FOR ten years the fame of the
Canadian West had been spreading abroad, not only throughout Eastern
Canada, but across the sea to European countries as well. Year by year the
volume of immigration had been growing steadily. In 1878, the railroad
from the south reached St. Boniface. It was not until 1881, however, that
it crossed the Red River and entered the capital city of Manitoba. With
the advent of the rail-way to the Province, the growth of immigration was
vastly increased. Settlers poured in, with money and without money, filled
up the vacant spaces about the city, all demanding homes and building
sites, and passed through and out of the city by the trails leading south,
west and north, buying land, securing homesteads and squatting on claims.
Colonization companies, land syndicates, railroads, were all smitten with
the fever of land speculation. In consequence, prices rose enormously,
till the climax was reached in the famous "boom" of 1881.
The stories that float down to us
from the days of the Winnipeg "boom" read almost like fairy tales. It is
difficult to believe that sane men could have become so rabidly mad in so
short a period of time. Not only did the value of corner lots in the city
of Winnipeg soar out of sight, but far out upon the prairie, in
anticipation of projected and wholly imaginary railway lines, town sites
were surveyed, then from alluring and beautiful pictures of prosperous
towns built upon these sites, with post-office, railway station,
court-house, beautifully treed avenues depicted in harmonious colours,
lots were sold at fabulous prices. Not only
in Winnipeg and the West, but in Eastern
Canada and the United States, those building sites were greedily snapped
up. The spirit of adventure seizing many who approached this land of
promise, led them far off into wilds remote from civilization, from
market, from means of transportation, from school and Church
privileges. The cry was "Ho! for the far West !"
In every direction nuclei of settlements were set down
upon the empty prairie.
this made enormous demands upon the Church. From Port Arthur to British
Columbia, two thousand miles and more, stretched this vast mission field.
No wonder that the Home Mission Committee of 1880, after passing grants to
the amount of nearly $11,000 to
twenty-eight groups of mission fields in
Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, and with a
debit balance of $14,500 should sit down and, without argument, pass the
"The Committee having regard to the
injunction of the General Assembly to keep the expenditure of the fund
within the income, agree, as a measure of precaution, to make the grants
to mission stations and supplemented congregations, as now revised, for
the six months ending 31st March next; these grants for the following six
months being subject to revision at the next general meeting of the
The terror of the West was upon the
committee. They knew not whereunto this thing would grow. Reaching the
limit of their own resources, they appeal, and not without result, to the
Churches of the Homeland. But still they find themselves with means
inadequate to the demands made upon them. So they pass resolutions urging
retrenchment. But however the Committee may resolve, the West cannot and
will not halt. It was the next year, 1881, that answering the far-off cry
from Edmonton, A. B. Baird, newly graduated from Knox College, and newly
ordained by the Presbytery of Stratford, hitched up his buckboard at
Winnipeg, packed in his "grub" and outfit, and took the westward trail for
his outpost nine hundred miles away.
With this vast mission field
reaching from the Lakes to Edmonton, nearly fifteen hundred miles from
east to west, and with the Home Mission Committee in such financial
straits, it was that the Superintendent entered upon his work.
The institution or revival of the
office of Superintendent was for all concerned a somewhat perilous
departure. "What does this office mean?" many were asking. "What are its
rights and its limitations? What of Presbytery authority and the authority
of the Assembly’s Home Mission Committee, and of the Presbytery’s Home
Mission Committee? What of the sacred doctrine of the parity of
Presbyters?" Surely this man will need to give heed to his steps that he
slip not. To aid him in this the Home Mission Committee prepare a series
of regulations for the guidance of the Superintendent for Manitoba and the
Northwest Territories. These are afterwards approved by the Presbytery of
Manitoba and by the General Assembly, and are as follows:
1. His duties shall include the
oversight and visitation of all the mission stations and supplemented
congregations within the aforesaid territory; the organization of
and the adjusting of the amounts to be paid by the
different stations and congregations for the support of ordinances, and
the amounts to be asked from the Home Mission Committee, and in general
the supervision and furtherance of the entire mission work of our Church
in Manitoba and the Northwest.
2. In the prosecution of his work he
shall consult and report to the Presbytery of Manitoba or such other
Presbyteries as may be hereinafter erected. He shall also submit to the
meetings of the Home Mission Committee, in March and October, a detailed
statement of the progress of the work, including the adaptability of the
missionaries to the fields assigned to them, and the fulfillment on the
part of stations and supplemented congregations of the engagements entered
into for the support of the missionaries.
3. He shall transmit to the Home
Mission Committee an annual report for presentation to the Assembly,
containing complete statistics of the membership, families and adherents
in each mission station and supplemented congregation; also the additions
made during the year, the amount of contributions for the support of
ordinances and for the Home Mission fund during the year, and the extent
of new territory occupied during the same period, with any other
information and recommendations that may be deemed important for the
Committee and the General Assembly to know.
4. All Home Mission grants shall be
paid by the Superintendent to the stations and supplemented congregations,
and he shall be empowered, should he see cause, to withhold payment of
said grants in cases where the stations and supplemented congregations
have not fulfilled their monetary engagements, or where statistics have
not been regularly furnished.
5. Payments shall be made to the
stations and supplemented congregations quarterly.
6. No draft shall in any case be
drawn by the Superintendent of Missions until he has sent to the Convener
of the Home Mission Committee a detailed quarterly statement of the
amounts due to each station and congregation, and until he has received
his sanction to draw for said amounts upon the treasurer of the Church.
7. In the meantime, the missionary
of Prince Albert shall receive his payments directly through the Convener
of the Home Mission Committee.
8. The Superintendent of Missions
shall spend a portion of each year as directed by the Home Mission
Committee in the other Provinces, with a view to enlist the sympathies and
evoke the liberality of the Church in the mission work of Manitoba and the
9. The Superintendent shall report
his travelling expenses every six months to the Presbytery, to be passed
by it before being paid by the Home Mission Committee.
There is a significant hint of the
sense of peril attaching to this departure in Church government in the
objection lodged by the Rev. Hugh McKellar, a member of the Presbytery of
Manitoba, against the word "oversight" appearing in the rules. Mr.
McKellar is anxious lest the Superintendent should assume anything like
episcopal control. But before the rules could reach him, the
Superintendent was at his work.
There is no railway as yet leading
west through his field, so he buys a horse and buggy and starts out early
in August, taking the Portage trail, upon his first missionary tour, as
Superintendent. On that first missionary tour he drove two thousand miles,
at first through heat and dust and rain, and later through frosts and
blizzards, for it was after the middle of December before he returned to
Winnipeg, delivering some ninety-six sermons and forty missionary
That trail and others he will press
for twenty years without halt or break or reprieve, till he lays him down
to his long rest. That trail, pursued by buggy and buck. board, by cutter
and "jumper," by passenger train and freight train, would girdle the earth
ten times and more. Pressing that trail, he will break the way for many a
pioneer missionary, who, passing beyond the sky-line of the prairie, may
pass out of sight, and often out of memory of his Church, but will never
be forgotten by him who first showed him this pathway to service and to