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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 5. Extension of the Work in the Prince Albert Settlement--Emmanuel College

With this brief review of the background of the church's growth from Red River through the Cumberland Mission to Stanley, and what we now know as Fort a la Corne, we retrace our steps to Prince Albert where our story began. Here again it is fitting that we should fill in the background which preceded the arrival of Bishop McLean in 1875.

Reference has already been made to the establishment of the Isbister settlement in 1862 and there are still those who recall the ruins of the original Isbister home at the West end of the city just slightly East of 20th avenue.

This settlement was small, but on July 26th, 1866 there arrived in the vicinity the Reverend James Nisbett together with companions who had come with him from the Presbyterian Mission of Kildonan at the Red River. Their purpose was to establish a mission among the Indians and they had finally chosen the site of the present day city of Prince Albert. To Mr. Nisbett belongs the credit for systematically and persistently following through with his purpose, and incidentally establishing a larger settlement than had previously been anticipated with the Isbister party. To Mr. Nisbett also belongs the credit of naming the settlement Prince Albert in honour of Queen Victoria's consort. Reverend James Nisbett established his mission at the junction of what is now Central Avenue and River Street. Great credit is due to him for his very patient and arduous labours during the years that he was here. His own health and that of his wife were seriously impaired with the result that in 1874 they returned to Kildonan over the rough prairie trails by wagon. Ten days after their arrival Mrs. Nisbett died and Mr. Nisbett himself died eleven days after that, on September 20th, 1874. Part of the story of their life has been recorded in a Centennial booklet of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church issued in 1966 at the time of the one hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the mission. This book was very capably written by Mr. Robert Dunning and records the progress of the mission with considerable detail.

Quoting from the Presbyterian Record of Canada, Mr. Dunning describes the situation which existed at the beginning of Prince Albert's settlement: "Following the establishment of the mission by the Reverend James Nisbett, the Hudson's Bay Company erected a post about three-quarters of a mile down the river. Bishop McLean selected a site about two and one-half miles to the West of the mission as the headquarters of his diocese and the seat of Emmanuel College. Everyone felt that there had to be a town somewhere in the neighborhood and each was anxious to secure the site of the town. The Reverend James Sieveright seized the most favourable opportunity and adopted such measures to ensure that the mission property became the centre of the town of Prince Albert!"

In the course of the years that followed these three settlements have grown together to constitute what we know today as the city of Prince Albert. In the early days, as the quotation above suggests, there was considerable rivalry between these three distinct settlements. The settlement at the West end grew around the original Isbister settlement and it was here therefore that the church was built. The settlement in the East end which grew up around the Hudson's Bay property became known as Goschen, this name has largely dropped out of use today but many older members of the community still affectionately refer to their home there as being in Goschen.

[16] A distinguishing characteristic of land use at Prince Albert in the early days was the settlement on river lots, such as existed in the Red River settlement also. This meant that property consisted of a long narrow lot facing on the river, which enabled settlers to build their homes close together due to the narrowness of their property, resulting in easy access to each other for social purposes and convenience, and also so that they could combine together in case of danger threatening from any quarter. One of the results of this river lot pattern was that the Prince Albert settlement grew along the river bank for a considerable distance. In 1877 Bishop McLean reported to the Church Missionary Society in London, England that he now had succeeded in having a second church built in Prince Albert. This was St. Catherine's Church situated on a knoll West of Prince Albert. The original church was built and dedicated by Bishop McLean in 1877 but as a result of depreciation was later removed and a new church built and consecrated in 1932. It is significant however, that St. Catherine's Church was at that time considered a part of the Prince Albert settlement.

The Bishop began almost at once travelling to the other areas of his diocese in an effort to encourage and stimulate the work of the church in more distant areas. In the Winter of 1875-6 he made his first visit to Stanley, and to Edmonton in 1876 and 1877, accompanied by J. A. Mackay. Such journeys involved not only considerable difficulty but also the time required to travel by primitive means for such great distances. Undaunted by such problems Bishop McLean applied himself vigourously to visiting whatever settlements existed not only of white settlers and Hudson's Bay posts but also the Indian settlements which he gradually familiarized himself with as time went on.

It was from his growing sense of need among those whom he encountered that he derived the inspiration for the establishment of Emmanuel College. He stated in his charge to the First Synod of the diocese on August 31st, 1882 that the origin of Emmanuel College was in "the sense of need I entertained for a trained band of interpreters, school masters, catechists and pastors, who being themselves natives of the country would be familiar with the language and modes of thought of the people." It was indeed a venture of faith to start such an institution mainly for the purpose of training Indians to preach the gospel in their mother tongue!

Occupied as he was by seeking to supply the spiritual needs of the people locally and at greater distances, Bishop McLean had come to recognize the vital needs of human resources to staff the missions and churches which he saw to be so necessary. Locally he had already provided the church of St. Mary in Prince Albert, the Church of St. Catherine, and went on to establish St. Paul's Church, Lindsay, and St. Andrew's Church, Halcro.

The establishment of churches for the white settlers and the growing interest among the Indians indicated the necessity of a source of supply for those who were to undertake the work that these missions and churches would create. When one considers the lack of railway transportation and the prohibitive cost of importing many building necessities, the idea of erecting a college was one which involved a very considerable amount of money. This was a factor that the Bishop reckoned with in addition to the personnel that would be required. Again he gave himself to this task as to the others with a tremendous energy with the result that on November 1st, 1879 Bishop McLean opened the work of Emmanuel College, which stood a short distance South of St. Mary's Church. By this time his own home stood there and he used his own study as a classroom, while Archdeacon Mackay, who with his family had moved from Battleford to Prince Albert, conducted classes as the Bishop's assistant, in a little log school house nearby, the church Parish [16/17] School connected with St. Mary's Church. With some students there doing Sunday duty it was found possible to keep services going in all the adjoining centres.

By November 1880 the main building of the college had been built and was opened with a service and a public meeting. The Lieutenant Governor was present at the meeting and spoke to the assembled gathering. The courses offered included training for native helpers, and a course of Theology for those looking towards ordination. In addition to this a collegiate school was opened for boys and young men to fit them for university training. By 1882 at the time of the Diocesan Synod the Bishop was able to report that during the previous Winter term they had 30 pupils in attendance, 12 being missionary students and 18 pupils of the collegiate school.

In a valuable resource booklet published by the Canadian Northwest Historical Society, Volume I Number III, 1927 the Reverend J. F. Pritchard describes the conditions under which the students lived during those days. "We boarded with the late Canon Flett who was one of the professors of the college. There were in the same small building Mr. Ronald Hilton and two Indian catechists. The quarters were small and our fare very simple. There was no milk for our oatmeal or our tea and just the plainest of cooking. We went for our lectures to Bishop McLean who lived in a small log house, and to Archdeacon Mackay who lived in a similar domicile nearby. It was mid-winter while I was there and very cold. We used to get up and dress without fire and go into a miserable school house badly heated and lighted and study from 7 to 8 in the morning and again from 8 to 9 in the evening. My cousin I remember was taking lectures on "Pearson on the Creed", "Paley's Evidences" and several other books on divinity. Mr. Hilton started Hebrew and I began New Testament Greek and Cree. We took lectures on the Old Testament from Archdeacon Mackay and translated it into the Cree". Another early student of the college has wryly reported that in addition to the discomfort of cold hands at the college in attempting to study, it was difficult to write because the ink froze in the ink wells.

It might be fitting to add here that Bishop McLean, of whom little so far has been said, was exceedingly well fitted for the position which he held as the Head of Emmanuel College. He had been born in Portsoy, Banff-shire, Scotland on November 17th, 1828. His early education was by private tutor and he followed this background with very distinguished studies at the University of Aberdeen and Kings College. He was already a qualified chemist before he took his degree and was a fellow student of Bishop Robert Machray under whom he later served in Winnipeg. After graduation, he went to London, England and accepted a position in business which not only took advantage of his rare ability, but also developed some of the latent talents which were later to serve him in such good stead in his work in the Church in Canada. Although born and brought up a Presbyterian, while in London he became associated with the Church of England, and interested in the work of the Church at large. As a result of this, he accepted an invitation from Isaac Hellmuth who was at that time general superintendent for the Colonial and Continental Church Society in British North America, and closely associated with Huron College in the Diocese of Huron, London, Ontario. As a consequence of this, he came to Canada and was ordained by Bishop Cronyn on August 1st, 1858. He remained in London as curate at St. Paul's Cathedral until Bishop Machray in Winnipeg, recognizing the need for capable leadership for St. John's College, which he had revived, sent a plea to McLean to join him as warden of St. John's College.

McLean arrived at the Red River Settlement at the beginning of October in 1866 and was promptly appointed Warden of the College, incumbent of [17/18] St. John's Cathedral and Archdeacon of Assiniboia. Space does not permit more than brief reference to the very capable leadership of McLean, both in the College sphere and in the leadership which he gave in the Church. Reference particularly should be made to his wise and skillful guidance during the Red River Rebellion in 1869. Suffice it to say that in June of 1873 Archdeacon McLean left Winnipeg for London, in order to raise the endowment for the new diocese to which he had been nominated, and was subsequently consecrated Bishop as has already been reported.

These details will enable the reader to recognize the Bishop's longstanding interest in education and his outstanding ability in organizing and sustaining an effort of this kind. His genius may be indicated by the success which attended his efforts in commencing a college in such a remote area as Northern Saskatchewan, which fulfilled the purpose not only of training native catechists, and ultimately clergy, but also men from the Old Country and from Canada, together with a collegiate school for the children and young people of the Settlement.

The first graduate in divinity from Emmanuel College was Edward K. Matheson who graduated in 1882, after having been previously ordained Deacon and Priest in 1880 and 1881. Other students associated with the College in those early years included Robert Inkster, J. F. Pritchard, J. Badger, J. R. Settee, D. D. McDonald, and James Taylor. All these names merit further reference to their work which, in every case, was done under great difficulty and proved of great value to the Church in those early years.

In keeping with the Bishop's growing vision of the opportunities in the North-West, a statute was passed by the Dominion Parliament in 1883 establishing the University of Saskatchewan at Prince Albert, of which Emmanuel College at once became a part. In the Bishop's charge to Synod in 1886 he speaks of the chemical laboratory which he had brought over from England and Germany previously; "during the past term lectures on chemistry and its application to agriculture have been delivered daily with experiments. The pupils are taught how plants grow, what substances in the soil and atmosphere form their food, how different kinds of crops withdraw from the soil different constituents or different proportions of the same constituent, how therefore the soil becomes impoverished and in need of replenishment." Such practical training suggests that the College was by no means entirely pedantic in its outlook, and was not interested only in the work of the Church, but also had at heart the fullest interests of all the people in the vast area which the diocese then embraced.

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