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 XXIII. Conclusion

Thus have we briefly traced some of the church's work among the Ojibway Indians and lumbermen in one part of the missionary diocese of Algoma during a period of nearly five years--from Advent, 1889; and my task is nearly done. Much that is both interesting and valuable has been left unsaid, more for the reason that my object has been to produce a simple sketch than for any other. But before we bid adieu to the great Manitoulin and its faithful workers, it would be well perhaps to enquire somewhat as to other missions in the diocese.

Perhaps a future writer will give a full account of them; we will content ourselves with asking if they are all like those which we have been considering. Those who have read "Life in Algoma" will readily understand that such is not the case. But others may not have the opportunity of reading that little book, and for their information it is here stated that Algoma has within its borders missions differing more widely from one another than parishes differ from each other in England, even if the contrast be between town and country parishes.

[156] For instance there is one mission which contains two villages distant from each other some two hundred and fifty miles. Both villages are on the Canadian Pacific Railway and on the north shore of Lake Superior. They have to be content with services on alternate Sundays as it is impossible for the missionary to be at both places on the same day. Then it will be asked, what do the people do who live between these points.

The answer is, the clergyman gives them as much of his time as he can spare on a week-day. His means of travel is of course the railway, and in the course of the year he travels some 13,000 miles. Another mission stretches for one hundred and twenty miles on the Algoma branch of the same line of railway, the conditions being somewhat similar to those in the former case.

Then there are a few small towns and villages such as Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Fort William, Huntsville, North Bay, Parry Sound, Port Arthur, Sault Ste Marie, and Sudbury; still smaller villages and hamlets as Aspdin, Burke's Falls, Hilton, Ilfracombe, Port Carling, Rosseau, Schreiber, and Uffington. All of these are inhabited by a white population, to a large extent settlers from the old country or their descendants.

Then besides these there are other missions such as Garden River and Neepigon, where the population is either partly or entirely Indian. At each of the [156/157] places mentioned there is a resident clergyman; but in none save those which are self-supporting, can he devote his undivided energies to that place. In all other cases the clergyman has from one to three or more out-stations clusted around his central headquarters, and separated from it by from six to ten miles.

As a rule each missionary has three services on a Sunday, thus often having to eat "in haste" as the Israelites did the Passover. For this reason nearly all the Sunday Schools are more or less in the hands of the laity. The general character of the population may be regarded as most encouraging. There is just the same degree of culture and refinement, and therefore of congenial association and companionship which is met with in communities in England of a like size, where the people are all actively engaged in their several callings.

In most of the towns and villages there are usually beside the clergyman, one or more lawyers and doctors, and of course the usual number of tradesmen; but none of them have much more leisure than suffices for their social evening recreation. Outside the centres in the rural districts, the people almost without exception earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, only too thankful in many cases to accomplish even this.

They are for the most part a shrewd, intelligent and industrious people; in manner somewhat [157/158] independent; in spirit democratic, though thoroughly loyal to England and their English political connection; and they are hospitable to a fault. Let a clergyman go among them, taking them just as he finds them, and accepting what they offer him whether bed or board, he will soon gain a strong hold upon them. Their churchmanship is often the weak point, owing largely to the slenderness of the thread which too often links them to the church. Of church history or thought or distinctive usage they know next to nothing.

Here and there it is refreshing to meet with a staunch supporter of the church, whose creed is intelligent enough to be able to give a rational account of itself. But in the vast majority of cases their churchmanship is merely an hereditary entail, or the result of inter-marriage, or the growth of a liking for an individual clergyman, or perhaps proportioned in an inverse ratio to the distance from the church. Hence the attachment is precarious and easily affected by the course of events. The clergyman is to them the embodiment of the church; if he represents her worthily by his energy, faithfulness and good sense, he will hold them fast while he remains. If he be careless, indifferent or inconsistent, they will soon absent themselves altogether, or drift into one of the many dissenting bodies whose doors stand invitingly open for their admission.

But to return to Manitoulin. At Gore Bay Mr. McLeod and his energetic wife are busy. The [158/159] missionary with his plans, his specifications and his bills of quantities; the missionary's wife and their people are doing all that in them lies to complete their church, hoping to have it ready for the Bishop to open when he next pays his annual visit. Nor do they forget the higher privileges of their church while thus pushing forward this great temporal work; but, on the contrary, as the one grows so does the other, and both works are alike bearing fruit, each in its own degree.

And Mr. Frost, what of him? Well, he is busy preparing his candidates for confirmation; with his almost unending travels, first among his Indians, then among the lumbermen near home, and anon paying visits to remote and isolated dwellers in more distant parts of his large field, striving to follow in the footsteps of his Divine Master, sacrificing himself that he may serve even the most insignificant of that Master's flock.

And interesting letters from the old diocese come to the late missionary's study in the old land; and to him they come like the bugle call to the old war-horse, and make him long once more to be in the ranks of the pioneer band, and stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the Master's service. But the Church's great Head has other duties and responsibilities for him, therefore he may not choose for himself. Let him then learn to submit without a murmur to His all-seeing wisdom, and to be content with [159/160] doing what he can, amid his ever-increasing work, for the advancement of the Church in distant lands.

And the Bishop who has sacrificed so much for his diocese, continues "in journeyings oft." Time after time has his strength given way. Again and again has he been warned, yet still he goes on, ever journeying from place to place, now with the white man, now with the red. Sometimes in burning sun; anon with the thermometer 400 below zero; at the helm of his steamer, with the sun burning the skin and flesh from his face. Again in the winter, subjected to its icy blast, on one occasion so nearly frozen that, having crawled to the house of Rural Dean Llwydd, he was scarcely recognised by the inmates.

In July, of 1894, he paid a visit to the Indians at Negwenenang and Neepigon, travelling in the most primitive manner under the care of Chief Oshkapkida. The journey involved carrying all the provisions required on the way, both going and returning, not excluding bedding and tent. For from the moment he left the railway station, which is seventy miles beyond Port Arthur, he could hope for no supplies until he returned to it again, save that which might fall to the gun or rod. The river Neepigon, up which he had to canoe, is itself forty miles long. On his return journey he reached Port William at noon, Sunday, July 29th, holding service on steamer just before landing.

[163] On August 11th he was on his way to pay his annual visit to the Great Manitoulin Island, after which, before the autumn was ended, he visited missions in Parry Sound and Muskoka. Comment is needless, and any words of mine in praise of one whose life is one of such heroic self-sacrifice would be out of place.

Quae cura patrum, quaeve Quiritium,
Plenis honorum muneribus tuas,
Auguste, virtutes in aevum
Per titulos memoresque fastos
Aeternet? Hor. Carm. iv. 14.

The Lamb's Book of Life enshrines those "Inscriptions and retentive annals," and the Resurrection Morn will tell that among the many acts of heroism which the present century has witnessed, not the least are due to the noble band of men and women who gladly give themselves a willing sacrifice, in order that they may carry the message of the Gospel to those who either know not God or are in danger of forgetting him.

The crown which they shall wear eternally shall shine only brighter than the Cross, placed upon the forehead of every Christian babe in baptism, and which upon many an unknown saintly head, now fighting the battle of the Cross, becomes more radient in his Master's eyes, as day by day self is more completely forgotten in self-sacrifice. Well indeed may we thank Him who ruleth over all for having raised up such examples among us.

[164] And the "Evangeline," what of her? She is still in the service of the King of kings; and the lonely fisherman watches, with his boat ready to push off at the first sight of her funnel, so that from her stern the episcopal hand may toss into it a bundle of magazines and papers; which he, in his life attended with so much peril, amid the wonders of the deep, values all the more highly as the years roll by, and as, from his associations and from what he reads, he learns to reverence, more and more deeply, Him who created all.


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