A vast region—First spiritual adviser—A locum tenens—Two French Canadian
priests—St. Boniface founded—Missionary zeal in Mackenzie River
district—Red River parishes—The great Archbishop Taché—John
West—Archdeacon Cochrane, the founder — John McCallum — Bishop Anderson
— English Missionary Societies—Archbishop Machray—Indian Missions—John
Black, the Presbyterian apostle—Methodist Missions on Lake Winnipeg— The
Cree syllabic—Chaplain Staines—Bishop Cridge—Missionary Duncan—Metlakahtla—Roman
Catholic coast missions—Church of England bishop—Diocese of New
Westminster—Dr. Evans— Robert Jamieson—Education.
Wherever British influence has gone throughout the
world the Christian faith of the British people has followed. It is
true, for one hundred and fifty years the ships to Hudson Bay crossed
regularly to the forts on the Bay, and beyond certain suggestions as to
service to the employes, no recognition of religion took place on Hudson
Bay, and no Christian clergyman or missionary visitor found his way
thither. The Company was primarily a trading company, its forts were far
apart, and there were few men at any one point.
The first heralds of the Cross, indeed, to reach
Rupert's Land were the French priests who accompanied Verendrye, though
they seem to have made no settlements in the territory. It is said that
after the conquest of Canada, when the French traders had withdrawn from
the North-West, except a few traditions in one of the tribes, no trace
of Christianity was left behind.
The first clergyman to arrive in Rupert's Land was
in connection with Lord Selkirk's colony in 1811. A party of Lord
Selkirk's first colonists having come from Sligo, the founder sent one
Father Bourke to accompany the party to Red River. The wintering at York
Factory seems to have developed some unsatisfactory traits in the
spiritual adviser, and he did not proceed further than the shore of the
Bay, but returned to his native land.
The necessity of providing certain spiritual
oversight for his Scottish colonists occupied Lord Selkirk's mind. In
1815 James Sutherland, an elder authorized by the Church of Scotland to
baptize and marry, arrived with one of the bands of colonists at Red
River. The first point in the agreement between Lord Selkirk and his
colonists was "to have the services of a minister of their own church."
This was Lord Selkirk's wish, and Mr. Sutherland was sent as locum
tenens. For three years this devout man performed the duties of his
sacred office, until in the conflict between the rival Companies he was
forcibly taken away to Canada by the North-West Company.
Lord Selkirk entered into correspondence with the
Roman Catholic authorities in Lower Canada as to their appointing
priests to take charge of the French and De Meurons of his colony. We
have already seen in the sketch of John McLeod that two French priests,
Joseph Norbert Provencher and Severe Dumoulin, proceeded to the
North-West and took up a position on the east side of Red River nearly
opposite the site of the demolished Fort Gibraltar. On account of the
preponderance of the German-speaking De Meurons, the settlement was
called St. Boniface, after the German patron saint. Though these pioneer
priests endured hardships and poverty, they energetically undertook
their work, and maintained a school in which, shortly after, we are
told, there were scholars in the "Humanities."
With great zeal the Roman Catholic Church has
carried its missions to the Indians, even to distant Athabasca and
Mackenzie River. In 1822 the Priest Provencher was made a bishop under
the title of Bishop of Juliopolis (in partibus infidelium). His
jurisdiction included Rupert's Land and the North-West or Indian
territories. Besides the work among the Indians, the Bishop organized
the French settlements along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers into
parishes. In addition to St. Boniface, some of these were St. Norbert,
St. Francois Xavier, St. Charles, St. Vital, and the like, until, at the
close of the Hudson's Bay Company's rule in 1869, there wore nine French
The Indian missions have been largely carried on by
a Society of the Roman Catholic Church known as the Oblate Fathers. A
sisterhood of the Grey Nuns have also taken a strong hold of the
In the year 1844 a young French priest named
Alexandre Antonin Taché came to the North-West and led the way in
carrying the faith among the Indians of the Mackenzie River. A most
interesting work of Father Taché, called "Vingt Années de Missions,"
gives the life and trials of this devoted missionary. In a few years the
young priest was appointed coadjutor of Bishop Provencher, and on the
death of that prelate in 1853, young Monseigneur Taché succeeded to the
see under the name of the Bishop of St. Boniface. Bishop Tach6 became a
notable man of the Red River settlement. He was a man of much breadth of
view, kindliness of manner, and of great religious zeal. As an
educational and public man, he wielded, during the whole time of the
Hudson's Bay Company's later r6gimo, a potent influence. A year or two
after the elevation of Bishop Tach6 to the vacant place of Bishop
Provencher, Bishop Grandin was appointed a bishop of the interior and
took up his abode at Ile à la Crosse. The Roman Catholic Church has done
much in bringing many wild tribes under the civilizing influence of
Though Lord Selkirk was compelled to betake himself
to France in 1820 in search of health, he did not forget his promise to
his Scottish colonists on Red River. He entrusted the task of procuring
a clergyman for them to Mr. John Pritchard, who, we have seen, had
entered the service of his Lordship. Pritchard, acting under the
direction of the committee of the Hudson's Bay Company, seems to have
taken a course that Lord Selkirk would hardly have approved. To some
extent disregarding the promise made to the Scottish settlers, either
the agent or the committee applied to the Church Missionary Society to
appoint a chaplain for the Hudson's Bay Company at Red River.
The choice made was a most judicious one, being
that of Rev. John West, who wrote a very readable book on his
experiences, in which the condition of the settlement, along with an
account of his missionary labours, are described. A little volume,
written by Miss Tucker, under the name of "The Rainbow of the North,"
also gives an interesting account of the founding of the Protestant
faith in the settlement.
Mr. West arrived in Red River settlement in
October, 1820, and at once began his labours by holding services in Fort
Garry. For a time he was fully occupied in marrying many who had
formerly lived as man and wife, though already married after the Indian
fashion, and in baptizing the children. He at once opened a school. Mr.
West made an exploratory journey five or six hundred miles westward,
visiting Indian tribes. In 1823 he erected the first Protestant place of
worship on the Red River, and in the same year was joined by Rev. David
Jones, who was left in charge when Mr. West returned to England.
Two years afterwards Rev. William Cochrane and his
wife arrived at Red River. Mr. Cochrane, afterward Archdeacon Cochrane,
was a man of striking personality, and to him has been given the credit
of laying the foundation of the Church of England in the Red River
settlement. The Indians to the north of the settlement on Red River were
visited and yielded readily to the solicitations of the missionaries.
Early among these self-denying Indian missionaries was the Rev. A.,
afterwards Archdeacon, Cowley. Churches were erected in the parishes
that were set apart in the same way as the French parishes; St. John's,
St. Paul's, St. Andrew's, St. Clement's, St. James, Headingly, and the
like, to the number of ten, were each provided with church and school.
Rev. Mr. Jones did not neglect the educational
interests of his wide charge. Having become convinced of the necessity
of establishing a boarding-school to meet the wants of the scattered
families of Rupert's Land, Mr. Jones brought out Mr. John McCallum, a
student of King's College, Aberdeen, who had found his way to London.
Coming to Red River in 1833, McCallum began the school which has since
become St. John's College. At first this school was under the Church
Missionary Society, but a decade after its founding it was conducted by
McCallum himself, with an allowance from the Company.
In 1844 an
episcopal visit was made to Red River by the first Protestant Bishop who
could reach the remote spot. This was Dr. Mountain, Bishop of Montreal.
He published a small work giving an account of his visit. Many
confirmations took place by the Bishop, and Mr. Cowley was made a
priest. John McCallum had taken such a hold upon the Selkirk settlers
that it was deemed advisable to ordain him, and for several years he
carried on the school along with the incumbency of the parish church.
McCallum only lived for five years after the Bishop's visit.
In 1838 James Leith, a wealthy chief factor of the
Hudson's Bay Company, bequeathed in his will twelve thousand pounds to
be expended for the benefit of the Indian missions in Rupert's Land.
Leith's family bitterly opposed this disposition of their patrimony, but
the Master of the Rolls, hearing that the Hudson's Bay Company was
willing to add three hundred pounds annually to the interest accruing
from the Leith bequest, gave the decision against them, and thus secured
an income to the see of seven hundred pounds a year. In 1849 the diocese
of Rupert's Land was established by the Crown, and Rev. David Anderson,
of Oxford University, was consecrated first Bishop of Rupert's Land. In
the autumn of the same year Bishop Anderson arrived at Red River, by way
of York Factory, and his first public duty was to conduct the funeral of
the lamented John McCallum. After an incumbency of fifteen years Bishop
Anderson returned to England and resigned the bishopric.
In 1865 Dr. Robert Machray arrived at Red River,
having been consecrated Bishop by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Under
Bishop Anderson the college successfully begun by McCallum languished,
for the Bishop seemed more intent on mission work than education. In the
year after his arrival, Bishop Machray revived the institution under the
name of St. John's College. It was of much service to the colony.
By the time of the passing away of the power of the
Hudson's Bay Company, four years after the arrival of Bishop Machray,
substantial stone churches and school-houses had been erected in almost
all of the parishes mentioned as organized by the Church of England. To
the Church of England belonged nearly all the English-speaking
half-breed population of the colony, as well as a large number of the
Hudson's Bay Company officers.
Bishop Machray's diocese covered a vast area. From
Hudson Bay to the Rocky Mountains was under his jurisdiction. Much work
was done amongst the Indian tribes. At Moose Factory on the Bay, another
devoted labourer was working diligently. It is true the missions were
widely scattered, but of the twenty-four clergymen belonging to the
diocese of Rupert's Land, fifteen were among the Indians at the time of
the cessation of the Hudson's Bay Company's rule. The remainder were in
the parishes of Red River such as St. John's, St. Andrew's, St. Paul's,
Headingly, Poplar Point, and Portage la Prairie.
The assistance rendered not only by the Church
Missionary Society, but also by the Society for the Propagation of the
Gospel in Foreign Parts, the Colonial and Continental Church Society,
and the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, was very
great, and future generations will be indebted to the benevolence and
liberality of the English people in sending spiritual assistance to
A perusal of the work, "Red River Settlement," by
Alexander Ross, shows that a long and somewhat disappointing struggle
was maintained by the Selkirk settlers to obtain the fulfilment of Lord
Selkirk's promise to send them a minister of their own faith. Scottish
governors came and departed, but no Scottish minister came. Sir George
Simpson arrived on his yearly visits at Fort Garry, and was often
interviewed by the settlers of Kildonan, but the Governor, though
pleasant and plausible enough, was impenetrable as the sphinx. Petitions
were sent to the Hudson's Bay Company and to the Scottish General
Assembly, but they seldom reached their destination and effected
The people conformed to the service of the Church
of England in the vicinity of their parish. They were treated by the
Episcopal clergy with much consideration. Their own psalter was used in
their worship, the service was made as simple as they could well desire,
but the people, with Highland tenacity, held to their own tenets for
forty years, and maintained among themselves regular cottage meetings
for prayer and praise.
At length the question arose as to the possession
of the church property and the right of burial in St. John's
burial-ground. The Scottish settlers maintained their right to the
church and churchyard. A very acrimonious discussion arose. In the end
the matter was referred to Mr. Eden Colville, a Company director, who
was in the settlement on business. Mr. Colville informed the writer that
he claimed the credit of settling the dispute. Another site on the river
bank two or throe miles to the north of St. John's, called La
Grenouillère, or Frog Plain, consisting of several hundred acres, was
handed over to the Scottish settlers for church, manse, and glebe. This
was in 1851, and though the Kildonan people were still given the right
to bury their dead in St. John's, in the future their chief interest
centred in the new plot.
The presence in Red River of Mr. Ballenden, a
countryman of the Kildonan people, as Hudson's Bay Company Governor of
Fort Garry, led to an application being made to their friends in
Scotland to send them a minister. Indeed, the call had been made again
and again for a generation. This request was transmitted to Canada to
Dr. Robert Burns, a man of warm missionary zeal and great wisdom. Sir
George Simpson had been communicated with, and deemed it wise to reverse
his former policy of inaction and promised certain aid and countenance,
should a Presbyterian minister be found to care for the parish of
Dr. Burns had among his acquaintances a recent
graduate of Knox College, Toronto, named John Black. Him the zealous
doctor urged, if not commanded, to go to Red River. This trust was
accepted, and after a tedious and uncertain journey Rev. John Black
arrived at Red River, September, 1851. The Kildonan people immediately
rallied around their new clergyman, who, though not able to speak Gaelic
as they desired, yet became an idol to his people. In 1853 a church was
erected, with the aid of a small grant from the Hudson's Bay Company,
and the foundations of Presbyterianism were laid.
In 1865 Rev. James Nisbet, who had come a few years
before to assist Mr. Black, organized a mission to the Cree Indians, and
named his mission church on the banks of the Saskatchewan, Prince
Albert. Growing by slow degrees, the Presbyterian interest increased and
was represented at the end of the Hudson's Bay Company's rule by four or
five clergymen. Schools as maintained by voluntary contributions were
erected in the Presbyterian parishes of Kildonan and Little Britain.
Manitoba College was planned and arranged for in
the closing year of the Hudson's Bay Company's regime.
The Methodists, with the fervour and missionary
zeal which has always characterized them, determined to aid in
evangelizing the Indians of Rupert's Land. It was the English Methodists
who first showed a desire in this direction. They agreed to send the
Indians a clergyman suited for the work, if the Canadian Methodist
Church would send a few labourers trained in Indian work in Canada.
James Evans, an Englishman who had been long in
Canada, and had laboured for years among the Indians of Upper Canada,
consented to go to Rupert's Land and take the superintendence of the
others sent out. Leaving Montreal with the three English missionaries
and two educated young Ojibe-ways, Peter Jacobs and Henry B. Steinhauser,
the party went by canoes up the lakes and then along the old fur
traders' route, and arrived at Norway House, at the foot of Lake
Winnipeg, in 1840. Evans made Norway House his head-quarters, George
Barnley went to Moose Factory, William Mason to Rainy Lake and River
Winnipeg, and Robert T. Rundle to Edmonton.
The missions to the Hudson Bay and Rainy Lake were
soon given up, but Rossville and Oxford House, on Lake Winnipeg, and
several points near Edmonton, are the evidence to-day of the faithful
self-denying work done by these early Methodist pioneers. Having no
whites in the country, the operations of the Methodist Church in
Rupert's Land were, up to the time of the Hudson's Bay Company's
transfer, confined to the Indians of Rupert's Land.
Mr. Evans, the superintendent of these missions,
became very celebrated by the invention of a syllabic system of writing
introduced among the Crees. The plan is simple, and an intelligent
Indian who has never seen the system can in a short time learn to read
and write the syllabic. The syllabic has spread widely over Rupert's
Land, and the different Churches use, especially among the Crees, this
ingenious invention in printing the Bible and service books. When Lord
Dufferin, a number of years ago, visited the North-West as
Governor-General of Canada, on hearing of Evans' invention ho remarked,
"The nation has given many a man a title and a pension and a
resting-place in Westminster Abbey who never did half so much for his
Some claim has been made for Mason as being the
inventor of this character, but there seems to be no ground for the
John Ryerson, a Canadian Methodist divine, in 1854
visited Rupert's Land from Canada, and after seeing the missions on Lake
Winnipeg, went from York Factory to England. The taking over of the
mission by the Canadian Methodist Church resulted from this visit.
These are the main movements of a religious kind
that took place within the borders of Rupert's Land and the territories
east of the Rocky Mountains up to the end of the Hudson's Bay Company's
regime. A great service was rendered to the whites and Indians alike, to
the Hudson's Bay Company, to the Kildonan settlers, and all the native
people by the patient work of the four churches named. The best feeling,
and in many cases active co-operation, were given by these churches to
each other. The work done by these churches laid the foundation for the
general morality and advanced social life which prevailed in Red River
and in the regions beyond.
On the Pacific slope the Hudson's Bay Company took
an immediate control of the religious and educational instruction of the
people, upon the organization of Vancouver Island as a colony (1849).
The Rev. Robert Staines was sent as chaplain and teacher to Fort
Victoria, and was given a salary and an allowance for carrying on a
boarding-school in which he was assisted by his wife. Mr. Staines did
not agree with the Company, wont to Britain as a delegate from the
dissatisfied employes, but died of injuries received on his homeward
Mr. Staines' successor was the Rev. Edward Cridge.
The new chaplain was well provided for by the Company, being secured a
parsonage and glebe of one hundred acres, and three hundred pounds a
year, one hundred pounds annually being as chaplain of the Company. Mr.
Cridge became a prominent clergyman of the colony, but in later years
left his mother Church to become bishop of the Reformed Episcopal
Church. In 1859 Bishop Hills was made first bishop of the united
colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Twenty years
afterward the diocese was divided into (1) Vancouver Island and the
islands, as Diocese of Columbia, (2) the southern mainland as Diocese of
New Westminster, and (3) the northern mainland as Diocese of New
Caledonia. The Church of England in British Columbia has enjoyed large
gifts from the Baroness Burdett-Coutts.
One of the most remarkable missions of modern times
is that of Metlakahtla, begun under the auspices of the Church of
England by William Duncan. The village he founded became an example of
civilization among the Indians, as well as a handmaid to the Christian
work done. Unfortunately, the model Indian village has been largely
broken up by a misunderstanding between Mr. Duncan and his bishop.
The first missionary of note of the Roman Catholic
Church on the coast was Father Demers, who became Bishop of Vancouver
Island and New Caledonia. The Oblate Fathers were early on the ground in
British Columbia, the first of the Order having baptized upwards of
three thousand men, women, and children of Indian tribes, the Songhies,
Saanechs, and Cowichins, near Victoria. Many churches, schools, and
hospitals have been founded by the energetic and self-denying Roman
Catholics who have made British Columbia their home. Bishop Seghers
succeeded the venerable Bishop Demers in his diocese.
Ten years after the formation of Vancouver Island
as a Crown colony, Revs. Dr. Evans, L. Robson, and two other ministers
undertook work for the Methodist Church on the coast. Good foundations
were laid by the clergymen named, and still better by Rev. Thomas
Crosby, who Joined them after a few years' service, and entered heartily
into efforts to evangelize the Indians. He had great success among the
In 1861 the first Presbyterian minister
arrived—Rev. John Hall, from Ireland, and he undertook work in Victoria.
In the year following, Rev. Robert Jamieson came from Canada as a
representative of the Canadian Presbyterian Church and settled at New
Westminster. Churches wore soon built in Victoria, Nanaimo, and New
Westminster, that now contain strong and vigorous congregations.
All of the churches were under deep obligations to
the Hudson's Bay Company for protection, assistance, and sympathy in
their undertakings on the coast. The inrush of gold seekers threw a
great responsibility upon all the churches, and it was well that the
Company, merely for motives of self-interest, should regard the
influence of the missionaries among the fierce tribes of the mountains,
of both island and mainland, as of the greatest importance. The record
of self-denying missionaries of the churches has justified all the
patronage and favour rendered them by the Hudson's Bay Company.