Project Canterbury

Twenty Years on the Saskatchewan, N.W. Canada

By the Rev. William Newton
Hon. Canon of Saskatchewan

London: Elliot Stock, 1897.

Chapter V. River and Other Perils

BY the summer of 1876 it had become evident that the neighbourhood of Fort Edmonton, on account of certain local circumstances and the paucity of the population, could not occupy the whole time of the missionary. He therefore enlarged his work, and visited all the Indian bands that he could find on the prairies. Some of the Indians told him that they had roamed for years without seeing the face of a missionary. If they came to Edmonton Fort to sell their furs, they might receive some religious attention, but such casual work could help them very little. These Indians had been morally influenced by a Mr. Wolesey, who had for years lived amongst them, and been as one of themselves. They had not at that time been gathered on reservations, but went where hunting was to be found. Often they asked me for teachers for their children, and for missionaries who would live among them; and their wishes were duly transmitted to the Church authorities, but with little immediate result.

Once, by special appeals to the venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, I was able to get a missionary placed at Saddle Lake, more than a hundred miles from Edmonton, and thirty miles from any other mission-station, and at first the new mission seemed to be unusually promising; but the Methodist missionary, who had never held service there before, thought it becoming to visit the station regularly, and thus to sow contention, which resulted in the discouragement of our missionary and the final abandonment of the mission. Now, the Roman Catholics and the Methodists both have a station there, but the English Church has no representative in all that large district of country.

Also at this time I began my visits to Victoria, seventy miles away, by the invitation of the people there. These people had been brought up at our missions around the old Red River Settlement, Manitoba, and they had wandered eight hundred miles to find new homes. They were very poor, and not a thriving people, but some of them were very loyal to the Church of England, and wished the privilege of her services. I went frequently, until the cost of travelling and broken health rendered it impossible for me to undertake the long rough journeys. Many years have passed, and yet we have no missionary at Victoria.

On this journey I once nearly lost my life. Thirty miles from Edmonton is the Sturgeon River, on the old trail, and in the spring-time, after the melting of the snow, the river is deep and the current strong.

On one occasion, expecting difficulty in crossing this stream, I took two men with me, and on arriving there we found the river flooded. In one way and another the baggage was passed across, and also the horses and carts, and nothing was left but my light buckboard, in which I was to follow. I shouted for one of the men to return through the river, that he might drive me across, and by his weight in the vehicle help to balance it in the stream; but he was positive there was no danger, and that I might expect to reach the other side safely. However, in coming to the centre of the river, the strong stream sent the buckboard rolling over and over again. The men were frightened, and rushed in to bring the mare and buckboard ashore, while I went floating down the stream. The men cried out, 'The mare is drowned!' but I exclaimed, 'Lug her to the shore, and quickly come to my assistance!' They did so, and with a long stick helped me to land. Not far off was the great Saskatchewan in full flood, against which I could have made no resistance.

On this road to Victoria, from Edmonton, were several streams almost as difficult to cross while in flood as this one, and, as I said, the journey there was expensive, and sometimes dangerous.

It may be interesting for clergymen 'at home,' who can travel by express trains, to know that on these journeys it is necessary to take most of our food with us, and many other things that we may require. A cart has to be loaded with a tent, bedding, saucepans, tin cups, plates, flour, tea, and whatever is required. In fine weather, if there are no mosquitoes, the journey is pleasant enough; but if it rains, and the unmade roads are knee-deep in mud, this kind of travelling will try a man's mettle. Nor does the trouble rest with the difficulties of the journey; after it the missionary is likely to find that the seeds of rheumatism and dyspepsia have been sown by the exposure and the badly-prepared food, so that his constitution needs to be unusually strong if he is to bear this kind of labour during many years. Yet it is, I suppose, by the same kind of experiences, and the same thankless toil, that the Christian civilization of our colonies is everywhere built up. Which will prove in the end to be the greater work--the heathen work or the colonial--we are not able to determine. They will both have vast issues in the Divine overruling; but when our colonies shall have blossomed into great nations, the work of the pioneer Church will fully justify itself, and receive its crown of honour and recognition.

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