Project Canterbury

Missionary Work among the Ojebway Indians

By the Rev. Edward F. Wilson

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1886.

Chapter XXVI. A Trip to Batchenwauning.

Besides the Indian Home which was being built I had various other objects to attend to. There were the Garden River Indians to visit from time to time, and I wanted, if possible, to make another trip up Lake Superior. One Indian settlement, about fifty miles up the lake, called Batcheewauning, I had already visited, and the Bishop had consented to my building a school-church there and placing a catechist in charge. So, as soon as the new Institution was fairly started, I arranged to pay a visit to this place, accompanied by Mr. Frost. We took with us a tent and a good supply of provisions, also lesson books and slates, and a voyage of some ten hours brought us to the saw mills, where we were to land. It was a dark night and raining a little. The outline of the saw mill and a cluster of small buildings was just visible. The inhabitants of Batcheewauning consisted of about twelve men and three women--white people, and some sixty or seventy Indians, whose village was six miles off across the bay. We landed our things, a sack of camp kettles and provisions, our bedding and tent. Jacob, the Indian boy who had come with us, was left in charge, while Frost and I went off to look for a suitable place to camp. The owner of the saw mill directed us to an open spot on the shore, and we bent our steps thitherward; but after wandering about for some time, searching in vain for a smooth spot, we espied a man approaching with a lantern, and, accosting him, inquired whether all the land around were as rough. "Yes," he replied, "it is only lately cleared, but you will see better in the day-time where to camp,--and to-night you had better turn into the shanty here." To this proposition we agreed, and following our guide, were led into an old log shanty with crevices in its sides and roof. He lighted us a dip, and pointed to an unoccupied corner, where he said we could fix ourselves for the night. The accommodation, certainly, was rude, and the place by no means clean; yet we were glad of the shelter. We laid our blankets on the floor, and, oiling our faces and necks to keep off the mosquitoes, were soon asleep. At first streak of dawn we awoke. The mosquitoes would not let us rest. They became exceedingly voracious, as always, just at sunrise. It was a fine morning, the water in the bay sparkling in the sunlight, and the thickly wooded mountains looking soft and blue in the far distance. Frost and myself set out again to look for a place to camp. There was not much choice. About eight acres had been roughly cleared around the saw mill, and beyond this on all sides was the thick bush. We overcame the roughness of the ground by borrowing some old boards from the mill, with which we made a floor, and erected our tent over it. Frost kindled a fire, and I made some oatmeal porridge for breakfast, after which we strolled along the shore, and were surprised to find an encampment of Indians quite close to us. They belonged to the Indian village six miles off, and were camping here for the summer for the sake of the fishing. They occupied the ordinary conical-shaped wigwams made of poles covered with birch bark, a tire in the middle, and an aperture above for the smoke to escape. We spoke to several, and they said that there were no Indians now in the village; most of them were camping here, and others had gone to Point aux Pins. We told them the object of our visit, which was to ascertain their condition and wants, and, if they appeared desirous to have their children taught, we intended building a school and sending them a teacher in the summer. All to whom we spoke appeared much pleased by this intelligence. Many of them knew me, as I had visited them once before, and they seemed very glad that we could both speak to them in their own language and understand what they said. These people were nearly all Christians. Some had been baptized by Mr. Chance, some by myself, and others by the Methodists; but they had no school for their children and no regular services, and they appeared to be delighted with our proposals to build a school and to send them a teacher. By way of proving their sincerity we invited them to begin sending their children at once to school, and said that while we remained we would teach every day in our camp. This proposal was readily accepted. We commenced at once with twelve children, but found that unfortunately we had come without any alphabet cards. However, this difficulty was soon overcome. We cut the letters of the alphabet out of a newspaper, and pasted them on to a sheet of paper. Mr. Frost taught the children to sing several Indian hymns--"There is a happy land," "Here we suffer grief and pain," &c. They learned the hymns readily, and soon began to join quite nicely in the singing. On Saturday evening we held a council of the people, and I propounded all our plans to them. I told them of the "big teaching wigwam" which we were building of stone at Sault Ste. Marie for Ojebway children from all parts, and told them also of the appointment of a Bishop to reside at the Sault, who would take an interest in them, and would come round in the course of the summer to visit them. Then we spoke of the school-house which we proposed to build for them, and agreed on the spot which seemed to be the most suitable for the site, just at the mouth of Batcheewauning River, near to the Indian village. On Sunday we had three services, and Sunday-school twice. The morning service was in an Indian wigwam, for Indians only. In the afternoon at the saw mill, in English; all the settlers and some Indians attended--in all about thirty. In the evening we held an informal meeting at our own tent. The Indians came together about sun-down, and, it being cold, we all sat round the camp fire. We sang several hymns and I read the latter part of the I Thess. iv, dwelling on the subject of the death of Christians as distinguished from that of unbelievers, and then offered prayer, asking God's blessing upon them and their children, and upon Missionary effort among them and their heathen brethren. After the service I was asked to baptize a child, which I did, and then the people returned to their camp.

We chose a very pretty spot for the school; the soil was good, and I purchased 120 acres at 2s. per acre to be the property of the Algoma Diocese; I made a rough plan of the proposed school-house, with rooms for the Catechist overhead,--pointed windows on either side to light both floors, which, with a bell-tower, would give a church-like look to the little building. The cost I estimated at about 500 dollars. We intended to return to the Sault by steamboat, but none came, so we got some Indians to take us back in their boat,--a man, a boy, and two squaws,--and a leaky old tub it was with old rags stuffed in between the boards. Happily we had fair weather. We camped one night on the road, and got home in about twenty-two hours from the time of starting, after ten days' absence. Very soon after my return I engaged a carpenter, and the following week sent him up with a couple of men to begin erecting the building. Within a month afterwards a Catechist was engaged and placed in charge of the Mission.

Project Canterbury