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 IX. Years of Trial

Moosonee Once More--Pestilence and Famine--A Perilous Journey--A Forest Fairyland--A Long Ride Behind Dogs.

BISHOP HORDEN returned to Moosonee in 1882. His friends in England had seen a marked change in him since he was last amongst them, and even those who, like myself, had never met Bishop Horden until this period, could not help noticing that he seemed physically unequal to the long, tiring journeys, and the extremes of heat and cold, and the exposure-to which he was about to return. But at Moose their one anxiety was to have him with them.

Horden travelled again by the southern route. The progress of the Canadian Pacific Railway was making a change along the lower part of his diocese. Mattawa, when last he went that way to Moose, consisted of three houses. He now found it a flourishing little town. But the railway could not carry him north to Moose, and when once more in the canoe he found the weight of years beginning to tell upon him. But his spirits did not fail

In his diary he looks to the pleasure of meeting his own people; writes gleefully of the joy shown by a few Moose folk whom he met as they drew near the settlement; then of the little tumult that ensues when the news of his arrival is announced by voice and flag and bell; and, lastly, of the service which is almost at once held in the church.

Progress had been made in the bishop's absence, but there were sore trials to face. In the summer of 1883 an epidemic of whooping-cough broke out at Moose and Albany. At the latter station forty-four died out of the small community; at Moose the disease was scarcely less fatal. In August a severe storm did much damage at Moose, and threw the more gloom over the settlement because the yearly ship was then expected. September came, day succeeding day without the expected arrival. It had been a time of great suffering, and the prospect of Christmas without the supplies expected filled all with alarm. Medicines were exhausted, candles were nearly all gone, only half a crop of potatoes was available, and even clothing was getting scarce. It was not until September 21st that the joyful cry, "The ship's come," was heard.

The anxiety told so much on Horden, and the results of another shipwreck would have been so serious, that he resolved to lay in a year's supply of all necessaries for all the stations, and so to lessen the risk of starvation. The money was found, and their yearly dread was therefore gone.

But there were more sorrows to meet. The year 1884 was one of much sickness am distress, which had to be fought on all sides. Early in the summer the bishop made a journey up the Moose to Long Portage House. It was the kind of work which now tried him--the canoe journey hard, and the weather cold for camping out. Yet he was repaid by the pleasure of ministering to the little group of people at the station. On the journey out they met in five days but one family. On the return they came upon a small body of Indians. They stopped at once, and a service which lasted for three hours was held. The bishop went into camp at half-past ten, and was up and in the canoe again at four.

In the September of that year he had only just returned from the hard journey, when the news that influenza was raging at Albany sent him off on another journey of 100 miles again.

And his presence there was sorely needed. The epidemic threatened to sweep off the whole population, and was especially fatal to the young men. There were five funerals in one day, as many as for the most part occurred in a year. "To aggravate the evil," writes the bishop, "the weather was terrible; for it was raining almost every day, while suitable food was not obtainable. Of flour, salt pork, and salt geese there was abundance, and they were distributed with a liberal hand; but in the summer there are no birds in the Albany marshes--no fish in the Albany river; it is always, as the Indians say, Kitemakun, tapwa naspich kitemakun--'It is poor; truly it is very poor."

Horden's coming seemed to give all new life. He was, compared with them, in health, and full of the bright, cheerful faith which they had seen him shoe in times of hardship before. He was here, there, and everywhere amongst them, distributing medicine and food; comforting the dying, burying the dead, consoling the bereaved; setting the convalescent to such tasks as they were fit for. After five weeks of such work he was able to turn his face home wards, leaving not one Indian seriously ill behind him.

At Rupert's House, too, sickness and death had been busy. It was one of the brightest spots in the land. The Indians had all received the gospel, and held it faithfully; they were orderly, industrious, well people; starvation rarely threatened their little community. But now Horden found every thing changed. Such suffering had come upon them as was usually seen in less prosperous settlements.

"Now," wrote the bishop in his annual letter, "I looked around and inquired, 'Where is this Indian? where that? what became of this child's father? where is this child's mother?'

"And the answer came: 'He died of starvation four winters ago; he was starved to death three years since; she and all the rest of her children were cut off two years ago.'
And what losses were sustained by you, last winter?'

"And I am told--four men, three women, and nineteen children; they were all baptized Christians."

Once in returning from Rupert's House the bishop nearly lost his life. They were crossing part of the bay in a dog-sleigh, and were nearly ten miles from land, when, looking seaward, they saw the ice breaking up before the tide, and a stick struck vigorously upon the ice near them went through! They turned at once, happily reaching Rupert's House in safety.

The next catastrophe was the wreck of the annual ship, The Princess Royal. Happily for the settlers it was upon her return voyage but the crew were for some months prisoners at Moose.

The autumn of 1885 was a trying one, for the weather turned warm when it should have been cold. This was hard for those who dwelt on Moose Island. "We can generally," he wrote, "cross the main channel of our river about Nov. 10th, on the ice, while this season we could not do so until a few days since. This is by no means to our advantage, as most of our firewood and a good portion of our food are obtainable at a distance from our island, to which we are confined until the river is firmly frozen; as it was, it lay for weeks quite impassable, with too much ice in it for navigation by boat or canoe, and too little for either sledge or snow-shoe."

But amidst the anxieties of this time Horden still had an eye for the beauties of nature. In one letter he describes the forest as converted into a fairyland, in a way to which even his long experience does not seem to have furnished any parallel.

"A light rain fell for several hours, and froze at once on touching the houses, trees, and bushes; consequently the windward sides of the houses were covered with innumerable small icicles, depending from the lower edge of the weather boards; the trees, and especially the poplars, were thickly coated with ice, every branch being apparently encased in transparent glass; while the bushes, almost flattened to the ground by their weight of beauty, presented a most curious and striking appearance. Nor was this all, for a few days subsequently some very fine snow, or rather perhaps frozen mist, fell on the transparencies, the result being the most fairylike imaginable; and in a walk in the forest one would not have been at all surprised had he met with troops of elves, pixies, and fairies, with whose history we were made so well acquainted in the days of our childhood. But this beauty was very destructive; the branches of the trees could not bear this unaccustomed burden, and numbers of them were continually breaking off, so that it was somewhat dangerous to walk under them, and of the bushes many were entirely destroyed. The birds and herbivorous animals must have suffered severely for a time, as it was impossible for them to obtain food; even the blades of grass which appeared above the snow were all as thick as ropes. Things are better now, although they have not yet reached their normal condition."

At the end of the same year the bishop made another journey to Albany. His account, published in England in the following April, is marked by all his old power of picturesque description. It will help the reader to understand the life which Horden still found it a joy to lead. The start was made on Dec. 18th, when, directly after breakfast, accompanied by his faithful fellow-workers, he walked to the Hudson's Bay Company's establishment, whence they were to start. The sledge was already on the river.

"Soon the dogs, twelve in number, and as beautiful creatures as were ever in harness, were led down the bank, and each with his separate trail fastened to the sledge, which was firmly moored to prevent the dogs running off with it until all was ready. This was soon effected; I said good-bye to the many friends assembled to see me off, the dogs in the meantime jumping, howling, tugging at the sledge in their eagerness to start; the mooring-rope was soon loosened, and a moment afterwards we were at the gallop, passing down the river in front of the houses standing on its northern bank, the inmates cheering us onward. At the end of the first half-mile we passed the last house, and were soon in the wilderness, away from the sight and sound of everything except ourselves. For a short time, while we were among the islands, the ice was rough, occasioned by the currents of the river and the action of the tides in the narrow spaces between the islands, but presently this was at an end, and the running became as smooth as the most fastidious traveller could desire. The temperature was delightful, no wrapping up being required; it was simply perfection, and the mind felt a degree of elasticity to which it had long been a stranger. After going about fourteen miles, we came in sight of the ill-fated Princess Royal, lying about six miles from the shore, and a little farther on we reached North Bluff Beacon. There we remained half an hour to give the dogs a little rest, and take a little refreshment ourselves; then on again; the splendid dogs, with their tails curled over their backs, required no whip to urge them forward, but either at full gallop or fast trot, went on to our tent at Piskwamisk. We had done 40 miles in little over six hours, one of the best and most pleasant travelling days I have ever experienced. We soon made ourselves comfort able, and then saw to the comfort of our hard working beasts, removing their harness, and fastening each with a chain to a separate tree stump to prevent their indulging in a fight, giving each a bed of pine brush, and then supplying him with a good supper of frozen white-fish, which, having most greedily devoured, and seeing that nothing more was forthcoming, he coiled himself up on his bed with his tail over his head, and relapsed into perfect silence for the night.

"The following morning the weather was very rough, and the atmosphere so thick that nothing seaward was visible, so we remained in camp, and passed most of the day in reading. The weather was not very inviting on our third morning, but we had only a short stage before us to Cock Point, which it was absolutely necessary for us to reach so as to secure food for our dogs. Four hours took us there, and six hours and a half brought us the next day to Albany, where I found all well."

Project Canterbury