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Journal of a Visit to the C.M.S. Mission of Stanley, English River.

By the Right Rev. the Bishop of Saskatchewan. [John McLean]

From Church Missionary Intelligencer, London, February, 1883, pages 90-94.

MAY 29th, 1882--Drove to the Forks of the Saskatchewan, and thence went as far as Cumberland on the Saskatchewan River in a skiff, accompanied by the Rev. Canon Mackay, C.M.S. Secretary. The distance on the river to Cumberland is about 250 miles. Here we left the skiff and went on board a large York boat hired from the Hudson's Bay Company, and commenced our journey by the lakes and rivers to Stanley, a further distance of about 250 miles.

June 7th.--We reached the end of Beaver Lake, and entered Pine River at 11 a.m. The bed and banks of the river were full of limestone, but at 6 p.m. we reached a point where the limestone ended and the granite rock began. The granite I was told continued all the way to Stanley.

June 8th.--Reached Scoop Rapids at 3 p.m. The shallows swarmed with fish; the men waded into the water and beat it with poles, killing large numbers and throwing them out on the banks. They were chiefly suckers going up the river to spawn. The river here narrows to thirty feet, with two falls in close succession, about fifty feet apart; each fall is about seven feet. The water is as smooth as glass to the edge of the first fall, then it breaks into a boiling sheet of foam; the fish were in myriads in the pools beneath the rapids--seeming to blacken the water, and appearing like a moving mass. They were ascending the rapids. I saw many actually emerge from the foam and push through the clear water of the fall at a point where there was a slight slope. They thus showed a most wonderful propelling power. Some of them were tossed back by the current, but they tried and tried again till they succeeded.

June 10th.--We reached Pelican Narrows, an outlying station of Stanley Mission. We were very cordially received by the Indians who assembled on [90/91] the bank and fired their rifles by way of salute. The Roman Catholic priest called at the Hudson's Bay Company's fort soon after our arrival. He speaks English, French, Cree, and Ojibbway. There are over 200 Indians belonging to this place. The majority are Protestants; but the Roman Catholic priest has baptized some of their children in the absence of a clergyman, and many of the Protestant Indians attend his services. The Nelson River Indians, who are chiefly Roman Catholics, trade here, and this increases the danger. There is no school. The children are altogether neglected. The Indians are here only in the spring and autumn, and then for a week only at a time. The Roman Catholic priest goes round with them wherever they go, and is, therefore, always at hand for baptism or sickness. Mr. James Roberts, who has been in training at Emmanuel College for the last two years to qualify him for acting as C.M.S. catechist here, is now with us, and will commence work without delay. He will go round with the Indians, but as he is not ordained he cannot baptize the children, and this gives the priest and advantage which he will be only too ready to turn to his account. The journey from Stanley to Pelican Narrows is both tedious and expensive, so that the Rev. J. Sinclair can only come at long intervals. He has done everything in his power to counteract the efforts of the priest.

A service was held in the mission-house at 11 a.m. Prayers were read by the Rev. Canon Mackay. I baptized one child and confirmed nineteen persons. The candidates had been prepared for confirmation by one of the Indians, who, at Mr. Sinclair's request, undertook the duty without remuneration of any kind. I was exceedingly gratified to hear this. My address had special reference to the circumstances of the people, the subject being faith in Christ as the one Mediator; the Virgin Mary, though blessed among women, yet a sinner pardoned by Christ's blood as well as us; the saints good people, but only pardoned sinners. I then urged the practical duties of Christianity under the heads of living soberly, righteously and godly in this present world. I told them that our catechist, Mr. Roberts, would teach their children as well as themselves, and urged them to help him to fish and hunt, so that he might have more time at his disposal for instructing them.

It appears that some time ago the Roman Catholic priest had induced many of the Indians to accept crosses and beads. The Rev. Sinclair, on coming down from Stanley to visit Pelican Narrows, collected all the crosses and beads, made them up into a parcel, and sent them back to the priest, with a request that he should not in future interfere with the Indians of our Mission.

We left Pelican Narrows soon after the service; the Indians again assembling on the bank and giving us a parting salute from their rifles. That evening we passed a small island of rock where it is said the compass deflects so much as to be utterly useless. There are evidently vast quantities of iron in this country. I have also seen evidences of coal oil as we passed along the banks of the rivers.

We continued our journey for the next two days through a succession of beautiful lakes. The Lake of the Woods is very beautiful. It is studded with islands consisting of granite rocks with trees growing in the crevices.

I have been much impressed with the work done by our boat's crew. As there is no possibility of their getting strong drink, they are necessarily total abstainers. They labour hard now at the oars, which are large and heavy; again at the poles, when they require to push the boat up against the stream; very often they draw or "track" the boat by a rope, while they make their way through the trees and bushes on the river-bank, or wade in the water [91/92] with the bed of the river covered with sharp stones; at the rapids the boat has to be unloaded and the cargo carried across the portages; sometimes the boat--a large one capable of carrying five tons--has to be dragged across the portage. This involves labour of the most severe character, and yet they go through it all very cheerfully. Their clothes are generally wet all day, and they sleep at night on the ground wrapped in a blanket. It would be difficult to induce white men to go through the kind of work they do on such a journey as this, and endure the discomfort and hardship to which they have to submit. It seems evident that though the Indian does not fall in very readily with the white man's mode of working, yet in the kind of work to which he has been accustomed, and which he understands, he can show energy, strength, skill, self-denial, and long-sustained effort.

I have often noticed, too, the kindness with which the Indians treat each other. When they meet in traveling they shake hands all round, engaged in friendly conversation, and are always ready to share tea, tobacco, or provisions with those who may be in want. They appear also to be very considerate of each other's feelings. For example, we were crossing one of the lakes a day or two ago under sail, when most of the men lay down, wrapped in their blankets, and went to sleep. The wind however having failed us, the order was given to use the oars. One of the men who was sleeping did not wake up with the others. They called to him gently, but he still slept. He was in the way of another rower, but this man, rather than rudely rouse the sleeper, stood at his oar for a considerable time, and worked with great inconvenience till the sleeper awoke.

These Indians have some excellent qualities that will well repay the labour of cultivation. Their powers of observation are exceedingly keen. They acquire a formal knowledge of the objects of nature with which they are surrounded. Nothing could surpass the tenacity with which their memory retains the impressions of the places they have visited or the routes by which they have travelled. I think that instruction in the elements of natural science would be a most useful part of their education, and one in which they would take a very lively interest.

English River has a much larger volume of water than the Saskatchewan. The channel is rocky, and so are the banks. Large vessels could in many places lie close up to the bank, as the water is so deep, and as there are no sand-bars the channel is always the same. The rapids are the only impediment to continuous navigation. In a great many places the granite is evidently mixed with iron-ore. The river expands into lakes with beautiful islands of rock more or less covered with trees. At present the emigration to our North-West Territories is confined to the agricultural districts, but the day will come when the mineral riches of the country through which we are now passing will prove a great source of attraction.

We reached Stanley Mission at 10 a.m., on the 13th of June. As we passed along the shore towards the parsonage the Indians fired salutes from over thirty rifles. I noticed an old woman come out of a house, rifle in hand, march down to the water's edge, fire off the rifle, and then return to the house. On landing we met Mr. Sinclair and a large number of Indians, men, women, and children. I shook hands with them all, not even excepting the babies, of whom there was a goodly number, and whose mothers held out their little hands to be shaken.

We held service in the church at 3 p.m. There was a large congregation. The prayers were read by Canon Mackay. We had the service for baptism at the end of the second lesson, when I baptized two children. In my sermon [92/93] I spoke to them about the work done by Mr. and Mrs. Hunt in securing the building of so beautiful a church, and of the solemn and affectionate words addressed to some of them by Mrs. Trivett on her death-bed. I also urged them to abandon an idea I had heard was prevailing among them to leave Stanley and seek their fortunes in the Saskatchewan district, pointing out the substantial advantages they now enjoyed, as their lakes and rivers abounded in fish, and their woods in game, while they could raise large crops of potatoes and other vegetables with very little trouble. I assured them that the Indians in the far west were living in much less comfortable circumstances than they were. I also pointed out the greatness of the blessing they enjoyed at Stanley, in having a faithful and devoted missionary, a beautiful church, and every possible effort made to promote their spiritual interests.

The Confirmation service was now held, when I confirmed sixty-nine candidates. I asked a number of questions on the main truths of the Gospel, and was much pleased with the answers I received from the candidates. I was satisfied that Mr. Sinclair had trained them carefully. After the Confirmation I addressed them on the nature of the promises they had so solemnly made before God and the congregation.

In the evening a meeting was held in the school-house for the election of a vestry and other business. It was stated that the people had contributed about $50 (10 l. sterling) in offertories during the past year, besides erecting a fence around the church and churchyard, valued at $50, and supplying the firewood and all the work in cleaning and taking care of the church.

June 14th.--Service was held in the church at 10.30 a.m. There was a second Confirmation service for the benefit of some who could not attend yesterday. On this occasion six were confirmed. I addressed the candidates, and then Canon Mackay preached to the congregation, after which Holy Communion was administered. There were one hundred and one communicants besides the clergy. The value of the offertory was $15, or about 3 l. sterling. It was chiefly in promises to pay furs, written on slips of paper in the Cree syllabic language.

After service an old, venerable-looking Indian was brought to me by Mr. Sinclair. He shed tears while he spoke of the delight with which he had joined in the services of the last two days, and his hope that we should all meet again in heaven. I spoke to him about God's love in Christ Jesus to us poor sinners. He was deeply affected.

Mr. Sinclair strongly recommended a Chipewyan youth for training at Emmanuel College, that he might be useful among his countrymen. There are at present five Chipewyan families at Stanley, but it was arranged to train the youth for the Diocese of Athabasca, as the Bishop had requested Canon Mackay and myself to select and train a Native helper for him. It was also agreed that one of Mr. Sinclair's sons should be trained at Emmanuel College, on the C.M.S. list, for Mission work among Cree Indians of the Diocese of Saskatchewan.

The five families of Chipewyans at Stanley embrace about thirty souls. They are Christian, and as they understand Cree they attend church and take part in the services. They have prayers in their tens ever day, using our Cree Prayer Book. One of them was confirmed yesterday with his wife, who is a Stanley Cree Indian.

There are over 500 Indians belonging to the C.M.S. Mission at Stanley, including the out-stations of Lac la Ronge and Pelican Narrows. Too much importance cannot be attached to the effort to keep these people steadfast in the faith. The Church of Rome is actively employed in seeking to draw [93/94] them away from the simplicity of the truth as it is in Jesus. I am thankful to say that the Native pastor, the Rev. John Sinclair, a Cree Indian, has been most faithful and diligent in the discharge of his duties. He has more than justified the opinion I expressed of him to the Committee at Salisbury Square, when I asked them to consent to his being brought to Emmanuel College, with a view to his ordination to the Native pastorate of Stanley. He has proved himself to be a spiritually minded pastor, and a most powerful and eloquent preacher of the Gospel in his native tongue. When he was at Emmanuel College I soon found that the knowledge that he was to preach in any of our churches was all that was wanted to crowd the church to the door by the people who understand Cree. They expressed themselves as much impressed by the eloquence of his language and the intense earnestness with which he set forth Christ crucified as the sinner's only hope.

As far as I can judge from what I saw, the Mission at Stanley is in a most prosperous condition. The total number confirmed on this visit was 94--that is, 74 in Stanley Church on June 13th and 14th, and 19 at Pelican Narrows on June 10th. The number of communicants was 118, exclusive of clergy: 101 in Stanley Church and 17 at the Narrows. These numbers are very far in advance of any known before at Stanley Mission.

To the best of my knowledge too, the life and conversation of these Stanley Indians are in a marked degree consistent with their outward profession. I hear nothing about their conduct that leaves any doubt about their sincerity upon my mind. One of my clergy here had a letter some time ago from his mother who resides in Manitoba, in which she stated that on a recent Sunday morning she heard the sound of a well-known hymn-tune in the neighborhood of her house on the river-bank, and on going out she saw a camp of Indians. They proved to be Stanley Indians who were holding a service of prayer and singing in their native Cree language. They had brought their furs all the way to Winnipeg for sale, and had not, as many travellers do, forgotten to bring their religion with them as their best safeguard in the midst of many temptations.

Mr. Sinclair asked me to urge the friends of Missions in England to send gifts of clothing for the Stanley Indians. It is much wanted to assist the aged and infirm, as well as the orphan children. Since he received charge of the Mission there has been a falling off in the Mission gifts from England, although the need for them is now greater than ever. Mr. Sinclair is not personally known to the ladies who so kindly provide the gifts of clothing, and he has no one to plead his cause; but he belongs to the class of C.M.S. missionaries that I know those ladies are very anxious to help. He is himself an Indian, and God is most manifestly blessing his work among his countrymen. I may say that I do not know any Mission where gifts of clothing would be more useful or better bestowed than at Stanley.

We left Stanley at 4 p.m., and pursued our journey homewards by the same route as we came. At Cumberland I gave Canon Mackay leave of absence from the diocese till August 15th, that he might visit his family in Manitoba. On reaching the Nepowewin Mission, Fort La Corne, I held a Confirmation, when twenty-five persons were confirmed, and two children baptized. The Mission here is at present in charge of Mr. John Umphable, the Society's catechist. The Indians have removed to a reserve about five miles distant from the old Nepowewin Mission buildings. The Rev. James Settee visits them from time to time to administer Holy Communion and to baptize the children of the Mission.

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