Project Canterbury

Colonial Church Histories

History of the Church in Eastern Canada and Newfoundland

By John Langtry, M.A., D.C.L.,
Rector of S. Luke's, Toronto, and Prolocutor of the Provincial Synod of Canada

London, Brighton and New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1892.

Chapter X. Algoma

THIS Diocese was founded in 1873. Prior to its creation as a separate jurisdiction, like Huron, Ontario, and Niagara, it had formed part of the Diocese of Toronto. During this period its population consisted chiefly of Indians. These were congregated for the most part in the Christian and Manitoulin Islands, at Garden River, Sault Ste. Marie, Nipigeon, and Prince Arthur's Landing. The present Archdeacon of Niagara, Dr. McMurray, began his ministry as a missionary to the Indians at Sault Ste. Marie sixty years ago. The Archdeacon has given a graphic description of his appointment and journey thither.

"An effort," he says, "had been made to establish a society for the conversion of the Indians. A considerable sum was subscribed by the members of the Church, and in. conjunction with assistance rendered by the Government, under Sir John Colborne, an Indian Mission was determined upon. I was sent or by the Governor, and informed that it was his intention to establish missions for the Indians on the north shores of Lakes Superior and Huron; that I had been selected for the work, and that my head quarters were to be Sault Ste. Marie. I remonstrated, and told his Excellency that I was only twenty-two years of age, not old enough for orders; and further, that I had never heard of Sault Ste. Marie. He sent [236/237] me to the Surveyor-General, with a request that he would point out to me the head-quarters of my mission. After a careful examination of the then surveys of all the places north of York, the Sault (as it is now called) could nowhere be found. I returned to his Excellency with this report. He then instructed me to go to Buffalo, and thence to Detroit; and that I would be able there to determine the locality of my future residence. Following these instructions, I left York on the 20th Sept., 1832, with the feelings one would now have on setting out for the North Pole, and after a long, lonely journey I reached the Sault on the 20th of October following just one month on the passage which can now be accomplished in thirty-six hours." This was the first effort to establish missions in the great North-West. For six years Dr. McMurray continued to labour in this far-off and lonely out-post.

The late Archdeacon Brough was another of the pioneer missionaries of Algoma. Long before there seemed to be any probability of a separate Diocese established there, he went as a missionary to Manitouawning in the Island of Manitoulin, about the same time that Dr. McMurray went to the Sault, and laboured among the bands of Indians that congregated in that neighbourhood. He afterwards removed to the neighbourhood of the present town of Orillia. After a while he removed to London Township, and continued to exercise his ministry there till the close of his long life.

He was succeeded at Manitouawniog by the Rev. Dr. O'Meara, who for twenty-one years lived among his Indian congregation, one hundred and fifty miles beyond the bounds of civilization, seldom visiting the frontier, which for the greater part of this time could only be reached in summer by means of a bark canoe, and in winter by dog-sleighs and snow-shoes. He [237/238] translated the Prayer-Book and many parts of the Bible into the Ojibbawa language, working on through all these years with patient cheerful contentment. He was finally appointed to the Rectory of Port Hope, where he lived until his long and active ministry was terminated by an almost instantaneous death. The bands of Indians to whom he ministered so long have been for the most part scattered, and there is hardly a trace of his work left among the Indians of the Manitoulin to-day.

Dr. O'Meara was succeeded in his work by the Rev. Peter Jacobs, a half-breed, a gentle, earnest man, who was very successful in his work among his own people. He, however, after a few years fell a prey to consumption, the dread disease so fatal to his race.

The Rev. James Chance, an enthusiastic English man, carried on the work at the same time among the Indians of Garden River and Sault Ste. Marie. He soon acquired a knowledge of the Indian language, and was able to speak to the people in their own tongue, and so acquired great influence over them. After some years he removed to the Diocese of Huron, and is now Rector of an important parish there. No suitable successor was found for him or for Mr. Jacobs, hence the small results of all their efforts that remain for the Church to-day.

Algoma being a Missionary Diocese, its Bishop is chosen by the Provincial Synod. When therefore the Diocese of Algoma was first set apart in 1873, that Synod elected the Rev. Canon Dumoulin, now Rector of St. James Cathedral, Toronto, to be the first Bishop of the new Diocese. After some hesita tion he declined the appointment, and the next year the Rev. J. D. Fauqnier, incumbent of Zoora, near Woodstock, was elected. The new Bishop was a man of refined feeling and courteous manners; [238/239] humble-minded, devout, full of faith and of good works. He was not naturally an able speaker, but he devoted himself with such simple-hearted earnestness to the duties of the office to which he was called, that he soon became an efficient administrator, and won the hearts of all his people by his gentle, loving ways. He had in a high degree the character of fatherliness about him, was so sympathetic and tender-hearted, that few men have ever left behind them a memory at once so loved and so revered.

During the eight years of his episcopate the number of clergy increased from seven to fourteen, and that of church buildings from nineteen to forty-two. But the good Bishop's faith and patience were sorely tried during his whole episcopate by a combination of difficulties. In the first place the Diocese is of such vast extent, stretching along the shores of Lakes Huron and Superior, and away through the rocky woodlands to the Lake of the Woods, a distance of not less than 1200 miles, and running back in a limitless way to Labrador and the Hudson Bay. The region is for the most part an unbroken forest, with scattered bands of Indians here and there throughout its vast extent. The white settlers are gathered for the most part at favoured spots along the shore and on the numerous islands. During the episcopate of the first Bishop there were no railways in the Diocese, now it is traversed through its whole length by the C. P. R., and the Sault line runs across a large part of it. There were steamers in the summer in those early days, but as they did not touch at half the places the Bishop wished to reach, he had to perform the greater part of his necessary journey ing, constantly exposed to severe weather and great perils, in an open boat. Then the smallness of his own income, and the scantiness of the funds placed at his disposal by the Church, filled him with continual [239/240] anxiety for the support of the scattered missionaries. Then, again, there followed him through all his journeyings the sorrowful remembrance of his suffering wife, a lady of unusual refinement and ability, but who for the last twenty years of her life was an almost helpless invalid. And last, but not least, among his trials, the fact that he himself was suffering from a painful internal disease, of which no one outside his own family was ever aware, until, the close of Dec. 1881, it almost instantly terminated his earthly life.

Six months after the death of Bishop Fauquier, a special meeting of the Provincial Synod was held in Montreal, and the Rev. Dr. Sullivan, Rector of St. George's Church in that city, being nominated by the House of Bishops, was almost unanimously elected by the lower house. Dr. Sullivan was known far and wide as a man of great ability and acquirements. He stood in the very forefront of American preachers, and so, as will be readily understood, he had to make great sacrifices of income, social advantages, and influence, in accepting the Episcopate of rockbound Algoma; but without hesitation he responded to the call, and has devoted himself with unflagging earnest ness, for ten years now, to the discharge of the duties of the chief shepherd of those few sheep in the wilderness. He says that wherever he went he found his predecessor's name familiar as a household word, and his picture hanging on the walls of hundreds of its lowliest log-houses.

The whole population of the Diocese does not exceed 85,000. These are scattered along the coves and rivers, and on a few of the more fertile islands. Settlements are now being formed at intervals along the railways, and at mining locations; but with the exception of a few business men at the chief centres, the people are too poor to maintain the Church by [240/241] their own unaided efforts, and what is more disheartening is, that there is not much prospect of improvement. The Church in Algoma will always be dependent upon the sympathy and help of the brethren more favourably situated than they are. Manitoba and the North-west are every year drawing away large numbers of the farmers, nor can any one who knows the two countries wonder at it, or blame those who go. The mineral resources of the country are now being developed, and silver, copper, iron, and nickel are being found in such quantities as to give promise of many flourishing mining towns springing up in the Diocese.

During the first seven years of the present Bishop's episcopate, the clergy had increased from fourteen to twenty-six, seven of whom occupied self-supporting parishes, the others deriving their stipends from local contributions, grants from. English Societies, and the offerings of the Canadian Church through the general Mission Board. Twenty-three churches have also been built during this period, the entire indebtedness on which would not amount to more than $1000.

"Over and above the poverty of the people," writes the Bishop, "one of our greatest difficulties lies in the profound ignorance of the majority of our people on all questions of Church history and teaching. They know next to nothing of the Church's distinctive doctrines, and hence lie easily open to the inducements offered by other communions to cast in their lot with them. The Church in England is largely responsible for this, in leaving her children so unable to give a reason for the faith that is in them."

The organization of the Diocese is very simple; there is as yet no Synod, its place being taken by a triennial council, composed of the Bishop and Clergy. The Diocese is divided into four rural deaneries, [241/242] and also into two convocations, separated by the French River, thus enabling the clergy to meet frequently between triennial councils. The Bishop says--"One of our greatest helps is the Algoma Missionary News, published monthly, and devoted entirely to the diffusion of information as to work being done in the Diocese." One of the most important of these is the work carried on by the Rev. F. Wilson in his Indian homes. There are two such, one for boys and one for girls, at the Sault; others have lately been established at two points in the North-west. The work is not easy, because of the wandering habits and unstable character of the Indians. Mr. Wilson finds it hard to keep up the interest of Church people in the older Dioceses, and to obtain the necessary funds for carrying on his work; but through the coldness and discouragement of years, he hopes and perseveres, and has been instrumental in erecting very substantial and commodious institutions for the permanent work of the Church.

The Bishop reports that during his episcopate the endowment to provide a permanent stipend for the Bishop has grown from nothing to 35,000 dollars. A Widows and Orphans Endowment has also been created, amounting to 13,000 dollars. They have also a Church and Parsonage Fund, which has greatly contributed to the extension and establishment of the work in the Diocese. A superannuation fund for infirm or disabled clergymen is a crying necessity. Common humanity forbids the cruelty of turning adrift without the means of support a labourer who has spent his best years, as well as his mental and physical powers, in the service of the Church.

Upon the Canadian Church the Diocese of Algoma has, and must continue to have, paramount claims. It was set apart as a separate Diocese by the [242/243] Provincial Synod, representing the whole Canadian Church to be her first and special field of missionary operation. No doubt the great North-west presents a more inviting field. The progress will be far more rapid, the results more apparent, but we have pledged our faith to Algoma, and must set ourselves to provide for her needs first. The Diocese has no doubt great and permanent claims upon the liberality of the Church at home; most of its inhabitants have come directly from England, and not from the older Dioceses of Canada, as is the case in the North-west. Then too, as the vast mineral resources of this region are more and more developed, the population that will be gathered there for the working of the mines will come almost wholly from the old lands. For them the Church at home is bound in duty to make initial provision. It will not, however, be long till aggregated populations of this kind are able to establish self-sustaining parishes.

Then there are small villages on the islands and at the mouths of rivers which are never likely to become large enough to provide for their own needs, and which are yet too far separated from other similar settlements to be formed into one parish. In the neighbourhood of most of these villages good land may yet be obtained for a very small sum. It would manifestly be a wise thing to make special efforts to secure for many of these places one or two hundred acres of land as an endowment. This could be stock-farmed, or cultivated with the aid of a man, by a country parson, whose duties from the nature of the case cannot be very extensive. This would tend to give stability to the work and secure for all time the pastoral care of the Church over these scattered and feeble flocks. There are not a few men in the older Dioceses who at mid-life would be glad of some such quiet retreat for the rest of their time. [243/244] There are many men both in England and in Canada who could easily provide one such endowment, and so extend their beneficence through all generations to come. For the rest of the people scattered widely over this large Diocese engaged in lumbering, fishing, and widely-separated farming, the Church at large will in the main have to provide.

One great difficulty the Bishop experiences, is to get good and efficient men for these scattered parishes and widely-extended missions, and a greater difficulty still is to keep them when he has got them. They and he alike deserve the sympathy, the admiration, the prayers, and the help of the whole Church, and especially of the Church in Canada.

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