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A Heroine of the North
Memoirs of Charlotte Selina Bompas (1830-1917)
Wife of the First Bishop of Selkirk (Yukon)

With Extracts from Her Journal and Letters

Compiled by S.A. Archer

London: SPCK, 1929.

Chapter XII. The Last Years

THE foregoing pages have given Mrs. Bompas's cheerful account of the hardships undergone by her, and her husband. The following is an account given by a visitor of their quarters in 1903 when they accounted themselves to have arrived at comparative comfort.

Bishop Ridley, of Caledonia, who in 1903 stayed at Car cross, speaks as follows of his meeting with Bishop Bompas, and describes in what manner of house he found that the Bishop and Mrs. Bompas had made their home.

''There on the platform stands the straight and venerable hero of the North, Dr. Bompas, the Bishop of Selkirk. I jumped from the train, and, though I had never met him before, I grasped his hand and exclaimed: 'At last! At last!' We knew each other well by letter only. He was as placid as the mountains and the lakes they embosom.

"Bishop's house (was) built of logs, on the sand.. The flooring boards were half an inch apart; so shrunken were they that it would be easy to rip them up and lay them down close together. Then the roof; it was papered, with battens across the paper. I was anxious to see inside less of the light of heaven through the rents. Ventilation is carried to excess. Everything around is as simple as indifference to creature comforts can make it, excepting the books, which are numerous, up to date, and as choice as any two excellent scholars could wish.

''The question that has often sprung from my heart has been this: if this poor £30 affair is, by comparison, delightful, what of the contrivances that have sheltered them in the past forty years?

"Never in my life did I value hospitality so much, or feel so honoured, as here under the roof of these grand apostles of God. Two septuagenarians of grace and broad culture, whose years have been spent nobly in God's eyes, have deliberately chosen an austere type of service, not for austerity's sake, but for Christ's sake, under circumstances the average citizen of the Empire would feel to be past endurance. They are as happy as heroic. She, accomplished far beyond the standard one meets with in London drawing-rooms, unless among the most cultured circles: he, a fine scholar, steeped in Hebrew and Syrian lore, as well as in the commoner studies of the clergy, live on, love on, labour on in this vast expanse, little trodden but by the Indians for whom they live and will die.

"If such lives fail in Christ's cause, that cause is doomed. Let those who criticize cease their cackling and try to imitate by self-sacrifice such lives as those I have just touched on, and they, too, may have some share in the betterment of mankind, the expansion of Christ's kingdom, and the eternal welfare of humanity."

In 1904 Mrs. Bompas (then seventy-four years old) visited Eastern Canada and addressed the Women's Auxiliary at Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Quebec on missionary work in the North. In Toronto she was presented with $800 towards the building fund for St. Saviour's Church, Carcross. Other gifts came steadily in. The building of a new church at Carcross was a great comfort to the Bishop. Services had been held in the Mission House, which was much too small. St. Saviour's was consecrated on August 8, 1904, after Mrs. Bompas's return to the diocese.

Although resigning much of her former work into younger and stronger hands, after removing to Carcross, Mrs. Bompas's love and labours for the little ones still continued. In a copy of 'The New Era' there is a picture of a group of Miss Ellis and Indian children in "Caribou Crossing School." One of this bright group, described as "with the smiling face," is Minnie, who lived with Mrs. Bompas from the time she was two years of age, and in this group is also Susie, a deaf and dumb Indian from Selkirk, who was her special care. [N.B.—Susie was later placed in a special school in Winnipeg, and died there in 1907.] Another of the children was a daughter of Skookum Jim, a wealthy Indian of Klondyke fame, and a pure Indian, "Daisy Jim" by name.

"The Bishop's burden of responsibility had of late years been greatly increased by the care of the white men, and weighed heavily upon him. But the darkest hour is the hour before the dawn; the labourer's task was nearly accomplished.

"The Rev. I. O. Stringer had been nominated by the Bishop, and approved by the C.M.S. and the Canadian Board of Missions, as successor to Bishop Bompas in the See of Selkirk (Yukon). He was a good man, an earnest churchman, and had had some years' experience among the Indians of Peel River and the Esquimaux of Herschel Island, at the mouth of the Mackenzie. Mr. Stringer was consecrated Bishop at St. John's Cathedral, Winnipeg, December 17, 1905, and his arrival in Selkirk Diocese was ardently longed for. In 1906 the Bishop and Mrs. Bompas prepared to go down the river to Forty Mile, below Dawson. A passage had been secured for them and two Indian girls on one of the river steamers to sail on Monday. This was Saturday, June 9. The Bishop was as active as ever that day."*

The rest of the sad story is best told in Mrs. Bompas's own words in a letter to her friend, L.C. W.:

To L. C. W.

July 12, 1906.

Thank you . . . The blow has been very severe, coming as it did, so suddenly. In his usual health lately, and wonderful for his activity and energy. We were all packed up to start for White Horse and down the Yukon on Monday the nth. On Saturday he had been twice into town and once up to the Camp—had long talks with Bishop Stringer. Then we dined altogether, and my husband read prayers, and then he retired to his study, where, while standing near his writing-table, the "angel of the Lord smote him." He fell suddenly forward. Annie, one of our girls, caught him and supported him, calling loudly for help. Bishop Stringer went and then called me. We laid him down and did all we could to restore him. He only opened his eyes once and moaned at first, otherwise he gave no sign of pain. It was dreadful when Bishop Stringer whispered, "I fear it is no use"; and I realized that all was over! I can hardly bear to write of those days, it was all so strange and bewildering, I seemed turned to stone. . . .

Bishop Stringer was very kind and thoughtful. We had to make all arrangements for the funeral. I knew that he wished to be laid in the Indian cemetery, which is about half a mile from here. I wired to my nephew in London. The news spread like wildfire. On Monday there were notices of him in the Seattle papers, with his likeness! I have had seventy-nine letters, some of them most thrilling; all testify to the love and veneration in which he was held. . . .

We laid him in the grave on Monday—St. Barnabas' Day—at five o'clock p.m. All the flags on boats and offices were lowered. The steamer delayed its sailing that the Captain and men might attend the funeral. Bishop Stringer and Archdeacon Cody took the service, Mr. O'Meara the lesson. We had two hymns, "Jesus lives" and "For all the saints." We took him in a boat on leaving the church, Archdeacon Cody and I and some of the bearers in the boat.

Soon after this sad day Mrs. Bompas, accompanied by the Bishop and Mrs. Stringer, went home to England where she remained a year.

Returning to Canada in September, 1907, she settled down, after her devoted life and strenuous activities in the North, to a quiet life with her two nieces, Beatrice and Lilian Bengough, in Westmount, P.Q. Here she lived for nearly ten years, still taking a keen interest in all missionary work and keeping in touch with the progress and development in the North through her intercourse with Bishop Stringer. He and Mrs. Stringer called upon her whenever they passed through Montreal on their way to and from England, and in 1914, on their return journey, took a special trip to Winchester, Ontario, where Mrs. Bompas was laid up with a broken hip at the Rectory, where she was visiting. Mrs. Bompas also continued to influence and help some of her Indian girls in the North, who wrote to her of their marriages, babies, etc., and who looked for and received many presents from her. Every year she collected and made and bought presents to decorate a Christmas-tree for the Mission school at Car cross, even in 1916, when she was nearing her 87th year.

Mrs. Bompas was very much loved by many friends, and a visit from her was always a pleasure. She was eagerly sought for meetings of the W.A. in Montreal, Ottawa, etc., and many an annual and other meeting was made more interesting by her addresses and her charming personality. It seemed so wonderful that such a tiny, frail little frame could have endured such experiences.

She recovered from her broken hip (eighty-three years old), and walked—without crutches—within a year, and lived to break two more bones and recover from the injuries. She took a deep interest in the war, and was one of the first to subscribe to its funds. She was as fond of visiting her friends as they were glad to have her. After spending ten days in Ottawa in 1915, she wrote to her hostess, L. C. W., July 26: "Thank you for saying you missed us. I owe to you some of the pleasantest ten days I ever spent. They will all come back to me in sweet and fragrant retrospect."

The Christmas after her accident she was much gratified by the gift of a beautiful wheel chair with an inscription on the silver plate

The Archbishops and Bishops of
CANADA Toronto, September 16, 1915.

and from the Women's Auxiliary an ebony stick with gold top, which she always loved to use.

Once again she composed a Christmas carol, which was sung in more than one church on Christmas Day, 1916. Just after this Christmas Day a cold developed into one of her old attacks of bronchitis, and she had to remain in bed, devotedly nursed by her niece, assisted by a trained nurse.

On January 5, 1917, she wrote a letter of birthday greeting to L. C. W.: "I write under difficulty, with an aching head and giddy brain, and from my couch, so that I must ask you to excuse pencil, but must send you my wizen old face" (her photograph) ''to wish you a happy, the happiest of birthdays."

This was the last letter written with her own hands, although she dictated a few letters during the following fortnight. The bronchial trouble was relieved by medical skill and good nursing, but the vitality was so lowered that the system could not rally, and at 2.40 a.m. on January 21, 1917—a month before her eighty-seventh birthday—she quietly fell asleep.

When her room was arranged with the many floral offerings kindly sent, a friend who had come to say a last good-bye to the form resting so peacefully, exclaimed: "It looks like a little corner of Paradise!"

A service was held at the Church of the Advent, Westmount, where she had worshipped with unfailing regularity for the last ten years, and according to her express wish, her body was then taken to the little village churchyard at Milby, near Lennoxville, where a sister-in-law and several cousins already lay. Deep snow lay on the ground, and as the little procession wound its way along the quiet country road and approached the church, the tolling of the bell struck impressively on the ear through the solemn stillness.

She has passed from sight, but her works, her example, her influence will long be felt. Many missionaries still on active service testify that they have found her life, her devout faith and zeal, helpful and inspiring, and many Christian Indians, realizing how much they owe to her for their happy Christian homes, will ever remember her with deep affection.

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