Project Canterbury

Canon E. K. Matheson, D.D.
Saskatchewan's First Graduate

Being a History of the Development of the Church of
England in North-Western Saskatchewan

[no place: no publisher, no date, but
[Battleford: Canadian North-West Historical Society, 1927]

Canon Clarke, The Late Ven. Archdeacon Mackay, Canon Matheson

2. Life Sketch of Canon Matheson
by Campbell Innes

Edward K. Matheson was born in the Kildonan Parish of the Red River district, April 21, 1855. His father, Hugh Matheson, teacher and farmer, was also born in the Red River Settlement and died in 1864, leaving a family of seven children.

The grandfather, Angus Matheson, was born in Scotland and came to Canada in 1812 as a member of Lord Selkirk's colonizing party. He acted in the capacity of sergeant during the Pembina journeys. You are aware that Lord Selkirk sent out families in 1812 and 1814 and that these settlers were either driven from the land by the North-west Fur Company and exiled or discouraged by starvation, in order that this Company might stamp out any encroachment on the fur land. If it is true that Lord Selkirk was determined that his colonizing scheme should flourish the colonists were just as determined that their labours should bear fruit. Angus Matheson was one of the petitioners to the Prince Regent asking for troops and also, "that steps be taken for the preservation of the tiny settlement." The historian regards these men as the real Kildonan settlers. Lord Selkirk saw them when he visited the colony in 1817.

The mother of Edward Matheson was Letitia Pritchard and she was born in Manitoba. Her father, John Pritchard was a special agent of Lord Selkirk's and he influenced the Church Missionary Society to send out missionaries to the Red River Settlement. His means were freely used to aid the destitute settlers, suffering from the results of the grasshopper plague and the Red River floods.

John Pritchard was deeply interested in educational affairs as was his brother Charles in England. From the union of these two historic families there came nine Anglican Missionaries and one of them is Primate of all Canada. Surely a remarkable family in their devotion to Church and state and as such are well fitted to guide the destinies of the land.

Edward Matheson received his early education at the Middle Church School, the Kildonan Parish School and then at the St. John's Parochial School, St. John's, which had its origin in that native training school built in 1822 by John West with the aid of Budd and Settee, who became the first native missionaries. This is the same school which has been firmly strengthened by Anderson, MacCallum, MacLean and Machray and whose first graduates in 1864 were natives, Budd, Vincent, Cook and J. A. Mackay. In 1869 the Kildonan boy saw the Red River settlers gathering to discuss the Riel disturbance at Kildonan where there were the stone buildings, church, schoolhouse, one dwelling and a store. He heard the booming of the cannon at Fort Garry, seven miles away when Riel's provisional Government was formed, on January 19, 1870, and he saw and spoke to Wolseley's men as they passed up the river to take control of the settlement at the flight of Riel.

Red River settlers found their way in 1862 to the Prince Albert district in order to grow wheat to meet the needs of the various fur posts. The Indian treaty at Carlton was another evidence that wheat would be needed, while another significant fact was the passing away of the buffalo as a source of food supply.

Missionaries followed the settlers and fur traders. Twenty years after John West had opened the first Anglican Mission near St. John's College, Henry Budd was sent to open a Mission on the Saskatchewan River where the Hudson Bay posts were at Cumberland and Moose Lake. Budd chose "the Pas," a place midway between the two, which was the most central place for the Indians to meet during trading. It was a land teeming with fur-bearing animals.

Hunter came in 1844, and took charge of Cumberland, the oldest Hudson Bay trading post in the Interior and established by Samuel Hearne, defender of Fort Prince of Wales, and who discovered the Coppermine River in. 1772. Here, at the Pas, a church was built by the men of Franklin's search expedition.

J. A. Mackay commenced his work in 1862 and labored here ten years at the Pas, before he went to Stanley.

In 1872 the Saskatchewan Diocese was formed, embracing an area of 700,000 square miles. At that time there were missions at The Pas, Stanley and Cumberland, Fort a la Corne, or Nepowewin, 50 miles east of Prince Albert. At the head was Bishop MacLean, who saw a future for the white settlements with Prince Albert as a central point and so Prince Albert became the clerical headquarters with the Bishop as their missionary.

Bishop MacLean decided to make Prince Albert settlement his centre in view of the Indian bands to the North and the white settlements and reserves on the other sides. The Bishop came in February, 1875, by way of Lakes Manitoba and Cumberland, via Fort a la Corne and thence to Prince Albert settlement by dog train. He made his first visit to Stanley in the winter of 1875-6; then to Edmonton in 1876-7, accompanied by J. A. Mackay. Mackay then came to the Red River Settlement to bring his wife and family to his new home and also to secure some helpers. He appealed to the present Archbishop for a teacher to take to Sandy Lake. The Archbishop replied: "I have a cousin, a young fellow who would suit very well." So it was that Mackay and Matheson met and became co-workers and true friends in the great missionary enterprise of the Saskatchewan Diocese for almost fifty years.

On July 9, 1877, the missionary party consisting of J. A. Mackay, his wife and four children; E. K. Matheson, the young student missionary of 22; James Bird and his wife, of Bresaylor; David Stranger and his two daughters, and the Mr. Thomas Clarke, left Red River Set tiement for Prince Albert. It was a long trail in those days. E. K. Matheson trudged along all the way. The women and children were driven in democrats drawn by horses, while the supplies were carried in ox-carts. The weather was ideal while the mosquitoes were numerous and attentive, especially on the Salt Plains where the ground was covered nearly an inch deep with their dead bodies, as the snow-like clouds would flock into the smoke of the campfire. The journey was finished on August 26, 1877, when Fort Carlton was reached. There he was met by John Hines, of Sandy Lake Mission, at whose station he spent the autumn months.

In the winter of 1877 he taught at Snake Plains, thirty miles from Prince Albert. The student's residence was a shack with kitchen, bedroom, study combined, while the food was pemmican, tea and bannock. His Indian parishioners were good borrowers. When the young missionary's supplies ran low he must prepare an eloquent sermon from the text, "The wicked borroweth and payeth not again." How eagerly would the Indian return the provisions again, but the white man of the settlement could not be moved by Scripture.

He later taught at Sandy Lake where John Hines had built up a school with an attendance of thirty. There be spent the winter term of 1878.

On November 1st, All Saints' Day, 1879, E. K. Matheson became Saskatchewan's first full term Divinity Student in Emmanuel College. J. A. Mackay taught day classes and Cree while Bishop McLean handled the classics and theology. The present Canon Matheson aided in teaching day classes in the parochial School. Emmanuel College was a Divinity School until 1887, and an Indian boarding school until 1908. At this time it was reopened at Prince Albert as a Divinity School.

Young Matheson pursued his studies diligently and became Emmanuel's first graduate with distinction. He had won the Lieutenant Governor's prize for high standing for his three years in all subjects. He was a busy student these years preparing for his life work, studying the Cree, Latin and Greek, for even the missionaries among the Redmen must know their classics. The weekends were spent in conducting services in the parishes around Prince Albert. The young student was made Deacon, May 2, 1880, and together with R. Inkster, he was priested April 10, 1881, and graduated from the College in 1882, Saskatchewan's first Divinity graduate. In this connection, it may be explained that John Hines, John Sinclair and Robt. Inkster were ordained in St. Mary's, but were not regular students.

In 1881 he paid his first visit to Battleford, travelling alone in his buckboard to relieve the Rev. Thomas Clarke for three weeks. Battleford had been visited by Bishop McLean and Rev. J. A. Mackay during the last week in 1876. Services were held on January 1, 1877; in September, 1877, J. A. Mackay returned to become the resident missionary. Services were held in the first church built half way up the long hill. The Rev. J. A. Mackay conducted Sunday evening service in English here. The morning service would be either at Red Pheasant or Moosomin Reserve in Cree, and Governor Laird and P. G. Laurie were constant attendants.

From his Prince Albert Missions, Mr. Matheson visited Fort a la Corne on James Smith's Reserve. This meant a fifty mile ride on horseback. He laboured in the Prince Albert vicinity until 1886 with St. Catherine and St. Paul as his Parish and Fort Carlton as an out-mission station.

Then came the Rebellion days. Many citizens of Prince Albert were discontented because their town was not developing as quickly as it did in the later '70s or early '80s. Development was taking place elsewhere. The railway had been built through the southern part of the province. There was an atmosphere of discontent in the North country. The French half-breeds of Batoche and Duck Lake complained about their surveys and their lack of schools. To hasten the remedy for these conditions they needed a leader and Riel was approached at his home in Montana. James Isbister and some French half-breeds went for him. Isbister was jailed for a time but subsequently released. He became a teacher at the Stony Reserve, Grand Rapids and Cumberland and died some ten years ago. Riel came to the settlement to hold meetings and E. K. Matheson attended one of these meetings in the form of an open air picnic and as it so happened, had dinner with the Metis leader. Riel commenced his speech by urging that justice must be secured but law and order must be preserved. There seemed to be nothing inflammatory in his speech. On one occasion Mr. Matheson rode out to Carlton for his monthly weekend visit and service. On the way he was overtaken by a Prince Albert scout who reported that a Rebellion was on and that he should return. The missionary replied that he would not be harmed and so continued his way to Fort Carlton, where he was the guest of Chief Factor Clarke. He was awakened on Sunday morning by Thomas Mackay and on coming down was asked by Major Crozier to call meetings at St. Catherine's, St. Paul's and St. Andrew's in order that resolutions of loyalty might be passed by the citizens. This, the missionary did and copies were sent to Major Crozier. It was too late, however, to stop the fighting. The Duck Lake fight took place and Carlton was burned. After this the Prince Albert settlers were called to a central point in the town. This was protected by a palisade of cordwood enclosing a space 100 yards square. Commissioner Irvine with 50 men took control of the situation, while the Rebellion lasted. When the danger was passed the citizens returned to their homes. Mr. Matheson was forced to hold two Sunday services in Thomas Mackay's grist-mill, which was then in the course of construction.

With the moving of Rev. Matheson to the coal mining town of Lethbridge in 1886 there opened a new chapter in his life. There was no Anglican Church there and the task of organising the Parish and building the Church fell to the lot of the zealous missionary. The following account of the early days of St. Augustine's by C. F. P. Conybeare, K.C., D.C.L., contained in the May issue, 1926, of the St. Augustine's Parish Magazine, will give an appropriate idea of the development of the Lethbridge Church.

"That which is now the flourishing town of Lethbridge, only came into existence in August, 1885, although two years prior to that date there had been a small hamlet, known as Coal Banks on the bank of the Belly River, nestled in the hollow below the present town. It was the mining operations of the North-western Coal and Navigation Company which had called this hamlet into being, but navigation proving unsatisfactory, that company constructed a railway from Dunmore terminating on the bench land above their coal mine and laid out a town plot to which the name of Mr. Lethbridge, the President of the Company was given. During this period, the Right Rev. John McLean was Bishop of Saskatchewan, of which Diocese the present Diocese of Calgary then formed a part, and it was consequently under his rule that the germs of the Church of England in Southern Alberta were first developed and there is a tradition that Bishop McLean himself on one occasion conducted a service at Coal Bank.

In the early part of December, 1885, Lethbridge, a vigorous infant of three months, already showed signs of future importance. Its population was estimated at over 700, stores and dwellings were being rapidly erected, but though it had saloons in plenty, by actual count 19, places of worship were conspicuous by their absence.

There were at that time but three Church of England clergy men, namely: Two priests, the Rev. H. T. Bourne, and the Rev. Mr. Trivett, who were C.M.S. missionaries on the Blood and Peigan reserves; and a Deacon, the Rev. Ronald I after wards Canon Hilton, who was stationed at McLeod. After the foundation of Lethbridge, Mr. Bourne was instructed by Bishop McLean to arrange for and conduct services at Lethbridge, which was placed particularly under his charge, but as Mr. Trivett had similar duties imposed upon him in connection with the settlement of Pincher Creek and either he or Mr. Bourne had to go regularly to McLeod to take the communion services, a certain interchanging of pulpits of the three clergymen in the district was necessary.

As the result of a communication as the arrangement made by the Bishop on Thursday, November 6, 1885, a few of the male members of the Church of England met in what was generally known as Bourgoin's Hall to arrange for the holding of services. The hall itself was secured for this purpose and the possibility of erecting a Church was discussed. A subscription list was opened and the seven gentlemen present agreed between them to contribute $350 for that purpose. It was then stated that Sir Alexander Gault had promised a contribution of $250 and that Bishop McLean would furnish a further sum of $150 when that amount would free the church from debt. This proceeding was to have been followed by another meeting, but there is no record of the subsequent meeting having been held and the first one appears with the exception of securing the Hall for services to have been abortive.

So, on Sunday, November 27, 1885, the first Church of England service in Lethbridge was held and they were continued twice a month until March, 1886. In February, 1886, a com mittee was appointed for the purpose of organising the parish and securing a resident clergyman. The committee set out to raise subscriptions and the sum of $700 was secured locally, while from outside, $690 was obtained. In the meantime, a cottage known as No. 16 on the north side of Ford Street was rented. On the 11th of August, the Rev. E. K. Matheson, who had been appointed incumbent, arrived, being warmly received by the congregation. From this time on things moved rapidly forward. On October 6th the first sod for the foundations of the Church was turned. On Sunday, March 20th, the church was completed, the first brick building in Lethbridge and the first services held. The following letter by Canon E. K. Matheson now in retirement in Battleford will be of interest in connection with the foregoing:

The Rev. C. Swanson,
Rector, St. Augustine's Church, Lethbridge, Alta.

Battleford, Sask.,
May 10, 1926.

Dear Mr. Swanson,--

I regret very much not being able to answer your letter of April 26th sooner, but as I am an invalid and very ill at times, can only dictate when better and my voice a little stronger.

I arrived in Lethbridge on August 11, 1886, and my first service was held on the following Sunday in the Coal Company's house which was loaned to us for some time. I was the first clergyman appointed to Lethbridge and district--I was appointed in August, 1886. When I arrived, there was no church and no parochial organisation of any kind. I proceeded to organise the Parish and appointed churchwardens and vestrymen. John Keane was the first incumbent's warden and J. Cavanagh the first people's warden. I commenced collecting money towards the building of a church and was so successful that in a short time the contract for building was given to Scott and Merrill. The Church was of brick and is of course the present church.

The church was opened that same year, 1886, and used for services during the winter in an unfinished condition. Building operations were resumed next spring and the church opened in a finished condition at the Harvest Festival, 1887. I also organised in 1886 the Guild of St. Monica, the first women's organisation in the then Diocese of Saskatchewan. Lethbridge at that time was in the Diocese of Saskatchewan. I started a Sunday School with one child and when I left had between thirty and forty.

I rented a house on the west side of the square which served as a residence for myself and a place to hold services in until the church was opened, so I was privileged to have literally "the church in my house." I left Lethbridge on May 24, 1888, as Bishop Pinkham appointed me to St. George's Church, Battleford. I was succeeded by the Rev. J. F. Pritchard who for some years has been rector of the Church of the Epiphany, Chehalis, Washington.

Some of the churchmen in my day, John Keane, J. H. Cavanagh, C. F. P. Conybeare, J. W. Curry, R. B. Barnes, E. T. Gait, H. F. Greenwood, Dr. Mewburn, A. Barber, H. Bentley, A. J. Darch, E. J. Kirby, N. McLeod, F. Champness, H. King and C. Watkins. Mrs. H. F. Greenwood was the first President of the "Guild of St. Monica." Superintendent S. Steele was also a member of the congregation.

I am sorry not to be able to write more fully but hope this will be of some use to you.

Yours faithfully,


These quotations give us a very clear idea of pioneer missionary conditions in Lethbridge during the days of the Rev. Matheson. He labored in this district for two years before coming to his main field of labor in the Battleford district. There was one thing that E. K. Matheson did not like and that was the prairie and so a change was arranged with Bishop Pinkham's consent; J. F. Pritchard, of Battleford, took his place at Lethbridge and Mr. Matheson became the incumbent of St. George's on June 17th, 1888.

The Rev. Pritchard had directed the building of the present church with the exception of the porch and vestry. W. H. Smart was the contractor and Mr. W. Latimer, the foreman builder. These men did good work. Bishop McLean held the first service July, 1886. Canon Matheson boarded for a number of years at the old Queen's Hotel which is at the present time the United Church School Home.

Bresaylor Mission, which had been opened about 1883 belonged to the Battleford Parish. The little settlement of Saskatoon was also an outlying point of the same charge. Mr. Matheson was their first Anglican Missionary. He had no church but con ducted services monthly in the stone school house where George Home taught.

Saskatoon may claim its origin in a temperance colony with John N. Lake as its leader. Mr. Lake died in 1925 at the age of 91 in the city of Toronto where he was known as Toronto's oldest real estate dealer. While in Saskatoon the missionary met such friends as the St. Laurent family, Mrs. Pendygrass, Messrs. Garrison, Irvine, May, Copeland, and others. The wooden railway bridge at Saskatoon was built in 1890-91. On May 15, 1891, the first locomotive entered the village amid general jollification and headed by a torchlight procession.

Canon Matheson added other drives over his extended mission-field, opening services at Prongua, in Mr. Andrew Suffern's house and also at Willowmoore and Baljennie. At Prongua there were such worshippers as Messrs. J. F. Prongua, Hassell, and Palmer.

From 1893 to 1895 the work at St. Paul's, St. Andrew's and St. Catherine's was carried on by E. K. Matheson.

In 1895 the Battleford Industrial School received him as its principal. This position he held for nearly twenty years. The school had been established in 1883 in the building occupied by the North-West Council. Rev. Thomas Clarke, the first principal, took up the work in this school which was supported by the Indian Department till 1895. At this time the Church took over the control on the per capita system and it was under this system that it gained the record of paying its way without help from the Government and without one cent from the Church. There has been an attendance as high as 68 boys and 52 girls entailing expenses of over $16,000 a year. A moral and religious training was given to the Indian boys and girls, and while the academic subjects were well looked after, athletic training was not forgotten. In this connection be it remembered that the old football league used to be police, town and Industrial School. Besides the regular subjects there was special industrial training, as shoe repairing, carpentry, agriculture, baking, housework, laundering, blacksmithing and sewing, etc. This school sent its quota of 40 to the Great War, of which four paid the supreme sacrifice. Two of its graduates became clergymen at the head of its industrial schools. One graduate secured his M.A. and many of them became leaders and teachers in the Indian mission field. The Indian industrial school was closed in 1914 owing to the new system of Improved Day Schools being adopted. Many of the staff of the Indian School are still in our midst, respected and loved citizens.

Canon Matheson, who travelled over 100 miles in 1890 to find a flock to minister to, now in 1914 became superintendent of the Indian Missions of the Battleford district. Such are the rapid changes which have occurred in the early years of the twentieth century. Venerable Archdeacon Mackay had the super vision of Indian work in the districts of Cumberland, Prince Albert and Battleford. In this position of superintendent Canon Matheson ministered regularly to Sweet Grass, Thunderchild and Moosomin Reserves with occasional visits to the others.

The early schools on the reserves were established entirely by the Church, generally by the Church Missionary Society, in order to aid Indian work. In 1893 the Indian Department assisted to the extent of $300 a year and the Church gave $100 extra in the case of a catechist being in charge. With the consolidation of the Church of East and Western Canada the Missionary Society assisted with giants. The Church Missionary Society felt that the Canadian Church should support their own Missions and so they commenced the withdrawal of their support in 1895 by deducting one-twentieth part each year till 1920. There are two kinds of day schools in operation in the Mission Fields, the Day School conducted as the Rural School, and the Improved Day School which has qualified teachers employed by the Church. The Indian children are given a noon meal at the Mission house. The Department of Indian Affairs gives an extra grant in this case.

Canon Matheson has punctually attended every Synod of the Saskatchewan Diocese until 1922, and also all the Provincial Synods except one, when Commissioner Laird, happening to visit him, the Canon was prevented from attending. The first Diocesan Synod was held in 1882 and presided over by Bishop McLean. The clergy were Archdeacon Mackay, James Settee, David Stranger, all deceased, and those still living, Edward Matheson, Battleford; Samuel Trivett, Eastern Canada J. F. Pritchard, Washington; Thomas Clarke, Melfort, and George Mackay, Wyoming.

In 1890 Canon Matheson attended a General Conference of Eastern and Western Churches held at St. John's College, Winnipeg, for the purpose of consolidating the Anglican Churches in Canada. This Confederation was successfully carried out. The first meeting was held in 1893 when Archbishop Machray was made Primate of Canada.

In 1882 E. K. Matheson was appointed Rural Dean of Carlton, later he was appointed Rural Dean of Battleford. This gives him a wonderful record of nearly forty years of executive work. In 1904 he was asked to become Archdeacon of Athabasca, to assist Bishop Reeves and also offered the same position in the Diocese of Moosonee later on, but he loved his Saskatchewan Diocese too much to leave. The Diocese in which he had labored so long and had been an important sharer in the beginnings of so many communities, had the warmest spot in his heart.

On November 1st, 1912, he was appointed Canon and the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on him by Emmanuel College in May, 1924, for his distinguished services to the Church.

The Bishop's Palace

Though the Church has claimed his interest continually yet he has found time to be a Lodge man. In 1881 he became a member of the Masonic Lodge, Kinistino, at Prince Albert, and was connected with the various Lodges in the parts of the country in which he was stationed. Canon Matheson is a life member and a charter member of the Masonic Lodge, North Star, of Lethbridge, and the Battle Lodge at Battleford.

Throughout his life he has been interested in everything historical pertaining to the North West, especially the history of the Church. His Library is one of the best in Canada, and he has many valuable historic relics. His life account of Bishop McLean, found in the "Leaders of the Canadian Church," is an interesting and sympathetic account, while his pamphlet, "Pioneer Life Among the English-Speaking Settlers," is an important historic contribution. Though his illness has made it impossible for him of late years to write, yet he has been an encouraging influence in aiding others in the preservation of the Historic stories of our land.

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