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The Rainbow in the North
A Short Account of the First Establishment of Christianity in Rupert's Land by the Church Missionary Society.
By Sarah Tucker.

London: James Nisbet, 1851.

Chapter IX. Threatened Reduction of Missions--Visit of the Bishop of Montreal--Departure of the Rev. W. Cockran

"Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."--1 Cor. xii. 26, 27.

THE year 1842 opened brightly on the mission-field in Rupert's Land. We have seen the state of the Indian Village, and of the congregation at the Rapids; and those of the Upper and Middle Churches had continued also to go on well. Nor was it only that the stakes of this spiritual tabernacle were thus strengthened, she had likewise lengthened her cords: a new station had been formed on Cumberland Lake; and the Rev. A. Cowley, who arrived in 1841, had availed himself of an apparent opening on the Lake Manitoba.

The only drawback was the state of Mr. Cockran's health. The Committee at home had frequently urged him to pay a visit to his native land, that he might recruit his strength and refresh his spirits. This he had steadfastly declined,--fearing, he said, lest the comforts of an English home should withdraw his affections from his few poor sheep in the wilderness. But at last his declining health had induced him to request permission to withdraw altogether from the work, and he was only waiting to hear of the appointment of a successor before he should retire with his family to Canada.

It was at this juncture that our Missionaries received the unexpected and overwhelming intelligence that, in consequence of the financial difficulties of the Society, their Missions on the Red River must be reduced, and the out-stations abandoned. It is not easy to conceive how heavily this blow fell on the hearts of these devoted men, who were spending their lives and strength in the work. Must, then, all the ground that had been so hardly won be given up again? Must those few sheep who had been gathered into the fold be driven back into the wilderness of Heathenism, or the poisonous pastures of Popery? They could not bear to think of it. Mr. Smithurst writes,--

"If our friends at home did but know the anxiety your letter has caused, I am sure they would redouble their efforts to provide a remedy. Were the Indians averse to instruction, or did we see no fruit from our labours, we might relinquish our posts with less regret; but our churches are crowded, our schools are crowded, and the cry is (from the Crees more especially), 'Send us more teachers; give us the word of God,'"

Mr. Cockran's appeal was still stronger:--

"Thousands of pounds are not equal to the value of one soul, and for this shall we abandon our Missions? Oh, no, dear Christian friends, we must not so soon weary in keeping possession for Christ; we must occupy till He come. He who wept over Jerusalem is surely ready to weep over us, when such a thought enters our hearts. He seems to say to us from heaven, 'Have I not redeemed you? Have I not prepared a mansion for you in my Father's kingdom? Why regard your stuff? Is not the land where God dwells your own, and is not He Himself your portion? Will ye, then, suffer My cause to fail from love of this world?'" [See how any diminution of the income of the Society is felt in its most distant missions! And let us individually remember, that by withdrawing our own annual sovereign or weekly penny, we are ourselves bearing a part in causing this distress.]

Nor did the Missionaries content themselves with words; they endeavoured, by the most rigid economy and self-denial, so to reduce the expenses of the Missions as to avert the threatened blow. Mr. Cockran gave up for the present his intention of removing into Canada, and as he received a small stipend from the Hudson's Bay Company as chaplain, determined to make that suffice; and for two years forbore to draw from the Church Missionary Society the portion of his salary due from thence, though we find, from some of his neighbours, that by so doing he and his family were subjected to privations not often experienced even by industrious cottagers at home. [This was not the first instance of the kind, for a similar reduction of the Mission had been contemplated some years before, and we find, in consequence of this, the following entry among the benefactions for June 1830:--"Rev W. Cockran, arrears of salary which had accumulated during four years: £54 8s. 0d."]

By the good providence of Him in whose hands are the hearts of all, the income of the Society increased again during the year; and the letters received in 1843 relieved the minds of the Missionaries from their suspense of twelve months, and enabled them to pursue their work with fresh energy.

In the summer of 1844 the hearts of our brethren were cheered, and their hands strengthened, by a visit from the Bishop of Montreal, who, with a kindness and self-forgetfulness which can scarcely be too warmly appreciated, undertook a journey of twice one thousand eight hundred miles in an open canoe for the benefit of this infant Mission.

His route lay across the Lakes of Nipissin and Huron, along the treacherous waters of Lake Superior, and then through rivers rendered almost impassable by frequent cataracts and rapids, till, after thirty-eight days of exposure and fatigue, he entered Lake Winnipeg, near the mouth of the Red River, on June the 23d.

We will not spoil the interesting account of tins expedition, which the Bishop allowed to be published, by attempting to abridge it; we will only make a few extracts, which will throw additional light upon our subject.

It was Saturday when he and his little party entered the lake, and they hoped to reach the Indian Village before nightfall; but a violent storm obliged them to lay to under the banks, and they did not arrive till Sunday morning, after a night of weariness and discomfort. The Bishop then proceeds:--

"It was about nine o'clock, and within half an hour of the time for Divine Worship. The sight that greeted us was one that can never he forgotten by me, and the recollection will always be coupled with feelings of devout thankfulness to God, and warm appreciation of the blessings conferred by the Church Missionary Society. After travelling for above a month through an inhospitable wilderness, and meeting, at intervals, with such specimens of the heathen savage as I have described, we came at once, and without any intermediate gradations in the aspect of things, upon the establishment formed on the low margin of the river for the same race of people in their Christian state; and on the morning of the Lord's own blessed day we saw them already gathering round their pastor, who was before his door, the children collecting in the same manner with then1 hooks in their hands. All were decently clothed from head to foot, and there was a repose and steadiness in their deportment, the seeming indication of a high and controlling influence on their characters and hearts. Around were their humble dwellings, with the commencement of their farms; cattle were gracing in the meadows; the modest parsonage, with its garden, and the simple but decent clrorcli, with the school-house as its appendage, forming the leading objects in the picture, and carrying on the face of them the promise of blessing. We were amply repaid for all the toils and exposure of the night. My chaplain naturally felt as I did; and my servant, an Englishman, to whom everything in the journey was new, told me afterwards that he could hardly restrain his tears. Nor was it a worthless testimony that was rendered by one of our old voyageurs, a French Canadian Roman Catholic, when, addressing my servant, he said, 'There are your Christian Indians; it would be well if all the whites were as good as they are.'

"We were greeted by Mr. Smithurst at the water's edge; and having refreshed ourselves under his roof, we proceeded to church. There were, perhaps, two hundred and fifty present, all Indians; and nothing can be more reverential and solemn than the demeanour and bearing of those people in public worship. Their costume has a hybrid kind of character, partly European and partly Indian. The women, for the most part, still wear the blanket, or else a piece of dark cloth thrown over the head, with the hair parted smoothly on the forehead. All wear mocassins, as do the missionaries, and almost all the Europeans in the colony.

"The Morning Service is in English, but the Lessons are rendered into the Indian tongue by Mr. Cook, the schoolmaster, who also rendered my sermon sentence by sentence.

"The Evening Service is in the Indian language, which Mr. Smithurst has mastered to a considerable degree, but the Lessons are read as in the Morning. About two-thirds of the congregation are said to understand a simple address in English; and, as far as this settlement is concerned, the time, I conceive, is fast approaching when no other language will be required. But let it be hoped that instruction will be earned far and wide to men of other tongues.

"I visited the Sunday-school, and found a large attendance. Mr. Smithurst made the more advanced read to me in the Bible, and then examined them in the Catechism and the Thirty-nine Articles. The amount of their knowledge was greater than I could have expected; and from all that I could gather, the Crees appear to be a thinking and intelligent tribe.

"After the Evening Service the church was shut up by an old Indian, acting as a sort of sexton, who had formerly been a noted sorcerer or medicine man. The day altogether was one of extraordinary interest; and if the scenes which it presented could have been witnessed by friends of the Society at home, they would have needed no further appeal to ensure their liberal support."

The Bishop then speaks of the confirmations he held at each of the four churches. The number of the confirmed amounted in the whole to eight hundred and forty-six, and would have been about one thousand had not many of the candidates been absent; some were engaged in the buffalo hunt on the prairies, and others were gone with the annual boats to York Fort.

He held preparatory meetings of the candidates at each of the different stations, and expresses himself as greatly satisfied with the result. He speaks particularly of one at the Rapids, where he says,--

"I was much struck by the correct and serious deportment of about seventy young girls, who were brought together without their mothers or elders of any kind to restrain them; and I could not help thinking that it would have been difficult to collect the same number in an English parish who would have preserved the reverence which these girls did, even in the vacant intervals before and after the service, and during the calling over of their names by Mr. Cockran."

Mr. Cowley came from Manitoba Lake to receive priest's orders; and the Bishop ordained Mr. M'Allum, then in charge of a school at the Upper Settlement, both deacon and priest. Altogether, he spent seventeen days in the colony; and, speaking of its general state, he says,--

"It was truly a very interesting spectacle to behold the churches filled at the confirmation, and at the other public services, by a people thus brought under the yoke of the Gospel, the great body of whom have Indian blood in their veins, and most of whom were originally heathens; and the interest was indescribably heightened by the deep attention with which they listened, and the devotion with which those who were confirmed knelt to receive the imposition of hands; the comfortable hope shedding its ray over the solemnity, that they did in sincerity devote themselves to Christ.

"I must not, however, be understood to mean that in all the pleasing pictures I "have given, the old Adam does not anywhere, lurk in disguise, nor to express an unqualified hope that among those who now re-enrolled themselves as soldiers of the Cross there will not be instances of mortifying inconsistency, perhaps of unhappy defection: the Indians have strong passions, and are often thrown into circumstances unfavourable to holiness: but, allowing for the necessary intermixture of tares with the wheat, I believe that the congregations at the Red River may be called exemplary; and that the Church has taken root in the colony, with the fairest prospect of a continuance and increase of blessed fruits of a practical kind." [The Bishop confirms what has been remarked by other travellers as to the superiority, in the steady and correct habits of the people, of the Protestant portion of the colony over the Roman Catholic population, and does not hesitate to attribute it to the difference of their religion.]

This visit of the Bishop had been most welcome to the whole colony, and the inhabitants vied with each other in showing him all possible attention. He received addresses of thanks from the Clergy, from the Protestant inhabitants generally, and a special one from the Indian congregation.

"We were," he says, "loaded with presents: several of the Indian women were busy, up to the last moment, in finishing for us some little token of remembrance, and we received some beautiful specimens of their work either in beads, or in dyed hair of the moose deer, or in porcupine quills. One woman, with the peculiar modesty of manner so general among the Indians, came forward just aft I was stepping into my canoe with a simple bark basket of her own workmanship."

The Indian Village, as it had been the first, so it was the last spot which the Bishop visited. In the morning of July 10, Pigwys and his wife, men, women, and children, gathered round to hid adieu to their "Great Praying Father;" and the Bishop set out on his fatiguing voyage again, followed by the prayers and blessings of the whole community.

It had been just before this visit from the Bishop, that Mr. Cockran had had an affecting proof of the attachment and kindness of his own people at the Rapids. A fire broke out upon his premises, which speedily consumed the barn filled with wheat; cowhouses, stables, fences, were all destroyed; and the house, which was of wood, and thatched with reeds, would have shared the same fate, had it not been for the exertions of the neighbours. The wind, too, providentially changed, and their dwelling was preserved. Several persons watched all night, lest a spark should be hidden in the thatch; and the next day Mr. Cockran found a number of them making plans to repair the mischief, with as little loss as possible to himself. Some promised to bring logs, others would contribute posts, many engaged to come and work; while another party assured him that he should not feel the want of wheat, for that they would supply him. Governor Finlayson also called to offer him everything he could want to repair this calamity; and the sympathy and kindness they experienced enabled Mr. and Mrs. Cock-ran to rejoice even in their losses.

The church at the Rapids, as we have already said, was now far too small for the congregation, not more than three-fourths of whom could find admittance, and the school children could never be present. Mr. Cock-ran, looking forward to the future, determined to make an effort to build a new one of stone, instead of wood, which should be large enough for the increasing wants of the settlement. Accordingly, he called a meeting of the people.

"Silver and gold," he writes, "they had none; but stones, lime, shingles, boards, timber, and labour wore cheerfully promised, to an extent that perfectly astonished me. The shingle-makers proposed to give ten thousand shingles each, the lime-burners each four hundred bushels, and boards and timber were promised in the same liberal manner. One black curry-head, descended by his father's side from the sons of Ham, stood up in his leathern coat, and said, 'I will help to the amount of 10l.' The eyes of all were turned upon him, and I saw a smile on every face. I said, 'I believe our brethren think you will not be able to raise such a sum.' Raising his arm he exclaimed, 'Here is my body: it is at your service. It is true I cannot square a stone, nor lay one, but there will be the floor and the roof: turn me to them, and you will see, if God gives me life and health, if I will not work out the value.'"

In the summer of 1845 the new church was begun, but, notwithstanding the efforts of the people, Mr. Cockran found his resources beginning to fail, when he was greatly relieved by the unexpected donation of fifty pounds from one of the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company; and soon after, his son, who was now in England for education, sent him thirty pounds, which had been collected for him by a clergyman at home.

All this while there was no improvement in the health of our Missionary; and now the time arrived when he was to leave, as he believed for ever, the scene of his labours for so long a period, and his people were to part from one who had for seventeen years been their pastor, their adviser, their friend, and to whom, under God, they owed every temporal and spiritual blessing.

The Rev. E. James was expected in the autumn of 1840, and Mr. Cockran was obliged to leave the Rapids in the preceding June. Mr. Cowley, who had come from his own station to take the temporary charge of this, thus writes:--

"Sunday, June 14.--The trying hour was come. Never do I expect to forget the last look which some of the people gave their pastor, as they retired from the church, where, from its first erection, they had heard the voice of him whom they now should hear no more. Their hearts were too full for utterance; and the only expression they could give to their feelings was a flood of tears, as each came up, embraced his hand, and turned away without a word.

"June 15.--Early all was hustle, the dawn was seized upon for prayer. Before breakfast was over the canoe was in sight. It was too early for a large crowd to assemble to try his feelings by another farewell, yet a considerable number awaited him at the water's edge, and received his final blessing. My own spirits were overcome, and my inmost soul was pierced."

In October, the Rev. E. and Mrs. James arrived; and we would transcribe Mr. James's account of his surprise and pleasure, as he came up the river, at the sight of the Indian Village, with its happy-looking inhabitants and merry children, greeting him as he passed along, were it not that it would be almost a repetition of the description given by the Bishop of Montreal.

Nor was he less pleased with his own immediate charge--the Rapids. One thousand eight hundred people were now scattered along an extent of twelve miles; the old church more than filled, the new one was progressing, and the number of communicants had increased to a hundred and fifty.

Mr. James carried on with zeal and energy the work begun by his predecessor; and as we turn over the pages of his journal, and read of one soul and another brought to a concern for their eternal welfare, or watch the last hours of many a rejoicing believer, we are tempted to enter more fully into detail.

But the number at the head of this chapter warns us to forbear; for we have still to lay before our readers the history of distant stations, and after a few brief notices of the next three years on the banks of the Red River, we intend in the two following chapters to carry them to Cumberland and Manitoba Lakes.

One passage, however, we must transcribe from Mr. James's journal, not only as a testimony to our former Missionary, but as an instance of the way in which a generous mind will appreciate the work of others:--

"January 20, 1847.--Thermometer, 47° below zero. Cold intense, yet my ride to the Indian settlement was not uncomfortable. The roads were delightful, and as T clashed along their glassy face my thoughts were necessarily carried back to the time when things looked so different; when Mr. Cockran could with difficulty thread his way through the tangled wood, when there were no neat cottages on this hand or that; no traveller's Christian greeting, no distant view of sheltering parsonage or house of God. Literally nothing to cheer the way of that devoted man whose zeal nothing could tire, whose 'patience of hope' was never exhausted, before whose resolve every obstacle gave way, and whose success is neither thirty, nor sixty, but an hundred-fold, even in this present life."

Mr. Cockran had retired to Toronto, where the rest and freedom from responsibility were blessed to the partial restoration of his health; his heart was still among his former flocks, and in 1847 he gladly responded to an invitation from the Hudson's Bay Company to undertake the chaplaincy of the Upper Church and settlement.

There he still is, and there may he long remain, to proclaim the Gospel that he loves, and to witness to the faithfulness of God, who has promised, "As thy days, so shall thy strength be."

We must not, however, leave the Red River, without mentioning a Missionary Meeting that was held in the church at the Rapids on Dec. 2, 1847.

It was a day of great interest, for it was the first public meeting that had ever been held in Rupert's Land; and people came from all quarters to hear of the work of God among other heathen nations. They had hitherto known very little on the subject; but grounds of appeal could not be wanting to a people on whom the Society had for the last twenty-seven years been conferring such inestimable benefits, and who were still continually reminded of what they had themselves once been, by the sound of the conjurer's drum and melancholy shout whenever any of the heathens encamped in their neighbourhood.

Everything they heard surprised and moved them: many an eye was moist, and though they were again suffering from two years of scarcity, yet "the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality;" and the collection, beyond all expectation, amounted to 10 l. 9 s. 2 d: 5l. was also collected here, and 5l. 18s. 1d. at the Middle Church on the following Sunday,--altogether, 21 l., 7s. 3 d.; a large sum under all the circumstances of the case, though, as one good old man said, "It was all too little to offer to the Society, but it was a beginning, and he hoped the Society would forgive them for not stirring sooner."

Three weeks afterwards, a man, who had literally no money in his possession at the time, brought Mr. James five shillings, the first he had received since the day of the meeting.

We shall only return to the Red River to give a brief account of its present state.

We shall close the chapter by mentioning the circumstances that led to the opening of a Mission at Cumberland.

Anxiety for the spiritual welfare of their relations and countrymen had, from the first, been a characteristic feature in the Christians at the Red River; we have seen how this feeling manifested itself among the converts at the Rapids, and those at the Indian Village soon showed the same earnest desires.

Among the settlers there, were several families from the neighbourhood of Cumberland Lake, whose hearts expanded towards their former companions in the wilderness; their conversion was the frequent subject of their prayers, they took every opportunity of sending them some awakening message, and the answers to these messages were so encouraging that it was at length decided to send a labourer to the spot.

The ordained Missionaries could neither of them be spared, but it was thought that a native Catechist might prepare the ground by opening a school, and giving the people some elementary instruction, and it only now remained to seek for a fitting agent.

How far this search was successful, our next chapter will show.

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