Project Canterbury

An Historical Sketch of the Diocese of Saskatchewan of the Anglican Church of Canada

By W. F. Payton, Archdeacon Emeritus

Prince Albert: The Anglican Diocese of Saskatchewan, 1974.

Chapter 1. Creation of the Diocese--Consecration of Bishop McLean--His arrival at Prince Albert

Many persons who have risen to positions of great distinction in national, provincial and community life in Canada today, have had their origin in humble homes, and have inherited their abilities and the quality of their life from parents whose educational and social backgrounds were extremely limited. This is surely one of the glories of democracy, and enables the lifeblood of the nation to be constantly replenished from strong and vigourous sources.

The story of the present diocese of Saskatchewan to some extent follows the pattern of the parents of such citizens. From the time of the establishment of the diocese in Prince Albert until the present, new dioceses have been created which have, as a result of settlement patterns, become more populous and wealthy, and possessed of far greater influence than the diocese which embraces the central area where work was begun. The cities of Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon have all taken positions of great prominence in the political, industrial and economic life of Canada, whereas Prince Albert still remains a city of relatively small proportions. The church life in the other dioceses similarly has assumed greater importance and responsibility in the national church, as a result both of wealth and population and the ability to attract outstanding leaders among both clergy and laity.

Nevertheless, the continuing history of the diocese of Saskatchewan reveals the same rugged heroism, and profound dedication to the church and the Gospel, which characterized the early years, and resulted in the planting of the seed which has grown to fruition in those dioceses which were originally included within its boundaries.

Because Prince Albert has remained comparatively small, the problems and opportunities of the church are much the same as they have been fbr the past hundred years. Both are naturally affected by modern trends and the changes in communication and travel. But, by and large, the diocese is still occupied with the challenge to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments to the Indian and white congregations, and is less concerned with the problems which have arisen in large urban areas such as are to be found in abundance in the more recently constituted dioceses.

Two major factors were involved in the creation of the diocese of Saskatchewan. First was a growing conviction in the mind of Bishop Robert Machray that the task that he had undertaken as Bishop of Rupert's Land was an utterly impossible one. The length of time spent in travelling prevented him from giving as full attention to the responsibilities at Red River as was necessary to promote its healthy and effective development. He therefore came to the conclusion that in order to fulfill the church's responsibility in the vast area, said to be the largest diocese anywhere in the world, it would be necessary to create three new dioceses. The first would be for the area North to the East of Winnipeg, the second to the area North and West of Winnipeg, and the third in the great Saskatchewan valley. Accordingly Bishop Machray communicated with the Archbishop of Canterbury and those church societies involved in the missionary activity of the church indicating his feelings for the necessity of the immediate formation both of the two Northern missionary dioceses and also the one in Saskatchewan. He himself Went to England, arriving in September of 1871, and spent some time pursuing this objective in the necessary quarters with considerable success. As a [1/2] consequence, on June 10th, 1872 the C.M.S. officially approved the setting up of the Diocese of Moosonee in the East, the Diocese of Athabasca in the West, and the Diocese of Saskatchewan in the South immediately West of the Diocese of Rupert's Land.

On January 8th, 1873 the diocesan synod of Rupert's Land officially sanctioned the setting up of the new dioceses, together with the descriptions of their respective boundaries. It is interesting to note that the synod was opened with a service in the cathedral at which the sermon was preached by Archdeacon McLean from the text in Acts 15:22--

"Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas".

The second factor which had prompted consideration of the creation of the Diocese of Saskatchewan had been the singular success of the missionary activity of the Reverend Henry Budd and others in the Northern area, details of which will be related in the following chapter. Bishop Machray felt that the Northern areas, the dioceses of Moosonee and Athabasca, would continue to be almost completely missionary for some time to come, but that the Saskatchewan diocese lying to the West of Manitoba would become increasingly settled by white people as the land was opened up for agriculture and as communications improved, with the prospect of the coming of the railway from the East.

The necessary legal and ecclesiastical steps having been taken, arrangements were now made for the consecration of the Venerable Archdeacon John McLean whose nomination by Bishop Machray had been fully approved by all concerned, to act as the first Bishop of the diocese of Saskatchewan.

Accordingly, on Sunday May 3rd, 1874 John McLean was consecrated as a Bishop by the Most Reverend Archibald Campbell Tait, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury at the Lambeth Parish Church of St. Mary. Consecrated at the same time was William Bompas who had been nominated and approved as the first Bishop of Athabasca, the adjoining diocese to the Northwest of Saskatchewan. Assisting at the consecration were the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Asaph, the Bishop of Algoma and Bishop Anderson, the retired first Bishop of Rupert's Land.

Bishop McLean remained in England for a short time after the consecration in an endeavour to increase the amount of endowment for the episcopate and then returned to Red River in preparation for his arrival at Prince Albert. It was on the morning of January 28th, 1875 that Bishop McLean set out from Red River for his new home, leaving his wife and family to follow during the Summer time. Travelling in a light sled drawn by four dogs, the Bishop was accompanied by three Indians--one to lead the way and tread down the snow to make a path for the dogs, and one to run by the side of each team of dogs since two sleds also accompanied him with his luggage and provisions.

Throughout the journey he stopped for a series of services and confirmations along the route and travelled in this way for over a thousand miles over the snow and the frozen lakes, and the rivers and the bush. Before arriving at Prince Albert the Bishop visited the Nepowewin Mission, a mission which had been founded by the Reverend Henry Budd and at that time was occupied by another native missionary in the person of the Reverend Luke Caldwell.

It was toward the end of February before Bishop McLean reached Prince Albert which is said to have had a population at that time of approximately 500 persons.

According to the testimony of Canon E. K. Matheson, on his arrival Bishop McLean was a guest of the Hudson's Bay Post which was presided [2/3] over by Phillip Turner. It would appear that Mr. Turner's house was the same house which later became the home of Charles Mair, and the site was recently marked by the Prince Albert Centennial Committee as the Mair Park. Both Canon Matheson and Mr. Thomas McKay have related that one of the first things that the Bishop did upon arrival in Prince Albert, was to journey to the West end of the area where the men were engaged in cutting logs in the pine forest for a church. Mr. McKay describes his visit at the scene, and that he "had a good dinner of pemmican and tea with them, then spoke to them in the open air words of appreciation and encouragement; then with all kneeling down in the snow he gave thanks and prayed to God for his guidance and blessing." The church was opened by Bishop McLean on Christmas Day in 1875 and was named St. Mary's Church at the request of the men who asked that it be dedicated to one of the women Saints in the Bible in tribute to the courage and loyalty of their womenfolk, in sharing with them the privations and hazards of pioneer life in Prince Albert at that time.

St. Mary's Church still stands as a testimony to the courage and heroism of all who shared the difficulties of those early days. The old logs have been covered with siding but the church still preserves the sanctity and serenity belonging to a place hallowed by sacrifice and devotion. In the cemetery adjoining the church lie the remains of many of the leaders of the Prince Albert settlement of those early days, including Bishop McLean and members of his family. St. Mary's Church is a fitting memorial to their labours and to the life of dedication which they lived, and will stand for many years to come as a testimony to the hardy enduring character and integrity of the early settlers of Saskatchewan.

The arrival of the Bishop and his participation in the life of the community marked the official beginning of the diocese of Saskatchewan. Addressing the Synod of the Diocese on August 31st, 1882 Bishop McLean reminded his hearers that when he arrived the total staff of the diocese consisted of one Priest, one Deacon and a catechist, beside himself. The Priest was the Reverend John Alexander Mackay, who was at the Stanley Mission, and the Deacon was the Reverend Luke Caldwell who was at the Nepowewin Mission latterly-known as Fort a La Corne. The catechist was John Hines, later to become distinguished by his efforts at the mission named after him at Sandy Lake, as well as in other areas of the diocese. Bishop McLean described his diocese as a vast area containing about 30,000 heathen Indians with a few small settlements of white people. There were no endowments, no missionaries, no churches. Everything had to be begun as far as the Church of England was concerned. He described the boundaries as being the territory of Montana, in the United States on the South, the Diocese of Athabasca on the North, the Rocky Mountains on the West and the Diocese of Rupert's Land on the East. It is thus, he said, about 700 miles square comprising an area of 490,000 square miles. Truly, this was a challenge to cause the stoutest heart to shrink from such an overwhelming task but, with the strong character of the Scotsman that he was, Bishop McLean applied himself to the task with such vigour that his life still represents a tremendous achievement under great difficulty in times of unprecendented hardship.

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