FROM the western shore of the Lake of the Woods to the foot of the Rocky Mountains, a distance of 800 miles, stretches a belt of remarkably rich soil, usually called the Fertile Belt. It is partly fine open prairie, partly covered with groves of aspen and other trees; it is from 80 to 100 miles in width, and comprises some forty millions of acres of rich arable and pasture land. Through this rich territory flow the North and South Saskatchewan, with their many tributaries, of which the Qu'Appelle is one of the principal. This fine country will probably soon be peopled by European settlers, who are already flocking towards the west in great numbers.
In order to provide for them the means of grace, and religious instruction for their children, it has been formed into a diocese, named the diocese of Saskatchewan. Among the Indians who for ages here found their hunting-grounds, the Church Missionary Society has laboured for more than thirty years.
So early as 1840, the Rev. Henry Budd, one of the first Christian converts in Rupert's Land, who had been trained for the ministry at Red River, set out from the settlement to make preparations for erecting a church and establishing a Mission at Cumberland, or Pas, now called Devon, situated at the confluence of the Saskatchewan and Basquia Rivers, distant about five hundred miles from Red River. At that time Mr. Budd was a catechist only. He was ordained by Bishop Anderson on the 22nd of December, 1850, being the first of his countrymen admitted to the sacred office. This mission was matured under the fostering care of Archdeacon Hunter. On his return to England in 1854 it was transferred again to Mr. Budd, and here he now fulfils, not only the duties of a native pastor, but also of an evangelist for its out-stations, the principal of which are Moose Lake, Cumberland House, and Ncpowewin, all in the basin of the Saskatchewan River. Professor Hind, who visited Cumberland in 1857, thus describes its appearance:--"It seemed like getting back to civilization again, when on rounding one of the majestic sweeps of the river, the pretty white church, surrounded by farmhouses and fields of moving grain burst unexpectedly upon our view. It was a calm summer's evening, and the spire was mirrored in the gliding river, and gilt by the last rays of the setting sun. The church is on the south bank of the river; near it is the parsonage, a commodious building. Adjoining the church is a neat schoolhouse, with several dwelling-houses. So greatly has God blessed the preaching of the Gospel at Devon that no heathen are now found there. All are nominally Christians, and the consistent lives of a large proportion attest that they have not received the grace of God in vain. The soil is less fertile than that of the Indian Settlement at Red River, and being more exposed to the east winds which sweep over Hudson's Bay, the cold is more severe. Nevertheless, the Mission farm is cultivated with success. Wheat does not grow well there, but barley and potatoes are cultivated. By degrees the Indians are becoming civilized, and though in a measure dependent on fishing and the chase, they are more disposed than formerly to establish themselves in permanent homes."
In a letter dated August 19, 1871, Mr. Budd writes thus:--
"The growing population of Devon, and the endeavours of the people towards improvement in temporal as well as spiritual matters, give me full employment on the spot, and leave little room for visiting and seeing the Indians at other places. We see here new houses putting up every year, the soil ploughed up, the seed put in, parks and fences rising up here and there, until very little land is left for the cattle to graze upon. All this spring I was delighted to see them, each one trying to break up his own piece of land, and planting his potatoes in it, and now they have potatoes growing up nicely, and there is promise of a good harvest. The people have effectually put down the sale of any spirituous liquors among themselves, and now that the law has passed forbidding it, we trust we shall never see any more of that soul-destroying article of trade among our people. The Sunday services have been regularly attended by all the people when they are at home. Most of the strong and able go about hunting during the winter, leaving their families sometimes, and at other times taking them with them. During the summer months the strong men are away tripping in the boats; but as the population is yearly increasing, we still have plenty at home who fill the church Sabbath by Sabbath. I am always particularly encouraged at the Sunday duties; for I feel that I am preaching to a people that understand me. The Sunday school is not less encouraging. Here we have children and young people attending, many of them reading with fluency the Word of God in their own language. They manage to read it in their own tongue so much quicker than in English, and of course at once understand what they are reading about. This and the day school I have to conduct myself, with the help of a young man whom I am training for a teacher." In Devon and its out-stations there are 650 native Christians, of whom 170 are communicants.
The Fairford Mission was commenced by Archdeacon Cowley in 1842. It is prettily situated on the banks of Partridge Crop River (which is a continuation of the Little Saskatchewan), about two miles from Lake Manitoba. Beds of rushes covering many square miles constitute the Crop, so called by the Indians on account of the resemblamce which the outline of this reedy expanse bears to the crop of a partridge. It is distant from Red River about 200 miles. Here the Indians are Saulteaux. For many years Archdeacon Cowley appeared to labour among them in vain. The seed sown brought forth no fruit, and so hopeless did this Mission seem to be that thoughts were entertained of abandoning it. But the Archdeacon resolved to persevere, and after much patient labour he found the promise verified, "In due season ye shall reap if ye faint not." The first-fruits of his labours was Luke Caldwell, who was baptized by Bishop Anderson in 1851. When the Bishop again visited Fairford in 1858 a little band of Christians had been gathered in, of whom he baptized thirty-nine. Yet once again the faith of the Missionary was put to the test; the fire-water introduced by the white man proved too strong a temptation for the infant Church, and many, alas! fell away.
Happily the sale of intoxicating drinks to the Indians is now forbidden, and to this Mission, as to others, the prohibition has proved beneficial. The latest accounts from the Mission state that the Indians flock to the house of God, and are diligent in their attendance at the school.
The Rev. George Bruce, ordained in 1868, is the native pastor now in charge of Fairford and its out-stations, Manitoba, Oak Point, Touchwood Hills, and Fort Felly. Manitoba, on the shores of the lake from which it takes its name, is sixty miles south of Fairford. Oak Point is forty miles further on, while Fort Pelly, near the source of the Assini-boine, is 300 miles distant, and the Touchwood Hills are 100 miles further west. Here the population is composed chiefly of Crees, and a pretty little Christian village adorns the spot once desecrated by the orgies of the medicine man.
The Nepowewin Mission, situated on the north bank of the Saskatchewan, opposite to Fort a la Cornc, was commenced in September, 1852, by the Rev. H. Budd. The name Nepowewin is derived from an Indian expression signifying "The Standing Place," where the natives are accustomed to await the arrival of the Hudson's Bay Company's boats as they track up the north side of the river. The Mission-house, garden, and little farm are a pattern of neatness and order. "The valley of Long Creek, five miles south of the Nepowewin," says Professor Hind, "appears to furnish a very large area of land of the best quality, and will probably become the seat of a thriving community. But when these events take place the wild Indians will have passed away, and the white race will occupy the soil; yet it is to be hoped that the descendants of some of these heathen wanderers who have here the opportunity of hearing of Christ and His Kingdom, may find a permanent home near the Nepowewin, so long distinguished for the medicine feasts which are celebrated in the pine woods crowning the banks of the Saskatchewan, whose remains I saw almost within sight of the Mission station, on the opposite side of the swift-flowing river." Luke Caldwell, now a native pastor, has charge of the Nepowewin Mission, under the superintendence of Mr. Budd, of Devon.
The Qu'Appelle Mission was established in 1857. It is beautifully situated on the Qu'Appelle, or "Who-Calls River," between the second and third fishing lakes. "These lakes are four in number, and derive their name from the rich store of fish they contain. They are narrow bodies of water, which entirely occupy an excavated valley about a mile in width. The scenery around them is most lovely and attractive. A belt of timber fringes their sides at the foot of the steep hills they wash. Ancient elm-trees, with long drooping branches, bend over their waters; the ash-leaved maple grows here, as at Red River, to a large size, and the me-sas-ka-mi-na (la poire) grows to the height of eighteen or twenty feet, and is loaded with most luscious fruit."
The river Qu'Appelle derives its name from an Indian legend. A chief, it is said, was one day paddling his canoe down the river, when he heard a voice softly calling him by name; he stopped, looked around, but saw no one. Resuming his course, he again heard his name distinctly uttered; again he stopped, and responded to the call, but nothing was visible, and in vain he waited to hear the voice once more; silence reigned around, and concluding that it was the voice of the Manitou which he had heard, he named the river "Who Calls."
When the Rev. James Settee, a native of Swampy Cree origin, first entered upon this Mission, the Crees of the Sandy Hills, having received intelligence that the Bishop had sent a praying man to teach them the truths of Christianity, directed messengers to inquire whether "the great praying father had sent plenty of rum; if so, they would soon become followers of the white man's Manitou." The messengers returned with the intelligence that the great praying father had not only omitted to send rum, but he hoped the Plain Crees would soon abandon the practice of demanding rum in exchange for their pemmican and robes. The messengers were directed to return to the Missionary with the announcement that "if the great praying father did not intend to send ruin, the sooner he took his praying man away the better for him."
"Here, as elsewhere," says Professor Hind, "the school is the main hope of the Mission." "Teach my children for two or three years, but let me follow the ways of my fathers," said the son of a chief of the Sandy Hills. "They wish their children to know the white man's cunning, and to learn to cultivate the soil, but they themselves would prefer to remain still the wild prairie Indians, hunting the buffalo, and occasionally tasting the savage excitement of war."