Twenty Years on the Saskatchewan,N.W.
Canada Chapter III. Early Difficulties
North-West Canada, is at the head of navigation on
the North Saskatchewan River, which flows through
Lake Winnipeg into Hudson Bay. Twenty years ago it
was simply a fort, where hunters brought their furs,
and received goods in exchange. On my arrival I
found very few residents, and these were nearly all
servants of the Hudson Bay Company. Nine miles from
the fort were the headquarters of the Roman Catholic
Church, and the Catholics had, at that time, a
church inside the fort itself. Within sight of the
fort were also a Methodist chapel and a parsonage.
The leading people at the fort were Methodists, and
very zealous Methodists too. They did not often
attend our services, nor did they encourage their
servants to attend. At first, on looking around me,
I asked myself what I was to do. I was far from
civilization, and with only one or two posts in the
year to bring me letters. I had at hand a tent, a
surplice, a Prayer-Book, and a Bible. There was no
parsonage, no church, nor any means for building
either. I had been sent as a missionary to settlers.
But where were they? I could not find such persons
as we usually designate settlers. Beyond the
mission-stations even a potato-patch was seldom to
be seen, and a farm never.
Three or four persons
had, in years gone by, been confirmed in the church
at Manitoba, but these had become attendants on
Methodist ministrations. It seemed as if I had come
to upset Methodism, and to introduce religious
strife into a distant, and not very devout,
community. I would gladly have returned to other
fields of labour, could I have been so directed, or
had circumstances permitted. Then as to my means of
subsistence. Two hundred pounds a year in Edmonton
was equal to about fifty pounds a year in Ontario or
in England. The usual price of flour was twenty-five
dollars a bag, or five pounds sterling the
hundredweight. Fifty cents, or two shillings, bought
a pound of sugar or of salt. During the first two
winters I bought barley for my mare, and it cost me
one pound sterling for two bushels If the mare
strayed away--and this she often did--then to fetch
her from the plains cost me five dollars a day, or
part of a day, as the case might be; but if the
business took two days, a man expected two
sovereigns as his pay. All my expenses were in the
For a few days I
received kindly hospitality at the fort, and then I
removed into a log building, which was partly
finished, and available by a mere accident. I used
this both as a residence and as the church. As the
winter was at hand, it was necessary for me to put
this house into some sort of repair, and the
difficulty I had was to secure both lumber and a
carpenter. After some inquiry, I found a man who had
recently arrived from Manitoba with his family, and
I learned that he might be induced to do the job for
me. The man was sent for.
'Can you do this job?' I
'Well, I might,' he
replied, 'if the pay is all right.'
'What do you want a day
for this work?' I said.
'Well, I'll ax around,
and see; it may be five dollars a day might pay me,'
was the answer.
The man did not look a
very active carpenter, but the work had to be done,
and so I said:
'All right, you shall
have five dollars a day; come to-morrow.'
Days passed, however,
and no carpenter appeared. After awhile a large tent
was pitched at a little distance from the house, and
it was crowded with boys and girls of all ages;
there were ten of them, and the carpenter was among
them. Thinking, and hoping, that he had come to
begin the work at last, I approached him with the
'Have you come to fix
'No,' he said,' I think
not; the pay is not enough.'
'What do you want,
then?' was the answer.
'Oh, food for my family,
and five dollars a day.'
'What! food for all
'How much will the food
'I do not know, but I
must have food for my family.'
'Well, then, buy it out
of the five dollars.'
'No, I can't; they want
that in other ways.'
I need hardly say that
this carpenter was not engaged on these impossible
The first winter I spent
at Edmonton was a very cold and severe one, the
frost often registering forty, and even fifty,
degrees below zero. I was fortunate enough to obtain
a small cooking stove at the fort, which, with the
pipes, cost one hundred dollars, or twenty pounds
sterling. This stove was not sufficient to warm the
room, and it needed perpetual attention night and
day, with the slight wood of the country, to keep us
from freezing in our badly-built house. Often I
tried to write, and placed the ink on the front of
the stove in order that it might thaw; but before
the pen could touch the paper and write a word the
ink in the pen would be frozen, and writing
exceedingly difficult. At this time my books had not
arrived, and there was very little literature to be
obtained. The days were short and the nights were
long, so if there had been at command a large
library, the books would have been of no practical
use, for, besides the cold, we had no light, and
could not procure any. Neither coal nor oil could be
bought, and tallow for making candles cost fifty
cents a pound, and only about two pounds could be
purchased during the winter even at this price. To
help in bearing the cold, I ordered a jacket of
moose-skin and a pair of trousers. The charge was
fifty dollars, and I actually paid forty-five. Some
of these charges I have since compared with the
charges made by traders for the necessaries of life
up among the great newly-discovered lakes in Central
Africa, such as Lakes Tanganyika and Victoria
Nyanza, and it is a positive fact that we, in
North-West America, then paid more for common goods
than the missionaries did in the far African
The reader may well
imagine that life under such conditions of exile and
solitude would not be considered a delightful state
of human existence anywhere; and yet even here the
dark cloud had its silver lining. From the first a
few persons attended the services. Officials in the
Hudson Bay Company's service were glad to renew old
church associations as they passed to other forts.
Camps of surveyors sought a little Sunday rest, and
change from the monotony of their life on the
prairies, in public worship after the manner of
their fathers. Mounted police, who had just come
into the country, and were located some eighteen or
twenty miles away, were offered frequent services.
Children were collected for instruction; the Indian
tents were visited; and the banner of the Church was
unfurled over a new, and vast, and hitherto
Such occupations and
thoughts made 'life worth living,' and I am thankful
that the honour fell on me of being the pioneer
missionary of what is now an extensive diocese.
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