time of my election--he was as humble as a little child--when he stood on the platform at a great missionary meeting, and when I, introducing him, spoke of the hardships he had gone through, corrected me thus when he started to speak. He said: 'It is you men at the centre, with your telephones and your telegrams, who have the hardships. We have a soft time in the north. Nobody ever worries us.' That is all that he said about his hardships. Then he told the story of his work in a simple childlike way."
But the city life did not agree with him. He longed for his northern flock, and the quietness of his little log house at Caribou Crossing. A doctor was consulted, who strongly advised him not to return to his diocese for some time. Before this the Bishop was uncertain when he would return; but after the doctor's verdict had been given he hesitated no longer, but fixed a date for his departure. Only three weeks did he stay in Winnipeg, and then started northward. Acts of kindness were showered upon him on every hand. All delighted to honour the noble missionary in their midst. As he stood on the platform before leaving Winnipeg, an unknown friend, knowing that the Bishop would not afford himself the luxury of a good berth, slipped into his hand a ticket for one in the Pullman car.
When once again in his own diocese, the longing grew stronger for rest, and he became impatient for the time when his successor would be appointed. Then, the delay in the election of the new Archbishop gave him much concern. He felt it was his duty to go once more to Winnipeg to hasten matters, and many were the letters written and received before everything was finally arranged. His annual trip down the river to visit the various mission-stations became more and more of a burden, and he wished to stay quietly in one place to carry on his desired work.
And that desired work filled him with gladness. "The daily round, the common task," was all that he asked for. Praise might go to others, he wished for none for himself. The Indian school occupied much of his time, and part of each morning was given up to it. The building over the river, which at first had been used for the school, was exchanged for the log police-barracks, quite close to the mission-house. It was an interesting sight to observe the venerable, grey-haired teacher among a number of stirring young Indian pupils. Gladly did he leave his beloved translations to be awhile the teacher.
"Freely the sage, though wrapped in musings high, Assumed the teacher's part."
Though the Bishop used to say that to teach Indians was a very difficult task, "like writing in the sand, instead of graving in the rock," yet he never gave up, but went bravely on till the last.
A portion of his time was devoted to letter-writing and translation work. He was always an early riser, and his letters were written in the early morning in the quietness of his study. Letter-writing he seemed to love, and seldom did he pen less than six or seven missives a day. It was in this manner he could express himself most freely, and sometimes, when wishing to convey a message to a member of his household, he would do so by letter, at times leaving it at the post-office to be delivered later in the day.
Rarely did he miss meeting the train on its arrival at the settlement, that he might be at hand to receive his mail as soon as possible. His tall, erect figure, with the leather travelling-bag slung across his shoulder, walking up and down the platform, was a most familiar sight. Strangers would gaze with curiosity upon the veteran of the North, of whom they had heard so much, and often snapshots were taken, to be reproduced in books, magazines, or newspaper articles. This latter the Bishop bore with good-natured tolerance, considering it a necessary evil, and one of the discomforts of modern civilization. He told one of his clergy--him who now wields the episcopal staff--who was busy taking a number of pictures of the Bishop and his Indian school, that he did not wish to see him go, but he would like to see the camera make a hasty departure.
For some time the Bishop wished to change the name of Caribou Crossing, as his letters often went to other places of a similar name, and thus caused much delay and confusion. After careful consideration, he chose the name of "Carcross." Many objected to the change, and strongly worded articles were written in the local paper condemning the "mongrel name of Carcross." The Bishop remained silent, replying to none of these attacks. At length a letter appeared, addressed to the Bishop, from the Secretary of the Geographic Board of Canada, stating that at a meeting of the Board "the name 'Carcross' was approved instead of 'Caribou' or 'Caribou Crossing.' "The Bishop smiled, but said nothing. Since then the new name has steadily won its way.
Notwithstanding the school work and study, ample time was found for other duties which devolved upon him. There were Indians calling at most unseasonable hours for assistance in some perplexing question. The advice thus freely given was often interpreted in most unexpected ways. On one occasion he had a long talk with an Indian who had taken a young woman as his second wife, having wearied of the first. The Bishop told him it was wrong to have two wives, and that he should only have one. The Indian seemed much surprised with these words, and promised to obey; but, to the astonishment of all, he put away his old, faithful wife and kept the younger.
Once at a wedding of two Indians the Bishop repeated very carefully the words, "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health," etc., and told the groom to repeat them after him. The Indian was much puzzled. He could not repeat the words, neither could he understand their meaning, and looked vacantly around. After a time a light illumined his face, and, turning to his passive, dusky bride, he said:
"Me sick, you take care me; you sick, me take care you--eh?"
The building of the new church at Carcross was a great comfort to the Bishop. Services had been held in the mission-house, which was much too small to accommodate all who attended. The cost of building was met almost entirely by kind friends outside the diocese. In 1904 Mrs. Bompas visited Eastern Canada, and addressed the Women's Auxiliary at Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Quebec on mission-work in the North. Great was her surprise when, at the Annual Meeting of this noble handmaid of the Church, at the cathedral in Toronto, she was presented with the generous gift of $800 towards the church building fund for St. Saviour's, Carcross. Other gifts came steadily in, and the success of the church was complete.
In the erection of this little building the Bishop was most active, not only superintending the work, but doing much manual labour himself. It was a happy day when at last it was opened for service. It was consecrated on August 8, 1904, after Mrs. Bompas's return to the diocese.
The services were of a very simple nature, for the Bishop seemed to have an almost complete disregard for external things. Seldom did he wear his episcopal robes, not even when visiting the different mission-stations in his diocese, being content to use the long white surplice, with the black stole, and without his Doctor's hood. This was a cause of worry to Mrs. Bompas, who rejoiced to see all things done "decently and in order." Once on the Mackenzie River, when starting to hold a Confirmation service some-distance away, he was urged by Mrs. Bompas to take his episcopal robes. He refused to do so, saying that the surplice was sufficient. "On that trip his boat was swamped, and everything was lost, and only with difficulty were he and his companions saved.
Though caring little for the outward observances of worship, he had a jealous regard for his episcopal office, as an extract from a letter to one of his clergy will show:
"As the Epiphany appeals were sent direct to the clergy this year and not to me, I have not yet notified you on the subject. I think the Mission Board rather wrongs the episcopal office, and makes the other Bishops also interlopers in all the dioceses. Any request to the clergy ought to come from their own Bishop only. No Bishop has any other authority than over his own see, and any request from the Mission Board should come through their own Bishop to the clergy.
"However, we need not quarrel with them, as it is well meant, and they are not likely to put my name to any future letters or addresses without my seeing them. It is a good address, and I read it last night.
"I think the modern idea must be that in ecclesiastical matters all irregularities, however grave, and of whatever kind, are quite reasonable and proper."
Great was the Bishop's pleasure when a message arrived summoning Mr. Stringer to Winnipeg for consecration. Anxiously he awaited his return to take over the work. For some time his heart had been set upon going to Little Salmon, on the Yukon River, to start a mission among the Indians at that place, and he discussed plans with the enthusiasm of youth. This idea filled him with happiness, and the following words, penned on December 29, 1905, express the state of his feelings:
"We are fast approaching the close of the year, and I am very thankful to find it ending so tranquilly, with such fair prospects for the future. Things have assumed a much brighter prospect for myself since Christmas."
During the month of January the cold was so intense and the storms so severe that the trains were unable to run. The Bishop became impatient at the delay. He longed to hear when Bishop Stringer would leave for the North, that he might be free once again to go down the river to work among his dusky flock.
"It has been dull times for us this week," he wrote, "without trains."
But at length his successor arrived, and with great eagerness he handed over the charge of the diocese.