Project Canterbury

The Church on the Prairie

By H. H. Montgomery, D.D.

[London:] Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1910.

Chapter I. The Problem Stated

It is possible in the year 1908 to form a fair general impression of the problem which faced our Church in the prairie regions of Western Canada three or four years ago; and we surely should have much to say of the manner in which we have met it.

No book, of course, can effect for the reader what a personal visit does. We are coming to realise this more and more. Indeed, I believe one of the chief factors in the success of the Student Volunteer Movement has been the possession of Mr. Mott as a persistent inspector of the world's mission fields, ever on the move, and gifted with the double power of grasping details as well as of taking broad views. So few can see both the wood and the trees.

Let us take an example from the other side, that is from a policy dictated without sufficient local knowledge in the Committee though I am not prepared to blame the Committee on this ground. In 1896 the S.P.G. had determined to cut down all Canadian grants by 10 per cent, annually till our grants ceased; [It is only fair to say that such reductions were mitigated by special grants at the same time, including "Marriott grants" towards church building.] they held that a great independent daughter Church [1/2] such as that in Canada ought to become responsible for all its own work without external aid. Ideally I find no fault with this position. But I venture to say that it would have been impossible to have adhered to that resolution if the Secretary of the Society had paid a visit to Canada in 1898. The Secretary of the Society did go to Canada, but not before 1906. There he found the Secretary of the Colonial and Continental Church Society also busy inspecting. The opinions of the two Secretaries given independently coincided on the general question. In effect it was as the following pages will show.

No one who has not visited Western Canada can realise the extraordinary nature of the problem with which Statesmen and Churchmen are suddenly confronted there. After years of slow progress in Eastern Canada, which looked upon the Western regions as mere hunting-grounds for fur-bearing creatures, these plains are to become the great food-producing regions of the world. The whole extent of a country 1,000 miles by at least 400 is to be dotted with farms. It is not as in the case of mining rushes where population gathers thickly in certain spots and as quickly disappears when minerals are exhausted or cannot be procured economically.

A mining population is no safe national asset. But this prairie region is to be covered with small farms; the farmers are to be peasant proprietors; the Government do not desire speculators to come in and buy up square miles of land and hold it till it becomes valuable. They like to sell land in small amounts [2/3] of 160 acres, for which you only pay ten dollars, and on certain conditions. You must come personally and live on your land, and you must do a certain amount of work on it for three successive years, then the Government will give it you; and after that you can do what you like with what is your own land. As a rule, the only people from whom you can buy virgin land on the prairie are the railways and the Hudson's Bay Company. Both of these corporations have had land given them in return for great benefits received. The tens of thousands of farmers could not have lived at all or have sold their produce had not the railways been pressed in every way by inducements from the Government to push on their lines.

Here, then, was a vast region almost clear of trees, ready to be given away to men who would settle on the land. News of this wonderful region was circulated in all the countries of Europe, and inducements were offered to all to give Canada, what it needed more than anything else, population. Canada hoped to obtain English-speaking immigrants more than any others and after our own kith and kin it desired Scandinavians and Germans; but all who were able to work on the land were welcome. So the rush to Western Canada began; what it has amounted to may be realised by a few figures. On 12th May, 1907 the Empress of Ireland landed at Quebec 1,500 third-class passengers; the Lake Manitoba, 1,800; the Lake Michigan, 2,100; the Pretorian, 500; the Tunisian, 1,500; the Kensington, 1,200; the Parisian, 763. In [3/4] one day 9,336 immigrants landed, most of whom were going West. In the first four months of 1907, 80,000 persons came into Canada, and 300,000 in all for the year were expected. Of these a large percentage are from the British Isles; a good many come from the States; a certain number are Canadians returning from the States to their own land which now offers them all the advantages they need. What would not South Africa give for only one month of this rush of white men!

The Government has strained every effort to provide the newcomers with roads, railways, schools, post offices, and all the necessities of civilisation. What has the Church done? Our own Church, a small body in Canada and not wealthy, has felt itself almost paralysed by this sudden responsibility. It did what it could; it had created one Board of Missions for all Canada with a very capable and active secretary, Dr. Tucker; it assessed all parishes in Eastern Canada for the sake of providing ministrations in the West, but it was hopelessly outclassed in its efforts by other religious bodies. Roman Catholics, Wesleyans, Presbyterians poured money and men on to these new regions. Often where one of our men was at work I found seven or eight ministers of other denominations. There may not have been any members of their own denomination in the district, but that made no difference to the ministers; they were there as ministers to all who would receive them, and I honour them for their missionary zeal towards our own people, towards whom we have not done our duty.

[5] Any one who knows the course of events in new lands under such conditions will be able to realise what began to happen all over these new regions. Little churches began to spring up but not built by us; regular ministrations were carried on, children were baptised, but not by our clergy. When at length our own clergyman or catechist appeared he was told that it was too late; there was no room for a second church, the people were now content with the ministrations of those who had first come to them. So it came to pass that among these prairie farms there began to appear the same condition of things as obtained years ago in Eastern Canada. I speak of the old days when clergy came to Eastern Canada without, it must be confessed, much, if any, missionary spirit. They came as rectors of town parishes; they settled in townships and were not prepared to trouble themselves about the outlying parts. The result in many a place has been that Church people have completely died out of many districts of Eastern Canada, to our great and abiding reproach. Those who possessed missionary spirit inherited our land. When new townships sprang up in what were once outlying farms there were no Church people there because we had lost them and Wesleyans, Presbyterians and Baptists had gained them. In the years that have elapsed Churchmen have been attempting to win back to some extent those they had lost; a sad, difficult and heart-breaking duty. How much better it would have been if we had possessed the missionary spirit and had kept our people.

The question in the early years of this century recurred: Was the Anglican Church to repeat that [5/6] doleful history and lose tens of thousands of its people because it could not, or would not, minister to its own people? Was the new English-speaking nation rising into life before our eyes, a nation of strong and healthy farmers, to be allowed to grow up without the help and influence of the ancient English Church? If the Church in Canada were still unable to meet this tremendous demand upon its resources, was the motherland, from which so many of these immigrants came, unwilling to lend a helping hand? Was there no general policy in the Church at large by means of which immediate help both in the way of men and money might be poured into this region just when the help was most needed? Was not this just one of those cases where £1,000 at once and five clergy would be equal in effect to £10,000 and twenty clergy three years afterwards? Was it not the truest economy to waste no more time, but to do on a large scale what other religious bodies were already doing on a very large scale?

Yes, but why could not Canada supply the men if we supplied the funds? The answer is that you cannot manufacture qualified clergymen at a few months' notice. There are several colleges for the training of clergy in Eastern Canada. I bethink me of four at this moment. But you must remember that nearly every diocese in Eastern Canada is still in a real sense a missionary diocese. It would be easy for them to absorb all the students who are being trained in these Eastern colleges; whereas hundreds of men are at once needed if the Western fields are to be properly covered [6/7] with agents of the Church. The Eastern dioceses do not, however, absorb all these students. They are sending as many as they can Westward, and often are at a loss in consequence how to staff their own districts. Lennoxville, in the Diocese of Quebec, has made its thank-offering of 1908 to consist of money spent on students who are all to go to the Western dioceses. But when Canada had done her best for these immigrants, and of course the West has its Divinity Schools and Colleges, she turned to her motherland to ask for all the help she could get and without delay.

Now let us stand at the portal of the West at Winnipeg. Look West from the railway station of this city of 140,000 people, soon to be 200,000 or any greater number.

Remember that in 1870 it is probable that there were not two houses to be found side by side anywhere west of Winnipeg. There was no Vancouver, no townships on the prairie or in the Rockies. Now on every side there are railways, towns, farms, a steadily growing-population. Stand in Winnipeg Station for a whole day in early summer and you will realise that there has been a new Niagara created, far more wonderful than the old one because it is a rush of human life. It does not move Eastward but Westward. A student of world movements, who wishes to gain a real impression of what is happening in North America, would do well, if he had only a week to spare, to spend the whole of it in Winnipeg Station. He would get an idea of a migration of peaceful hordes of vigorous young men and women infinitely more wonderful than the [7/8] movements of the Eastern nomads of old. These people have come to settle on the land and make it bring forth and replenish the earth. There will be no check to this flow for many years. Even in this year 1908, we hear that on 1st September there was the greatest rush for land ever known in Western Canada. Under the new Dominion Lands Act the "odd number" sections in six large districts on the prairie were thrown open for selection. The area affected is almost 30,000,000 acres. It is difficult to imagine such movements, but when once the attention of the Anglican communion has been arrested its duty is obvious. Where buffalos and Indians once roamed, there spreads a flood of white humanity. One murmurs, "A sower went forth to sow; some fell"... What is to be the outcome of the sowing? Materialistic energy, without God, a slow experience of painful discipline afterwards? Are the grain elevators to be the only elevators? Are there not to be seen little spires everywhere, and godly, humble men connected with them, men of character and of Christian faith, to set the tone of private and public life? These questions we are called upon to answer in a practical manner.

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