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My First Year in Canada

By the Right Rev. Ashton Oxenden, D.D.
Bishop of Montreal, and Metropolitan of Canada

London: Hatchards, 1871.

Chapter I. My Call to Canada

IT has so happened that from failure of health, and other causes, I have visited many countries, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Madeira, &c. But least of all did I think that I should ever set foot on the shores of the New World. God however sometimes selects a Home for us where we least expect it; and certainly my present Home in Canada was not of my own choosing: God seemed to mark out the way for me, and called me hither.

The circumstances which led me to the Far West were these. One day in March, 1869, when my wife and I were passing a few days at Bournemouth, a Letter reached me, penned by a strange hand, and stamped with a foreign post-mark. Its contents too were as strange to me, and as foreign to my previous thoughts, as were the Person who wrote it, and the quarter from whence it came.

The writer of the letter was a Canadian Bishop, who was at the time personally unknown to me. Its purport was to tell me that, in consequence of the lamented death of Bishop Fulford, the Synod of Montreal had met in the previous November, and had failed to accomplish its object, namely, the election of a Chief Pastor for the Diocese, and a Metropolitan of the Province of Canada. Me informed me that the Synod would again meet in May, and asked if I would allow my name to be sent down by the Bishops, and whether, in. the event of being elected, I should be content to fill the office.

After due consideration, and prayer to that Heavenly Counsellor on whose guiding hand I could unreservedly depend, and after consulting two confidential friends whose judgment I valued, I sat down to write my answer. It was, that for reasons which I mentioned, I felt myself unfitted for so high and onerous an office; and begged him not to submit my name as a candidate for the post. I despatched my letter, convinced that I had acted rightly, according to the best of my judgment, and feeling that I was in the hands of One who could and would overrule it, if He saw fit.

Nearly two months passed, and Montreal with all the circumstances connected with it was almost forgotten; and certainly I never expected that my name would be even mentioned at the Synod after the decision I had come to, and which I had expressed in my letter. We were sitting at breakfast however one morning, in our sweet Kentish Rectory, when the postman brought my customary allowance of letters, and amongst them one with this startling address: 'The Rev. Ashton Oxenden, Bishop Elect of Montreal.'

I own it took me altogether by surprise. It informed me that my name had been duly suppressed by the assembled Bishops, in accordance with my wish, but that in the course of proceeding, circumstances arose which led to the mention of myself amongst that of others, by certain members of the Lower House; and eventually to my unanimous election.

Such were the contents of this most unexpected Letter from a friend then unknown to me, but whom I now regard as a beloved and valued Brother, the Bishop of Quebec.

What was to be done? I, of course, took counsel with my wife on a matter which so deeply concerned us both. To each of us our course seemed equally clear, and our duty plain; and never since has the conviction, on that day formed, once varied. Not one misgiving from that hour sprang up in our minds. A voice from above seemed to say, Go; and we had henceforth no doubt that such was the will of our Heavenly Father.

I will not weary my reader with all that occurred in quick succession during the next few weeks, and all the varied thoughts, which, flowing out as from a newly opened spring, rushed through our minds--the disclosure to our nearest friends of what had taken place, and of which they had not even a suspicion--the severance from a beloved flock, with whom I had been ministerially connected above twenty years--the rending of those family and social ties, which nature binds so strongly--the quitting a peaceful home and a beloved country--and the prospect of beginning life again in a new and unknown land. On these, both for my own and for my reader's sake, I refrain from dwelling.

Suffice it to say, that on Sunday, August 1st, 1869, I was consecrated in Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury and six assisting Bishops. And, having been thus solemnly set apart for my great and important work, I left the shores of England in the good ship 'Nestorian,' one of the fine Steamers on the Allan Line, commanded by Captain Aird, of whom I cannot speak with too much praise. Our party consisted of my wife, myself, our child, and four faithful English maid-servants. After a speedy and prosperous voyage of ten days, we reached Quebec a little after midnight, on August 29th, a few hours before the dawn of a Canadian Sunday morning.

After a disturbed night's rest on board the Steamer, we rose, and were greeted by a kind deputation of Clerical brethren belonging to the city, and also of two Rural Deans of my Diocese, who had come all the way from Montreal to bid us a hearty and true welcome. We soon found ourselves at home among strangers: and after refreshing ourselves at a comfortable hotel (the St. Louis), we prepared for Morning Service at the Cathedral, where we and several of our fellow-passengers gave public thanks to God for the many mercies of a safe and successful voyage. I assisted in the service, and preached in the evening.

We were delighted with the striking situation and beauty of Quebec--a quaint old town, very foreign, and perched on the side of a steep hill, commanding a glorious view of the river and of the surrounding country. We remained there till the following evening, and then proceeded by rail to Montreal, a distance of 180 miles.

By the way, I must mention a curious incident that occurred. On the night of our arrival at Quebec, I had retired to rest in our little cabin, and had fallen asleep, in spite of the trampling of feet and other indescribable noises in the ship, all of which seemed to concentre at our door, and were symptomatic of our having reached our port. Presently a loud rap was heard; and after much discussion on the outside, and a vain endeavour on my part to persuade the people that I was only half awake and did not wish to be disturbed, I was told that Mr. B----had sent his car, and hoped I would make use of it. Who Mr. B------was I did not know. I could only guess that he was the proprietor of the hotel who had kindly sent a conveyance for us; and so I begged to be allowed to rest quietly where I was till morning.

A few minutes after came another knock. It was in vain to close one's ears, or to refuse an entrance. I was told that a Deputation was waiting to receive me. It was rather a trying hour and place for so formal an interview; so I said it was impossible, and still pleaded, as I had done to Mr. B-----'s messenger, a desire not to be disturbed.

But to return to Mr. B------and his Car. When morning came, I learnt that Mr. B-----was not only a leading member of our Church, but was also a most important person at Montreal, on whom the destinies of the railroad depended, and one of the most intelligent, upright, and respected men in Canada; and that the Car spoken of, and which I in my English ignorance had mistaken for a Cab, was his own private railway travelling-carriage, which he had with very great courtesy and kindness invited us to make use of. But he was too sensible and kind a person to be offended, and repeated his welcome offer for Monday evening; and in that comfortable and luxurious carriage, we (that is, our seven selves and our two Rural Deans) steamed on to Montreal, arriving there at eight o'clock on Tuesday morning.

Our journey from Quebec, though under most propitious circumstances, was somewhat tedious. The train was far less expeditious than those we had been accustomed to in England, and the stoppages seemed to be needlessly protracted. The Grand Trunk is making rapid improvements; but still there is a lack of that smartness and regularity, which are met with on English lines. The stations are miserable; and there are no porters to help the passengers on their arrival, but each one is expected to shift for himself as best he can. I must say however that in my various railway trips, I have met, from officials and others, with as much courtesy and attention as could possibly be shown in any country.

The luggage system is well managed, and it is scarcely possible for any one to lose his baggage. Its safety is ensured by checks, given to the possessor, with corresponding numbers attached to the goods themselves. As a single line generally prevails in Canada, the trains are necessarily few and far between. The carriages, or cars, are long narrow conveyances, resembling in some respects our second-class compartments, but far more comfortable. There are only two grades of conveyance; the one in which the world in general travels, and the other which is only resorted to by those to whom cheapness is an object. In addition however to these, a new description of car has been introduced upon some of the lines, luxuriously furnished, and provided with every comfort for a night journey.

But to go back to our journey from Quebec. At St. Hilaire, Major C----, who is the possessor of one of the old Seigneuries, a warm-hearted Englishman, and a staunch friend of the Church, joined us, bidding us welcome to the neighbourhood of Montreal. On arriving at the Bonaventure Terminus, a large number of Clergy, with the venerable Dean at their head, were assembled to receive us; and with them were the leading Laymen of the city and neighbourhood. Their welcome was very touching, making us feel at once that we had come among friends, and that our new abode would soon prove a home to us.

The various introductions over, we drove up in Mrs. H----'s carriage, with the Dean and Mr. Hutton (the Diocesan Treasurer), to our residence in Drummond Street, which had been generously provided for us free of expense for the next eight months. Here we found every want anticipated, and every comfort supplied. The urn was even fizzing on the table, a delicious breakfast ready, and our larder and storeroom filled for weeks to come. I never ate a meal with feelings of greater thankfulness.

On the afternoon of the same day, an Address was presented to me in the Synod room from a large gathering of the leading Laymen, and another on the next day from the Clergy. These were followed by others--by the English Working Men's Society, and a week later by the Bishops of the Province, who were represented in person by the Bishops of Quebec and Huron, who had kindly travelled many miles to express their hearty welcome.

During the first few days we had little time to ourselves, for besides my more public engagements, our visitors vied with one another in testifying their hearty goodwill and kindness to us. Our hearts must have been dull indeed, if we could have mistaken these tokens of affection so sincerely offered to us.

On the first Sunday after our arrival, September 5th (having previously re-appointed as my chaplains the two clergymen who had filled that office under my predecessor), I was duly installed M the Cathedral, a building erected nine years ago, and of great beauty, worthy of the Metropolitan See of Canada. At the close of the service, I preached on the text, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here am I, Lord, send me.' I also preached in the evening to a large and attentive congregation.

And here ended the more public ceremonies connected with my entrance upon Episcopal life in Montreal--a life which I humbly trust may in some measure tend to the promotion of my Master's kingdom and glory.

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