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 X. A Heavy Day's Work

Sunday, 13th July, was a very hot day, and three congregations were at different points expecting their Bishop. At each church the rite of confirmation was to be administered, necessitating an address from the Bishop as well as his sermon to the congregation generally. At 8.30 a.m. he went on shore, and by nine o'clock the Church was packed with Indians, the candidates occupying the front seats. There were about one hundred adults in the congregation, and about one-third received the Holy Communion. The deep reverence of the Indians during divine service was most impressive; there was an air of solemn earnestness pervading the assembly. The Bishop read a portion of the service and pronounced the words of confirmation in Indian over each candidate as he knelt at the rail. The Missionary, who is a fluent Indian speaker, interpreted the address and sermon sentence by sentence; he also led and accompanied the hymns on the harmonium.

The services concluded, the Bishop first shook hands with the newly confirmed, after which he stood in the middle of the church till everyone had come up to him, shaken hands and said, "Bou Jou," the [71/72] Indian version of a form of address which had been taught to their forefathers by the Jesuits, who were the pioneer missionaries in Canada.

It was now time for the Bishop and missionary to drive to the English Church, which was about two miles distant; so they started immediately, leaving the rest of the Bishop's party and Mrs. Frost to follow by water. The church being far too small for the number present, the Bishop desired that the wooden kneelers should be taken out of the pews, and placed in a double row at right angles with the pews all down the aisle. On these he requested the children to take their places, and then chairs were brought in to cover every remaining space on the floor. Even then several could not be seated, and others were unable to enter the building. The services, including Confirmation and Holy Communion ended, it was 1.30 p.m. when the Bishop started for the Parsonage.

At four o'clock the "Evangeline" left for Little Current, to which place Mr. Frost accompanied the Bishop. Here the service commenced at seven o'clock, and the church was crowded, the same arrangement for seating being adopted as at the earlier service. It was after nine before the congregation began to disperse, and the Bishop was very weary with the heat, and the exertion of delivering six addresses and sermons, besides conducting the services that day.

[73] Monday was another very hot day. In the course of the day the English visitor was left alone on the "Evangeline." While sitting in the cabin, she saw a dark face looking in at the open door, and forgetting that she was not in England, thought a gipsy had come on board. He enquired for the Bishop, and then it transpired that the dark-haired visitor was Chief Manitowasing, of Sheguiandah. He gave the lady a letter from Chief George, of Birch Island, which he begged her to give to the: Bishop, saying he would take the answer that afternoon.

The next place visited was Sucker Creek. It was necessary to drive to this place, which is situated on a hill some distance from the water. The road varied very much. At first they drove under the shadow of trees, then past a cemetery, and up a steep hill, where occasionally large pieces of rock formed part of the road. On the way up this hill a spot was pointed out where some time before an Indian woman had been murdered. Two men were known to have been with her that day; one had been drinking. Evidence was strong against him, but after a period, passed in prison, he was released. The tribe, however, with their strong sense of justice, did not acquit him, and he was expelled from the settlement, so strong was the feeling on the question. Later in the day they came to a much pleasanter point, where, overlooking a lovely stretch of bay, stood a [73/74] large wooden farm-house with barn and fence, and flourishing fields around.

On they went, and at last reached the Indian reserve of Sucker Creek. Here there are small neat cottages, and close beside the clearings; "bush" surrounds them on every side. Here and there a magnificent fir-tree, whilst birch and other feathery trees wave above a luxuriant undergrowth. The scarlet berries of the elder, and the bright green of delicate ferns were most refreshing to the travellers after their hot drive over a rough road.

At Sucker Creek there was no saw-mill or other industry by which the Indians could earn wages, yet they were found to be learning the meaning of self-help, and working industriously at their clearings and in their gardens. The houses which the Indians built for themselves were substantial and clean, whilst all the grown people of the tribe were neat and respectable looking. The appearance of children varied very much, some were wearing white frocks and had their hair plaited, while others were looking very untidy and dirty.

The service was held in the schoolhouse and was attended by about forty adults and ten children, some of the Indians, including the Chief, being away from home. In the middle of the room in which the service was held, stood a stove, and on this was placed a bright tin can of water and a clean glass. From time to time during the service some member [74/75] of the congregation would quietly glide to the stove, and dipping the tumbler into the water, quench her thirst.

The little building in which they assembled served for the double purpose of Church and Schoolhouse, and was built by the Indians, who had a great love for it. Nowhere could there have been more devout communicants than the two sets who approached the Holy Table that Monday. The Indians have a curious way of waiting about before the service begins. At Sucker Creek, on this occasion, when the Bishop and Mr. Frost had arrived and everything was ready, the Indians were grouped outside and waiting. The Bishop went to some little boys who had come into the church, and heard them each repeat the Lord's Prayer in Ojibway; afterwards he went to the girls who recited the Apostles' Creed. The Indians still remaining outside, the Bishop and missionary sat down and waited. After a few remarks had been exchanged between the principal men of Sucker Creek and Chief Manitowasing of Sheguiandah, the bell was rung for a minute, the congregation trooped in, and service commenced. The men sat on the north side of the aisle, the women on the south, with the children in front.

As is the custom on week-days, the Bishop made a little speech when the service was concluded. He congratulated the Indians on the progress made in their farming, and told them how pleased he felt at [75/76] knowing how nicely their children had learnt the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. He said that he had brought an English visitor who took much interest in the welfare of the Indians, as well as in seeing the country. He then introduced the English lady to them, and an Indian woman came up and shook hands with her, and said something by way of welcome.

It was then suggested that the Birch Island Indians should spend a day at Sheguiandah, the Bishop promising to fetch them in the "Evangeline," from Little Current. Manitowasing was asked if he should like the Indians of Birch Island to have a picnic with his band at Sheguiandah, and he replied that he should not only like it, but that if it were decided on, he would receive his friends the night before, and do all in his power for their comfort.

After each Indian had said "Bou Jou" and shaken hands with the Bishop, they shook hands with the lady from England. Outside the building they waited to discuss a question with the Bishop and missionary, and it was surprising to see the vivid interest evinced by different members of the groups and the rapid way in which arguments were brought forward on both sides. The next day the Bishop proceeded to Little Current; where, after seeing his daughter and her friends into a steamer bound for Sault Sainte Marie, he continued his Manitoulin visitation, which covered an entire month.

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