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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 II. Early Days

No account of the work among Ojibway Indians could well be written without some reference to the late Archdeacon McMurray, who was the first missionary sent to them. In August, 1832, he was sent for by the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, Sir John Colborne, and informed that his excellency had decided to establish a series of missions amongst the Ojibway Indians. Acting in concert with the "Society for Converting and Civilising the Indians," he had singled out Mr. McMurray--who was then a candidate for holy orders--for this important work. His head-quarters were to be at Sault Ste Marie. Never having heard of such a place, he naturally asked where it was; but neither his excellency nor the surveyor general could point out the place, as no survey of that distant region had then been made.

It was then suggested that he should go to Buffalo and Detroit and if possible acquire the necessary information. It was a bold step for one so young and. inexperienced, yet he accepted the offer, and informed his excellency that if the requisite credentials were prepared he would leave for the "terra [21/22] incognita." He started in September, and after a long and hazardous voyage, partly by steamer, schooner and canoe, he reached his future home just one month later. This distance can now be accomplished in seventy-six hours.

His first object was to procure a shelter, for the whole country was one dense forest. By the kindness of the governor of the Hudson Bay Company, lodgings for the winter were given him in the house of the Company's agents. He lost no time in summoning the Indians to meet him in council, to lay before them the object of his mission. He told them that Church and Government desired their conversion and civilisation. The old chief, Shingwahcase, a most fluent and able speaker, presented him with the pipe of peace, and addressed him as follows:--We desire first to know whether you can give us any assurance that you have been sent by our Great Father at York" (now Toronto). Mr. McMurray at once produced his credentials, having the seal of the province attached. The chief compared them with his own medal and was satisfied that he was duly accredited. Having previously learnt that the Indians were given to intoxication, Mr. McMurray took this opportunity of reproving them. The reply of the chief was characteristic, but must have come as a great reproof to the young missionary. "My fathers never knew how to cultivate the land; my fathers never knew how to build mills; my fathers [22/23] never knew how to extract the devil's broth out of the grain. You make it and bring it to us, and you blame us for drinking it."

The result of this council was the establishment of services, which were held in Mr. McMurray's room, there being no other available place. He was not yet ordained, so the next step was to learn the whereabouts of the only Bishop in Canada at that time--the saintly Bishop Stewart. As there was no regular mail communication at Sault Sainte Marie from November to May, he went to York hoping to find the Bishop there. But in this he was disappointed, and it was not before he had travelled to Kingston and Montreal--in all a distance of 1,500 miles--that he found the Bishop at St. Armand's. Here he was ordained, August nth, 1833. He lost no time in returning to his mission, and a month later he reached Sault Sainte Marie.

An incident that occurred about this time will serve to show the awakening of the Indians' hearts. The chief's youngest son was very ill, and Mr. McMurray had been reading to the invalid and praying for his recovery. Shingwahcase listened very attentively, and at length exclaimed, "Why should not I also offer up prayer to the Great Spirit on behalf of my son?" Then he fell on his knees, and poured out his soul in eloquent and touching words. The missionary was beginning to reap the fruit of his labours, the Indians one by one abandoned [23/24] their superstitions, and were willing to open their ears to the gospel message.

The Lieutenant Governor, having heard of his success, suggested that Mr. McMurray should bring a few of the Indians to York. He was anxious to converse with them, and doubtless thought that a visit to the town might encourage their efforts at civilisation. So Shingwahcase and six others journeyed to York. That they might not be tempted to drink the "devil's broth" the thoughtful missionary lodged them in a dense grove of pines on the spot where the church of Holy Trinity now stands. They were soon summoned to an interview with the Lieutenant Governor and received much kind and useful advice. His excellency also gave the chief a flag which he was to hoist over his wigwam every Sunday.

During the administration of Sir John Colborne the work among the Indians advanced very satisfactorily, but under his successor there was a cessation of the support which the Government had before given. Mr. McMurray resigned, and the Indians were left to make what advance they could without his assistance. For twelve years they did what they could. Sunday by Sunday the old chief raised his flag over his wigwam to assemble his people. So they observed the day that is dedicated to the service of that Saviour whom they were beginning to know and love. They used [24/25] the prayers they had been taught to say, they repeated portions of Scripture that their memory retained, and sang some hymns they had learnt from the missionary. Thus the Ojibway Indians showed their desire to profit by the instructions they received. Their faith and patience were at length rewarded by the late Dr. O'Meara being appointed to the Mission, whose devoted services they afterwards much appreciated.

The following incident will show that they were also anxious to further the spread of the Gospel. A missionary was once telling them that they owed much to the kindness of English people who gave money in support of the Missions, and how that they also had a duty towards those Indians who had not yet heard the "glad tidings." The chief acknowledged the truth of this "but" he said, turning to the Missionary, "our father here knows that we Indians have not yellow money (gold), nor white money (silver), nor even red money (copper). But I will tell you what we can do. In a few weeks we shall all be leaving this village of ours and going out into the sugar bush. You know that the earliest produce of the tapped maple trees is always the fairest and best of the season. Let us put by some of this and bring it to the Missionary, and he will sell it to the trader and send the money to the Society to be used for sending on the light of the Gospel to parts which are still in darkness."

[26] Two months after an old Indian woman arrived at the Missionary's house carrying a large basket of sugar, which she said was the first-fruits of her sugar harvest. She requested that it might be put into the Missionary barrel for her. One after another, the Indians brought similar contributions for the same purpose, so that two barrels of the fairest and best sugar were available for sale. Every pound of this represented self-denial on the part of those who had given, and who would have to go without some comfort which the sugar would have procured.

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