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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 III. Visitations about the Diocese

MY first purely episcopal act was the consecration of the pretty little church at Como, a hamlet on the south bank of the Ottawa. This took place just a fortnight after our arrival in Canada.

The morning was lovely, though somewhat hazy. Our party, which numbered eight or ten, consisted of my wife and myself, my chaplain Mr. L-----, two other clergymen, their wives, and the Archdeacon of Ontario, who joined us on the way. We left Montreal by train for Lachine, where we took the steamer, and at twelve o'clock arrived at Como. We had been detained for nearly two hours by a river fog, and found the congregation waiting for us. The church is small, but very pretty, and in good taste. It is situated in a picturesque and peaceful spot near the river. The congregation was not large, but devout and orderly; and all seemed to enter warmly into our simple but beautiful Consecration Service. We afterwards, all of us, assembled at Mr. G-----'s house on the banks of the river. It was a happy day for us, and a still happier perhaps for our good and generous hosts, through whose exertions, and that of their neighbours, the little church had been erected.

Not one of our party was allowed to pay either for our voyage, or for our journey by rail. Such is the liberality one meets with in this country.

A week later, I went a little higher up the river, being anxious to seize the opportunity of fine weather for visiting this portion of my Diocese.

The Ottawa runs from north-west to south-east, uniting itself with the great St. Lawrence a few miles above Lachine. It is a splendid river of considerable width, but the navigation is occasionally impeded by rapids, so that the steamboat here and there leaves the river for a few miles of rail, or for a short canal. The scenery is generally picturesque, without reaching the standard of beauty: it lacks boldness and diversity of character. In the autumn however there is one feature peculiar to Canada, and very apparent here, namely, the crimson tint of the foliage. This effect is principally produced by the leaf of the maple-tree, which turns to a deeper and more vivid red than even our own Virginian Creeper.

But the maple-tree, which abounds in this country, has another excellency. It produces in the spring a valuable sugar, which exudes from the tree when tapped, and is much used in Canada. The maple sugar-season is quite an epoch in the year. It occurs in the early spring, when the first warm weather causes the sap to rise. An incision is then made in the bark, and the bleeding of the tree takes place. To make this operation perfectly successful, two or three morning frosts are needed at this crisis, which greatly facilitate the flow of sugar, and improve its taste. The fluid is boiled, and afterwards becomes solid, in which state it is mostly used; but it also makes a very pure and agreeable syrup.

But to return to my Visitation tour. It was but a short one this time, and I was quite alone. My first point was St. Andrews, a village on the opposite side to Como, being the principal parish in this part of the Diocese, from which the Deanery borrows its name.

At starting the day was wet, and I spent my time on board the steamer in preparing my sermon for the Cathedral on the following Sunday. We passed Como, which certainly had a less riant appearance than it had a week ago, caught a glimpse of the little church which will be ever dear to me as being the first-fruits of my Episcopal office, and reached St. Andrews about one o'clock. This place is only two miles distant from the river, and is one of the seven Rectories in the Diocese, constituted by royal patent.

The worthy rector, Mr. L------, is the rural dean. A service was held that evening in his church, and, in spite of bad weather, about a hundred and thirty persons were present, and I preached to attentive hearers. Next morning, after breakfast, Mr. L------drove me along a roughish road to Grenville; I enjoyed my drive, though it was none of the smoothest. The constant glimpses of the Ottawa were very pretty, and my companion extremely agreeable.

At Grenville we had Service on our arrival, and slept at the parsonage, the owner of which, Mr. N------, is brother to one of my old Pluckley parishioners.

At these Parsonages, which are less luxurious than those in England, one always meets with a most kind and warm reception. The clergy have usually but a very limited income, seldom exceeding 600 dollars, or 120l. sterling, and often less. Frequently their household concerns are carried on without the aid of a servant; and even the horse, which is a needful appendage to a missionary's establishment, is looked after by the clergyman himself, or one of his family.

After a short drive to the river, I proceeded alone by steamer to Ottawa. This mode of travelling is very agreeable both in good and bad weather. The vessels are clean, roomy, and convenient. The meals on board are nicely managed, and the food excellent. The proprietors and officials moreover are unusually civil and obliging. All this makes a day onboard a pleasure instead of a weariness.

We arrived late at Ottawa, where I was received by Mr. J------, the Incumbent of Hull, which is in my Diocese, whereas Ottawa itself is in the Diocese of Ontario. There was a room full of ladies and gentlemen in the evening to meet me.

The next morning there was Service at eleven o'clock at Hull. The little church is one of the prettiest in Canada, new and in excellent taste. There was a good congregation and a nice warm service. I preached as usual. We then returned to Ottawa, dined, and walked out to see the Houses of Parliament.

Ottawa is strikingly situated on a rocky eminence, overhanging the river. The new Government buildings which crown the hill are a beautiful and substantial group, lately erected at a vast expense. The town itself is poor and unfinished. Indeed it will take years before it can present an appearance worthy of its position as the seat of the Dominion Government.

In the afternoon Mr. J------drove me to Aylmer, a distance of eight miles, along an excellent road. Here, again, a Service had been announced, and a fair congregation was assembled. Mr. S--, the incumbent, is a St. Augustine's man. After service we drove back to Ottawa, had some tea, and went to bed.

At six o'clock next morning I was on board my favourite steamer on my return to Montreal, which I reached about five o'clock, having passed five very successful days.

After a day's rest at Montreal, and preaching at the Cathedral, I started again on Monday, September 27th, on another short Confirmation tour with my chaplain, Mr. L------. The weather had become cold, and I was not feeling very well. The first place we visited was Hemmingford, which we reached by train, thirty miles from Montreal; and there the rural dean, Mr. D------, met us and joined us in our tour. The incumbent, Mr. M------, was a young deacon who had formerly belonged to the Presbyterian Church. An open log-fire, a rather unusual luxury, greeted us on our arrival. This was no small comfort, and around it we gathered gladly. At night I suffered a great deal from the sudden change of the weather; for it had become exceedingly cold.

The Church was half a mile off, and thither we repaired in the morning, and found a good congregation, and twenty-five candidates. This was my first opportunity of performing the rite of Confirmation. I addressed them for a few minutes before the laying on of hands; and then invited the congregation to join me in silent prayer. I confirmed each one singly, coming up one by one, which had a solemn effect. And I then preached from St. Matthew, ix. 9. There was also an Adult Baptism, which was very striking in its connexion with Confirmation, and preparatory to it.

It was my birthday, and I was greatly interested in this my first Confirmation, which I conducted ever after on' nearly the same plan-addressing the candidates for five minutes before the question is put-having a very short, silent prayer--laying hands on each severally--and then, when the service is completed, preaching an unwritten sermon to the congregation generally, but more pointedly to the confirmed.

After service, Mr. D------drove me fifteen miles to Russeltown, where I slept. I was very cold, but they kindly put up the winter stove, and made a fire in my bedroom.

Next morning there was a Service at ten at Havelock, one of Mr. F------'s churches, and twenty-five candidates. At Franklin, four miles on, we had a second service, but no Confirmation; and I consecrated the Burial-ground. We then returned to Mr. F------'s house, where I passed a second night.

We proceeded in the morning to Hinchingbrook. The road was considered to be a good one, but I thought it very rough; and it certainly tried the springs of our waggon and the strength of my back. At Hinchingbrook we had service, with twelve candidates-the congregation small.

Another kind person drove us on to Huntingdon for afternoon Service. The readiness with which one is driven from place to place is very striking. No difficulty is ever raised, and no one seems to grudge the use of his carriage if he possesses one, but it is forthcoming as a matter of course; and I have never on any tour found it necessary to hire a conveyance. It does indeed compensate for many inconveniences to meet with such invariable and freely offered goodwill on the part of both clergy and laity.

At Huntingdon I found a nice little parsonage-house, furnished with great taste and comfort by Mr. and Mrs. E-----. And here we had a crammed Church and thirty-five candidates. Two ladies had come from the States, twenty-five miles off, having read some of my books. A few of the leading parishioners assembled at the parsonage in the evening.

The next day was the close of my present tour. About ten miles brought us to Durham, where we had a Confirmation at ten, in a tolerably filled church. There were twenty-seven candidates.

After refreshing us with dinner, Mr. B------, the incumbent, kindly drove us twenty-five miles along a jolting road to the Indian village of Caughnawaga, from which we crossed the Ottawa, and reached home late at night. Our drive, though rough and long, was pleasant. It was over a good deal of what is called corduroy road, that is to say, a road formed by trees laid across as the foundation. This causes constant ridges like corduroy cloth, and there is a perpetual bumping, which cannot be avoided. Occasional holes in the road are bad enough; but these unseen furrows, which are just concealed by the mud, are still more dislocating.

Thus ended very happily my first Confirmation Tour. All was new to me, the services, the country, the mode of travelling, &c. But I was most thankful to have accomplished it, and not a little rejoiced to reach home and find all well, and myself none the worse for my journey and labours.

After the refreshment of a quiet Sunday, and preaching at St. Stephen's to a crowded congregation, I went next day, October the 4th, by the four o'clock train to Lacolle, a distance of forty miles, where Mr. L----- met me and took me to his parsonage. At one of the stations at which we stopped, a very old man, with silvery hair, came into the railway-carriage, lantern in hand, and asking me if I was the 'Lord Bishop,' he said he had come to welcome me, having been himself eighty years in Canada. These little traits of courtesy and goodwill are something more than mere formalities, and are cheering to a new comer into a strange land.

Next morning we had our Confirmation service, and eighteen candidates, with a fair congregation, considering a deluge of rain. The evening train having been taken off, I was detained a second night at Lacolle.

I returned to Montreal for a few hours, and was off again in the afternoon for St. Remi. The parsonage being at a distance from the station, I was entertained by Mr. D-----, a wealthy farmer of the place, who, with his wife, showed me true kindness and hospitality, inviting three or four of their neighbours to meet me in the evening.

The next morning, Mr. S------, the clergyman, drove me to his little church (the smallest in the Diocese), where we had a thin congregation, and only two candidates. We then went on to the parsonage, which was close to Mr. S-----'s second church, where we had an afternoon service and fourteen candidates. I returned to Montreal the same evening, and reached my home at eleven o'clock, very tired. The rough roads, constant change of quarters, &c. are rather trying; but all these are nothing when one is in the pleasant path of duty, and engaged in the service of a loving Master.

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