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The Church on the Prairie

By H. H. Montgomery, D.D.

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

Chapter IX. Adjacent Regions

I HAVE tried to fix attention on the problems before the Church in the regions where immediate action most presses, but there are great districts adjoining what may be called the main strategic centre of the present. These must not be neglected nor ignored. Confining myself at present to regions east of the Rockies, I want to call attention to three dioceses, Algoma, Keewatin and Athabasca.

The Diocese of Algoma

Most Churchmen should know the general facts about this most interesting and important region. It lies first in Eastern Canada, on the western boundary of Ontario. A few years ago it was a silent land of lakes through which Indians portaged northward towards Hudson's Bay. To-day it is being filled up with settlers. Famous mines are to be found there, notably Cobalt and its outlying workings; railways are pushing through it. The Bishop is doing heroic work, living the simple life, beloved by all: his archdeacon is known everywhere as the tramping parson. But the diocese suffers from being within Eastern Canada. We open special funds for Western Canada, but this money [84/85] cannot be used for Algoma, although the nature of the problems in Algoma are those of the prairie dioceses. It is for this reason that whenever I think of Western Canada I have Algoma in my view also. Four years ago it was a joy to me to do my first bit of mission work in this diocese, and I have ventured to repeat here the description given of my adventures two years ago.

On Saturday, 18th August, I left North Bay, a town on Lake Nipissing, and the junction where the Toronto line joins the main rail east and west. We, however, were to travel northwards along a new line lately made for 100 miles to reach the mines at Cobalt, now a famous silver mine, and to open up agricultural country farther on. That Saturday's journey convinced me once for all that Canada is a land of lakes. Every quarter of an hour, so it seemed to me, we came to a wooded lake which would make the fortune of an English neighbourhood. Nor was this the only spot where this fact was forced upon one. Except on the actual prairie it seemed impossible to be long out of touch with these lovely stretches of water, and I am inclined to believe that there may be truth in the dictum that the lake surfaces of Canada when put together would cover the whole of Europe. It was a very hot day indeed when we reached Cobalt, anything from ninety degrees to ninety-four degrees, but hospitality was unfailing, and of course we examined the great mine. I have seen many silver mines, but it was almost provoking to see money made so easily as was apparently the case at Cobalt. Silver, nearly pure, was being taken out of lodes on the surface. That evening we watched a remarkable scene. We [85/86] overlooked the centre of the town; and here in the hot, still evening, a cheap-jack with a voice of thunder and the resources of a magician enthralled the whole population of the place, some 500, leading the way up to his patent medicines, and then selling scores of bottles. Such energy, such knowledge of human nature! I envied him for the work of the Church of God. What could not a man with such gifts do for the Lord!

On Sunday, 19th August, I had the privilege of preaching in the new church opened for the first time on that occasion. I preached and mopped. At 1 P.M., when the sun was at its hottest, we, my dear friend the Bishop of Algoma and I, left our good hosts in order to tramp along the railway line five miles to Haileybury, that I might preach there at 3.15. Needless to say, we stripped for the fray. We took off" every garment that decency would permit, opened our umbrellas, carried our garments and canonicals, and walked through sandy cuttings on a breathless day, thermometer 94 degrees in the shade. Bush fires were smouldering on all sides. It was glorious, and I bethought me of the old days and the happy tramps in Tasmania. Then, too, I had so delightful a companion. I preached at 3.15, still mopping; a humorous friend said afterwards, "There was, of course, but one text for you--Gideon's fleece". Just before we reached Haileybury and were looking down upon the wooden town shimmering in the heat, with bush all round and fires smouldering, I made the remark to a friend: "I don't know how it may be in Canada, but my Australian experience prompts me to [86/87] say that if a wind springs up I would not give that for Haileybury". Next day it was burnt out. But our day had not ended; the Bishop went back to Cobalt. I went by train to Liskard on the shores of Lake Temiskaming; and as we looked down upon the enormous stretch of waters through the heat, it was difficult to believe that it would be frozen to the depth of two or three feet and become a highway in six months' time. I preached again, mopping. On Monday we returned to North Bay after an experience which reminded me in almost every particular so much of Tasmania--in the townships, the bush, the free life and great hospitality, the wooden churches, the people--that it was difficult to believe it was not the Antipodes. There was one exception--the lakes. Pioneer work is very much the same all the world over, and there is no work one loves quite so much so long as youth and vigour remain. It is worth mentioning that by an act of the Provincial Legislature of Ontario intoxicants are excluded altogether from the town of Cobalt.

North Bay has a beautiful church under a rector given to hospitality towards the brethren. The Bishop of Algoma and I passed from his house to "the Soo," as Sault Ste. Marie is familiarly called. It is the neck of Canada; here East and West may be said to meet on the waters. Lake Superior empties itself through the rapids, and on each side of them, on American and Canadian soil, there are canals with locks for the enormous traffic that passes this way. It is difficult to believe that more than twice the tonnage using the [87/88] Suez Canal passes annually by "the Soo," so great is the water-borne wheat industry, together with other businesses, including an enormous passenger traffic. Here water power makes vast factories possible for rails, pulp, etc., all protected or subsidised.

There seem to be at least twelve important centres of population where the ministrations of the Church are altogether absent, and from six to ten such places have been vacant for a whole year; what chance has the Church later on? Still let us thank God for the steady growth of the Church; it is ill work always gazing at the defects and forgetting our achievements under the good hand of God. There are fifty clergy in the diocese though there should be sixty. There are ten self-supporting parishes, fifty-three missions, which need aid; ioo churches, twenty-nine parsonages. This would make a poor show alongside the statistics of other denominations.

The Diocese of Keewatin

Leaving Algoma as it stretches along the northern shores of Lake Superior we enter the Diocese of Keewatin. It is a long strip which includes the western shores of Hudson's Bay and ascends to the North Pole. Its southern limit is near the United States. This is not a farming region; there is much timber and thick undergrowth, and lumber and wood industries are the principal occupations. As the train travels westward you leave these wooded regions and reach what we know as the prairie. There is at present only one self-supporting church in the diocese, at Kenora, where the Bishop [88/89] lives, on the railway. There are 16 clergy in the diocese. The Bishop has done yeoman's work in the far North among the Indians and has lived for months among the Esquimaux on raw flesh and seal oil. His record of sledge and canoe travelling is wonderful, but such physical exertion becomes increasingly hard as the years roll on. This diocese is one of those that cannot tell so romantic a story as others, but the work is hard and the region is a vast one.

Perhaps it may be best in this place to state the two aspects of a problem which is discussed in Canada as a strategic question. It is well known that the Bishops of Dioceses such as Keewatin and Moosonee, which include all the lands on both sides of Hudson Bay, and as far north as human beings are to be found, live at the extreme southern edge of their dioceses, on the railway and among white settlers, and far removed from their Indian and Esquimaux congregations. Some assert that it is not right, and that the bishops should live far in the north, just as Bishop Horden lived when he was Bishop of Moosonee. The other side of the question is that to live in the south is to be able to work all through the year. If the Church needs merely examples of endurance without reference to work done, then the bishops should live at Fort Churchill and Moose Factory on Hudson Bay. They did so and were well content to do it when there was practically no white population in their dioceses. But the situation has changed. In the south, and in consequence of the railway, there are increasing white populations; their numbers will soon far exceed the [88/89] number of the Indians and Esquimaux, if they do not do so already. If the Bishop lives in the north he may be able to minister through long winter months to the station where he is living and to a few others. Were he living in these months in the south he would be actively engaged all the time among white settlers and the clergy in charge of them. Which is the best policy? The question has to be answered whether these bishops are any longer pre-eminently bishops for the Indian population. The Indians and other aboriginal races are not increasing, are probably decreasing even in these northern regions; the whites are becoming a mighty army. The whole strategic position is altering. It is not a question of comfort but of strategy. I suppose this problem has been altogether solved upon the prairie, in the Diocese of Saskatchewan. Time was when the Bishop of Saskatchewan must have thought daily, and first, of his Indian congregations. By no stretch of imagination could he do so to-day. The Bishops of Moosonee and of Keewatin have decided that it is their duty to live in the South.

The Diocese of Athabasca

I believe that ere long there will be a shifting of the boundaries of dioceses in Northern Canada. The day for this may not be yet in the regions round Hudson Bay, in Eastern Canada. But a survey of the situation in Western Canada seems to suggest, to me at least, that the Canadian Church will seriously have to consider what should be done in regions north of Saskatchewan. Is population going farther North? Can [90/91] corn be grown with certainty in Athabasca? In the Peace River country they already claim to grow the best wheat in Canada. Should there be, therefore, a diocese of white settlers far north of Prince Albert and Edmonton? Should this diocese be a newly formed Athabasca? If so what should be the fate of Mackenzie River with its exceedingly small population scattered over an enormous area? Or again, ought the northern part of Saskatchewan be cut off, the portion that contains the greater number of the Indians, in order that the Bishop of Saskatchewan may devote himself wholly to his immense task on the prairie? If so, who shall take charge of the Indians? Or, once more, if Edmonton is to be the centre of a new diocese, how far north should it extend? These are most interesting questions to which the Canadian Church must soon give us answers. Strangely enough the answers seem to depend upon a knot of able students at the Government Agricultural Farm at Ottawa. Here they are ever at work to evolve a sort of wheat that will ripen in the shortest possible time. They are practising on wheat from Northern Russia, and if they can get a kind that can be cut within ten weeks of the day the blade makes its appearance it means pushing the vast Canadian cornfield perhaps 200 miles farther North. If they can get a nine weeks' wheat how far North shall we be taken? Upon the answers to these questions depends the strategy of the Canadian Church. To me it has seemed that some day we shall hear of a sort of Canadian wheat which has a stalk of six inches and an ear of ten inches, the latest triumph of evolution.

[92] What a wonderful land it is--how beautiful is Canada--how romantic its history--how much nature has done for it! Surely it is laid upon man, upon the Christian Church, upon the Anglican Church, so to work that men may also be constrained to say--how much has the grace of God done for the Canadian people at the hands of His servants.

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