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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 12. Rev. Thomas Clarke--Canon E.K. Matheson--Rev. John R. Matheson.

It is necessary once again to retrace our steps in time, and provide further details of the expansion and consolidation of the work in the central part of the Diocese. Those men most closely involved in this work, like the Bishops under whom they served, were devoted servants of the church and are also deserving of a little more attention. Work in the Battleford area was commenced by the Reverend Thomas Clarke who came out from the C.M.S. in England in 1877 in response to a request from the Diocese of Saskatchewan for a young lay missionary to inaugurate new missions on the Indian Reserves to be surveyed by the Government, combining the spreading of the Gospel with teaching the young and instructing the adults in the art of agriculture.

The beginning of his journey was inauspicious since he sailed from Liverpool on May 9th in a steamer named the Dakota which came to grief by running on the rocks in North Wales. About 700 passengers and the crew were safely landed by the help of lifeboats, and he sailed again from Liverpool on the steamer Wisconsin on the 13th, arriving at New York on the 24th. Travelling to the West via Minneapolis and St. Paul, he reached Winnipeg, and owing to incessant rains and bad roads, was delayed a month before continuing his journey in company with the Reverend J. A. Mackay with his wife and family, E. K. Matheson, and one or two others. They walked and rode to Fort Carlton--a 500-mile trip--and took with them two wagons and horses, nine oxen and Red River carts loaded with a year's supplies and mission goods. They arrived at Fort Carlton where they were met by the Bishop on August 25th and, following a conference in the home of the chief factor Laurence Clark, Mr. Clarke was appointed to Battleford whilst E. K. Matheson and David Stranger went on with Mr. Hines to assist him in his mission at Sandy Lake.

Mr. Clarke recorded that Battleford at this period was the most important place in the Territories, although its population numbered only a few. It had the honour of being the capital of the North-West Territories, and the government officials resident there were the Hon. David Laird, the Lieutenant Governor; H. Richardson, a stipendiary magistrate; W. J. Scott, Registrar; A. E. Forget, Clerk of the Council, and a small detachment of the North-West Mounted Police. One house and the police barracks were all the buildings in the Fort between the Battle and Saskatchewan Rivers, while two small stores and a few shacks, occupied by Indians and half-breeds, were located on the flat on the South bank of the Battle River, while only two settlers as yet had arrived in the district. Originally the Bishop had decided to make Battleford his headquarters owing to its geographical position and being the seat of government, but had subsequently changed his mind and settled in Prince Albert.

At the beginning of October, Mr. Clarke and his helper went to the bush to get logs out to build the first mission house in the district, which was completed by November 17th, being built of logs and plastered with mud and a thatched roof. Under his supervision, the first Day School in the Battleford district was opened in December, with an enrollment of 28 children. Mr. Clarke also undertook the holding of services and his work continued until March 1878 when the Indians, who had wintered in Battleford, had to select and move to a Reserve in the district, 20 miles from the town limits.

[47] He accompanied them to the Eagle Hills where the first Reserve was located and surveyed. On April 11th he turned the first sod. Red Pheasant was the Chief of the Tribe, and Poundmaker (later to become prominent during the events of 1885) was one of the councillors. Mr. Clarke assisted the Indians to put in crops and gardens since everything was quite new to them, and he set to work to build a small mission house, assisted by one native. He then settled down to teaching and preaching, and acquiring a knowledge of the Cree language. This was the first Anglican mission established South of the North Saskatchewan River and West of Prince Albert. Subsequently Moosomin's, Thunderchild's, Little Pines' and Poundmaker's Reserves were also occupied. In 1879 the Reverend J. A. Mackay was transferred from Battleford to Prince Albert to assist the teaching staff at Emmanuel College, and Mr. Clarke was moved from Eagle Hills to assume charge of the Battleford district. That same year on July 20th he was ordained by Bishop McLean in St. Mary's Church. With the removal of the government from Battleford in 1882 to Regina, as a result of change of route of the railway line, the vacant government house at Battleford was transferred to the Indian Department for an Industrial School for boys and girls. Mr. Clarke was offered the position as principal of the School, an offer which he accepted, believing that the teaching in the Industrial School would tend to elevate the rising generation of Indians, both physically and spiritually. This School was the first of its kind and opened in the Fall of 1883, and for many years proved an unqualified success. After his appointment to the School, the Reverend I. J. Taylor took charge of the Indian work, and the Reverend Robert Inkster was stationed at Eagle Hills.

After eleven years' service in this position, Mr. Clarke resigned as principal and was temporarily succeeded by Archdeacon J. A. Mackay until the appointment of Reverend E. K. Matheson. Meanwhile, Mr. Clarke was appointed to undertake missionary work at Montreal Lake.

In 1877, when Reverend J. A. Mackay was transferred to Battleford, he returned to Red River to bring out his wife and family. We have already referred to the fact that on his journey back to Saskatchewan he was accompanied by Mr. Thomas Clarke. Another member of the party that travelled with him was E. K. Matheson. Mr. Matheson had been recommended to the Bishop for work in the Diocese by Samuel Pritchard Matheson, who was later to become Archbishop of Rupert's Land. After the death of Matheson's mother, Samuel had, while a child, found a home with his mother's brother and sister--Hugh and Eliza Pritchard. As a result of his ability as a student, he had been most successful at St. John's College, winning a scholarship in Theology and beginning a steady progress to advancement in the church.

Edward Matheson, after leaving home upon his mother's remarriage, at the age of 17, found employment and a home in Middle Church to which Hugh and Eliza Pritchard had moved. To him, a vocation in the church did not seem very likely, since he worked in a mill during the daytime and attended classes in the evening. As a result of the recommendation of his cousin, Samuel Matheson, he was accepted for work in Saskatchewan with the plan that he would teach at Snake Plain under the Reverend John Hines, and upon the opening of Emmanuel College commence his studies there with a view to ordination.

It is recorded that Mr. Matheson walked the entire distance from Middle Church to Sandy Lake--a distance of 632 miles--as also did Reverend J. A. Mackay, walking beside the democrat in which his family was riding. For two years E. K. Matheson taught at Snake Plain and Sandy Lake Missions while learning the language and gaining many new friends.

With the opening of Emmanuel College in 1879 he began attendance [47/48] and studies there while conducting service during the weekend at St. Catherine's Church. In addition to this he taught the students at the parochial school at St. Mary's Church in order to help pay his way through College. In May 1880 he was ordained Deacon, and Priest in 1881. He graduated from Emmanuel College with distinction in 1882, being the first graduate of the College, and for two years after his graduation he remained as a tutor and as the pastor of St. Catherine's Church.

Mrs. Ruth Buck, his niece, in an excellent study of the Matheson family in the publication Saskatchewan History by the Saskatchewan Archives, tells the story that in 1884 E. K. Matheson travelled by the new railroad to Red River and was accompanied on his return to Prince Albert by his cousin, now Canon S. P. Matheson of St. John's Cathedral. She relates that they found Prince Albert agog with rumours of a forthcoming popular disturbance. Riel was there, accompanied by his companions--many of them participants in the rebellion in Winnipeg in 1870. The service of Canon Matheson and his cousin that Sunday at St. Catherine's was interrupted when Riel, with about 40 mounted men, arrived at the outside of the church and sent a message that an interview was desired with Mr. Isbister, the choir master. This was the same James Isbister who was the first settler in Prince Albert in 1862. At another meeting they heard Riel deliver a carefully prepared written address, quite moderate in its tone. Years later, Archbishop Matheson wrote "I hold no brief for Louis Riel, nor do I join with those who today uphold him as a patriot and martyr; but it was borne in upon me during my stay in Prince Albert that there were grievances which should be seen in order to allay a wide spread discontent".

Another cousin of Edward K. Matheson was John F. Pritchard. Mr. Pritchard wrote that as boys they lived like brothers and grew up together. They often ran the grist mill together, operating the engine and handling the mill. It was not surprising, therefore, that when E. K. Matheson left for Saskatchewan, John Pritchard became interested in his activities. Matheson finally induced him to join the party for Prince Albert in order that he could teach one of the schools in the Diocese and undertake his own training as a student at Emmanuel College.

Mr. Pritchard reached the Hines Mission in the Fall of 1878, and it was agreed that Matheson would teach at Starblanket's Reserve or Sandy Lake, and Pritchard would go out to Mistawasis Reserve where he had a small hut built about ten feet square of green logs plastered with clay, and a clay chimney in one corner. Into this cabin he moved and he reports that it was as cold as outside when the fire went out, but he had plenty of buffalo robes to wrap himself in at nights. Living on bannock and pemmican with tea three times a day, he taught school six hours a day and had from 15 to 20 children to teach. On Sundays they all assembled in the schoolhouse and he read the service in Cree and with them sang the Cree hymns. Mistawasis, the Chief, was very kind to him, cutting his wood and letting him have an ox and a sleigh on Saturday so that he could haul it home to the schoolhouse and cabin.

Reference has already been made to his experiences at Emmanuel College, when he shared a room with his cousin, Edward K. Matheson. He relates that all he had was $400.00 and he had to pay everything out of that except tuition. In the Summer he taught school and held services on Sunday at St. Andrew's Church, Halcro. Edward Matheson did the same in the parish of St. Catherine's, and Mr. Pritchard remarks that they surely worked their way through College! John Pritchard was ordained Deacon in August 1882, and Priest in 1885. After the uprising in that year, he removed [48/49] to Battleford taking charge of the parish, with Mr. Thomas Clarke, principal of the Industrial School, remaining in charge of the work at South Battleford.

St. George's Church was built under Mr. Pritchard's direction, and in 1886 Bishop McLean came in July to dedicate the building, although it was not quite completed. From Battleford, Bishop McLean went on to Edmonton on that fateful journey which resulted in his accident. On his return down the river with his son, Mr. Clarke and Mr. Pritchard went over to see him when he arrived at Battleford, taking him some chickens to tempt his appetite after a crude fare of bacon and bannock. Mr. Pritchard continued at Battleford, assisting Mr. Clarke in the Industrial School, but upon the arrival of Bishop Pinkham in the Diocese, Mr. Pritchard was transferred to Lethbridge, while Edward Matheson who had been there, came to Battleford. Shortly after that, Mr. Pritchard removed to the State of Montana where he worked until his retirement.

When Edward Matheson took over the work at Battleford, he included the work at Bresaylor, 35 miles to the NorthWest, and in 1890 Saskatoon, some 90 miles to the SouthEast, was added to his parish and he conducted services there once a month.

In 1892 he was married to Josephine Raymond from London, Ontario, who had come to Battleford as a member of the staff of the Industrial School. Her death occurred in 1903 due to her inability to withstand the rigours of both the climate and the work in Western Canada.

For a short time, Edward Matheson was at Prince Albert but in 1895 returned to Battleford to reorganize the Industrial School in the position of principal. His administration was most successful, both from the point of view of its influence and effectiveness in the lives of the Indian children, and also in the sense that he was able to maintain the school without receiving additional funds from the church. This is a contrast to the sad plight of Emmanuel College upon the arrival of Bishop Newnham, which was by that time in debt to the amount of $7,000.00.

In 1905 Edward Matheson was married to Eleanor Shepphird who had come from Toronto to be assistant matron in the school. Her training in the East before undertaking this work had been in the care of the sick, and this proved to be of inestimable help in the work among the Indians at Battleford. An epidemic of tuberculosis struck the school soon after she arrived, and she remained on duty day and night for several weeks. In addition to the pupils of the school, many of the adults who were camped in the vicinity of the school came to her for help, which she never failed to provide. In 1892 the Deanery of Battleford was inaugurated and Edward Matheson was appointed Rural Dean, a position which he occupied for almost 40 years. In 1912, Bishop Newnham appointed Mr. Matheson a Canon of St. Alban's Pro-Cathedral and in 1914 the Supervisor of Indian Missions in the district between Battleford and Onion Lake, including Red Pheasant, Poundmaker, Thunderchild, Little Pine and Sweet Grass Reservations.

Canon Matheson retired in January 1923 and died on January 1st, 1931.

From the time of their marriage, Mrs. Eleanor Matheson had been very involved in the work of the church, especially of the Woman's Auxiliary. She was President of the Diocesan Board from 1911 to 1922, and in 1916 became the Vice-President of the Dominion Board for the Province of Rupert's Land. While she gave up this position a few years later, she continued her association with the Dominion Board until the year before her death. During the illness of her husband, she retired from the Presidency of the Diocesan W.A. to devote herself to the care of her husband. In 1936 she gave up her home in Battleford to serve as the rectory of St. George's Parish, and returned to Toronto to live, and died in 1945.

[50] Canon Edward Ahenakew paid fitting tribute both to Canon Matheson and to his wife, while Canon Matheson was an invalid in the later years of his life. He remarked that every time he had occasion to pass through Battleford, he went to the upper room in Canon Matheson's house and "after a short talk with him, came down encouraged and refreshed, because of contact with him in whom the Christ-life is so palpable. It is wonderful how one so weak in body can be a source of such strength. The secret of this, I believe, lies in that he lives so near to Christ, that power is conducted through him to those who may feel the need of it". Canon Ahenakew remarked on his visits to the home for meetings of the Rural Deanery, and well remembered the feeling of refreshment of soul and body that such visits gave him and others. "The well ordered home, the kindly courtesy, the genuine spirit of hospitality, the Christian atmosphere that pervaded, these were greatly helpful, especially to those of us who were young and new to the work at the time. If only every clergyman had the power of influencing others to be at their best, how much more effective would our Christian ministry be!" With reference to Mrs. Matheson, Canon Ahenakew continued "in her own sphere she has made a name for herself which is known among Church people throughout Canada, but my present duty does not allow me to go into details about her life. Enough it is to say that had a woman, worthier, more faithful and more suitable to his character and circumstances been looked for anywhere, I doubt if anyone more fitting could have been found. Wonderfully faithful and patient as he is in his affliction, those qualities are intensified in her womanly nature."

To sum up Canon Ahenakew's tribute, he remarked "the Indians have more love for him than I have ever seen them give to a white man, but what may be better from some points of view, they have that respect which they give only to those who have the qualities which command respect".

In 1894 a third member of this distinguished family was ordained in the person of the Reverend J. R. Matheson, a brother of Canon E. K. Matheson who had been ordained 14 years previously.

Reference has already been made to the monograph by his daughter, Ruth Matheson Buck, in the periodical Saskatchewan History on "The Mathesons of Saskatchewan Diocese". In it she recounts something of the colorful life which John R. Matheson lived prior to his ordination. The present writer is greatly indebted to her for most of the details that follow.

At the time of his mother's remarriage, John was a young man of 20 who discovered that there was no place for him in the home which was then established. Till 1869 he lived with an uncle and aunt at St. James and taught school there. In 1869 he was persuaded by his step-father's brother to enter the freighting business and bought his own outfit and went out to the Saskatchewan. It was while he was freighting between Green Lake and Fort Carlton that he probably met his brother, Edward, who by this time was teaching in the Diocese of Saskatchewan. He involved himself in the carrying of mail from Fort Garry to Swan River and ultimately to Fort Edmonton. He reported on one occasion that he had travelled 5000 miles, carrying the Winter mail between Pelly, Carlton and Edmonton. In 1875 the mail went out from Winnipeg twice, travelling by dog sled in the winter, and by horse and cart in the summer. Later on the trips were increased to 17 a year, and the return trip is said to have taken 21 days on the trail. His adventures were many, and throughout these years he gained greater fluency than ever in the Cree language, and cultivated friends wherever he went. His high spirits, his love of adventure, and his marked ability for story telling won him an enviable record throughout the territories, but resulted in stories of horse trading, card playing, and whiskey smuggling finding their way back to the staunchly religious members of his family in Kildonan.

[51] As a result of the prospect of the railway entering the West, the prospects for freighting appeared to become rather dim. Accordingly in January 1885 John R. Matheson left the Saskatchewan country and engaged himself as a contractor. He was competent enough to secure a contract for one or more of the bridges across the Fraser River, and just four years prior to his ordination he secured his last contract when he built the trestle bridge at Saskatoon in 1890.

Returning from British Columbia in 1885, John Matheson met for the first time at a picnic at Red River a 19-year-old girl named Elizabeth Scott; tall and dark-haired, her lively spirits matched his own, and while they met only once for a day, they began to correspond after his return to British Columbia, and six years later Elizabeth became his wife.

She had left her home in Ontario to complete her matriculation and take teacher's training. After teaching in Manitoba for a time, she returned to Ontario where she assisted in a home established in Belleville for orphan boys and girls from Glasgow, who were established and then supervised in Canadian homes. A leader of this project, Miss Ellen A. Bilbrough, undertook to send Elizabeth for a year to the Women's Medical College at Kingston. The following year she taught for a time in Manitoba and then offered to go to India as a teacher for the Presbyterian Church. While in India she developed malaria and was compelled to return to Canada in the Spring of 1891, with the intention of resuming her medical studies as soon as she recovered her health.

In the meantime, John R. Matheson had turned to prospecting and mining, not only in British Columbia but also in the United States, but once again returned to contracting in the building business rather than railroad construction. Establishing himself at New Westminster, in March 1891 he attended a meeting conducted by the famous Evangelists Crossley and Hunter and, as a result, was brought to know the reality of conversion. That same Summer Elizabeth Scott travelled to Vancouver to be with her sister, and in December she and John Matheson were married.

So sincere was he in his conversion that he offered himself to either the Presbyterian or the Methodist Church for missionary service. While these offers were being considered by the respective churches, his brother E. K. Matheson and his cousin Samuel P. Matheson became aware of what had happened, and advised Bishop Pinkham of Saskatchewan of the situation. As a result, he agreed to return to Saskatchewan to be a catechist and teacher while preparing for ordination in the Anglican Church. He was appointed to the small and not too satisfactory mission of St. Barnabas at Onion Lake, 100 miles North-West of Battleford, at a salary that began at $300.00 a year and never did exceed $600.00. Without being disconcerted, his daughter quotes him as saying "I earned a good living serving the Devil. I can earn a better one serving the Lord. And his young wife had equal confidence."

They arrived at Onion Lake in July 1892 and discovered that the house and the church were both very much in need of repairs and renovations. The school, a log building two miles away, was closer to the centre of the Reserve. Also located at Onion Lake was a farm instructor with the Indian Agency, and the Hudson's Bay Company post which had been moved from Fort Pitt to a site just North of the mission, with William McKay in charge. A detachment of North-West Mounted Police was located there when they arrived, but was moved three miles West of the Reserve in 1894. A day school was being conducted at the Roman Catholic Mission at which three or four Sisters and a Priest were present, and this was later to become a boarding school.

When John Matheson began to undertake the work of the school, [51/52] circumstances proved to be most discouraging. On some days no children at all were in attendance and as a result he became very frustrated.

Six weeks after the arrival of their baby, Elizabeth Matheson undertook to do the teaching in the church. John Matheson, who had been improving and enlarging the house from the time of their arrival, decided with her to take children into their home. Before the Winter ended they had 10 or 12 boys and girls, and the number continued to increase until 60 to 80 were registered, some being Treaty Indians, a few white, but most of mixed race. Since John Matheson had travelled so extensively in Saskatchewan, he had requests from parents as far away as Fort Saskatchewan and Red Deer in Alberta, and from as far East as Cumberland House in Saskatchewan. Mr. Matheson's building experience was called into play and from the day that they had arrived he had begun improving and enlarging the house at the mission. As the number of children in the home grew, so the number of additional rooms and buildings required prompted further building projects which he competently undertook.

By 1901 the staff had increased to eight and so also did the work; a farm and gardens had enabled the mission to be practically self-supporting. The curriculum was patterned after that of the Industrial School in Battleford, and it can be imagined that John and his brother Edward had frequent conferences both with regard to methods of teaching, financing, and equipment. The contrast in the two schools lay in the method of financing. The Battleford School was supported by a budget of over $18,000.00 as well as the capital assets of building and equipment. This was provided by the Government, and accommodated approximately 120 pupils. At Onion Lake some 69 boys and girls were in attendance but only 17 received a grant from the Indian Department, and the budget which had to include capital expenditure was less than $4,000.00.

While the church was unable to do more than pay the salary of. the missionary, this salary was part of the income of the school, since each year Mr. Matheson entered an item which said simply "contributed from private funds" in order to balance the books. In 1901 the total budget was $3,874.00; over $2,000.00 of this was derived from the salaries and services contributed by Mr. Matheson and his wife.

In order to develop a financial support for the work, Mr. Matheson went once again into business, the business of ranching and trading. He had a ranch located near Fort Pitt where approximately 100 head of cattle and 30 horses were raised. In 1895 he was freighting his own supplies from Battleford, and two years later had begun shipping the year's supplies, both for trading and for the use of the mission, on scows which he built at Edmonton, and ran them down with the high water of early Summer to Onion Lake, some 300 miles distant.

In 1898 Mrs. Matheson completed her degree in medicine by graduating from the Women's Medical College in Toronto. She returned to Onion Lake to carry on her work as a doctor, although we are told that it extended over a wide area for there was no other doctor nearer than Battleford until the establishment of the Barr colonists at Lloydminster. Her husband built a hospital for her, with an operating room and four wards. Her practice increased as settlements developed, and she was finally appointed as a resident doctor for the princely sum of $300.00 a year.

The strenuous life of John Matheson resulted in him aging rapidly, and in 1912 while at Edmonton he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. That same year he was able to run his scows down the river to Onion Lake, but it was the last time that this was possible and he died in August 1916.

Mrs. Matheson continued to act as principal and as the business [52/53] administrator of the school for a year after Mr. Matheson's death. The church then assumed full responsibility and it became strictly an Indian Residential School. Eventually the Government erected new buildings some miles from the site of the original mission, which was demolished, with only St. Barnabas church remaining. Mrs. Matheson continued as doctor at Onion Lake until 1918 when she was appointed Assistant Medical Inspector in the Winnipeg Public Schools. It was not until she was 75 in 1941 that she retired from this position. In 1955 in her 90th year she was an honored guest at the Jubilee of the Diocesan Woman's Auxiliary in Saskatoon. Her death occurred in January 1958 and her daughter remarks "her life was bright to its very close with a spirit that had marked her always, and that was present in all four Mathesons". Mrs. Buck concluded her monograph with the following words "there is no need to assess their work; it rests in an honored name, and in the lives that they influenced". No one will disagree with this judgement. The Matheson name is still revered throughout the Diocese of Saskatchewan and elsewhere, and it is true of them that "the good that men do lives after them", and in their case the amount of good that they did is incalculable.

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