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]

5. The History of St. George's, Battleford
by the Rev. J.F. Haynes

The history of Saint George's Church, like the history of the Church Universal, is in two main periods divided by a central event. First there was the Jewish Church, afterwards the Christian Church, and between them stands the Cross. The central event in the history of our local church is the Riel Rebellion. Before it, the place of history is on the Battle River, especially the South bank. After the Rebellion, history is made north of the Battle River and towards the Saskatchewan.

The first dawn of Church life came during the last week of the year 1876, when Bishop McLean, accompanied by Rev. J. A. Mackay (now senior Archdeacon of the whole of Canada), camped on the Battle River flats while making a trip from Prince Albert to Edmonton which were both in the one diocese. The Government House, which later became an Indian boarding school, and is now an Adventist Academy, was then being built. The workmen were gathered together for Divine Service on New Years' Day, 1877, and there was sounded the first note of public worship which had ever ascended to the Creator from these plains and hills. No trace of that simple place of worship remains. It was a log building forming the Government telegraph station on the south bank of the river.

In September, 1877, Rev. J. A. Mackay returned to become the first Christian Missionary to locate in the whole Battleford territory, with a parish whose boundaries extended north, south, east and west as far as he could travel. With his own axe he hewed logs out of the bush and built a house on a site donated to the Church Missionary Society. Winter set in that year the day after his family entered the building. The place lies a little east of the house on the Battle River owned by one of our present parishioners, Mr. Harry Loscombe. Saint John's Parish was organised and a log church erected near the Government House. Land made over to the Church at that time is still held by the Diocese who have paid the taxes up to date, but another party is squatting on the site.

In 1879 when Rev. J. A. Mackay was called to a Diocesan position in Prince Albert, the work was looked after by a lay missionary of the Church Missionary Society whose official position was teacher in the Indian School He studied for ordination, and is now known as Rev. Canon Clarke, living in Melfort on the pension list.

At the time of the Rebellion, Isaac John Taylor was missionary in charge. He is our earliest connection with existing Parish Registers in which loose sheets have been inserted showing that he conducted burial services here in May and June, 1885, for men killed at Cut Knife Creek and on the Swift Current Trail. Apparently records of these burials were made in the General Church Registers in Prince Albert, and certified copies were sent to this Parish in December, 1902, by Rev. James Taylor, the Synod Secretary. The Rebellion closes this initial era of church activity, and the events which transpired caused town and church to be transplanted to the present site.

In September, 1885, Rev. John Francis Pritchard was appointed Church of England Missionary and organised the beginnings of the present Saint George's Parish though he continued to use the Mackay log house as the church residence. Under his direction the present church was built with the exception of the porch and vestry. The east end had a full sized window as may be seen by examining the outer val1. Mr. W. H. Smart was the contractor and Mr. W. Latimer foreman builder. For quality of material and good workmanship the church is not surpassed by any building of more recent date. Mr. Latimer's widow is still a member of the congregation. The first service in St. George's Church was held in July, 1886, and very fittingly the preacher was Bishop McLean who held service on New Year's Day, 1877. Rebellion days are commemorated by a large brass tablet erected on the south wall by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire to the memory of the North West Field Force which included the Mounted Police. A marble tablet is erected on the same wall in memory of Bernard Tremont, telegraph operator. The inscription reads that he "Was murdered by the Indians," an expression which reflects the white man's bitterness at the time.

On 17th June, 1888, Rev. Edward Matheson was appointed Incumbent. He was induced by Archdeacon Mackay, to come out West and arrived 45 years ago this month (Aug., 1922). He walked on foot all the way from Winnipeg. Another of that party was Mrs. James Bird, whose funeral service was held in this church last January. The Incumbent's residence was for a number of years two rooms in the present School Home, then Queen's Hotel. The parish extended west to include Bresaylor and east to include a small settlement known as Saskatoon. During these years a fence was put round the Church, and the Font was brought up by freighter's wagon from Winnipeg. Since then clergymen and congregations have come and gone, but Canon Matheson by God's mercy is still here, St. George's wisest counsellor and friend.

George Henry Hogbin took over the parish in 1894. The circular stained glass window was inserted in the east end, and the two brass flower vases presented in memory of Robert Wyld. The Rood Screen across the chancel was erected, and the present Communion Table installed. These two were both made and presented by members of the Royal North West Mounted Police Force stationed at the Barracks. The present people's warden, Mr. Harry Adams, came to the parish the same year as Mr. Hogbin, and his mother in England sent out a set of beautiful pieces of embroidery--communion table panels, and desk-hangings--which in spite of many years' service are still an asset to the church furnishings. Donations o a like nature were made by the Incumbent and Mr. and Mrs. F. A. D. Bourke Mr. Hogbin was married in St. George's Church and took his bride to a house on the east side of Second Avenue opposite the residence of Mr. J. A. Mason.

In 1896 Rev. W. Ridley Beal came here and in 1898 was succeeded by Dr. Whyte who resided on the north side of 21st Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue in a house which was pulled down last year (1921).

Canon Matheson was in charge again for some months until Rev. J. F. Dyke Parker came in 1901. He resided on 17th Street near the home of Mr. Carlyle-Bell. This house also was demolished last year. The rent in Mr. Parker's time was paid by a Mite Society which collected subscriptions of ten cents per month. One of the collectors is still with us (Mrs. F. W. Light). A brass tablet was placed on the north wall of the church in memory of Mr. P. G. Laurie who established the first newspaper in Western Canada--The Saskatchewan Herald. The family of Mr. C. T. Nichols presented the church with a bell which was set up on a scaffolding immediately south of the church door. The structure proved inadequate to withstand the strong winds and for a number of years the bell lay on the ground.

Mr. C. E. Burch, a student, was here in the summer of 1906. and in five months conducted eleven burial services. Apparently a severe epidemic of typhoid fever swept the district that summer. Mr. Burch is still remembered with affection for his work in the Sunday School and among young people. He boarded during his stay with Mrs. Latimer.

Rev. Dr. Duffy came in the fall of the same year and was the first occupant of the present Rectory. The building, which cost $1,300, was put up by Mr. Chas. Boughey. Children baptized by Revs. Parker and Duffy were candidates at the last Confirmation Service, April, 1922, on St. George's Day.

In 1908 Rev. Ifor James Jones was appointed to the Parish. He stayed longer than any other minister and was the first rector. A harmonium in the chancel was replaced by the present large organ. Electric lighting was installed to replace coal-oil lamps. A vestry was built on to the church. The tennis-court--the first in town--was laid out, and a fence was put round the rectory. In 1916 Mr. Jones joined the Overseas Forces as Chaplain and on his return in 1919 was appointed rector of North Battleford.

In 1916 Rev. Harry Sherstone was appointed locum tenens. During his time the heating system of the church was changed from wood to coal heaters. The bell was re-erected on a structure resembling the old English Lych Gate forming an entrance to the church grounds. In 1917 Mr. Sherstone gave part of his time to Diocesan work, and Canon Matheson meanwhile looked after the Parish. In 1918 Mr. Sherstone resigned to take up entirely Diocesan work with Prince Albert as his headquarters, and was succeeded by Rev. John Francis Haynes.

The same year the vestry and W. A. had the rectory renovated inside including a new floor laid in the kitchen. In 1919 the church was re-calsomined and the plaster repaired. A building to serve as a parish hail was obtained on Second Avenue in 1920 and in the following year an extensive scheme for church restoration was decided on. This included re-shingling the roof, re-plastering the interior, putting in a new foundation, excavating a basement and installing a pipeless furnace. The financial conditions of Western Canada that fall made it impossible to carry out the scheme, but in 1922 the roof was re-shingled from the proceeds of voluntary donations. On Easter Sunday Rev. Canon Matheson presented a silver chalice--one with historic associations--having been sent out by the C.M.S. for use in the chapel of the late Indian boarding school.

At the time of writing (Aug., 1922) there is no permanent memorial of the Great European War. It is hoped that such a memorial may be provided in the form of a new and larger chancel to accommodate both choir and organ under conditions which will do justice to the music.

The congregation today possesses in its house of worship a heritage hallowed and made sacred by associations with such a past history as is unrivalled in all Western Canada; a heritage which should be jealously guarded and maintained where it stands as a living witness to those who have gone before and prepared the way, and as a challenge and inspiration to those on whom the work will fall in the generations that are yet to come.

Rector St. George's Church, 1918-1922.

Project Canterbury