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]

3. Recollections of Red River and Prince Albert Days
by the Rev. J.F. Pritchard

I was born on the 27th March, 1857, on the banks of the Red River in East Kildonan opposite the Kildonan Church on the old Pritchard homestead called the "Elms." My father, Archibald Pritchard, was a son of John Pritchard, Hudson Bay Company's officer, who retired and started a boarding school for Hudson Bay officers' children in his own house. This school, after Bishop Machray came, was removed to St. John's and was really the foundation of St. John's College and the University.

I went to the Kildonan School across the river, being rowed over in a boat or skiff in the summer and walked the ice in the winter. Our teacher was Mr. Alexander Ross. My parents were very poor and hard-working and I, the oldest, was expected to do and did work hard. I wore homespun worsted with moccasins and did all kinds of work, but was able to attend school fairly regularly. We moved down not long after that to Middle Church because my father was an English Churchman and we had three miles to go to attend worship. Therefore he sold his farm in Kildonan and we moved to St. Paul's Parish opposite the church, where we lived until the death of our parents.

I always thought it a great mistake that we moved from Kildonan to St. Paul's. The surroundings at Kildonan were crude and coarse enough but they were not improved in our new environment. Our living was coarse and scanty, principally bannock and butter in the summer with some fish and wild game, wild fruits, as strawberries, raspberries, plums, etc. We had good crops of wheat until a plague of grasshoppers devoured every thing, obliging us to get relief from the United States.

The milling of our grain into flour was quite a problem. We had only wind-mills and water mills with granite kerns, and wind and water were not always available. It was not until my uncle Hugh Pritchard, who spent his wealth in helping to feed the people during the famine with food brought from the U.S., built a steam grist-mill opposite our farm in Middle Church that we were sure of our daily bread or bannock.

I attended the school across the river at St. Paul's; it was a neat stone building which was used for church on Sunday. Bishop Machray took charge of the services, coming down from St. John's every Sunday. He also taught my class in Sunday School, coming in all weathers, in mud up to his knees. The Bishop prepared me for confirmation about this time. What a man he was! Tall and lank with black hair, with whiskers, not much over thirty at that time. My Uncle Hugh and Aunt Eliza also moved down to St. Paul's at this time and opened a store of general merchandise with the grist-mill opposite our farm. My Uncle Samuel Pritchard, became vicar of the Parish and lived in the parsonage near by. It was about this time that my cousin Edward K. Matheson, came to live with Uncle Hugh Pritchard because his father had died when he was a child. I welcomed the companionship of Edward. We lived like brothers and grew up together. We often ran the grist-mill together, I operating the engine and he handling the mill. He was a good miller but I think I was rather a reckless engineer. I have a scar on my wrist yet where the piston rod caught me. My uncle, Samuel Pritchard, subsequently took charge of the parish and relieved Bishop Machray. While he was in charge, the present Middle Church was built.

While attending this school, my teacher was Roderick Sutherland, a native lad, and I will say he was a good teacher. The Bishop often visited the school and was anxious for us to enter for the Isbister cash prizes. We went, I remember, to the old Kildonan School for the examination where a boy named John Ballandyne and myself carried off the third prize. The prizes were five, four, and three pounds and we were fortunate in securing the three pounds which was divided between us. How proud I was! I remember going up to Bishop's court and receiving the money from him. I really believe if I had had the courage to ask the Bishop then, I might have been admitted as a student in the college but I was needed at home.

Soon after this time the Presbyterian College was started in Kildonan by Professor Bryce. Father and mother thought I could walk there as a day scholar, which I did and I remember my first day which was a cold January one. It was then that I first met P. G. Laurie, Editor of the Herald, and at that time Editor of the Winnipeg paper, who brought his son, William, that same day to College. The next time that I met them was years later in Battleford. My studies were: Greek, Latin, French, mathematics, etc. I walked six miles a day with bannock for lunch, beside carrying about ten books back and forward. The college was in the brick room in the Kildonan School house but was later moved to Donald Murray's house near by. I really studied too hard with too little nourishment and had to give it up to avoid a break-down.

Some time after this my cousin Edward was engaged as school master on the Mistawasis Reserve, North of Fort Carlton, Saskatchewan. He went to the Rev. John Hines' with Archdeacon Mackay to teach the Snake Plain School. I missed him a great deal but enjoyed the long letters that he wrote about his experiences, such as learning the Cree language, etc. He, more over, when he came back the following spring, said that I was needed to teach another school. He said that Bishop McLean was going to start a college for training school masters and catechists for the University and we would very likely be taken in and so have our hopes realised. He finally induced me to make up my mind and I joined the party for Prince Albert.

To leave home now was a heartrending separation. Things were looking better for us on the farm and the country was filling up. I had been running a ferry for some time across the Red river opposite our farm and had been making four and five dollars a day. My salary as school master was to be 400 dollars a year and I had to board and keep myself. My father gave me an ox-cart loaded with flour and provisions and we set out. We were about three weeks on the trip and had a jolly time with plenty of adventures wading creeks and sloughs and fighting mosquitoes. It was my first experience in long distance travelling.

Fort Carlton was reached in the Fall of 1878 and we crossed the North Saskatchewan on the Green Lake road to Sandy Lake where Mr. Hines' Mission was situated. Edward was to teach at Star Blanket's Reserve amid I went on to Mistawasis Reserve about thirty miles from Carlton. A log school house had been built for Edward one year before and he lived in a part of it partitioned off. I thought I would like a house of my own, so a little hut was built, about ten feet square, of green logs, plastered with clay and a clay chimney in one corner. Into this cabin I moved and it was as cold as outside when the fire went out. I had plenty of buffalo robes to wrap myself in at nights, or I would surely have frozen. My menu was bannock and pemmican with tea, three times a day. I taught school six hours a day and had from fifteen to twenty children to teach. The Indians lived in a little village of huts near by. On Sundays they all assembled in the school house and I read the service in Cree, after which we sang Cree hymns. I readily learned to read Cree but I was not able to understand or speak it until later. It was indeed a great change in my life. Mistawasis was very kind. He used to cut my wood and then let me have an ox and sleigh on Saturday and I would haul it home to the school house and cabin. It was here that I met the Rev. J. A. Mackay for the first time. He stayed over night with me on his way to Mr. Hines' mission at Sandy Lake. I never saw him again until at Prince Albert, where he taught in the college. He was an ideal Indian missionary, knew the language thoroughly and was a good English scholar as well. He was a good preacher but taught more than he preached.

My first year in Emmanuel College in Prince Albert, I shared the same room with my cousin Edward K. Matheson. I had six weeks' vacation as school master on the Mistawasis Reserve, where my cousin had taught two years before. The College was then in the first year of its existence. We boarded with the late Canon Flett who was one of the Professors of the College. There were in the same small building Mr. Ronald Hilton and two Indian catechists. The quarters were small and our fare very simple. There was no milk for our oatmeal or our tea and just the plainest of cooking. We went for our lectures to Bishop McLean, who lived in a small log house and to Archdeacon Mackay who lived in a similar domicile near by. It was mid-winter while I was there and very cold. We used to get up and dress without fire and go into a miserable school house, badly heated and lighted, and study from seven to eight in the morning and again from eight to nine in the evening. My cousin, I remember, was taking lectures on "Pearson on the Creed," "Paley's Evidences," and several other text books on divinity. Mr. Hilton started Hebrew and I began New Testament Greek and Cree. We took lectures on the Old Testament from Archdeacon Mackay and translated it into the Cree.

There were many amusing as well as interesting incidents if I had time to give them. The following summer the new college was built and I came back as a regular student the next term giving up my teaching at the Reserve. My cousin and I now had a room each and Mr. Flett had a better house near the college where we took our meals with him. Bishop McLean and his family occupied quarters in the college, using about half the space. It was a fair structure of frame and I expect stands there still.

There were more students enrolled this year and we were much more comfortable. Edward Matheson was very diligent in his studies, seldom missing a word. However, there was a Mr. Bourne, who was quite the reverse. He never could get his lessons prepared, he was either nervous or had not the time. It seemed impossible to come unprepared before the Bishop. Poor Mr. Bourne, he seemed always to have some excuse. On one occasion when he started to make one the Bishop interrupted by saying, "Don't let your life be a long tissue of excuses." Mr. Hilton was a fair scholar, but my cousin was always to the front. Mr. Hilton subsequently married the Bishop's daughter and later became Rector of All Saints' in the city of Seattle. He died two years ago, but his widow is still living in Seattle.

Hilton and I were contestants for a prize given to the College by Lieut.-Governor Laird, first Governor of the North-West Territories. I had to go every Saturday about fifteen miles to South Branch to hold services there on Sunday and to teach on Monday. My cousin had St. Catherine's Church and lived near it. I was bemoaning my fate on the eve of the examinations. The test was to be on Monday and I had the long trip ahead of me while Hilton had the advantage of being home and using his time in studying. Edward and I arranged that I would take St. Catherine's, occupy his study and he would go to South Branch in my place, or St. Andrew's, it was called. This seemed rather a mean advantage to take but I came on Monday well prepared and carried off the prize which was bound in half-leather, of Smith's Christian Antiquities. My cousin took the first prize while this was the second prize.

I often think of those days. All I had was four hundred dollars and I had to pay everything out of that except tuition. My cousin and I were both in the same situation. In the summer we taught school and held services on Sunday. He, in the Parish of St. Catherine's, and I in that of St. Andrew's. We surely worked our way through college. I was ordained deacon in August, 1882, and priest in 1885, while Edward was priested in 1881.

St. Andrew's in the Halcro Settlement was inhabited by English half-breeds, some of them from my old Parish in St. Paul's. Strange it was that I was now ministering to my old comrades of school days. We built a school house near the church and it was in this school house that I first met Louis Riel. He had a meeting soon after he was brought there from Montana. The English and French half-breeds wanted the same land grants that had been given to the half-breeds in Manitoba. They were continually promised by the Government that this question would be settled, but finally they were persuaded to send for Riel who they were assured had secured their right for them at the time of the Red River trouble. I heard Riel speak and also had conversation with him. He said that no resort to arms was thought of and he only came as a friend of his people to urge and to perhaps intimidate the old "To-morrow" Government of Sir. John A. Macdonald, whose procrastination was the cause of all their troubles.

However, there was a secondary reason for the Rebellion. There were many who saw that if a Rebellion could he started that land values would mount upward and that the country would be advertised and general prosperity would come at a time when business was stagnant in Prince Albert and the land boom had collapsed in Winnipeg. For this and other reasons things moved swiftly and the half-breeds were urged on until we were in the throes of bloodshed and rebellion as well as at the mercy of any infuriated Indians who were induced to join in the fray for their own reasons.

As soon as my people saw that a resort to arms was at hand and that an Indian rising was imminent I advised that we all go to Prince Albert and defend ourselves under the Union Jack. Having left our houses and property and gone to P. A. we were barricaded for three weeks with Bishop McLean and the Presbyterian minister and all the settlers near by except the French settlement at St. Laurent and Batoche. These last places were the centre of Riel's Rebellion. There were probably two or three hundred people behind the stockade. We had services every Sunday and after the prayer for the Queen we would sing the National Anthem. I could tell a lot about our life at that time. Hilton and I were in the commissary department to give out orders for rations. At night we took kettles of tea and lunch to the pickets on guard on the hills around Prince Albert. My cousin and the Rev. Arthur Wright also took part in this work. We all did our bit and I received scrip for my services and pay for my losses. I had a house near my church which was requisitioned by the police. It was a long time of suspense but I was never afraid or alarmed. None of us who knew much about the Cree Indians ever feared. They were like a wild animal, catch them alone and they will not molest you. I think they were more sinned against than sinning and a great deal of the blood shed might have been spared if there had been sane leadership. It should not have been left to those who were going to make capital out of the advertising of the country. Riel and the poor French half-breeds were no fools; they suffered and with them suffered many loyal settlers whose relatives and friends were lost in those dark days.

After the Rebellion I moved to Battleford, taking charge of the parish at that point. Mr. Clarke, who was principal of the Industrial School remained in charge of South Battleford. This was the winter of 1885-6. There were some troops of North West Mounted Police and some A and A batteries of artillery wintered there. Major Wilson was in command of the artillery and Major Steele in command of the police. I held services first in the Presbyterian Church but afterwards moved to the town hail which had been built by the citizens for winter use. We had some wonderful services there. Everyone went to church morning and evening and the place was well filled.

Money was more plentiful and we started a subscription list to build a church. Two thousand dollars was collected in cash and St. George's Church was built. The following summer Bishop McLean came up in July and dedicated it, holding the first service in it before completion. At that time he was on his way to Edmonton with horse and buckboard. The following November he returned to Prince Albert via Battleford in a row boat on the Saskatchewan. He was then a very sick man. Mr. Clarke and I went over to see him in his camp and took him some chickens to tempt his appetite after the crude fare of bacon and bannock. He died soon after he got to Prince Albert. After finishing the church I assisted Mr. Clarke in the industrial school but the new Bishop Pinkham thought I ought to give all my time to the church. On this point we disagreed and I became restless. It was at this time that a change was effected and I went to Lethbridge while my cousin Edward Matheson, who had been there, came to Battleford. Some time after this I removed to the state of Montana, where after many years of service I am now retired and live with my son.

Project Canterbury