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 V. Short Trips in Cold Weather

DURING November, and the five following months, I considered myself debarred from regular Visitations in the Diocese on account of the weather. I was able however to make an occasional short expedition, and chiefly by railroad.

One of them was a visit to Chambly, where Mr. W------, who had been my fellow-labourer at Pluckley up to the time of my coming out to Canada, had lately accepted a post; and I was anxious to see the nature of his charge, and to become acquainted with his flock. I went to inaugurate a course of weekly Advent services. We slept one night there, and a bitter night it was, at the house of General W------, one of his kind and hospitable parishioners: the thermometer was much below zero. I found the congregation small, the place having known better days when it was a military station.

Ten days later, December 11th, I made a tedious railway journey of six hours to Lennoxville, to attend a Corporation meeting at the College.

The Building is handsome and in excellent taste, and it has every advantage which the healthiness and beauty of its position can give. But both the College, and also the School attached to it, have lately been in a depressed state, and much need a revival. The chief reason why the Institution has lost the confidence of Churchmen here, is that it has earned the character (somewhat unjustly perhaps) of nurturing extreme opinions in its students. This however there is at present a great desire to rectify. At the time of my visit the Rector of the school was on the point of leaving, and another has been since appointed, who is likely to give general confidence, and to restore the school to the popularity it certainly deserves.

At the College a good classical education is given, and degrees are conferred. A theological department is also connected with it. But its distance from Montreal is a great disadvantage; and as a Training Institution for our students it is therefore not satisfactory. It is just within the Quebec Diocese, the Bishop and myself being joint visitors.

The next day was given to business; and there was a large party at the Rector's in the evening.

On the following morning Dr. N------, the Principal, drove me to Sherbrook, where I attended an important missionary meeting, the Bishop of Quebec in the chair. The Town-hall was completely full, and the meeting interesting. They received me most kindly; but I fear that many must have been a little disappointed by the lameness and meagreness of my address.

After a very wearying railway journey, the train being constantly impeded by the snow, I reached Montreal six hours after time! The cars are usually heated to a fearful temperature by a stove at either end, and scarcely any escape is allowed for the vitiated air. For this reason I much dislike Canadian railway travelling in winter.

Later in January I passed a Sunday at St. John's, once a garrisoned town, and still a place of some importance, about twenty-five miles from Montreal. My wife accompanied me. St. John's and six other places in the Diocese were constituted rectories by Royal Patent in the reign of George III. They still retain their rank, but enjoy no other advantages arising from their dignified nomenclature, except it be that the nomination of the clergyman is with the parishioners, subject to the approval of the Bishop.

Mr. D-----, the rector, greeted us at the station, and had a large party of his parishioners to meet us in the evening. This plan gives one an excellent opportunity of becoming acquainted with the Church people in the different parishes, and they seem much to like it.

We had a wet Sunday, but good congregations both here and also at Christieville, a pretty village over the river, where we went for afternoon Service-At the latter place the church was crowded, many having come from St. John's, where the Service was suspended for the occasion.

Next day, January 24th, we went to Sebrevois, a missionary Institution, ten miles from St. John's.

Mr. M,------ drove us in his comfortable sleigh and pair, and Mr. M'G------ and a large party followed. The country is rather low, and had been completely flooded; the consequence was that the road was one continuous sheet of ice, over which our sleighs glided most joyously. As an evidence of the severity of the weather, I observed, as we went along, that a fringe of ice had formed upon the eyelashes of one of our fair companions.

Sebrevois is supported partly by the Colonial Church Society, and partly by local subscriptions; and has been, and still is, extremely useful. It is in the midst of a French-speaking population; and consists of a large school, containing about fifty boys and girls, chiefly French Canadians, a few of whom are Roman Catholics. There is also a church which is a rallying point for the few Protestants in the neighbourhood. I subsequently confirmed twenty-eight persons, and was greatly pleased with the intelligence and Christian spirit which evidently prevailed there.

We had Morning Service; the Litany being read in French; the singing half French and half English; and my sermon, which of course was English, although understood by most of the audience, was repeated in French by Mr. L-----, at least the substance of it. We afterwards dined at the simple parsonage--about twenty of us--and then returned to St. John's, and home to Montreal, thanking God for what we had seen and heard. The expedition had been a satisfactory one, and we had enjoyed it much.

Early in the following month I had engaged myself to be at Waterloo, but was forced to put off my visit by telegram, on account of the inclemency of the weather, and the drifts of snow which had blocked up the line of railway.

I started however a few days later, hearing that the line was clear. The two Mr. L------s met me on my arrival, and we hastened off to church, for which I was a little late, in consequence of the stoppage of the train. There was a capital congregation in a most unecclesiastical-looking building, which I am happy to say they are soon to vacate for a handsome Church, which the parishioners are building at a considerable cost and with much taste. On my return to the parsonage I found the house filled with about forty visitors, who had been invited to meet me. There is something very primitive and genial in these gatherings of the church people around their Bishop, and it makes one feel that the Office is appreciated.

The next day was bright and beautiful; but the thermometer was lower than on any day in the winter--nearly thirty degrees below zero. It is remarkable how little one feels this excessive cold, so long as there is an absence of wind. The dry-ness of the air makes it bearable.

In the afternoon we drove to South Stukeley, where we had an Evening Service, to which the people were summoned without much notice. I of course preached according to invariable custom. Indeed, I have clone so at every service that I have attended on my tours, with one exception: and I am sometimes almost a marvel to myself, preaching for two or three days successively without any great fatigue. I never could have clone this in England; but God has strengthened me for the work He has given me to do. He docs indeed fit the back for the burden it has to carry.

Our drive back to Waterloo was very pleasant, It was a thorough Canadian night, the moon and stars wondrously bright, and the snow perfectly clean and white. Mr. A------, the Incumbent, is a good man; but in very weak health, and greatly needing rest. He and his wife suffer many privations, chiefly resulting from insufficiency of salary, and from the difficulty in this country of getting a servant. This is no solitary case among the clergy; and for their uncomplaining and cheerful acceptance of this state of things one cannot but greatly admire them.

I returned home by train next morning to Montreal. A very early start was needful; and my kind hostess, knowing my chilly nature, and mindful of my comfort, took good care that I should not leave her roof cold or breakfastless. Long before dawn I was awakened by a white figure flitting noiselessly into my room with hot coals and wood; and in a few short seconds, before, as she hoped, I could wake up, she had lighted my fire and disappeared. She little knew that, in the kindness of her heart, she had effectually roused me, and had thus shortened my night's rest, though she had certainly won my warmest gratitude.

Two more excursions were made this winter. One of these was to Mascouche, which is a village about twenty-five miles from Montreal, on Saturday, February 13th. This time, also, I had the comfort of my wife's company. Mr. G------, the clergyman of Mascouche, came to fetch us in his sleigh. On leaving our house we met the Prince taking one of his early drives to the Barracks. It was always a pleasure to meet him, and he had a genial word or two to help us on our journey. We stopped at St. Vincent de Paul on our way, where we dined, and I held a Confirmation for the prisoners in the Reformatory. At the time of my visit, there were 130 in the Prison, a small minority of whom were Protestants, under the care of Mr. A------, the Chaplain. I inspected the building with the Warden, who kindly lionized me over it, and showed me great civility. The convicts were ranged in the yard for our review, and I was much struck with their appearance, for crime had sadly left its stamp on most of their countenances. Six were presented for Confirmation. I spoke kindly to them, and felt much for them, knowing that if any of them were at all impressed for good they would indeed stand a poor chance among such companions.

We had about twelve miles on to Mascouche, over a bleak country with snow and high wind in our faces. However, we arrived safe and sound at Mr. G------'s parsonage, where a little party met us, consisting of the Squire of the place, Mr. P-----, and his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. B------, who had lately come from England, and established themselves there.

The next day was Sunday, and a bright, clear, cold day it was, the snow lying thick and crisp upon the ground. We had a nice Morning Service, and in the Afternoon we went to Terrebonne church, a simple wooden building six miles off.

On Monday we had planned a longish expedition, to visit the Missions of New Glasgow, twelve miles off, and Kilkenny eight miles beyond. A fall of snow however alarmed the ladies, and they stayed behind. Mr. P------drove us in his tandem sleigh, and a most severe drive we had; so much so, that we were forced to abandon all thoughts of getting beyond New Glasgow. We had service there, and I preached as well as I was able, my teeth chattering with cold. The church is dreary and barn-like, and the Mission in rather a broken and forlorn condition. After dining at Mr. G------'s, one of the Churchwardens, we again mounted our sleighs. The snow was deep, and the road but indistinctly marked, so that for a great part of the way we were forced to travel at a foot's pace.

On the whole, it was the roughest and most trying expedition that I have made. The scene was very striking, with a sheet of snow on all sides; and the sleigh and our fur robes made it thoroughly Canadian. The fact however of the Bishop driving up to the church-door in a tandem, was thought nothing of in this land of sleighs, and snow, and necessities. Had it not been for my admirable fur coat and cap, the gifts of my dear Sisters in England, also a thick cape and a capuchin hood over all, with my wife's 'Cloud' closely covering my face, and acting as a respirator, I could not have borne the cold. The skill too of our charioteer made me feel quite safe.

We dined that evening with Mr. P------, who sent his Traineau to fetch us, and to take us back to the parsonage. These traineaux, which are intended only to carry wood, are capital rustic conveyances for a party. They are capable of holding almost an unlimited number; there are no seats, all being obliged to stand, and hold on as best they can. We much enjoyed our short drive, as the night was beautiful and the weather warmer.

Mr. P------drove us the next day in his comfortable sleigh, with good horses, to Montreal. Mr. G------ and Mr. and Mrs. B------ accompanying us as far as Terrebonne.

My last winter Visitation of any importance was a four days' tour, on which I started by train at seven o'clock on Saturday, March 5th. I left home with rather a heavy heart; but the day was bright and fine. Mr. S------, a layman, met me at the station, and went with me as far as St. Hyacinthe, where we had a Missionary Meeting, he and I being the only speakers. He then left me; and I went on by train to Acton, where I slept at Mr. W-----'s parsonage. Mr. H-----, a farmer, from Boscobel, had come to meet me, according to his kind promise, and to convey me next morning to the Mission in which he is interested, consisting of Boscobel, North Ely, and Roxton Falls. This Mission was at the time without a pastor, and he had urged me so strongly to visit it, that I could not refuse, though I rather dreaded the journey.

Early on Sunday morning, Mr. H------was at the door with his sleigh, and we drove together to North Ely, a bad road, through a rough and only partially cleared country. He had two little Canadian horses. These are most serviceable animals, and just suited to the rough roads and inclement weather; they are very active, sure-footed, and endurant, and will stand being tied up in any cold place, according to the custom of the country. They are about fourteen hands high, and rather ungainly in their appearance, with narrow chests; but they trot away at a famous pace, and are very handy and understanding, being treated quite as friends of the family. The harness is usually of rather an uncared-for type, but light and useful.

Mr. W------, the Acton clergyman, most kindly followed in his sleigh, in order to assist me in the service. After a pretty good jolting along a road of fourteen miles, we suddenly turned a corner in the midst of the Bush, and came upon a most picturesque scene. There was the humble school-house in which our service was to be held, with about twenty sleighs and horses all round it, and the greater part of the congregation assembled at the door in their buffalo coats and furs, ready for the Service. Some of the horses were tied to posts or trees, and some perfectly loose, but standing most quietly until they were required. It snowed a little, but the day was not cold. Our horses shared with the rest, being tied up without the slightest shelter, after their three hours' drive. The whole scene outside the school-house had the appearance of a fair.

On entering the room I found a scorching stove, and the temperature up to about 70°; and as there were double windows, and no aperture for the ingress of fresh air, and the place was crammed full, I began to fear lest we should be stifled. So, after making a few signals of distress, I got them to open the door and give our lungs a chance, The good people had decorated the school with fir-boughs and strips of coloured paper, so that it had the appearance of a series of German trees.

Mr. W------, who knew the congregation to be a motley one, made up of all denominations, wisely brought with him a number of Prayer-books, and gave out the page when he passed from one prayer to another. Thus we had a nice, simple, earnest service; and I preached from St. John, iii. 3, cheering them with the assurance that I would do my best to find them a clergyman, which I have since done. I humbly hope that God may have blest my words.

Mr. W------then left me for his own Evening Service; and Mr. H------ drove me on to his home, eight miles off, where we dined. In the evening we had another Service at Boscobel, Mr. L------, from Waterloo, having at some inconvenience come over to help us. Mr. O------, a lay-Reader and a good man, was for the time in charge of the Mission.

My host drove me next morning back to Acton, a distance of twelve miles; and from thence I went to Upton, and on to Lennoxville on College business.

My visit to Ely and Boscobel was very satisfactory, as it gave me an insight into one of our roughest Missions, and the people had expressed a great wish to have me among them. Mr. H-----, at whose house I slept, is a well-to-do farmer, who came out to Canada some thirty years ago. By his shrewdness and energy he has risen in the world, and has now a nice house and a considerable property, living in quite a patriarchal manner with his children and grandchildren all gathered around him. To each of his sons he has given a piece of land, which they work themselves. He has also living under his roof a faithful old servant, who has been with him twenty years, and is content to labour on with his master, although he has saved enough to make himself independent. When in England he had been a travelling musician, and had given way to intemperance; but during the twenty years of his Canadian life he has been a sober and respectable man, as well as a most faithful helper to his master.

On the morning of my departure from Mr. H------'s we breakfasted at seven; and the mother and three sons appeared in their ordinary working dress. The father had specially desired this, he told me; for though he wished to do honour to his guest, he wanted to show me how they lived, and that work was the rule with all.

I was glad, as I always am, to reach home, and specially glad to have accomplished such a feat as a winter visit to Ely and Boscobel, and felt myself none the worse for all the bumping, and jolting, and other experiences to which I had been subject.

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