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 V. Bad Travelling

Snow, snow everywhere; on trees, land and water. Fences and stumps had disappeared; all was one plain of spotless snow, as soft and as white as swansdown. The very trees appeared as in bridal attire, and the old black pines, killed by the recent forest fires, stood out like gaunt spectres. One might perhaps think that nothing--save the beautiful autumnal tints of the ever-varying foliage--could look more gloriously beautiful than the scene before us on this early winter's day; and when the snow clouds have cleared away and the incomparable Canadian sun bursts out from behind the driving curack, tinging with gold the surface of the snow, and infusing into the scene a flush of life and hope, the spectator feels that God has indeed reserved much of the beauty and grandeur of creation for Canada's distant shores. But although the scene was a beautiful one, this same snow--newly fallen and treacherous,--rendered travelling a matter of difficulty and dangerous work until the sun has caused it to "pack" it is as loose as the desert sand, and, what is worse, neither man nor horse can travel over it without sinking at every step to the solid surface beneath. [39/40] But let the sun shine on it for a few hours, and the nightly frosts do their work, and then both man and beast can travel without danger of breaking the upper crust. This usually happens within a few hours of a heavy fall, but woe to those who must journey either during a storm of blinding snow or before it has become thus hardened.

Sometimes, again, the ice of the rivers continues in an unsafe condition for weeks on account of the frequent rise and fall of water. It was in consequence of the unsafe condition of the ice, that the missionary was unable to undertake any extended journey from his home during the early part of the year. Later on, finding that a crossing had been made to the north shore of lake Huron, he made preparations to go there, although the ice was far from safe. Part of the distance could be traversed on land, but when the ice was reached, Mr. Frost found there was but a single track to guide him across the frozen expanse. However, he knew the general direction which he ought to take; consequently he was not much troubled about the slight and imperfect indications of the road. Throughout the travelling was bad, and especially so in places where the crust of the snow was not sufficiently strong to bear the weight of his horse. Beneath this crust was water which was sometimes of such a depth that he had misgivings as to whether there was any ice at all below the water. This frequent [40/41] breaking of the upper crust of the snow naturally hindered his progress, but in some places he was able to advance at a fair pace, especially when the way led by the shores of an island, where the ice was almost glare, or free from snow. Before nightfall he fortunately reached an Indian settlement.

He held a service in the chief's house, which served for a church. It had recently been repaired and enlarged, and in it Mr. Frost was made very comfortable during his stay in the settlement. A large congregation of Indians assembled for the service, and at the close a council was held at which the desirability of building a church was discussed. Here, too, a Christmas tree formed part of the proceedings, and many warm garments were given to the children and old people. These garments had been given by a branch of the Women's Auxiliary.

The next day a snowstorm came on; yet the energetic missionary pursued his journey, and arrived without mishap at another Indian village, situated on the banks of a river. It was pleasant to observe that the Indians had improved their dwellings since his last visit and that two new and substantially built log houses had been erected. He selected the largest house in the place and there held a service. Notwithstanding the fact that a large number of Indians were absent from the village at work in the lumber shanties, a very good congregation met [41/42] together. Mr. Frost addressed them, taking the Epiphany as his subject.

In the afternoon he returned through the bush, crossing some picturesque lakes and passing through some very dense thickets where constant care was required lest the sleigh should catch against the trees and be overturned. Thick and fast fell the snow, crashing down from the towering pine trees, blinding the driver and impeding his horse, but just before nightfall he happily reached a lumber shanty; and as it was so late and it would be impossible to reach home, he gladly accepted the men's invitation to stay with them that night; especially as it afforded him an opportunity of addressing them. As there was still a little daylight left he watched the men loading logs, and helped to saw some. He was most kindly treated, and his horse was given the best stall in the stable and an abundant supply of hay and oats.

When the horses had been fed, the men themselves sat down to supper, a considerable quantity of wholesome provisions being provided. After supper the missionary waited for an opportunity to address them, but all set about some employment such as sewing on buttons or mending whips, or talking over the day's events. However, the foreman informed him that as soon as the men had finished their various little occupations there would be a good opportunity for speaking, as all would then be quiet in the camp. At length the missionary began his address, which [42/45] was listened to with respectful attention; then they sang and prayed, and some donations were given towards the mission. One young man, a member of the Church of England, invited Mr. Frost to share his bunk. This bunk was close to the stove in which a roaring fife was burning and the heat was so intense that it was impossible to sleep. Then again, in the sleeping apartments of a lumber camp there is always a frowsy smell that is very unpleasant.

However, the missionary and his companion conversed together till long after the rest of the camp were asleep, and after a while the heat of the stove became less intense, so that sleep for them also became possible. Long before daybreak the camp was astir; the teamsters were out feeding their horses, and at five o'clock breakfast was ready. After this Mr. Frost asked the foreman if he might read a chapter from the Bible to the men. He was readily granted permission to do so. Then he was presented with a new cross-cut saw, an axe, a pair of warm oversocks, and some oats for his horse, and so in the early morning they parted and went to their different work; the men to their logs, the missionary to Sheguiandah.

Project Canterbury