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Dayspring in the Far West
Sketches of Mission-Work in North-West America

By M. E. Johnson

London: Seeley, Jackson and Halliday, 1875.

Chapter V. Extension of the Mission Eastwards

The Hudson's Bay Missions.--Moravians.--Moose Fort and its out-stations.--York Fort.--Churchill.--Albany.--Fort Severn, Trout Lake.--Climate.--Travelling.

HUDSON'S BAY, which takes its name from Captain Hudson, who discovered it in 1610, is 900 miles long, and 600 broad in its widest part; its coast-line measures a distance of about 3000 miles. It is only open to ships for a few months in the year, and the numerous shoals, rocks, and drifting icebergs render its navigation at all times dangerous. Of its many inlets, James's Bay on the south-east, and Port Nelson on the west, are the most important. Two rivers, the Nelson and the Hayes, discharge their waters into the latter. A belt of willows and swamps lie between the two rivers, to which is given the name of the Point of the Marsh. To the southwest of James's Bay is Moose Fort, which is distant from Red River about 1200 miles.

To the Moravians is due the honour of having been the first to plant the standard of the Gospel on the inclement shores of Hudson's Bay. So early as the year 1750, a pious sailor named Ehrhard urged upon the Brethren the importance of establishing a Mission to the Esquimaux on the shores of Labrador. After no less than four exploratory voyages to the coast, the first Mission was commenced at Nain in 1770. Another Missionary Settlement was established at Okak, to the north of Nain, in 1776, and another at Hopedale, some distance south of Nain, in 1782. The early Moravian Missionaries encountered great hardships, and many were the trials of their faith and patience, ere it was given them to see the fruit of their toil. Thirty-four years had passed away before the Esquimaux in any great numbers received the message of the Gospel into their hearts. A ship fitted out by the London Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel annually visits this Mission, and "of all the missions to the heathen which are the glory of Christendom, none perhaps are conducted in a more devoted and Christ-like spirit than that of the Moravians on the shores of Labrador."

At a later period the Wesleyans established a Mission at Moose Fort, on the southern coast of the Bay. From this Mission they ultimately withdrew, and in 1851 the Church Missionary Society sent Mr. John Horden, now Bishop Horden, to occupy the post vacated by the Wesleyans. From Moose Fort, the Mission has branched out in all directions, so that it now forms the centre of a cluster of Mission stations; on the eastern side of James's Bay are Rupert's House, East Main, Fort George, Great and Little Whale Rivers: at this point the Esquimaux are found. The Indians around Moose Fort are Swampy Crees. On the west and south of the Fort are Flying Post, Kenoogoomissee, Matawakumme, and Matachewan. Each of these is at a considerable distance one from the other; to reach the farthest of them involves a journey of 500 or 600 miles from Moose Fort. One hundred and twenty miles north of the Fort is Albany, now under the charge of a native pastor, the Rev. T. Vincent, of whose devotion to his work the Bishop of Rupert's Land speaks in terms of high praise. South-east of Albany are the out-stations of Martin's Falls and Osnaburgh; the latter is not far from Lac Seul, the waters of which empty themselves into the River Winnipeg at Islington. Here the Indians are Sotos. Still farther to the east of the Bay are Mistasinee, Nitchekwan, and Tamiskama. The Indians who congregate at these places are visited from time to time by the Missionaries located at the principal stations, and numbers of them listen with marked attention to the preaching of the Gospel, attending the frequent services held daily by the Missionary during his stay. There arc more than 1600 Christians in James's Bay districts; of these 224 are communicants. The sterility of the soil, added to the inclemency of the climate in this portion of the American continent, renders it impossible to form agricultural settlements as at Red River; hence the Christian Indians are dependent for subsistence on the chase, and, when not successful in their hunting expeditions, they suffer great hardships. In times of scarcity, numbers die of starvation and exposure to the cold.

To meet the requirements of the various Christian congre-tions scattered around the shores of the Bay, Mr. Hordcn has recently been appointed chief pastor under the title of Bishop of Moosonee. In order to supply the Indians with instruction when absent on their hunting expeditions, Bishop Horden has translated into the Cree dialect a Bible and Gospel History, Prayer Book, the Four Gospels, the Book of Jonah, a catechism, hymn-book, and almanacks for many years, with a text of Scripture for each day of the year, and a Bishop's letter to the Indians. These he has printed himself, by means of a printing-press sent out from England. He has also printed in the Soto dialect a prayer-book, hymn-book and first catechism; and in Esquimaux a small general service book.

About 700 miles to the north of Moose Factory is York Fort, on the estuary of the Hayes River. It is the principal depot of the Hudson's Bay Company. Here the supplies for trade are issued, and the returns collected and shipped for England. For a long time it was the principal door of access into the Hudson's Bay territory. Hence the anxieties and privations to which the early Missionaries were exposed. The Bay being closed by ice during a large portion of the year, they were dependent for their supplies of flour, clothing, hardware, tools, domestic utensils, and other things necessary to daily comfort, on the annual ship; when from any cause it was delayed, or when, as frequently happened, much time was lost in forwarding the supplies, the Missionaries and their families were often reduced to great straits. Very different is it now: magnificent steamers sail weekly from Liverpool to Canada, and thence the traveller is conveyed by railway to the Red River Settlements; or he may, if he prefer it, travel by way of New York, and reach the boundary-line by means of the railway in the United States' territory.

At York Fort the permanent establishment of the Company is large; brigades of boats engaged in the transport of goods to and from the interior are constantly arriving during the summer. It is the grand rendezvous of the Indians of the surrounding country. They come hither to trade, bringing the furs they have collected, and receive in return such things as they need for themselves and their families, such as capotes, blankets, caps, files, knives, ammunition, and tobacco.

The facilities for instructing the Indians who assemble here induced the Church Missionary Society to commence the Mission in 1854. The first Missionary sent to this fort was the Rev. William Mason. In September of that year he thus wrote, "A Church Mission House and schools are about to be erected at York Factory, and, as opportunities occur, the Missionary will visit Severn and Churchill, and thus encircle the entire Bay with the Gospel net."

Churchill is the most northerly of the Hudson's Bay Company's forts on the Bay, while Fort Severn lies between York Fort and Albany, being about 200 miles distant from the former. About 400 miles inland, to the south of Severn, is Trout Lake, which discharges its waters into the Severn. Churchill is visited by the Esquimaux, and at the time Mr. Mason entered on his work, there was an excellent interpreter, who had been left by Dr. Rae, one of our Arctic explorers. No minister of the Gospel had at that time visited Severn.

"In 1848," says Mr. Mason, "I met with some Indians from that quarter; they earnestly solicited me to baptize them, but not having time to know their characters, or even to examine them and ascertain the extent of their knowledge, I thought it best to defer the matter until some future period, when some spiritual provision could be made for them. I shall never forget their last interview with me, when they knew they must return to their dark abode without the solemn rite being administered to them. I said, "Why, you cannot read, you have never been taught." "Yes, we can read," and one of them, pulling out of his breast a small parcel, in which he had carefully wrapped between two pieces of clean bark his small library, consisting of hymn-book, prayer-book, and St. John's Gospel, all in the syllabic character, opened one of them, and, to my great astonishment, read fluently. I asked him how he had learned to read; he replied, "We teach each other;" with tears in his eyes he embarked in his canoe, saying, "We may never see a minister again."

Thus the Gospel seed sown in the heart of British North America had been wafted to remote corners, and, finding good soil, it took root, and sprang up and bore fruit. How great the encouragement to obey the injunction, "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether both shall be alike good."

The whole of the Old and New Testament have been translated into Cree, which is the language spoken by the Indians in this district, by Mr. and Mrs. Mason. There are now no heathen at York; all the Indians, 200 in number, have embraced Christianity. Heathenism, with its cruel rites and degrading ceremonies, has passed away. It is not, however, to be supposed that all these are Christians without blemish. Of what Christian community, even in our own highly favoured land, could this be said? Here, as elsewhere, "the tares grow with the wheat," yet there is much to rejoice the heart of the true minister of Christ, much that gives promise of a glorious harvest to be gathered in when the time shall come.

In 1870 the Rev. W. W. Kirkby, of whose labours in the extreme north our next chapter will contain some account, was transferred to York Fort. In 1871 he visited Churchill, 200 miles farther north. Here are found Chipewyan Indians, whose dialect differs but little from that spoken in the Mackenzie River district. To this place the Esquimaux also come periodically. Great joy was manifested by the Chipewyans on finding that they were to have a teacher who could speak to them in their own tongue. They at once placed themselves under instruction, and during the time that they remained at Churchill they learnt to read the syllabic characters, and expressed an earnest desire to have books in their own language, like their neighbours.

To gratify this wish, Mr. Kirkby drew up a little manual containing twenty hymns, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Decalogue, private devotions for morning and evening, prayers for a family, morning and evening service, nearly as in our Prayer Book, and the Litany. The manual also contains short chapters on God and providence, sin and redemption, the Sabbath and the Bible, heaven and hell, the Saviour and the Christian, life and death, resurrection and judgment, some account of the birth, childhood, baptism, and temptation of Christ, His death, resurrection, and ascension. The preparation of this manual occupied all Mr. Kirkby's leisure time for three months, and as the Indians only occasionally visit Churchill, and often perhaps at a time when the Missionary is unavoidably absent, the instruction conveyed in this little book, and the power to read it for themselves, is a boon for which these poor hunters are truly grateful.

The territory around Hudson's Bay is perhaps the most inhospitable portion of the British possessions in America. The summer here is short; spring, summer, and autumn are all comprised within the four months of June, July, August, and September. The summer heat is extreme, and flies and musquitoes prevail in millions. After the Indian summer, in September, winter sets in rapidly, and from October to April the thermometer seldom rises to the freezing-point. In the depth of winter it falls from 30° to 40° below zero, Fahrenheit. The average cold is 15° or 16° below zero. The winds which sweep over the Bay render the cold more trying here than even in higher latitudes. At Fort Simpson, on the Mackenzie River, the cold is much less felt, owing to the serenity of the atmosphere, than it is on the shores of Hudson's Bay.

In these bleak regions the toil of the Missionary is greatly increased by the immense distances he must traverse in order to carry the Gospel to the tribes scattered over the vast wilderness. "I have," says a Missionary, "sometimes seen illustrations of winter travelling in this country, in which the traveller is represented comfortably wrapped up in his sledge, with his dogs going at full speed over the snow: a more truthful picture would represent the dogs floundering through the snow, and the unfortunate driver, with a long pole behind the sledge, pushing to assist his worn-out team. Such has generally been my experience."

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