Project Canterbury

My First Year in Canada

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

London: Hatchards, 1871.

Chapter IV. A Visitation Tour Higher up the Ottawa

ON the day after my return from St. Remi, Oct. 9th, an event took place which caused a great sensation among the community of Montreal--the arrival of H.R.H. Prince Arthur, who had come to join his regiment, the Rifle Brigade, and to spend the winter in Canada. He was enthusiastically welcomed by the Mayor and Corporation, and conducted to his residence amidst general rejoicing. I asked permission to pay my respects to him on the following day with the Dean, when we were graciously received by him.

I may truly say that no person ever created more interest, made fewer enemies, and more real friends, than our young English Prince. The unselfishness of his character, his desire to please, which was unceasing and not forced, the invariable uprightness of his conduct, his happy way of doing and saying always the right thing, made his presence like a sunbeam among us, and produced great happiness wherever he went. Both he and his suite made an impression during their stay in Montreal which will never be effaced. In his household there was no display; but a quiet, refined, and royal tone pervaded the whole of the arrangements.

The next day, Saturday, I had a whole holiday. On Sunday I preached at the Cathedral and at St. James's; and on Monday, October 11th, I left home with my wife on another expedition up the Ottawa, with a view of going higher up the river this time, and visiting three stations at the further extent of my Diocese to the north-east.

The day was delightful, the tints most lovely, and the steamer very comfortable. My good friend, Mr. L------, the rural dean, joined us at Carillon, and remained with us for four days. We reached Ottawa in the evening, but pushed on to Aylmer, where we slept, as the Upper Ottawa boat starts from thence.

Tuesday, October 12th, we left at seven for Onslow; but to our dismay, instead of finding a nice, clean, comfortable vessel, we had to put up with a dirty little tug-boat, rigged out for the occasion, as the regular packet was undergoing a thorough refitting for Prince Arthur, who was expected in these parts in a day or two. This detracted somewhat from the comfort of our voyage.

When on the Ottawa the scene is often enlivened by the appearance of a huge raft which comes in sight. These rafts bring down the sawn. timber from the mills at Ottawa and elsewhere, which is eventually shipped either for England or for the United States. They are of an enormous size, and are composed of timber bound together by clamps of wood into a solid stage, and generally so constructed as to be subdivided into two or three compartments, in case of a storm. On one of these rafts are sometimes erected four or five wooden houses, the dwellings of the raftsmen. These floating islands drop down the stream, and are guided by long oars. The lumber of which they are composed has probably travelled some hundred miles from the forest in the interior.

The life of the shanty-men, who fell the timber, is a very peculiar one. Being engaged by the lumber merchants, they go up in the month of October or November in regular gangs to certain localities in the Bush, previously untrodden by the feet of men. There they establish themselves during the long winter; and the trees which they fell are dragged out over the snow by oxen or horses, and then floated down the river to the sawmills.

These hardy men meet with many privations; but they live well, having plenty of good beef and pork to support them. They are restricted, however, from the use of spirits, and indulge in no stronger drink than tea, with an abundance of which they are liberally supplied; and the quality, I am told, is excellent.

The shanties are temporary wooden buildings, each one holding from twenty to thirty persons. They are divided into two compartments--the one for cooking, and the other for eating and sleeping; the latter being usually furnished with two tiers of berths.

An occasional Missionary visits these shanties, attracted there by a desire to carry the glad and welcome tidings of the Gospel; and if he comes in a right spirit, he is pretty sure to meet with a kind and warm reception. Three of our Clergy have volunteered to devote a week or two to this self-denying service in the coming winter. But I hope the time will come when our Church will be able to employ two regular travelling Missionaries, whose time shall be entirely occupied in going from shanty to shanty during the winter months. We need special funds for the purpose; but I cannot help trusting that the means will be supplied for so blessed an object.

We landed at Onslow about ten o'clock, a pretty missionary station amidst the woods. The clergyman was Mr. B------, who had visited us at Pluckley before leaving England. He and a brother clergyman received us at the landing-place, and drove us to the parsonage. Service was at three o'clock, but rain had come on, and greatly thinned our congregation. There were only five candidates, On the same evening we had a Missionary Meeting at seven o'clock.

These missionary meetings are very unlike ours in England. In the first place, they are usually held in the Churches, for want of room elsewhere. And then the object is not so much missionary work among the heathen, as the support of the Church in the Diocese. This causes a little flatness, and a lack of that stirring life and interest, which marks some of our Parish missionary gatherings at home. I cannot but think that our Church in Canada, needy as she is, would have a larger blessing if she did more for our brethren in distant lands.

We left next morning early, October I3th, in Mr. R------'s waggon for Clarendon, a distance of sixteen miles. The drive interested us a good deal, as the scene was new to us, the country through which we passed being only half cleared. Of this kind of country we have had many specimens since. We passed through some miles of pure Bush or natural wood-land, the trees being chiefly maple, pine, ash, and hemlock, the bark of which latter is greatly used here for tanning purposes. Then at intervals we came to an open space with a Log-House erected in it by some recent settler. The clearances are made either by cutting down the trees, or, more commonly, by burning them. But the stumps are allowed to remain about three feet above the ground, presenting the appearance of a huge graveyard. The custom is to leave these stumps for several years till they are fairly rotted, as the expense of grubbing them in their sound state would be ruinous. My wife much enjoyed the drive, and I should have enjoyed it too, for our friends were very pleasant and agreeable, and we had two good horses which carried us along famously, but I was a little out of order, and the morning was chilly. Halfway however we got my indian-rubber foot-warmer filled at a cottage, which nearly set me right again.

When we arrived at Clarendon, the Church-bell had been ringing for some little time, and the people were all assembled for service. The church has little to recommend it; but the largeness and earnestness of the congregation made up for all that was wanting, and our hearts were warmed and our spirits cheered by the hearty service. Fifty-two were presented for Confirmation, several of whom were grown-up persons; and this is often the case in Canada.

In the evening we had a Missionary Meeting, which partook of the same character as that on the previous evening. In each case the Clergy were all in surplices, and spoke from the Chancel.

October 14.--Off at nine o'clock for Portage du Fort. A 'Portage' is, properly speaking, a road by the river's side, where there is a rapid. But it is often used, I believe, for other roads as well. Our party had now swelled to the number of ten persons, namely, my wife and self, Mr. and Mrs. R------and others of their family, Mr. L------, our rural dean, and Mr. K------, a clergyman from Thorne. An agreeable drive through a half-cleared country, much like that of yesterday, brought us to Portage du Fort. Here again the people were all assembled, but the congregation was small. There were thirteen candidates for Confirmation. It was rather a mixed service, as I had appointed the day as .a general Harvest Thanksgiving day throughout the Diocese before I had arranged my Visitation tour. This interfered somewhat with the distinctness of the service. Mr. G-----, I grieve to say, has since left the parish and Diocese for a post in the States.

Soon after daybreak our kind host and hostess, and the rural dean, walked down with us to the river, and there left us on board our steamer. Again we had to put up with an inferior boat, the regular one being detained for the Prince, who had meanwhile gone a little higher up the river. But our Captain was most civil and obliging, and gave us up his nice airy cabin on deck, which was a refreshing change from the saloon below. A part of this journey was performed in a somewhat novel manner. Half-way between Portage and Onslow is a rapid over which the steamer cannot pass. This interval is supplied by a wooden railway. Over this line, which is three miles long, we were drawn by two horses tandem. In portions of it, the little railway spans a deep ravine, and as there is no parapet fence, it was rather a strain upon one's nerves. However they assured us that never yet had a single accident occurred; and so we were content.

On reaching Aylmer, Mr. J------ met us, and drove us to his house at Ottawa. As however we were to make an early start on the following morning, we thought it wiser to sleep on board, and were quite glad to find ourselves once more in our favourite steamer. The next day we descended the river, and reached home in good time the same evening.

Our trip had now come to a happy close, and it was time that we should cease our travellings for the present year. The weather was fine, but it had become cold, and there was a taste of autumn in the air.

It is clear that more Clergymen are needed in the district of the Upper Ottawa. The present staff is overtaxed, and is not sufficient to occupy the ground open to us, and these few are miserably paid. Additional men are wanted, and more money. I am determined, if possible, to obtain the latter, and God will, I believe, provide the former to meet our requirements. I made with my wife yet one more excursion, and then we shut up for the winter. This was to Dunham, where I was anxious to attend a Ruri-decanal meeting.

We started on Saturday, October 23rd, in a torrent of rain from the Montreal station for Stanbridge, where Mr. S-----, the rural dean, sent his brougham to meet us, a luxurious mode of conveyance not often met with here. But, alas, we discovered, on leaving the train, that our luggage had been left behind at St. John's! And how could a Bishop show himself on Sunday without his Episcopal attire? There was no other train due before Monday morning. However we telegraphed; and fortune favoured us, for there happened to be a special freight train just starting, which brought us our lost luggage, and gladdened our hearts. I preached at Bedford in the morning, and at Frelighsburg, ten miles off, in the evening, sleeping at Mr. D-----'s rectory.

Next morning, 25th, we went on to Dunham, where about twenty clergymen were assembled, and fourteen churchwardens. The meeting took place in the underground basement of the church, which was warmed nearly to boiling heat. The Rural Dean was in the chair. The meeting lasted about three hours, when we adjourned for tea and evening service.

There was vigour in this meeting, and more than an average measure of intelligence, but a painful lack of gentleness and moderation among the speakers, which marred its effect. In the evening I preached on the love of Christ. There was a church full of people, and the service was very calming.

I woke next morning with a terrible cold, which had been coming on for some days. This was not improved by the snow which we found upon the ground on looking out of our window, nor by an early walk to church, where we received the Holy Communion together. This however was a blessed preparation for our adjourned meeting after breakfast, when a much better spirit showed itself, and such a Christian tone as made me leave Dunham with feelings of thankfulness. We returned to Bedford, had some tea at Mr. S------'s, and got home to Montreal by ten o'clock.

The chief subjects discussed at the meeting were the mode of raising funds for our Church work, and the best means of dealing with the younger members of our body, which latter subject led to the formation of an organised Church Association for the various parishes in the diocese.

The Ruri-decanal system was also a subject that cropped up two or three times at the meeting. I find the office of Rural Dean somewhat unpopular in the Diocese, and especially in these parts. But being an important organisation in the Church, and one that is likely to be very helpful to myself, I feel unwilling hastily to abandon it. I have therefore somewhat modified the system by requesting the clergy in the several deaneries to nominate for my approval one of their own choice, and also by limiting the term of office to three years, and, further, by carefully defining the rural dean's powers. With these changes I trust that the system will yet work well, and prove useful in the Diocese. It is surely very important that any changes which may be needful in the various missions should pass through the local board of the deanery, and receive their sanction, before being finally adopted; and if a rural deanery is necessary, there must be an officer at the head of it.

Though pleased with our visit to the eastern townships, we were thankful to get home, for there was a decided change in the weather, and it was time to get into our winter shell. If the reader has grown tired of my travels, he may console himself by knowing that I was fairly tired out also.

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