Project Canterbury

Or, Five Years of Church Work among Ojibway Indians and Lumbermen, resident upon that Island or in its Vicinity.

By Harold Nelson Burden

London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1895.

Chapter I. Introduction

Among the letters opened by a clergyman at Cambridge immediately after chapel one morning in the May week of the present year (and May week, as everyone knows in Cambridge, commences the first or second Friday in June) were two of particular interest. One was from Mr. Frost, the clergyman in charge of Sheguiandah, and the second was from a critic who had just read the author's little book "Life in Algoma."

The former began, "I am writing a few words in reply to your type-written letter just received, although I have written often enough (God knows,) both to the different societies and to individuals in England, including an English lady whose name you will remember in connection with her visit to Manitoulin and the islands on the north shore. Still, I will write again, only with the stipulation that what I write you must take the trouble to read."

The other letter, after speaking of the book referred to, went on to regret that no sufficient mention had been made of the Indians resident in Algoma, and of the great work going on among them, and proceeded to suggest that a companion volume to "Life in [15/16] Algoma," giving some particulars of the work among the red men--one of whose chiefs welcomed the Bishop as "The Great Black Coat" sent to teach them the religion of "Their great Mother, the Queen"--would not only be interesting, but of value also.

Before the day was out a third letter came to hand, this time from a lady. She regretted that in "Life in Algoma" more had not been said about lumbermen, and that no account had been given of corduroy and other rough roads. Well, all these things were omitted in that book because they did not exist to any great extent in the part of the diocese upon which the book treated. The lumber interest was on a much smaller scale than in other parts; there were no Indians at all; and corduroy roads were of the shortest length and had almost entirely been superseded by others.

The three letters, arriving the same day at the college residence of the clergyman, caused him to determine to follow the advice given; and, if possible, to give his readers some information about the Indians of the Manitoulin Island, and those employed in the great lumber interest located there. This island is situated in lake Huron, and is over one hundred miles in length. There are innumerable bays and creeks and mouths of rivers both on the shores of the island and on the shore of the mainland opposite. Upon the island, and on the mainland in its immediate vicinity, are several English and Indian [16/17] villages, besides many lumber camps and other places to which, during the winter, the missionaries make periodical trips, such as McDonald's Camp, Beaverstone, Bad River, Beaver Meadow, Cromline Point, and others.

There are three important missions in the Manitoulin Island--Gore Bay, Manitowaning, and Sheguiandah. That of Manitowaning is, I believe, the original one of the Red Indians, who, thirty years ago, had no organised mission or resident clergyman, the Christian Indians being represented by individuals who at Walpole Island or elsewhere had come under the teaching of the Church of England. Of late Manitowaning, being without its own clergyman, has been visited occasionally by the Rev. F. Frost, whose mission of Sheguiandah, distant sixteen miles from Manitowaning and including the adjacent country for a radius of fifty miles, will be treated of in the following pages.

At Sheguiandah are two villages about two miles apart, the first being inhabited (with the exception of the missionary and his family) by Ojibway Indians to whom chief Manitowahsing gives an example of sterling worth and Christian living. The second by English settlers, who, as well as the Indians, have their church, in which services are regularly held each Sunday.

Little Current is the principal place on the eastern side of the island, and is touched by the steamships [17/18] of the Great Northern Transit Company. Sucker Creek, distant about four miles from Little Current, has a schoolhouse for its Indian population, and occasional services are held in it.

Aundagwahmenekauning, situated on lovely Birch Island, sixteen miles from Little Current, has an Indian congregation of about fifty souls. Unfortunately the whole band now numbers less than one hundred persons, the population having decreased of late years.

On the mainland opposite Sheguiandah, and some twenty miles off, there is a peninsula; situated thereon is an Indian village named Ogahmeekunaung, which is visited, as well as the English Mission Stations of Killarney and Collin's Inlet, by this indefatigable Missionary.

Further west, still on the mainland, he goes to White Fish River and Spanish River. This last village is difficult of approach during the summer season on account of the number of portages--those places where, in rivers largely used for navigation, we should find locks. Notwithstanding all possible assistance being given to him by the Indians, the transportation of tent, bedding and other requirements, including food, becomes very trying.

The Rev. J. H. McLeod has the headquarters of his Mission at Gore Bay; Burpee, Kagawong, and Meklrum Bay being out-stations under his charge.

The chief resources of the district are undoubtedly [18/19] its minerals, its forests, and its fisheries. Squaw Island at the southern end of the Great Manitoulin Island, is perhaps one of the chief fishing stations of the inland sea in which it is situated; while the Great Island itself abounds in minerals, amongst others being a valuable limestone. This limestone is at present being used in the construction of the locks upon the large ship canal at Sault Sainte Marie, the See-town of the Diocese. We are told by Mr. Alan Sullivan, in his excellent article upon Algoma, that the tonnage passing through this canal in seven months exceeds that of the Suez Canal for a whole year.

Farming is gradually being carried on to a larger extent, and upon the Island there are districts containing large areas of some of the finest farming land in the country. Particularly is this true of some thousands of acres near Gore Bay. Dairy farming is also an increasing industry, and a large and growing trade is now carried on in butter for the Toronto Market. Another point which is worthy of notice is the steady improvement of the Indian as an agriculturist.

The roads in the district are of very inferior quality, and cause travelling to be a matter of difficulty during spring and autumn when they are at their worst. In the summer it is made easier on account of the open waters of the lakes and rivers; but even then places that are distant from the shore [19/20] are difficult of access, for one can scarcely put a horse and buggy into a canoe or row-boat, and without such aid there is much loss of time and strength. Even when it is available the position of affairs is not much better, for the thick bush keeps the so-called roads very wet, and, if the road happen to be corduroy, the rough trunks are often alternated with mud-holes, in which there is danger of the horse being engulfed, only to be rescued with care and labour.

Winter changes all this, and is indeed the time par excellence for the missionary, the Indian, and the settler. Then, with the lanes and rivers converted into hard roads, they can drive from place to place without delay and with less fatigue, to say nothing of its being pleasanter to glide over the snow than to bump along over bush roads. But winter has its own difficulties; the ice and snow are not always in good condition. The former sometimes gives way, and both horse and driver are swallowed up in the depth below; and snowstorms come, often forming deep and impassable drifts. The scenery as a whole is usually very beautiful, particularly in the autumn and winter; but there are times when it is extremely dreary. But, after all, the autumn or "Indian summer" is perfect both as to temperature by night or day, and also as to the beauty of the forest scenery.

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