IN the spring of 1875 I left my parish in the Toronto diocese to become a missionary in 'the far North-West.' Little at that time was known of this great district by the people of Canada, and my undertaking was a sufficiently serious one, in consideration of the means that were placed at my disposal. In the summer of 1874 the first Bishop of Saskatchewan had been consecrated at Lambeth. On his return to his diocese he had met the provincial synod of the Church of England in session at Montreal, and had appealed for two clergymen to serve as missionaries. As a result of his appeal, it was arranged that I should go to Edmonton as the missionary supported by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.
During the winter before my journey, I had time to look about me, and to make inquiries concerning the countries which I purposed to visit, and concerning the best means of getting to them. A Methodist missionary from the Saskatchewan visited Ontario during that winter, and made speeches which were reported in the newspapers; but I could gather very little from them that was of practical service to me. A large map, which had been published by the General Government of Canada gave me some idea of the Hudson Bay trading-posts, and of the vast distances between them; but, evidently to cover ignorance, the intervening spaces were dotted with the names of Indian tribes who did--or at least were supposed to--roam somewhere between those posts.
It looked a very serious business to get to Edmonton and the mountain district around it, without any well-defined means of transit. I should have to journey through a region where there were no public boats, no bridges crossing the rivers, no guides whom I could hire, and no means of protection either from rude white men or from savage Indians. So matters seemed to a simple clergyman, who had undertaken the work of the Church, in obedience to the call of Divine Providence. The way was by no means plain, but it was the way of faith, and with God for Guide and Protector, surely even more uncertain and perilous journeys might be hopefully undertaken.
On arriving at Collingwood, on the south point of the Georgian Bay, with a favourite horse, a light buckboard, and an English orphan boy as my servant and companion, I found the ice was still in the bay, but the vessel ready to proceed as soon as practicable up the Great Lakes. I had a day or two of pleasant waiting at the hospitable Rectory, and then the generous Rector, Dr. Lett, did me a last kindness, and gave me his last farewell.
The way up the Great Lakes, even in those days, was a well-travelled route as far as Prince Arthur's Landing. This place was named after one of the Queen's sons, who had gone up as far as this, in his Canadian travels, in order to see something of the fine scenery of the lakes. At the time of the Prince's visit the place was a mere cedar swamp, at one corner of a noble bay of water, near to Fort William; but now it is a splendid town, and of great promise for the future.
The boat by which we travelled arrived at Prince Arthur's Landing late on the Saturday night, or, rather, early on the Sunday morning, and, as it was the first boat of the season, all the people from far and near gathered together to meet her, and the little place was crowded with quite a mass of people. No place--not even a bed on the floor--could be obtained at any hotel; and though we searched everywhere, we could hear of no shelter in any building. So, although it was the Sunday morning, we had to purchase a tent, and pitch it on the shore of the bay, to buy food for the horse, and to make ourselves as comfortable as we could under the circumstances. At eleven o'clock we went to the little church, and assisted the clergyman in reading prayers. At the evening service we were invited to preach the sermon.
Now commenced the rough part of our journey. It had been represented to us in Ontario that we should find the new Dawson Route a very convenient and expeditious road; and as it was declared to be the direct route, and also under Government management, we were very hopeful of good experiences. Several times, however, the road was stated to be ready for us, and then, on presenting ourselves to begin our journey, we were requested to delay for a day, and then for the next day. The truth was that the road was not ready, and when we did proceed we found confusion everywhere: there was no expedition in the transit boats on the innumerable lakes; servants were rough and unfitted for their duties; paths or roads were ill-made, or else not made at all, and over these we had to pass with our goods as best we could. Everything we had, even the buckboard, had to be taken to pieces and put together again several times each day. Our goods were so carelessly thrown into the light boats that we wondered to find that our losses were so few, and our consequent discomfort so small. Most of our fellow-passengers were Canadian backwoodsmen, who were proceeding to Manitoba with their teams of horses or oxen, to try their fortune on the prairies.
Just then several parties of Government surveyors were going out into these wilds to follow their profession, and I found them very courteous and helpful, and on several occasions I should have been in perilous straits but for their kindly assistance. One gentleman from Ottawa, a great big-hearted fellow, perhaps to tease me as much as anything else, pretended to be an outrageous sceptic. Yet he willingly allowed daily prayers in his tent, helped to get me a room for Sunday service whenever it was practicable, and generally acted so much like a good Samaritan to the missionary, that the impression still remains with me that such a man could not be far from the kingdom of God.
This Dawson Route was a long one, and the journey through it was a wearisome business; yet, like all disagreeable experiences, it came to an end at last. After the boating was done we put our buckboard together, and tried to push on ahead of the other passengers, who were more heavily laden. We had covered about thirty miles, and had arrived near a place called Oak Point, when, while we were drinking our tea, we missed our horse, and found he had been so tormented by the flies that he had broken his line and gone back again. We passed a weary and anxious night in our tent, as we were quite unable to help ourselves; but next day our fellow-passengers brought the horse along with them, and then we pressed on for Winnipeg.
On bidding farewell to this Dawson Route--up which General Wolseley came with his troops to quell the Red River rebellion--we may observe that the scenery was often very fine, and sometimes even splendid. The Nepigon and Rainey Rivers greatly impressed us with their scenes of exquisite beauty, and the passage of the falls on the latter river was an experience that would be well worth recording.