Project Canterbury

John Horden: Missionary Bishop
A Life on the Shores of Hudson's Bay

By the Rev. A. R. Buckland, M.A.

London: The Sunday School Union, no date.

Chapter VIII. Leaves from Bishop Horden's Diary

More Helpers--A Roundabout Way to the Far. North--A Terrible Journey--An Arctic Home--Lonely Churchill--An Indian Heroine--The Fruits of Christianity--Another Year of Rest.

IN the settlement of teachers for the little communities under his care the bishop felt the greatest joy. He was able to place two native clergymen amongst the Ojibbeways. York Factory, an important trading-post on the south-west shore of the bay, had an English clergyman, Mr., after wards Archdeacon, Winter; another English clergy man, the Rev. J. H. Keen, worked at Moose, and then at Rupert's House; and then Mr. E. J. Peck, who had begun life in the navy, came out to work amongst the Eskimo. Mr. Peck was ordained by the bishop in 1878, and is still attached to the same mission.

But it must not be supposed that the help thus given made Horden himself less active. He "laboured more abundantly than they all," and with the same cheerful humility. He made a journey to the south-west to attend a Synod at Winnipeg, and thence proceeded, by way of contrast, to the north-west that he might visit York Factory. This curiously illustrates an old saying as to the "longest way round" being the "shortest way there." York Factory lies far to the north-west of Moose on the shores of the Hudson's Bay, at the mouth of the Nelson River. To reach it Horden went almost due south to Mattawa; then westward by the Canadian Pacific Railway. A stay was made near Winnipeg; then he went still farther west by steamer and boat before striking to the north through a desolate land to York Factory. Here the bishop was busy as ever, conducting an English school,--for desolate as the spot is, the fur trade has gathered a little colony of English there,--helping the resident missionary to learn Cree, and teaching the natives.

From York Factory Horden pushed on to Fort Churchill, the most northerly spot inhabited in his diocese. This, too, is on the shores of the bay. The bishop's diary of this expedition shows the life which a missionary must be content to lead who would preach Christ in the far north. Here it is:--

"Feb. 1st, 1880.--At four o'clock, soon after the close of the Indian service, drove from York Factory 8 miles, through willows and woods to a house occupied by wood-cutters. Temperature, 30 degrees below zero.

"Feb. 2nd.--After service and breakfast, set out on our way to Churchill; the cold was severe and the wind high, so high indeed that the guide had some doubts about crossing Nelson River, which we reached soon after starting. Where we crossed it was 8 miles wide and very rough, the ice piled high most of the distance; it was the most difficult travelling I have ever experienced; we were obliged to cross miles higher up than the route some of my companions had taken in coming to York only a few days previously, the ice having been broken up by the fierce winds which have lately raged. Having crossed without accident we went down the northern bank of the river towards the sea; at noon we took dinner, when our guide thought we had better put up for the night. We all went to Benjamin Kayamawililew's tent; he was very kind, and enlarged his tent so as to accommodate the whole of us; we spent a very pleasant evening, I conducting our service in English and Cree. Temperature, 27 degrees below zero. We had among us two carioles, two sledges for baggage and provisions, and sixteen dogs.

"Feb. 3rd.--After prayers and breakfast, resumed our journey for a short time through woods, and then over more open country. The wind was high and cold, and the drifting of the snow did not permit us to proceed after twelve o'clock. We had a very good encampment at Island Bluff. Temperature, 23 degrees below zero.

"Feb. 4th.--Bitterly cold, with a cutting wind, blowing directly in our faces; our way lay over plains interspersed with belts of trees; encamped between one and two o'clock at Partridge Creek. Temperature, 30 degrees below zero.

"Feb. 5th.--Cold still more severe; wind as yesterday, right in our teeth; could not travel after eleven o'clock, when we encamped at the edge of Stoney River Plain. With the exception of myself, all were frozen; the guide and James Isaac, my special attendant, very severely. Temperature, 36 degrees below zero.

"Feb. 6th.--No change for the better, but obliged to proceed, as food for both men and dogs was but limited; the crossing of the large plain was terrible, and all suffered a great deal. At three o'clock we encamped at Owl River. Temperature, 38 degrees below zero.

"Feb. 7th.--We had very bad weather to-day, the wind very high and cold, with a little snow and much drift; could not proceed after eleven o'clock, when we encamped on the edge of the Big Plain. Indians killed two deer to-day. Temperature, 32 degrees below zero.

"Feb. 8th.--We started very late, and at once faced the plain. In looking over it, one could fancy himself beholding the frozen surface of the sea; no trees or bushes break the uniform level bf white, and over it we jogged as rapidly as possible. Riding in a cariole over such a surface is by no means agreeable; one does not experience the sense of rapid movement over a smooth surface, one rather feels as if moving slowly over a rough road; more than anything else, it resembles that of being in a springless cart in a rugged country lane, for the snow lies in ridges, hardened by the wind, over which the cariole is incessantly jumping. At eleven o'clock we reached Bwaak, and proceeded no farther; it was terribly cold. Temperature, 46 degrees below zero.

"Feb. 9th.--Started early; weather not so cold. At two P.M. reached the south end of a belt of woods, called Robinson's Bluff when it was snowing somewhat thickly, and as this was a good place, with plenty of good wood, we encamped for the night. Temperature, 28 degrees below zero.

"Feb. 10th.--The weather somewhat better, and we made a good day, encamping in the evening among the eastern woods. Temperature, 31 degrees below zero.

"Feb. 11th.--A fine day, bright and cold, without wind; passed over several plains and small lakes, and through some belts of woods. At noon we took dinner at Statchookem Ridge, and there, 15 miles from Churchill, made a good smoke to signal our approach; 8 miles farther on, we made another, and were soon met by men from the post, with a team of dogs, by which we sent forward our doctor, who, with his fresh team and drivers, could get on much faster than we could do. We now made descent of a couple of miles through a wood, which brought us to the bank of the Churchill River, here 4 miles wide; the crossing was some what disagreeable, from the great roughness of the ice, although it was nothing like as bad as that which covered the Nelson River. At half-past four o'clock, I arrived at Churchill House, where the warmest of receptions was given me by Mr. Spencer, the Hudson's Bay Company's agent, and his wile. In the evening, held a service attended by all at the post. Temperature, 30 degrees below zero.

"The temperature given is that registered within the Fort at York Factory. The actual cold we experienced on the trip would be, at least, two degrees more in intensity than those I have given, on account of our exposure and of our journeying northward. Every evening, from an hour to an hour and a half was expended in preparing our barricade, on which much care was bestowed; the snow was first cleared from the ground, a wall of pine-trees, with the brush on, was then raised, over 4 feet high, so as to protect us effectually from the wind; at some distance in front of this the fire was laid, the whole space between it and the wall being thickly piled with pine-brush, which formed an agreeable carpet and bed; the quantity of firewood cut was enormous: a small fire, and one not constantly replenished, would make but little impression on air 40 degrees below zero. Cooking and taking supper occupied some time, and then we would sometimes get a story from one of our companions of his travelling or hunting experiences, in which pluck, endurance, and self-reliance shone with becoming lustre. All closed with a service, in which everyone seemed to join with great heartiness. In the morning before starting, another service was always held. From all, I experienced the greatest kindness; my faintest wish was complied with, if it had not been already anticipated. All were willing, all were cheerful; an angry look or an angry word was not interchanged the whole way."

Churchill is not a place which any European would choose as a home if duty did not call him there. The cold is believed to be as intense there as in almost any 'other spot on the earth's surface, and the isolation is so great, that the wife of the agent in charge was "often years without seeing the face of a civilised woman." Nor shall we wonder, since it is a place where the land sees eight months of continuous winter, with only some six weeks of real summer. There also, however, Bishop Horden was able to place a resident missionary, with so much blessing that, in recent years, nearly all the adults have regularly met at the table of the Lord. A few sentences from a comparatively recent letter will show that, desert as the land may be called, it has been fruitful before God.

"Constant and regular attendance," writes the missionary, "at all services is some proof of a desire to 'serve Christ at Churchill, for I am quite sure there are many real Christians in England whose place in the house of God would often be vacant if they had such a church as we had last winter: it was no uncommon thing to see minister and congregation covered with snow, and often have I gone through the full service with the thermometer a long way below freezing-point, yet all were as reverent and devout as if in a comfortable English church. Thank God, we have now got our new church opened and in use, so that I hope we may escape rain and storm, though to get the church fairly warm, with the thermometer 50 degrees below zero, requires good fires and good wood; the latter is an impossibility to get at Churchill."

The bishop's letters, during the period of service over which we have been looking, include many testimonies to the character and worth of the Christian Indians, both men and women. The "noble Red man" does not always appear in fiction or in fact with much true nobility of character; yet under the gospel of Christ, men and women such as had once killed their own kindred, to save themselves from starving, proved themselves genuine heroes. Such a woman was Eliza, whose history Bishop Horden often alluded to. It is given in full in the letter which speaks of her death. Here it is in his own words--

"When I came to Moose, five-and-thirty years ago, among my first scholars was a young Indian girl, named Eliza Crow; she was very industrious in her studies, and was not long in acquiring the power of both speaking and reading English, and her Bible soon became her greatest delight. After a while, the family with whom she was living was sent far away into the interior to take charge of a trading-post, and she went with them. Here she married a Christian Indian, who was in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company. Leaving that employ, they went to Albany, her husband's home, where they obtained their livelihood as fur-hunters. One winter they hunted on the Island of Agomske, the English interpretation of Ukamuske--'the land on the other side of the water.' Food was very scarce, and became more so, until their two youngest children succumbed to starvation. They were upwards of seventy miles from Albany, the nearest point at which assistance could be obtained. This must be reached, or all would starve. Eliza tied her two remaining children, a boy and girl, well wrapped up, on her sledge, and, preceded by her husband, now in a state of great exhaustion, began the weary tramp. Bravely they toiled on, until the husband's strength was spent. She then made up a small tent, lit a fire, and made him as comfortable as possible. She then pushed on with her load, reached the leading establishment, and fainted away. Nature had held out longer than could have been anticipated. Kind and busy hands were, without a moment's delay, engaged in ministering to the wants of the famished ones. As soon as she could speak, Eliza evinced her anxiety for her husband, stating the condition in which she left him, and beseeching that help might be sent to him at once. Eskimo dogs were harnessed, and supplies instantly despatched. The tent was reached, but succour had come too late. The remains--cold, stiff, and emaciated--of the sufferer were alone there. These were buried, and the organisers returned to Albany. In the following summer Eliza came on to Moose, where she supported herself and her children by her industry; she was after a time married to her second husband, Norman Mardevela, a European, to whom she was a faithful and attached wife, and by whom she became the mother of four children, and these she brought up in an exemplary manner. Her last illness was a long one, which she bore with great patience. As the end approached, she seemed very anxious to be gone, saying that her Saviour stood waiting for her; her end was peace. She was held in honour by all at 1 and she will bug live in our memory."

This story of fighting hunger is but too sadly common in the simple records of Indian life. Amelia's case was not unlike that of Eliza's; she too lost her husband in the vain effort to reach help. In the midst of this anguish a child was born, and that little one Amelia succeeded in carrying alive to Moose.

There was the wife of Jacob Matamashkum, who saved her husband from starvation by feeding him with the milk nature had given her for her child. "In the summer," wrote the wife of a native pastor at one station, "we depend altogether on our nets, and if fish fails, then there is nothing at all."

There are people sitting quietly at home in England, who sometimes doubt the value of Christianity to such as these Indians. The contrast between the heathen who in time of death saved himself by cannibalism, and the Christian who showed the courage and faith of Eliza and Amelia, is worth their consideration.

The bishop went back from Churchill to Fort York, and hence, by the annual ship, went to England for rest after his first eight years of work as a bishop.

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