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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 2. Origins of the Diocese in the Selkirk Settlement--Rev. John West

Like most of the early developments in the Northwest, the work of the church in the diocese of Saskatchewan, and indeed the Prince Albert settlement itself, had its roots in the fertile soil of the Red River Colony.

On September 24th, 1811 the first settlers for Red River arrived at York Factory. Two principle reasons were responsible for their appearance on the scene. The first was the unhappy plight of the Scottish crofters who had been dispossessed of their land by the revision of the Scottish Land Laws. Motivated by his concern for their survival and the promotion of their well-being, the Earl of Selkirk had purchased stock in the Hudson's Bay Company and entered into an arrangement with the Company to enable such a settlement to be undertaken. The second reason lay in the fact that the Hudson's Bay Company had for some time been made increasingly aware of the need for local sources of supply in Canada for such staples as grain, flour and potatoes to avoid the excessive costs of importing them from Britain. Added to this was the need to provide a place where retired servants of the Company could find convenient and congenial surroundings in which to live.

The settlement that Lord Selkirk proposed appeared to promise some hope of satisfying not only the needs of the Scottish crofters but also those of the Company. It is interesting to note that in 1802 Selkirk had made a similar proposal to the Secretary of State in England for the settlement at Red River of a large number of Irish Roman Catholics who were suffering from the refusal of George III to implement the promised Act of Emancipation as promised at the Act of Union. Such a plan would have reduced the hostility in Ireland and given those concerned a new hope and promise for the future, but no action was taken on the proposal. Had it been put into operation, the whole course of history might well have been changed.

Selkirk's wide and diverse interests are shown by other immigration plans which he initiated in 1803 when 800 Scottish settlers landed at the Eastern end of Prince Edward Island, and a year or so later 102 persons were brought from Scotland to Dover and Chatham Counties in Upper Canada. Even though such plans proved very costly to him personally, Lord Selkirk persisted in his desire to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by creating a settlement on the fringe of the new West.

The early years of the Red River Settlement were plagued with problems, both within and without. One of the promises made to the original settlers, even before leaving Scotland, was that they would have in their midst in their new home a Presbyterian Minister and a church of their own faith. But it was not until October 14th, 1820 that any attempt was made to provide for the spiritual administrations of the Protestant part of the settlement. On that date there arrived at Red River the Reverend John West an Anglican, who came in his capacity as the first Chaplain of the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1817 Lord Selkirk had visited the Red River Valley and been reminded of the promise of a Presbyterian Minister and, at that time, presented two lots to the settlers--one for a church and one for a school. He again pledged himself to see that a minister was sent out but in the years that followed, prior to his death on April 8th, 1820, Selkirk himself was involved in litigation with the Company and his own subsequent illness and death prevented his promises from being kept.

[5] West had arrived at York Factory from England on August 13th and the intervening time had been spent not only in travelling from the Bay to the settlement, but also in visitations of those posts and settlements which he found along the way. While at York Factory, he had been greatly concerned to observe as he puts it "a number of half-breed children running about, growing up in ignorance and idleness." Then and there he conceived a plan of caring for and educating such children in such a way as to utilize the potential that they represented, and to provide human resources which would be both helpful and acceptable in the growing life of the communities of the West. As a practical step toward such an objective, John West took with him from York Factory two boys--the sons of an Indian named Withewacapo. They were given to him by their father to be brought up and educated, both in the Christian faith and also in the white mans knowledge. Both boys proved good students, were baptized at the Red River Settlement, and when they grew up entered the service of the Hudson's Bay Company.

On arrival at Norway House on October 4th, a third boy was given to John West for education who was reported to be the son of a deceased Indian and a half-caste woman. Two years later, on July 21st, 1822, this boy was also baptized at Red River Settlement under the name of Henry Budd. In him the hopes and foresight of John West were fully justified. This Indian lad was destined to become the herald of the Gospel to the Saskatchewan country, and on his slender shoulders rested the responsibility of laying such solid foundations that some fifty years later the Diocese of Saskatchewan was created, which in turn became the source for the further outreach of those other dioceses which eventually were divided from it. It is only right and proper that April 2nd should be set apart in the Canadian Church Calendar for commemorating his life and works. It was on that date in 1875 that this saintly and noble Indian passed to his eternal reward, a few days after he had conducted Easter services, and proclaimed for the last time the triumphal messsage of Christ's glorious victory over death.

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