TO the General Assembly of 1881 were sent from the
Presbytery of Manitoba two overtures big with potentialities for the cause
of Presbyterianism and of religion in Western Canada. One of these
overtures received the approval of the Assembly and resulted in the
appointment of the Rev. James Robertson, Minister of Knox Church,
Winnipeg, as Superintendent of Missions for Manitoba and the Northwest
Territories. The fate of the other overture hung in the balance for some
months. It was an overture to authorize the creation of a fund to aid in
the erection of churches and manses in the West.
The origin of this overture was to
be found in the experience of the minister of Knox Church, Winnipeg, while
acting as Convener of the Presbytery’s Home Mission Committee. During his
various missionary tours it was pressed upon his mind with painful
insistence that the missionaries in charge of the outposts of our Church
were called upon to suffer what seemed to him unnecessary privation from
the lack of comfortable homes, and that congregations were seriously
retarded in their development from the lack of suitable buildings in which
For men and women of culture and of
fine instincts to be forced to live in mud-roofed shacks, or board with
families in houses of a single room, where all the domestic activities
were carried on, could not fail to seriously impair the efficiency of
their service. Nor was there much hope of a permanent settlement being
effected in a congregation till a home could be found for the minister and
his family. Further than this, while so large a proportion of the settlers
were young men, unmarried and living wretchedly uncomfortable lives, it
was not difficult to imagine how great an impetus would be given to the
work of the Church and how vastly increased would be the hold of the
minister upon his flock, had he a comfortable home into which he might
welcome the stranger and the homeless of his congregation.
Mr. Robertson had often experienced,
too, the depressing effect of uncongenial surroundings in connection with
public worship. He had been forced to preach to the people in curious
places, in shacks through whose sod roofs the rain trickled in muddy
streams upon the head and down the face of the preacher. He tells us how,
upon entering a sod-roofed shack during a rain-storm one day, he found the
children arranged like soldiers on parade along the centre of the little
room. Closer observation revealed the wisdom of this arrangement, for the
only dry place in the little shack was the line underneath a wide beam
that formed the ridge pole of the roof.
Another time, while the missionary
was nearing the climax of his sermon, from under the bed whereon a portion
of the audience had found sittings, there came the premonitory clucks of a
hen indicative of a virtuous sense of duty fulfilled. At once there ensued
a struggle for the attention of the audience between the zealous
missionary and the industrious fowl. More and more eloquent waxed the
missionary’s periods, louder and louder the cluckings of the hen, till
finally emerging into the open, with a few surprised if not indignant
clucks at the unwonted invasion of her privacy, and then with a wild
volley of frantic clucks and cluckoos, she flew through the open door,
leaving the vanquished missionary to gather up the scattered members of
his body of divinity and the shattered attention of his audience.
In buildings of all kinds and
devoted to all purposes religious services were held, in schoolhouses,
where there were any, in unfinished stores, in blacksmith shops, in
granaries, hay-lofts and stables, often redolent of other than the odour
of sanctity. Liberal use, too, was made of the offer of its station-houses
on the part of the Canadian Pacific Railway. But often the effect of the
sermon and of the whole service was marred by uncongenial and incongruous
surroundings. This was notably the case when the only available spot for
service happened to be the bar of a hotel. Once Mr. Robertson, coming to a
settlement late on a Saturday evening, where the largest building was the
hotel and the largest room the bar, inquired of the hotel man
"Is there any place where I can hold
a service to-morrow?"
"Yes, a preaching service."
"Preaching? Oh, yes, I’ll get you
one," he replied with genial heartiness.
Next day Mr. Robertson came into the
bar which was crowded with men.
"Well, have you found a room for my
service ?" he inquired of his genial host.
"Here you are, boss, right here. Get
in behind that bar and here’s your crowd. Give it to ‘em. God knows they
Mr. Robertson caught the wink
intended for the "boys" only. Behind the bar were bottles and kegs and
other implements of the trade; before it men standing up for their drinks,
chaffing, laughing, swearing. The atmosphere could hardly be called
congenial, but the missionary was "onto his job," as the boys afterwards
admiringly said. He gave out a hymn. Some of the men took off their hats
and joined in the singing, one or two whistling an accompaniment. As he
was getting into his sermon one of the men, evidently the smart one of the
company, broke in.
"Say, boss," he drawled, "I like yer
nerve, but I don’t believe yer talk."
"All right," replied Mr. Robertson,
"give me a chance. When I get through you can ask any questions you like.
If I can I will answer them, if I can’t, I’ll do my best."
The reply appealed to the sense of
fair play in the crowd. They speedily shut up their companion and told the
missionary to "fire ahead," which he did and to such good purpose that
when he had finished there was no one ready to gibe or question. After the
service was closed, however, one of them observed earnestly: "I believe
every word you said, sir. I haven’t heard anything like that since I was a
kid, from my Sunday-school teacher. I guess I gave her a pretty hard time.
But, look here, can’t you send us a missionary for ourselves? We’ll all
chip in, won’t we, boys?"
A missionary was sent in and it was
not long till a strong congregation was established in that community. But
in the hands of a weaker man such a result was hardly likely to follow the
services conducted in the barroom.
In pressing the overture upon the
attention of the Presbytery of Manitoba, Mr. Robertson urged the necessity
of such a fund, not only in the interests of a more harmonious and
effective preaching service and a greater efficiency in Church work
generally, but upon a ground which he crystallized in a great phrase that
has become historically associated with the memory of its creator.
He urged the importance of a church
building as giving "visibility and permanence" to the cause of religion.
That phrase, "visibility and permanence," became a battle-cry on his lips
during his campaign for this fund, and a great battle-cry it proved. Those
who have lived their lives within sight of a church and within sound of a
church bell, will find it diflicult, if not impossible, to estimate at
full value the ethical effect of the mere building upon the moral life of
the community. But men of the frontier have learned by experience how
great this effect is.
A missionary writing in regard to
the change wrought in the mind of the community by the building of a
"Before the church was built in this
village only the decidedly religious people could be got to attend
service. The store was open, the bar was full, the ordinary business of
the week went on as usual. But the very day the church was opened all this
was changed. The store closed up, the bar was empty of all except a few
recognized and well-seasoned ‘toughs,’ the ordinary work of the week
stopped, and many came to church who would not think of coming to
the service in the shack. The silent appeal of that building with
the Gothic windows was a more powerful sermon than any I had ever
But Mr. Robertson was not at the
Assembly of 1881 to press his overture. The Assembly was doubtful. A money
scheme to many of the fathers and brethren is ever a suspicious
innovation. Opposition developed. The overture was in the hands of
Professor Bryce and the Western representatives. So serious did the
opposition become that its supporters lost heart and a motion was proposed
by Mr. W. T. Wilkins, seconded by Professor Bryce, asking leave to
withdraw the overture. But to the rescue came the venerable Dr. Reid,
seconded by that always champion of Western Canada, Principal Grant, with
an amendment to remit the overture to the Home Mission Committee. The
amendment carried, and the Church and Manse Building scheme was saved for
the time being.
In the Home Mission Committee,
however, there was opposition, but here Mr. Robertson, now become
Superintendent, was able to show the large advantage that would accrue to
Home Mission work from such a fund. He was further able to report that
already a considerable amount had been promised for the fund. The first
contribution, to the amount of one thousand dollars, had come from a
friend in Newfoundland. Presbyterians in the West had promised support.
The Home Mission Committee, still uncertain as to the ultimate effect of a
canvass for a new fund upon their Home Mission revenue, were still
unwilling to bestow their benediction, but allowed the Superintendent to
go on with the canvass.
With all the concentrated energy of
his being, the new Superintendent "goes on," putting his hand to a work,
the magnitude of which not even he has begun to estimate. With shrewd
foresight he begins in the West. His old congregation in Winnipeg backs
him up with a handsome contribution; other congregations subscribe in
proportion. Leading Presbyterians of the West, catching the spirit of the
Superintendent, give largely. Then to the East he proceeds, sowing
broadcast over the Church a Catechism on the Church and Manse Building
Fund. It was not, indeed, the Shorter Catechism of high and honourable
fame, but a new edition of the Mother’s Catechism, as one said, "for it
was in the interest of the boys." Wherever he can get an opening he pleads
his cause. On every hand he meets opposition, from lethargic pastors, from
penurious congregations, from men with rival schemes, but with unfailing
good humour and with indomitable perseverance he keeps pushing the Church
and Manse Building scheme.
Writing from Cobourg, under date
March 7th, 1882, to his wife, he, as always, takes her fully into his
confidence: "To-night I have no meeting. I tried to arrange and the
telegraph failed me. Came here last night and had a good meeting,
collections $34.46. But the congregation is without a pastor and in a bad
state. Tried to do something for our Church Building Fund, but met with
little success. Got only about $190, but have promises of more. Hope to
make it $500. Peterboro I was not able to canvass. Several things promised
and I am going back there some time. I think $1,500 or $1,800 could be got
there. This part of the country is not very hopeful and the young people
are leaving. To-morrow I go to Madoc I am vexed at being sent to a place
so little likely to do anything for our cause, but I must go." He is
labouring under the direction of his Committee, and apparently not
Again from Kingston he writes: "Got
here Saturday afternoon and am with Dr. Smith. He met me at the hotel.
Called on McQuaig and Rev. Andrew Neilson about services. Preached for
McOuaig yesterday morning. Congregation not large, but I understand that
his is the most wealthy in Kingston. I did not get him to give a
collection for the Home Mission Committee. Took tea there, however. He is
soured at something about the Home Mission Committee. Which indisposition,
however, is only temporary, his good sense coming to his aid. Preached for
Neilson in the evening. There was a good deal of interest manifested, and
I trust good will be done. But no collection was taken up for our fund.
Last evening Principal Grant came to Dr. Smith’s and we had a chat on
matters. He goes to Ottawa to attend the Legislature anent the Union Act.
The anti-Unionists are doing all they can to defeat the measure and Sir
Hugh Allan, Hickson of the Grand Trunk, etc., are lobbying with the Antis.
But the bill will go through, I think.
"This morning I was trying to get
men out to our meeting to-night so as to get them interested in our Church
Building scheme. They fight shy of the measure, but several promised to be
there. Dr. D—. went with me. We are going out this afternoon again.
Belleville gave but little for our fund, but I trust to go back there
again and we will do better. I address the students here to-morrow. We
want as many as possible of them out there—of the right kind. The desire
to go out is general, and I hope we may get the right men."
"Money and men !" He does not know
it, but he has entered upon his life-long hunt. Ever as he tramps the
streets of these Ontario towns and drives his long drives against storm
and sleet, he is thinking of the little homeless congregations on the
prairie and of the homeless missionaries and missionaries’ wives he is
trying to settle in those homeless congregations. And, therefore, he
cannot yield to discouragement, and no matter who or what may oppose, he
presses hard upon his mission.
From Brockville on this same tour,
under date March 22d, 1882, he writes:
"I have just got down-stairs to
write you a note before I leave for Ottawa. I got here last evening and
held a meeting. The day was very stormy and my attendance somewhat slim.
The collection ‘ditto.’ I called on several before the meeting and they
all appeared to be interested, but the night was such as would deter
people from going out. I have no time to wait this morning to call on any
for the Church and Manse Building Fund, but think that I will call here
again. They think that $1,000 can be got, at any rate. I saw ex-Governor
Morris at Ottawa and got $1,000 from him! I never expected the half of
it." Though it is safe to say he never allowed His Honour to suspect any
such modesty in his canvasser. "But I had a regular ‘set to’ with him in
Toronto and hence he came down handsomely. Dr. Schultz promised me land to
between $500 and $1,000, and I got $300 from Senator Sutherland. I am
going to see some of the other men in Ottawa to-day and hope to do
something. I must go to Montreal for to-morrow evening. Our meeting in
Ottawa was large on Monday evening. Principal Grant, Macdonnell, and
myself spoke. Grant made a capital speech. Macdonnell and myself were not
so happy, but I got a good chance with them on Sabbath. I will go west
from Montreal to Toronto, likely on Monday or Tuesday."
Stormy days and slim attendances do
their worst, but men with vision of the coming greatness of the West are
beginning to take an interest in his scheme, and so with better heart he
goes to meet his still doubtful Committee.
From Toronto he writes on the 29th
"I got here yesterday and was until
late at the Home Mission Committee meeting. Not much business yet done. I
do not know when we shall be through, but will go up to see you all as
soon as I can get away, likely to-morrow.
"My Church and Manse Building scheme
has not yet the approval of the Committee. They want the General Assembly
to be seized of the matter and they recommend changes. I did not object
and hence all, I trust, will go well." He has the genius that can wait and
that knows when it is good to wait. The Committee, too, wise heads that
they are, know that it will do nothing but good to allow the Assembly to
view this work from many sides. He continues: "I found Montreal hard to
move, but after Sabbath’s services things went better. Several told me
that they were much pleased with the account given of the Country and
would help in this scheme. Some even went so far as to call on me about
the matter next morning." They are slow to move, these Montrealers, but
their day for moving will come, and when they begin to get the
"vision," they will be found in the line of advance. One of them has his
eyes wide open already, for we read: "Dined with D. A. Smith yesterday
evening, and he gave me $1,500. This is the only subscription from
Montreal yet." Courage! A goodly number will follow Mr. Smith’s excellent
So from town to town and from
congregation to congregation he pushes his relentless canvass with the
help of his somewhat cautious Committee, and without it, till he arrives
at Toronto, the stronghold of Presbyterianism in Canada. He is expecting
much, but he is doomed to grievous disappointment.
"I am just getting ready to go out
canvassing to-day. Spent a part of two days and got $1,500 more. Toronto
is hard to get at. Knox College has a scheme of endowment and people have
got a hint to reserve their strength for that. Toronto was always selfish.
It is Toronto first, last, and always. They will support what will build
up Toronto, but for outside objects they give as little as they decently
Which all goes to show that Toronto
is like other cities and like mankind generally, endowed with a very
considerable amount of human nature. But Toronto, like Montreal, will
change her mind about this man and about his work. The day will come when
she will respond with loyal and eager enthusiasm when he leads. So off he
goes to Montreal, where he remains till the meeting of the General
Assembly which this year takes place in St. John.
With a brave heart he meets this
august and venerable body and, indeed, he well may. It is his first
appearance as Superintendent of Missions. To most of the fathers and
brethren he is quite unknown by face. But already there is rumour
attaching to him, and it is with keen expectancy that they wait his first
appearance. He is asked to address the house in regard to the Church and
Manse Building Fund. Tall and spare of form, rugged of face, and with the
burr of the land of his birth still ringing in his voice, he rises to
address the Assembly. Modestly, but with masterly management of his facts
and with quiet touches of pawky humour here and there lighting up his
narrative, he recounts his initial experience as a canvasser for Church
It is the story of an extraordinary
triumph. He has succeeded in enlisting the moral and financial support of
leading Presbyterians of both East and West. He has secured from the
Canadian Pacific Railway Company the promise to transport all building
material at two-thirds the ordinary rate. Manitoba has already pledged
$36, 000 for the fund. With a very partial canvass he has subscriptions
from the East amounting to nearly $28,000. His total subscriptions to date
amount to the magnificent sum of $63,726 and this, with promises more or
less definitely given, he has reason to believe will give a grand total of
While he is addressing the Assembly
he holds in his hand a small black note-book. Ah, that note-book! What
dismay it has struck to the heart of many an unwary critic! What
foreboding it has brought to the mind of an unhappy and unwilling
contributor! But what cheer and inspiration to many a doubtful Church
court and depressed congregation! The Assembly listen amazed. That by
a single man during the few months at his disposal, with the
hesitating support of a Committee not yet fully committed to the scheme,
this large sum— and for those days it was, indeed, a large sum—should have
been raised, seemed an almost impossible achievement. The effect upon the
minds of the fathers and brethren was great and immediate. There and then
they, and especially the great leaders among them, took their new
Superintendent to their hearts and gave him their confidence. He will have
many a battle yet to fight; opposition, hostility, criticism, are yet in
store for him, but from this moment his Church will not waver in following
his lead. The future of the Church and Manse Building Fund, by the
statement of the new Superintendent, was fully assured.
The raising and organizing of the
Church and Manse Building Fund was, indeed, an achievement which might
entitle any man to a high place in the esteem and the remembrance of his
Church. The history of the growth and the operations of this fund only add
to the lustre of his name who had the eye to see its necessity, the
courage to plan, and the genius to carry out to a successful issue a
scheme so fraught with blessing to the whole of Canada, both West and
East. The phenomenal success of the first canvass made the further
prosecution of the work an easier task. The Newfoundland friend who had
given the first thousand dollars, hearing of the work being accomplished
through the fund, secured from sympathetic friends a second thousand. A
Toronto contributor returning from a tour of the West and seeing the work
done through the country, expressed himself as highly pleased, and offered
to increase his subscription. "When a leading Episcopalian was speaking to
me," he said to the Superintendent, "about the energy of our Church and
her success, I felt proud of being a Presbyterian." Another contributor of
Toronto, similarly impressed with the value of the fund, volunteered to
become a life-subscriber. Before five years had passed, the subscription
list had grown to $114,792, though it is fair to say that owing to the
severity of the financial depression following the collapse of the boom in
the West, a considerable portion of the money subscribed could not be
In his campaigning for funds, the
Superintendent literally obeyed the Scriptural injunction to be instant in
season and out of season. He never let an opportunity slip. On one
occasion a good friend of his living in Ottawa, a university classmate,
learning that the Superintendent was one of a party snow-bound for two or
three days on the line between Pembroke and Ottawa, met him at the train
on its arrival and with warm hospitality carried him off to his home,
where he entertained him for some days right royally. As a further
courtesy, the Ottawa gentleman put him up at the Rideau Club. Running his
eye one day over the list of club members, the Superintendent made the
happy discovery of some forty or fifty names of good Presbyterians. It
looked like good hunting to him, and, like a hound upon the scent, he took
up the trail. Not a man of them escaped, and it was many months before his
Ottawa friend heard the last of the joke he had unwittingly played upon
his unsuspecting club members.
Eager though he was to secure
contributions for his cause, the Superintendent never sacrificed his
self-respect and never allowed any man either to bully or to patronize
him. On one occasion when in Ottawa he met a Canadian Pacific Railway
magnate coming out of the Parliament Buildings.
"Well, Mr. Robertson," said the C.
P. B. magnate, "I suppose you are on one of your begging tours."
"I am doing your work, sir," replied
the Superintendent with dignity.
"Yes, sir. You are a Presbyterian,
you are a Canadian, and you are interested in the West." And he proceeded
to indoctrinate his listener in regard to his duty and privilege as a good
Presbyterian and loyal Canadian towards the country from which he drew no
inconsiderable portion of his income.
"Well," replied the great man, "I’ll
give you fifty dollars."
"No, sir. I can’t take fifty dollars
"‘Why note" was the indignant reply.
"I am going this afternoon to see
Mr. X, Mr. Y, Mr. Z,"
mentioning the names of prominent wholesale men in
Ottawa. " If they see your name down for fifty dollars they will at once
put down their names for ten."
"You won’t take fifty, then?"
"No, sir, I can’t afford to."
"Well, good-morning," was the reply,
and off went the C. P. R. magnate with his head in the air.
The Superintendent rolled up a good
subscription list in Ottawa and Montreal, and the year following met the
railway gentleman in the Parliament Buildings at Ottawa.
"Well, Mr. Robertson," was his
greeting, "you are still on the warpath."
"Still at your work, sir," was the
"What will you take this year?"
"What will you give, sir?" was the
"I’ll give you $250, but don’t come
"I’ll take this," was the reply,
"and thank you, sir, but I make no promises for the future. Good-morning,
sir." And with that swift downward grip of his he left the railway man
looking after him with covetous eyes. It was a pity that such a man should
be wasted on canvassing for Church funds.
Not often did the Superintendent
suffer abuse, and not always did he suffer in silence. During a canvass in
the city of Toronto a friend who had subscribed liberally to his fund
inquired, "Why not call upon my friend Mr. Blank? He is a Presbyterian and
wealthy. He ought to give you something." He did not add that the friend
in question was notoriously and constitutionally averse to subscription
books of all kinds soever. In due time the Superintendent tapped at this
wealthy Presbyterian’s office door.
"Come in," called a gruff voice.
He opened the door and stood with a
pleasant smile, waiting an invitation to enter.
"Oh, I know you. You’re after money
for that Godforsaken country of yours," was the almost fierce greeting
hurled at him over the desk. "Well, I tell you, you needn’t come in here."
And without pause, the loyal Presbyterian poured forth his indignation and
contempt upon the surprised canvasser and his cause. But he had chosen the
wrong man upon whom to vent his fury. With growing wrath the
Superintendent listened till the man had quite exhausted his breath and
his vocabulary, then took a turn himself.
"Mr. Blank, I came to your office,
sir, at the suggestion of a friend of yours," he said in that vibrant
voice of his. "I thought I was coming to see a gentleman. I was mistaken.
You didn’t even offer me a seat. You gave me no opportunity to tell my
business, you have heaped abuse upon me, but more than that, sir, you have
vilified the cause which is the cause of the Church of which you profess
to be a member, sir." And with cold and merciless deliberation he
proceeded to remove the successive layers of pachydermatous tissue till he
had the man on the raw. Then he poured forth an array of facts in regard
to the country and the work he had in hand, driving them home with that
long, bony index finger till the man was glad to get him out of his office
with a proper apology and a check for one hundred dollars. Neither of
them, however, saw the humour of the situation till the following year
when the Superintendent was calling for his next annual installment.
When once a man whose conscience was
normally active allowed the Superintendent to get him at short range, the
result was almost always a subscription. On one of his hasty tours through
British Columbia he took the opportunity of calling upon a Provincial
Cabinet Minister, a gentleman of considerable wealth and devoted to the
Presbyterian Church. The Superintendent laid the necessities of his cause
before his sympathetic hearer and was gratified to receive a prompt
response. The Cabinet Minister drew forth his check-book and writing out
his check, handed it to his visitor. The Superintendent glanced at the
check without reply. It was drawn for one hundred dollars.
"Well," said the subscriber with
considerable surprise, "is not that satisfactory?"
"Hardly, from you, sir."
"Why, how much do you want?"
"Just another nothing, sir,"
pointing to the last figure on the check.
"What! A thousand dollars?"
"A thousand dollars, sir," replied
the Superintendent, and sitting down, he drew his chair close to that of
the Cabinet Minister, leaned towards him and with his hand upon his knee,
went seriously at the business of revealing to him his privilege in the
matter. It took one hour’s talk, but as the Superintendent naively
remarked, "It was worth it. I got my thousand dollars!"
The summary of what the fund had
accomplished during the first five years of its history is the most
complete justification of its existence. This summary is found in a
statement by the Superintendent accompanying the
Annual Report of the Board for the
year 1887, and forms so remarkable a paper that it should have a place in
the memory of all Presbyterians who love their Church and of all Canadians
who love their country. It is as follows:
"The Church and Manse Building Fund
was born of necessity. For several years before the Northwest was
connected with the outside world by rail, settlers in considerable numbers
were coming in. Their numbers increased as the prospects of a railway
brightened. A large proportion of the newcomers were Presbyterians. Many
of them were young, with characters unformed and with religious
convictions unsettled. Some were in quest of homes, others of wealth. The
wholesome restraints of settled society were wanting. With the break-up of
home associations and the absence of restraint there lay the danger of the
religious instincts becoming enfeebled and the sense of moral obligation
blunted. If religious institutions were not planted among them and the
teachings of early life followed up, indifference, irreligion, and vice
were certain to become prevalent. The facts were laid before the Church,
and prompt and energetic action was taken. Missionaries were appointed,
and money voted to support them.
"But no sooner did missionaries
appear on the ground than other difficulties presented themselves. There
were neither churches in which to hold services, nor houses to shelter
missionaries and their families. The Foreign Mission Committee
appropriates its money to erect chapels, purchase bungalows, or procure
health retreats. The moneys of the Home Mission Committee can only be
voted to help to pay the salaries of missionaries.
"My first tour through our mission
fields opened my eyes. Settlement was being rapidly effected, but for the
eight years between 1874 and 1882 only fifteen churches had been erected.
Schoolhouses were very few in number, and when available the low seats and
narrow spacing proved rather trying to the long leg and longer thigh of
the athletic Manitobans. I shall say nothing of the trials of female
dress, with its projections and distentions. Services were, consequently,
held for the most part in private houses, and as the ceiling was sometimes
low and formed of hay or sod, it seemed a blessing to be short of stature.
In summer, stables and stable lofts, byres and granaries, were fitted up;
but the crowing, clucking and cackling of irreverent poultry, the barking
of dogs, or the gambols of cattle, were too trying to the risibilities of
the young; and odours more pungent than pleasant gave the sensitive
nostril or the refractory stomach an excuse to rebel.
"Railway stations and section
houses, unfinished stores and dwelling.houses, private and public halls
were extemporized into churches wherever available ; but the rent of halls
frequently left little of the revenue to be applied on salary, as such
halls were built ‘on spec,’ and supposed to pay themselves in three years.
Hotel parlours and dining-rooms, billiard and bar-rooms were secured, but
only occasionally. It was feared by the owner that the service might
interfere with the legitimate trade of the place. I have preached in the
front of a house when the proprietor was selling whiskey in the rear, but
I had the satisfaction of knowing that he was fined $200 and sent six
months to jail. Ludicrous incidents could be given and laughable stories
told. But missionaries compelled to labour in this way felt as if they
laboured in vain and spent their strength for naught.
"The need of manses was greater
still. Missionaries could get houses to rent at only a few points, and
twenty dollars per month was asked for very inferior accommodation. When
it is borne in mind that the salary was only eight hundred dollars, it
will be seen that it was impossible for a minister to engage a house at
such a figure. I have visited delicate, refined women and cultured
ministers in houses scarcely fit to shelter cattle. Dr. Guthrie, in
appealing to Scottish audiences for money with which to build manses for
Free Church ministers, pointed his appeals with instances of heroic
suffering. Cases of greater hardships could be cited in the history of
missions in Manitoba. Disappointment, sickness, and diminished power for
work followed. Men lost their ‘spring ‘—their energy,—and the work
languished. An effort was made to reach the ear of the East, but a
wilderness lay between, and Eastern pastors were busy with their own work.
"But why did not the people build
They could not. Many of them were poor—financial depression drove them
from the homes of their youth. For the first few years it was all outgo
and no income with them. Building timber could not be had but at a few
points; lumber and hardware were dear. Something had to be done to
encourage, to stimulate, else the work would fail. Such were the
circumstances that called the fund into existence, and similar
circumstances created funds in the American churches.
"The effect of the fund on the work
of the Church has been unmistakable. It has given visibility to
Presbyterianism. There is not a village or town of any importance between
Lake Superior and the Rocky Mountains that is not provided with a church,
and many of the buildings are creditable structures. Rat Portage, Carberry,
Brandon, Oak Lake, Virden, Whitewood, Moosomin, Wolseley, Grenfell, Indian
Head, Qu’Appelle, Regina, Moosejaw, Medicine Hat, and Calgary, on the main
line of the C. P. R.; Gladstone, Neepawa, Minnedosa, Rapid City,
Strathclair, Shoal Lake, and Birtle, on the Manitoba and North-Western
Railway ; Morden, Manitou, Pilot Mound and Boissevain, on the Pembina
Mountain Railway, not to speak of Lethbridge and McLeod, Edmonton,
Battleford, Fort Saskatchewan, Carman, Fort Qu’Appelle and the rest, all
owe their churches to this fund. During the last five years eighty-two
churches, four church manses and seventeen manses have been built, or one
hundred and three structures in all, and of these ninety-four were
assisted from the Church and Manse Fund. For the eight years prior to the
existence of the fund only fifteen churches and manses were built, or not
quite an average of two, while since the existence of the fund the average
has been nearly twenty-one a year.
"The possession of a church has
increased the audience, and widened the sphere for the ministers’
usefulness. Jones would not attend services held in Brown’s house, and
Brown honestly paid Jones back; both attend services in the church.
"A church affords facilities for the
prosecution of Sabbath-school work. In a country where religious training
is too often neglected at home, the Sabbath-school is scarcely less
important than the public service. The at-ten dance at the Sabbath-schools
has increased nearly tenfold since the fund was organized.
"Churches have increased attendance
on public service and swelled the revenues of congregations. Until Port
Arthur had a church it received $300 from the Home Mission Fund; with the
dedication of its church the congregation became self-sustaining. The
contributions of Edmonton went up from $300 to $700, and those of Rat
Portage from $550 to $1,000. Calgary became self-sustaining in three
years, and now gives its pastor $1,200 per annum. Regina, Boissevain,
Virden, Qu’Appelle, Oak Lake, and other centres experienced similar
"The increase in congregational
contributions has enabled the Church to extend her operations. The money
saved in older districts has been available for work in new fields, if
to-day there is no settlement of any size or a centre of any promise where
a missionary of the Church is not ministering to the religious wants of
the people, it is to a considerable extent due to the operations of the
Church and Manse Board. The fund has been a valuable aid in church
"It has saved money directly to
missionaries and the funds of the Church. Seventeen manses have been
already erected. At an average rental of $15 per month, an annual saving
of $3,060 is effected. This sum capitalized at eight per cent., the ruling
rate of bank interest, would amount to $38,250, or four-fifths of the
total amount expended by the Board. Wherever the minister of an augmented
congregation is provided with a manse, he receives $50 less from the
Augmentation Fund. These manses have contributed to the comfort of our
missionaries, and so removed the reproach of neglect on the part of the
Church. It has increased their power to help young people, and so to weld
the congregation into a compact whole.
"The timely aid extended has cheered
the hearts of missionaries and people; it has helped to make the Church
one and keep the West closely attached to the East. In their times of
political disintegration this is a national blessing.
"With all that has been done, the
work of the Board is only beginning. New fields in considerable numbers
are being occupied every year. Four-fifths of the ministers are without
manses, and three-fourths of the points occupied are without churches.
"During last summer several
contributors to the fund, from Toronto, Montreal, and other centres,
visited the Country. They expressed themselves much pleased with the work
of the Board, and they have increased their former contributions. Their
cordial approval influenced their acquaintances to help the work."
And so from year to year this fund
will continue to be a source of blessing to both congregations and
missionaries and a mighty influence in the establishing of true religion
in the hearts and lives of the people of Western Canada. Long years
afterwards, in the last report which he will submit to his Church, this
significant record of nineteen years’ work will find a place:
"It is nearly nineteen years since
the Board was organized; at that time the Presbyterian Church owned only
eighteen churches and three manses between Lake Superior and the Pacific
Coast. During these nineteen years, the Board has aided in erecting 393
churches, eighty-two manses, and three schoolhouses to be used as
churches, or 478 buildings in all, worth about $574,000."
A year later, the report will open
with this pathetic word:
"The report this year is drawn by a
new hand. The hand that for the last twenty years prepared the annual
statement of the work done by the Church and Manse Board is still, alas,
forever." And then the report will proceed to give this magnificent
summary of twenty years’ work: "It would be impossible to estimate the
value of the aid given by the fund to our whole work by the erection of
church buildings during the last twenty years. This fund has assisted in
the erection of 419 churches, ninety manses, and four schoolhouses, and
has put the Church in possession of property worth $603,835; but the value
to the Church in Western Canada cannot be estimated in dollars and cents.
The equipment in churches and manses is the least of the advantages that
have come to the Church by means of this fund."
It is largely due. to the influence
of the Christian Church that in no part of Western Canada has there ever
been a "wild West" in the American sense of that word, and of that part of
the credit due to the Presbyterian Church for this, a large share must be
ascribed to the operation of this Church and Manse Building Fund, which
has helped to give "visibility and permanence" to religion in nearly 500
settlements widely scattered throughout Western Canada. In this
connection, a paragraph in the London Times of August 18th, 1904,
referring to the proposed visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Canada,
makes good reading:
"Informal consultations with such
Canadian bishops as the Archbishop can find an opportunity to meet on
their own ground cannot but be an advantage for the future development of
their work. He will get far enough West to realize that prompt pioneer
work in the interests of the Anglican Church is essential, but he will
understand the urgency of such work and will admire the enterprise of his
fellow Scots, who are planting the Presbyterian ministry all over the
And in that planting the master hand
was his to whose seeing eye the possibilities of harvest were so vividly
evident, and to whose genius was due that splendid instrument of spiritual
garnering, the Church and Manse Building Fund.