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 IV. Christmas

Late in the autumn the "Evangeline," the Bishop's Mission Steamer, arrived at Sheguiandah with his Lordship on board. The Bishop and Mr. Frost together visited an Indian village, situated about twelve miles from the mouth of Spanish River; this village is itself known by the name of Spanish River. Communication between it and Sheguiandah--from which it is distant about thirty miles--is by water in summer and across ice in winter. Nearly all the Indians are now Christians, and to Mr. Frost is due the credit of having converted them from heathenism. During the summer they had built a neat little church of wood, and a schoolhouse, the materials having been given to them, and the Indians giving their labour.

The Bishop now came to open the Church, and was much pleased with the building, congratulating the Indians on their perseverance. He preached on the subject, "Christ the Good Shepherd," and held the Service of Confirmation. There is now at Spanish River a school teacher who also acts as catechist, receiving his instructions from the Missionary. That same evening the Bishop and Mr. [34/35] Frost steamed down the river to the mill and held a service in the schoolhouse, the congregation consisting largely of men employed at the mill.

Next day they intended to visit White Fish River and then go on to Collin's Inlet. The weather was far too stormy and rough to allow of this. They therefore sailed down the lake as far as Killarney, and there spent the night. Here fishing forms the chief occupation of the inhabitants, who are for the most part half-breeds; a large number of the people are Roman Catholics, but there are some members of the Church of England, and these value very highly the occasional services that are held there by the Missionary.

Soon after the Bishop's departure from the Sheguiandah Mission, the frost began to have its wonted effect upon the water. The Indians thought that each day would be the last of the summer season, and that grim winter would return and lock all in its iron grasp, converting the water-ways into plains of ice, over which once more they would travel upon snowshoes, with their teams of dogs by their side, drawing their belongings from one place to another, as they camped about or brought in articles from a distance. November came, and with it the frozen seas; and the Great Manitoulin, and other Islands, all became united to the mainland by excellent roads of ice.

Then, a few weeks later, the great festival for [35/36] which all our children long and make so thoroughly their own, returned. Let us see how the Indian Christians in Algoma spend their Christmas. At Sheguiandah the pretty little church was nicely decorated, and on Christmas Eve a large congregation of Indians gathered to worship the Saviour, Whose birth is commemorated so joyfully by all Christians at this happy season. With great spirit did the Indians in their own tongue sing the Christmas Hymn "Hark! the Herald Angels sing," and they entered into the other parts of the service with evident interest and enjoyment. The sermon was on the "angels' message to the shepherds" and was preached in Ojibway by Mr. Frost; then on Christmas morning a large number received the Holy Communion in obedience to Christ's command, and so many came to the nine o'clock service that the church was not large enough to admit all. Some had come from a great distance, and over ice which had made their travelling both difficult and dangerous. Mr. Frost chose as the text for his sermon the words, "and will God in very deed dwell with man on the earth?" Then, at the close of the service there was much hearty handshaking between the clergyman and his congregation, and a great many kind Christmas wishes were exchanged.

The next evening the chief gave an entertainment to the village children, consisting of a Christmas tree. [36/37] It was laden with candles and other small articles, chiefly made by the members of his own family. Mr. Frost was presented with a gorgeous hanging basket, and some grass work was given to Mrs. Frost. When all the treasures on the tree had been distributed, two Indian youths conducted an exhibition which proved very successful and a source of great amusement to the young people.

A few days later the usual Christmas-tree entertainment was given in the schoolhouse, when many useful articles of clothing, blankets and quilts (the gift of the Women's Auxiliary, a well-known Church of England Society having branches in nearly every Canadian parish), were distributed to those Indians who were most in need of such help, and to whom, consequently, they were most acceptable. One of the Indians requested the Missionary to thank the givers of these useful presents. Eighty-five Indians were present, and at the close of the evening all joined in singing "God save the Queen."

At another Indian village, on the Manitoulin Island, the church was also beautifully decorated: The walls were spotlessly white, having recently been whitewashed, so that the decorations, which consisted mostly of dark evergreens, stood out very clearly. After the service here on Christmas Day, Mr. Frost was invited to be present at a public Indian feast, but he was unable to accept their hospitality. On New Year's Eve the village was [37/38] enlivened by a social function, at which a Christmas tree formed a great attraction. Those people who think that the Indians never laugh should have been present on this occasion, for their hearty laughter and beaming faces must have caused them to change their opinion on the subject. As at Sheguiandah, a large quantity of clothing was distributed amongst the Indians. Many orphan children were sent home with sufficient to clothe them from head to foot.

Several of these articles came from England, and were the handiwork of a band of workers, who for many years have cheerfully worked hand in hand with a lady residing in Sussex. Some of these workers are of the poorest, yet they regularly, with unfailing energy, work upon the articles supplied to them for the use of their less favoured brethren; whose faces may not be so fair as their own, yet whose hearts are as pure. Only those who have witnessed the pleasure the work gives to the ready and willing helpers, can realise anything of the joy depicted upon their faces when speaking of the work they have been enabled to do; done, not for the lady whom many both in town and country have risen up to call blessed, but done for that Saviour who gave His life for the red man as much as for us.

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