In these days of haste when the race of life is so keen, competition is great and when men look back only for the purpose of seeing how near the next man is behind them, many drop out of active life and are soon forgotten. Some few there are who continue to exert an influence, first because the work they have done is a living tiring and bears daily witness for them; and secondly, there persists in them, something, which is sufficient in itself, to keep their names within the field of human interest.
Among these fortunate few must be placed the Rev. Canon E. K. Matheson, D.D., of Battleford. He is by no means entirely detached from affairs that have to do with those of his own race but to deal with that, is outside of the purpose of this chapter. It is as he has been, and as he continues to be, among the Cree Indians that I have to do with.
Where ever I go among the Indian Reserves, far and near, there is one question that I am sure to be asked, with affectionate concern, and that has to do with the Canon's illness. The Indians have more love for him than I have ever seen them give to a white man, but what may be better from some points of view, they have that respect which they give only to those who have the qualities which command respect. This is as it should be, for he has won whatever they are able to give him in this way.
I cannot remember when and where I saw the Canon first. It seems as if I had always known him. As a young man, possibly about the time he was a student of Emmanuel College, he taught school at my home Reserve. This was before my time but that did not prevent my parents from naming me after him. As a matter of fact, the name Edward, is very common where ever the Canon has been at work, another evidence of the great esteem in which he is held by the people who owe so much to his labours.
The friendship of him who often calls me "Ni-kway-mais" (Namesake), has meant much to me. Everytime I have occasion to pass through Battleford I go to that upper room in his house and after a short talk with him, come down encouraged and refreshed, because of contact with him in whom the Christ-life is so palpable. It is wonderful how one, so weak in body, can be a source of much strength. The secret of this, I believe, lies in that he lives so near to Christ, that power is conducted through him to those who may feel the need of it.
I remember that Canon in his capacity of Rural Dean of Battleford. My work at the time was more or less localized about Onion Lake, which by the way belonged at that time to his Deanery. I used to be present at some of these meetings. It is some years ago now and I cannot say that I remember the business part of them but they met the requirements of the time. What I remember well is the feeling of refreshment of soul and body that our visits gave us. The well-ordered home, the kindly courtesy, the genuine spirit of hospitality, the Christian atmosphere that pervaded, these were greatly helpful, especially to those of us who were young and new in the work at the time. If only every clergyman had the power of influencing others to be at their best, how much more effective would our Christian ministry be!
Canon Matheson is most fortunate in the woman he has chosen to share his life. In her own sphere she has made a name for herself which is known among church people throughout Canada but my present duty does not allow me to go into details about her life. Enough it is to say, that had a woman, worthier, more faithful and more suitable to his character and circum stances been looked for anywhere, I doubt if any one more fitting could have been found. Wonderfully faithful and patient as he is in his affliction, those qualities are intensified in her womanly nature. Truly he had been provided with help meet for him. Battleford has within itself an example of the nobleness and Christlike faith.
As principal of the Battleford Industrial School, I did not know him very well. The school was closed soon after I came into the district but that he still has the love and respect of all his former pupils is apparent to all; they have now grown to be men and women but every chance they have, they come to his house to enquire how he is. Much of his work shows in them but there is much which cannot be seen but which, as a leaven, will be at work slowly and surely through the future years.
As an invalid, Canon Matheson has his work which is by no means inferior to the good work done during the days of his activity. That which is passive often has subtler and more telling effect than that which is active. As suffering was an integral part in the Divine work of the Saviour, so the Canon's suffering, the intense character of which only a few can ever understand, is a part of God's plan for him. The calm Christian fortitude, the wonderful patience and uncomplaining attitude of mind which he shows, are an example which is a hundredfold more eloquent and effective than mere words, however sincerely uttered, can ever be. We have an object lesson before us, in him, which we can never forget and which cannot but influence us for good. If it were possible for beauty to go hand in hand with affliction and suffering, surely this happens in the lives of the Canon and his devoted wife.
As we look back to the days of his active life, we will remember him as a shrewd business man, one who rushed not into ventures rashly but, who once on the move, acted most decidedly, surely and unerringly. He planned all his acts beforehand most thoroughly and in detail.
He seldom made mistakes. His judgments were round and reliable and it is so still. His bodily powers may have ebbed but his brain is still as keen and sure as it ever was. If today his judgment is less comprehensive it is only because he now has less facts to base his findings on and not that it has lost any of its intrinsic worth. I, for one, still keep to my old habit of going to him for advice when I am confronted with any problem concerning the solution of which I may be somewhat doubtful.
As a pastor among the Indians he was especially fitted for his work. It has been said that the contact of a volatile temperament with the naturally passionate though restrained character of the Indian mind is not good for the latter. The steadiness, soundness and the deliberate unerringness that characterises the Canon's personality had a wonderful steadying power on the Indian. It had the calming effect which the Indian mind of today needs so greatly. He had and still has a steadying influence on all who waver and totter.
I have never heard the Canon utter one word of complaint, even in his illness. If it were possible that some day he might give vent to anything that savored of impatience it would be in reference to his inability to take active part in the work he loves so well. He may at times feel his days to be fruitless. To him it may appear so, but for us who receive inspiration at his home and go forth doubly encouraged to do our work bravely, we see that our efforts are partly his, vicariously applied.
Working in his old field, I have more opportunity than any body else to see his value to the work at the present time. It is not so many months ago that an Indian said to me, "I was tempted to do so and so but the Canon and his wife have been so good to me and they would be grieved." These words show the state of mind which is in many an Indian on these reservations. It is a great asset to have such a predecessor in the work, one who exerted such an influence that it continues to function after all these years.
During the many years that he was principal of the Battleford Industrial School he never confined his activities to his own duties. In the midst of his financial and other worries, in the midst of the overwhelming amount of work he had to do daily, he found time to go out to the neighboring reserves at week end in order to tell the parents, brothers and sisters of his pupils, the truths that are essential to the salvation of man. To a less zealous man, many an excuse would have offered itself from the neglect of such voluntary work, but not so for him, who in his bed of sickness, still keeps in closest touch with the work and whose prayers are offered daily for its success.
The age of miracles is past but those who know the Canon and his household are aware that there is a miracle happening daily in that home for in it is being enacted a drama in which is shown the utter frailty of human life being placed in the hand of God, unreservedly and by this means becoming a thing of power--power shorn of all its coarseness till it comes to be a thing of beauty which will be taken up when the Lord of all life comes to gather all His precious jewels.
As a Cree Indian, who some years ago was given the right by his tribe to speak in such circumstances as this, I not only willingly, but gladly consent to take my part among these who are writing down their tribute to the worth of the Canon. Great men are born, every day in this era of powerful achievements in producing a man whose greatness lies in his goodness, truth and usefulness to his fellows.
Thrice blest whose lives are faithful prayers,
Whose loves in higher love endure;
What souls possess themselves so pure?
Or is their blessedness like theirs?
The old Kildonan Settlement which has given so many men of power to the West, has inscribed on its honor roll, Canon E. K. Matheson, D.D.
November 29th, 1926.