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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 4. The Lac la Ronge Mission--James Settee--Rev Robert Hunt--Holy Trinity Church, Stanley

As early as 1842 a chief from Lac La Ronge named Heche Hookemow visited the mission of Henry Budd to make inquiries about the Christian faith. No missionary or catechist had ever visited the distant regions of La Ronge but this chief had heard while hunting about the Christian gospel from some of Mr. Budd's first converts and consequently went that great distance, one hundred and fifty miles as the crow flies but possibly four hundred miles by water, in order to learn for himself at first hand the good news of the gospel.

We are told that Budd gave him as much information as the shortness of his stay would permit, supplied him with elementary books to strengthen such faith as he had, and he returned to La Ronge with his appetite stimulated for even further knowledge. In the succeeding months and possibly years, he returned time and again to The Pas learning from Mr. Budd or the Reverend James Hunter more and more of the eternal truths of our Lord Jesus Christ. On his return to La Ronge we are informed that the native Indians of the band came to the chiefs tent to listen to what he could tell them, and as one group retired for rest or refreshment others took their places. On one occasion Heche Hookemow was kept up for four successive nights endeavouring to answer their questions and telling what he knew about the love of God.

Subsequently, his wife and two children were received into the church by baptism at The Pas and this is a part of the story of the beginnings of the work at Stanley and La Ronge. Other stories are told of inquiries from the same area, one of them being a noted conjuror named Mistimisquavoo. He also was a leading man among the people and after instruction was baptised along with his wife.

In response to the request of the many Indians who had learned something of the Christian faith from the chief and others, James Beardy went to La Ronge in 1845 and found on his arrival at least 20 families ready to embrace Christianity. Although he himself was a only a beginner in the Christian faith, Beardy laboured for some months teaching the Indians what he knew. In 1846 James Settee, a native catechist, was sent to La Ronge by the Reverend James Hunter who was now in charge at The Pas, and provided Settee with sufficient flour, pemmican, clothes and tools as he was likely to need until the following Spring. He set out in June and arrived after three weeks of travel. Much more could be said about the faith of the La Ronge Indians but space does not permit more than brief mention of it. It is related, however, that a severe epidemic broke out on the land in the area in which Settee was working and five men and twelve women, besides a number of children, died as a result. It is significant of the work that had been done that they are related to have died in the Christian faith using such expressions as "I love my Lord and my Saviour and I will praise him while I have breath". Much interesting information remains about James Settee who may justly be regarded as the founder of the La Ronge-Stanley mission. He is thought to have been born at Hay River and entered the C.M.S. school at Red River in 1823 being baptised on June 24th, 1827. After teaching school for a time at Beaver Creek and other places, he went to give instructions to the Plains Indians and eventually went to The Pas about 1844.

[11] The culmination of his work, painstakingly done and the result of a deep and abiding Christian faith, came on July 1st, 1847. On this date Mr. Hunter visited the La Ronge Mission and baptised 107 persons, of whom 48 were adults. There was jubilation among the Indians at La Ronge on this occasion, and it is recorded, possibly for the first time, that the Indians took a tree and lopped the branches towards the top, in what we are familiar with today as the lobstick. This was used both to mark a pathway through the bush and also to commemorate great events such as the baptisms were in the minds of the Indian people at La Ronge. Archdeacon Hunter presents a vivid picture of this occasion in his report to the C.M.S. and describes his own feelings upon observing the wonderful results among the Indians of the La Ronge area from the ministry of James Settee.

As a matter of interest to us today, it is possible to identify the site of James Settee as a result of Mr. Hunter's report. It is said to be immediately across from the Hudson's Bay Fort of La Ronge which was in recent years marked as an historic spot. It was the writer's privilege to discover the site of the Settee Mission on the South side of Kenderdine Island through the valued help of an Indian family, who had been informed of the work that Settee did and of the site. The house in which Settee lived was on a slight promontory immediately opposite the Fort. The combined meeting house and school, which was used for the church as well, was in all probability used by Mr. Hunter for the baptisms and was slightly East of the house, closer to the lake than the house itself. It was possible on that occasion to discover the doorsill of Settee's house still in its original position. The Indian was also able to find the site of the original cemetery, much overgrown with brush, but still discernible because of the mounds which covered the graves.

The original records of the 107 baptisms on July 1st, 1847 are still in the records of the diocese at the Synod office in Prince Albert, painstakingly written by hand in the register by James Hunter himself.

As a result of Mr. Hunter's report to the C.M.S. it was determined that an ordained man was necessary to consolidate and extend the work which Settee had so faithfully begun. Accordingly, in July 1850 the Reverend Robert Hunt arrived and took charge of the work. We are informed in the C.M.S. history that he travelled on the same boat as that of Bishop Anderson who was coming to Red River to assume his episcopal duties for the diocese of Rupert's Land. By the time that Hunt arrived, Settee had moved from the location of the baptisms at Kenderdine Island, as it is known today, to a site on the Potato River closer to the present townsite of La Ronge. Under date of July 30th, l£50 Robert Hunt in his diary describes the sice of his station as follows:

"The station is not at Potato River whither Settee moved from the Fort, but at the extreme Southwest end of the lake, at the mouth of the Montreal River, to this place he made a second movement". In September of 1850 Hunt writes "With respect to the qualifications of this spot as a permanent station of the C.M.S., the gospel has made more progress here than it has in many places of a hundred times its population; Mr. Hunter having baptised 107 Indians in 1847 and there are now a good number of other candidates for the sacrament". But later on he records several discussions with the Indians which eventually led to his removal to what we know today as the Stanley Mission. Green Lake was one suggestion that was made, but this was occupied at that time by the Roman Catholic Church and was not further considered. Further light is thrown on the early mission at La Ronge under Hunt's statement in September where he says "A number of the Indians have known something of Christianity for six, eight, or ten years ; some got their first impressions from Abraham Roberts, an Indian [11/12] man Mr. McKenzie the chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company sent to Norway House more than 10 years ago to be taught; when he came back he told what he knew to others". On August 2nd, 1851 Hunt again gives a little help in identifying the spot of the settlement when he says that he went to Potato River "about 10 miles southeast of this place." Potato River is a spot to which Settee moved first from the other end of the lake. After examining the spot in company with the Indian Chief they came to the conclusion that "there was no one advantage that it possessed over those of the present station." A still further site which could well be linked with the early history of the La Ronge Mission is that which is today known as Little Hills. Here stood the church of St. John the Baptist, since removed, but the cemetery is still maintained to some extent and revered by the older members of the La Ronge band. Here also was a small Indian school which flourished for some years prior to the removal of the Indians to the present townsite.

After about two years Hunt came to the conclusion that a more suitable area was necessary both because of the inhospitable nature of the soil at the original post and also because the Indians were not too conveniently located to reach the majority of them from that centre. Accordingly he moved 50 miles further East to the banks of what was then called English River, but which we know today as the Churchill. Here he founded a station called Stanley, after Stanley Park which had been his wife's home near Gloucester. The removal involved many hardships because he records, as quoted in the history of the C.M.S., that they tried to get settled in before winter but on December 6th they were still living and sleeping in a calico tent without a fire. In January he reports "At breakfast with a good fire the temperature on the table was 25 degrees of frost and at dinner the water froze in our glasses so quickly that we broke the ice again and again in order to drink". A week later he reported 47 degrees of frost in the breakfast room, the young calf was frozen in the cow house. The C.M.S. history also reports that on Bishop Anderson's first visit there were 40 baptised Christians to be confirmed and after 3 years 230 had been baptised.

It was on this site that Robert Hunt began to make plans for the building of a church. When he had left England he had brought with him not only the provisions for 15 months, but also tools, locks, hinges, window frames, glass etc. as well as blankets and warm clothing. It was his intention to utilize these materials in the building of a church. That church, as most people know, is today Holy Trinity Church, Stanley, and is the oldest building in Saskatchewan at the present time. Both in size and in beauty it is difficult to find its equal anywhere else in the North. It stands on a high rock overlooking the Churchill River and has from the time of its erection been recognized as a landmark to all who travel either by water or in recent years by air. Canon T. C. Boon in his book The Anglican Church from the Bay to the Rockies quotes from the C.M.S. proceedings of 1859 and 1860 as follows "Bishop Anderson visited Stanley on the Churchill River in the Summer of 1859, and was greatly impressed with the beautiful Holy Trinity Church there, then recently completed by Reverend Robert Hunt. The Bishop felt that it would make an admirable cathedral church, but for the fact that it was constructed of wood".

"Holy Trinity Church still survives as the oldest building in Saskatchewan and Bishop Anderson's St. Johns Cathedral, Red River, built of stone in 1862 has been only a memory for more than 40 years!" Most people are aware of the fact that the church was constructed by the Indians under the supervision of a carpenter who a few months before had built the Roman Catholic Church at Ile a la Crosse. Had it not been for the demolition of [12/13] the church at Ile a la Crosse some years ago, it would have held the record as being the oldest building in the province.

The Indians were taught by Mr. Hunt to saw the wood with a whipsaw from a pit below, and with the help of the carpenter engaged, the church was built slowly and laboriously with the materials at hand.

Many of the books written about travelling in the North at that time contained references to the Stanley Church and some include steel engravings showing the church with its splendid site on the Churchill River to good advantage. Some readers will recall that in October 1965 Canon B. P. W. Stather-Hunt visited the diocese and the mission of Stanley and La Ronge together with Cumberland House. Canon Hunt is the grandson of the Reverend Robert Hunt, his father having lived until the age of 10 or 11 at Stanley during the years that his father was the Missionary in that area. Canon Hunt's own father was one of six children born to the Reverend and Mrs. Robert Hunt at Stanley and he also entered the ministry serving as Vicar of Tunbridge Wells among other places. Canon Hunt himself as a young man came to Canada in the spring of 1905 working at first as a hired man in Ontario. In 1906 he came West, homesteaded near Lloydminster and then served as a Catechist for 7 years before returning to England for further study and he was ordained in Durham Cathedral in 1913.

For over 12 years Robert Hunt continued his faithful ministry at the Stanley Mission. Travelling extensively and under hazardous conditions he succeeded in consolidating work through the whole area which is today represented by the missions in the Northeast section of the diocese. During this time he kept a daily diary which is now deposited in the National Archives at Ottawa. This furnishes a great deal of information about the conditions in the North, both for the church and also for the natives and others who lived there. Eugene Stock reports in his history of the C.M.S. that he left broken down in health at the end of this time and he was replaced at Stanley by the Reverend T. T. Smith. Two years later he took charge of the mission at The Pas and was replaced by the Reverend John A. Mackay, later to become Archdeacon Mackay whose name is still well known for the long and faithful ministry that he exercised. Mr. Mackay began his work in the fall of 1864 and laboured there until March 1877. As we know from his involvement with Bishop McLean after his arrival, the last year or two were interrupted by various other obligations which were undertaken at the Bishops request.

We can assume however, that it was at Stanley that Archdeacon Mackay built the foundation for what was one of the most zealous and successful ministries of any of the missionaries in the Diocese of Saskatchewan.

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