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 9. Beginnings of St. Alban's Congregation--Injury and death of Bishop McLean

It had been the intention of Bishop McLean to convene the third Synod of the Diocese of Saskatchewan in 1885. However, since this was not practicable, it was deferred until the following year and it then met in Prince Albert on Wednesday, August 4th, 1886. The Bishop reported that the total number of clergy at that time was 22, of which 11 were present at the Synod. He went on to say that they were thoroughly representative of all parts of the Diocese, insofar as those in attendance were concerned. The Western or Alberta Division was represented by three, the same number represented the Lake Winnipeg or Cumberland District, while five were from the central portion of the Diocese.

He had previously announced the impending changes at the Synod of 1883, involved by the creation of the Diocese of Assiniboia, later called Qu'Appelle, and that the Diocese of Rupert's Land had surrendered to the Diocese of Saskatchewan the original missions of the NorthWest which had been founded by Henry Budd and Archdeacon Hunter at The Pas, Cumberland House, Grand Rapids and Moose Lake. A further announcement of more than ordinary interest to our readers today was also included in the Bishop's charge as follows: "In the town of Prince Albert a new church is in process of erection. It is an extension of the mission chapel, the whole cost of which including two lots of land, amounting to about $2,300.00, I defrayed by funds raised by me in England. I did this as the mission chapel has been, in fact, the Bishop's chapel where I have addressed the congregation almost every Sunday evening when at home. The Clergyman in charge carries on all the services when I am absent from home. The people have contributed a sufficient sum to double the seating accommodation on the understanding that I may use the church as a Pro-Cathedral, retaining the direction of the services, while the pastor acts as curate."

This marks the beginning of the Cathedral Church of St. Alban the Martyr. Because of the increasing numbers of people settling in the centre, it was found necessary to consider their spiritual needs in view of the distance of St. Mary's Church from the centre. This original mission chapel stood just west of Central Avenue opposite what is now the Federal Building where the Post Office is located. As the town continued to grow, so the importance of St. Alban's congregation increased, with the diminishing of the congregation at St. Mary's which ultimately became the Collegiate Church of Emmanuel College. A further announcement was made by the Bishop in his charge to the effect that he was anxious, in view of the success of Emmanuel College among the Cree Indians, to try the experiment of opening a branch of the institution at Calgary for the purpose of training young men of the Blackfeet Tribe. He expressed the hope of visiting Calgary in the course of a few weeks in order to give effect to this plan. Because of the lack of railway facilities in Saskatchewan, and the fact that Calgary was at a distance of some 800 miles, the Bishop stated that it was practically impossible to train students from the Blackfoot Reserves at Emmanuel, and for this reason the opening of a branch at Calgary would remove these difficulties.

The Bishop further reported that since the previous Synod in October 1883 he had been able to visit and hold confirmation in every mission in the Diocese but one, which he hoped shortly to visit. When it is remembered [31/32] that this included Northern Manitoba, a great part of Saskatchewan and the whole of Alberta, it gives some indication of the time and energy expended by this great missionary. He told the Synod that in the great majority of cases he had made at least two visits to each mission, and that the expense of the visitations being very great, had in most cases to be performed by conveyances specially provided for the occasion.

Shortly after the close of Synod on Monday, August 16th, Bishop McLean left home with his son Hugh to visit the missions in Calgary and Edmonton. We are indebted to Canon Newton for the record that he has included, first from the Bishop's journal, and secondly, comments that were added as he tells us in his preface by Mrs. McLean, the wife of the Bishop.

Reaching Calgary on Tuesday, August 24th, he continued his work until he received a telegram on the 29th advising him of the birth of a son, but sent word that he must push on for Edmonton, as his work must not be neglected and he would return as soon as possible. On Sunday, September 5th, he held confirmation in All Saints Church, Edmonton, and the following day started on his return journey. On going down the hill near the Fort, he says in his journal that they met a cart, and there being no room to pass, the wagon was upset and they were all thrown out. They proceeded on their journey soon after, but the Bishop became seriously ill and after proceeding five miles a return was made to Edmonton where the Bishop lay for three weeks at the Ross Hotel under medical care. Becoming very ill and very weak, the team was sent back to Calgary and by the advice of the doctor a large skiff was built by the Hudson's Bay Company with the stern part covered with canvas like a tent. Two men were engaged to conduct it to Prince Albert--a distance of 600 miles by the North Saskatchewan River. Fort Pitt was reached on Thursday, October 7th--eight days after leaving Edmonton. The Bishop speaks very highly of the attention of his son Hugh and, after leaving Fort Pitt, began to feel better. However, the weather turned bitterly cold and ice began to form on the river, and the Bishop's health was such that his son feared that he would not live until arrival at Prince Albert.

Finally, Prince Albert was reached and the Bishop rallied considerably for a few days but was too much weakened by the hardships of the journey. Fever and delirium set in, but his mind cleared until on Saturday afternoon, November 6th, he spoke in the most eloquent manner of the future of the Diocese and took leave of his family. His death occurred at noon the following day and Mrs. McLean records that he fell asleep like a little child.

He was buried at the East end of St. Mary's Church, where but eleven years previously he had led in prayer the men gathered together engaged in the erection of the first church for white settlers West of the Red River Settlement.

Mrs. McLean writes "So lived and so passed away this great and good man who has been sorely missed by the Saskatchewan and Calgary Dioceses, especially in their efforts to overcome the financial difficulties that are incident to all new church work in countries where there are no endowments for religion, and the people are too poor to do much for church support. Such Dioceses require exceptional men, and Bishop McLean was an exceptional man." For his Diocese of Saskatchewan the Bishop raised, clear of all expenses, the following funds:

[32] Bishopric Endowment Fund $73,140.00
Divinity Chair Emmanuel College $10,023.00
Louise Scholarship $340.00
McKay Scholarship $700.00
Clergy Endowment Fund $4,000.00
Stanley Mission $260.00
Devon Mission 884.00

In addition to these capital funds, the Bishop had been unremitting in his efforts to obtain funds both in England and Canada for the purchase of property in the various missions, and for the erection of the necessary buildings. The salaries of the clergy were also a source of concern to him, and here again the Bishop was constantly appealing to the various societies for financial assistance. In his final Synod in 1886 the Bishop reported that eleven clergy were supported by the Church Missionary Society, seven by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, one by the Colonial and Continental Church Society, one by the Canadian Church, one by private contributions from England, and one by the Federal Government at the Battleford Training School.

The work in the Diocese was originally initiated by the Church Missionary Society whose interest was almost entirely in the native work, not only in Canada but throughout the world. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, on the other hand, was more concerned about providing the ministrations of the church to settlers from the Old Country. The Colonial and Continental Church Society was similarly interested and in later years gave increasingly valuable help in the white work, being responsible for the support of the Sunday School by Post, and the maintenance of a few of the Indian Missions.

In Canada the Bishop obtained a great deal of financial assistance from the Diocese of Toronto and the Diocese of Huron, St. James Cathedral in Toronto being particularly active in this regard. Two private personages are worthy of mention because of their financial help, the first being the Hon. S. H. Blake and the second Sir Casimir Gzowski. It would appear that Mrs. McLean was a daughter of the Hon. S. H. Blake and he was most active not only in the Prince Albert area but in the Calgary district in assisting the work of the Bishop among the Indians. Both Mr. Blake and Sir Casimir Gzowski were among the founders of Wycliffe College in Toronto at approximately the same time. Both were staunch Evangelicals as was Bishop McLean and his immediate successors.

The Bishop reported that efforts towards local self-support had begun by 1886 at Fort Macleod, Calgary, Battleford and Prince Albert.

The original property on which St. Mary's Church and Emmanuel College were built is described by the Bishop at the first Synod as having been donated by Mr. Jacob Beads in an amount of 48 acres. The Bishop purchased a further 64 acres from Mr. Beads from his own private account, and afterwards presented to the College the same property as a gift from himself, and an additional 80 acres were purchased from the College account in 1881. This meant that on the river lot system the property extended from the river bank South for two miles.

The church in Western Canada will be forever indebted to those organizations which have been mentioned, and to individuals mentioned and unmen-tioned, who gave up their time and energy and material wealth to initiate and sustain the church through the difficult days of its original organization and since.

The passing of Bishop McLean elicited many references to his genius and his labour. Among them was the sermon preached by Dean Grisdale [33/34] in St. John's Cathedral on November 13th. He quoted the words written by the Bishop of Huron when Bishop McLean first came to Rupert's Land as Warden of St. John's College--"he is so strong and full of soul and energy and so ready at all times for any amount of work, that his place will not be easily supplied." Dean Grisdale went on to say that every moment of his time, every gift of his mind, his whole energies, his entire talents were lavishly given to the work in hand.

Dean Grisdale quoted from Bishop McLean's sermon at the Provincial Synod in 1883 when he preached on the text from the Psalms "Except the Lord make the house their labour is but lost that build it." The Bishop had said at that time "My mind shrinks back appalled at the greatness of the work, the vastness of the responsibility. I flee for refuge to the words of my text. I hide myself under the shadow of God's Almighty power. We build but God is the real builder. We are but instruments in His hands. We watch, but our eyes are often heavy with sleep."

Bishop Cyprian Pinkham quoted Prebendary Wigram as having said of Bishop McLean that "He energized others by his own vigour, and knew difficulties simply as things to be overcome." Bishop Pinkham referred to the fact that he was known as Saskatchewan Jack, a term of affection given to him by those among whom he laboured in the Saskatchewan district. He also recorded the fact that the Bishop, when he travelled on his long journeys in the Winter, travelled in buffalo-skin trousers, with the furry side in, but always took his proper episcopal clothes with him and put them on a mile or so before he reached his destination.

As the chief shepherd of souls in the great Diocese of Saskatchewan, his death caused loss not only to his own Diocese but indeed to the whole church in Canada, and those who labour throughout the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan are still reaping the fruits of his labour.

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