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 II. The Problem in the Diocese of Saskatchewan

LET us betake ourselves at once to the central, strategical position for the Church in Western Canada, the Diocese of Saskatchewan. This ecclesiastical division docs not include the whole civil province of that name but about two-thirds of it. Qu'Appelle in the south, Saskatchewan in the north, cover ecclesiastically the one civil province.

The diocese of which I shall now speak is about seven times the size of Ireland. Twenty-five years ago it was a region almost uninhabited--a prairie from which the buffalo had been exterminated. There was no railway through it; in the northern parts there were settlements of Indians under the care of the Church Missionary Society. To a large extent, though not of course entirely, for these, the Diocese of Saskatchewan was formed and Bishop McLean was consecrated the first Bishop. He lived in a "shack" at Prince Albert--we give the picture of it--close to a little wooden church and to a large Indian school; he journeyed far and wide among his Indian people. He was succeeded by Bishop Pinkham, whose jurisdiction, as in the case of his predecessor, extended over the whole of the areas now covered by the Dioceses of Saskatchewan [9/10] and Calgary. Bishop Newnham succeeded him, coming from the Diocese of Moosonee. Then just after his advent came the great change. In a very short space of time he was confronted by a rush of white settlers which was sufficient to overpower and bewilder the strongest. The prairie was about to become a vast farm. The Indians would soon be practically a negligible quantity. Thousands on thousands of our own people were flooding the country, settling everywhere. At the Land Office in Battleford, for example, 3,587 claims for 160 acre blocks were filed in one year. Railways were pushing their way through feverishly. At every station were piled up on the prairie agricultural implements and machines for sale to farmers. Masses of timber were ready for their shacks. Wherever a station was placed there hotels, stores and banks appeared as the nucleus of a township. Trains rolled up as fast as possible, discharging their living freights, all young people, the vigorous men and women who are the pioneers of our race, quantities of boys and girls with them: every European race was represented there, but English-speaking people predominated. I speak of that which I have seen with my own eyes. A railway official at Winnipeg told me he had not had one minute to himself for eight months.

In 1906 I saw Saskatoon as it was laid out, the skeleton of a big town, on the banks of the Saskatchewan. We had one church, but four more blocks had been taken up on the prairie; the plans for a church to hold 1,000 people were ready at one of these centres. Saskatoon was quite determined to be a big place. Two [10/11] more railways were preparing to run through it. The rails in some places were being put down at the rate of about two miles an hour. I know this seems incredible; but an eye-witness, one of our own clergy, gave me a graphic description of the speed with which the rails were being fastened on the sleepers as the line approached Edmonton. He described how a machine advanced shooting out two thirty-foot rails; gangs of men with hammers and spikes walked on each side; no sooner had the rails touched the sleepers than the men drove in the spikes and the engine advanced at once sending out another rail; so the work went on. Of course the line was not completed, but it was made strong enough to carry the construction trains. To myself it seemed to be an apt illustration of the pace of modern colonisation upon the prairie. So, again, we heard the well-known stones about the trains themselves. An enormous traffic on a single line of rails must be carried on with risks of stoppage, and at one time only one train a day was possible. At one of these new stations a commercial traveller went down to the station-master to ask him whether there would be time to lay out his goods and transact business before the day's train came in. Certainly there would, replied the official. But while the man of business was engaged in his sale the bell was heard and the train stopped at the station. The man rushed down to the station-master and began upbraiding him for his false information. But he was checked by the answer, "Why, you asked me whether you'd have time for your business before to-day's train came in; so you [11/12] have, plenty of time. This is the day before yesterday's train."

The Bishop of Saskatchewan has had the great good fortune of having as his lieutenant, in the crisis he has had to face, Archdeacon Lloyd. The Archdeacon is London bred, but went to Canada at the age of eighteen. He was a trooper in 1885 during the second Riel rebellion, and was wounded near Prince Albert, where the Bishop lives. He has known these regions under many aspects and is now employing all his energies to plant the Church among the hearts of the thousands of immigrants. When the noted Barr Colony of immigrants was deserted and deceived by their leader, Mr. Lloyd, who was one of the party, took charge of it, gave them heart to persevere, conducted them from Saskatoon, where he found them, to what is now rightly called Lloydminster, and was the means of making the settlement a success. He showed me their route along the 200 miles and told me of the way in which the families shed their heavy luggage on the way. Tables, pianos, chests of drawers were thrown upon one side during the march. It was springtime and the tracks were muddy, and he tells how pluckily the little children in their shoes and white stockings marched alongside the carts with their parents.

Then I learnt upon the spot how the Archdeacon and his plucky wife worked all the winter for the whole community. They put up a big tent, they cooked in the evenings for the young bachelors, they started concerts and services, they played games, they encouraged [12/13] those who began to lose heart, arguing with them that the first winter was the worst time for them and that matters would improve with experience and after they had begun to understand the climate. Many a time the Archdeacon stood on the track trying to put heart into the downcast settler, and I believe he often succeeded.

Then at last he showed me Lloydminster itself, now settling into a town, the church built of logs, the first of these brought by Indians from the Onion Lake Reserve, which was in charge of the Rev. John Matheson, as a present. I was permitted to preach in the church and to help to administer the Holy Communion to eleven catechists who had ridden in that Monday morning from surrounding districts. One dear fellow had never been on a horse before the previous Wednesday; yet there he was six days afterwards having ridden in fifteen miles and was intending to ride back that evening. He had also done his official work the day before; yet he was cheery, although he must have been uncommonly uncomfortable. I spoke to the settlers who had endured through the three years since they came and heard how hard is the lot of an English labourer who has to work himself into his farm and do everything for himself. He has to create a home out of a piece of prairie; this means building his house, digging his well, putting up his stable, fencing his land--and doing all before the long winter sets in with 60 and 70 degrees of frost. Such work is for a young man, and he who battles through his first three years deserves all his after success. It will have been the hardest work of his life; but then he is preparing to be a freeholder and the builder of an [13/14] empire. Remembering the terms on which a man gets his land--namely ten dollars paid down for 160 acres, on which he must do a certain amount of work for three years--the following account of what it means will amuse and instruct: "Well, what do you think of your bargain with Government?" "What do I think? Well, I'll tell you. The Government bets you 160 acres to ten dollars that you won't stick it out for three years; that's what I think."

Let it be remembered that three lines of railway are now racing through this region. Dozens of stations are being built, each of which will be a town; thousands of square miles are being covered with farms; some hold single men, in others there are families. Thousands are members of the Anglican Church. Are we to lose them to other bodies because they possess more missionary spirit than we do, or are we to recognise the position and pour in help from other parts of Canada and from the Old Country till our duty is fairly well done? I went to make a personal inspection and I came home prepared to uplift my voice to the utmost, to say to the Church at home: "It is a case of 'now or never' with our Church in Canada. The time past has been sufficient to have neglected Canada. Here in this new Empire of white men springing up upon the prairie we must haste to their aid."

Project Canterbury