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The Life of James Robertson

IN the summer of 1897 the eyes of the civilized world were suddenly turned upon that part of the Dominion lying between Alaska and the Rocky Mountains, the Yukon. One word whispered on the banks of the Klondike River reverberated around the world, the magic, mighty word "gold." From all the continents and from the islands of the sea, they came, men of all nations, of all colours, of all tongues, crowding, pressing, struggling, fighting their way to the placer gravel reaches of the Kiondike and its various tributaries. At first in scores, then in hundreds, then in thousands and in tens of thousands, they flooded the river-bottoms, digging, scratching, washing, fighting for gold. It was in some ways the wildest, maddest rush ever seen on this continent. At first the more reckless and adventurous only pressed in, but as the gold began to flow out, mad lust seized upon cool-headed and sober business men from all parts of the world.

They are all interested in gold. But there was one man who had stood upon the Vancouver wharves piled high with outfits and stores, eagerly scanning the crowds of gold-seekers fighting for a place on the outgoing steamers, in whose heart there was no thought of gold, but of men. That man was James Robertson, the Superintendent of Western Missions for Canada.

Already ten thousand men, some said twenty, had gone north to tear their fortunes from the frozen placer-beds of the Kiondike, and with them had gone the rumseller, the gambler, the courtezan, the pimp, the vile parasitic vermin from the city slums, but not a single missionary. The thought kindled a fire in his heart that burned ever hotter and fiercer. Something must be done, and that straightway.

On his way back from the Pacific Coast he paused at Winnipeg and there consulted with the Rev. C. W. Gordon, who was at that time secretary of the British Canadian Missions, and was acting as assistant to the Superintendent in his Western work. What was to be done? Plainly only one thing. A man must be selected, outfitted and sent north forthwith. Navigation would soon close in that northland, rendering travel difficult. It was necessary to act at once. True, it was a matter for the Assembly’s Home Mission Committee, but long before that Committee could meet, the time for action would be past. The Superintendent could trust the Committee to support him in wise action. So to find the man.

In Mr. Gordon’s study they sat, the Blue Book on the table, the Superintendent canvassing the names of available men one by one. Not every man would do for this mission. He must be a man of physical strength, sound in wind and limb, of common sense, sane and strong. He must possess high moral courage, lofty spirituality, tender sympathy; moreover, he must be unmarried. One by one the Superintendent named the men, rejecting one after another for various causes.

"Mr. A too weak, Mr. B too lazy, Mr. C cannot be spared from his present position, Mr. D married, Mr. E too worldly, could not be trusted in the presence of gold, Mr. F too fat, couldn’t climb the hills, Mr. G too colourless in his theology, not positive enough, Mr. H not enough red blood in his heart, no sympathy."

And so through the list. The suitable are needed in their present positions; those who can be spared are unsuitable for this first adventure. What of the graduating men in the colleges? None that the Superintendent knows to be suitable can be found in the East. What of Manitoba College? Surely in this Western college it is, if anywhere, the man should be found. But in the graduating class no suitable man appears. Suddenly there comes to Mr. Gordon the suggestion of a name.

"I know a man for you. He would suit you well, but he is only in his second year."

"Who is he?"

"A young Irishman, R. M. Dickey."

"He’s our man. I know

"But he is not ordained."

The Superintendent looked at his friend through half-closed eyes. "We’ll ordain him," he said with prompt decision.

The younger man, accustomed as he was to the re sourcefulness of his chief, was startled at this calm proposal to assume Assembly powers, and stated his fear that even for the resourceful Superintendent this might prove impossible. But not at all. The Superintendent had in his mind an ancient regulation permitting the ordination for special service, of students who had completed their second year. The interview closed with a line of action clearly determined. Mr. Gordon was to see Mr. Dickey, who was a member of his congregation, and prepare him for the formal call of the Superintendent. The story of the result of this call is told by Mr. Dickey himself:

"No man who ever met him escaped altogether the spell of his personality. I experienced it perhaps more than some others, in 1897. Probably you will remember that at the close of the summer you told me that Dr. Robertson and you had decided to ask me to go to the Yukon for two years. I was so much astonished that I remained silent. The disappointment at home where I was expected soon, the interruption in my study and, I suppose, the unknown perils and hardships of such a journey, as well as the responsibility of so many souls, weighed upon me overwhelmingly. Seeing this, you asked me to go back to the college, think and pray over it, and come to no decision till after Convocation. In the meantime, my friends and the professors advised against it. I went to Convocation without having seen my duty. It was all like a dream to me, till Dr. Robertson rose to speak. He spoke, as he always did, from a soul on fire. After a few introductory sentences, he told us of his visit to the Coast and what he had seen there—the steamers leaving the piers, all crowded with eager gold-seekers bound for the Yukon. Then folding his arms and closing his eyes in his characteristic manner, he said:

"‘These men have souls. Some of them will make fortunes and be tempted to destruction ; some will be disappointed in their search; all will endure hardships, and many of them will die; many will be broken down. We must send with them some one to tell them of the treasure more precious than gold, some one to warn them in their day of prosperity, or remind them in their day of calamity, that God reigneth, some one to stand by the dying bed and point men to Christ. These men who are facing a thousand perils have grit, courage, endurance; we must send a man to turn the faces of these strong men heavenward.’

"Later on he added, ‘God has given us an opportunity which we dare not neglect. We have asked a student of this college to go to the Yukon, and I believe he will hear in our request the call of God.’

"You will understand how such an address appealed to my heart as no other ever did, and I hesitated no longer. And I think that was a fair example of the way he managed to get men for the difficult outposts."

To Mr. Dickey that Convocation speech was memorable indeed. It largely determined for him the whole course of his future life. He had already planned to visit his home and his mother in Ireland, in the spring after graduation. He had still a year of study before him, but to him the call sounded clear and plain, and having heard, in spite of the opposition of friends and in spite of the remonstrance of professors unwilling to see him break his course, he accepted, and at once began his preparations for what was in that day regarded as an enterprise involving very considerable hardship and no small danger.

He was designated to his mission-field in a solemn service held in St. Stephen’s Church, in which Professor Hart, Professor Baird, Sir Thomas Taylor, and his own minister, Rev. C. W. Cordon, took part. And early in October he left for the port of Skagway, pausing in Vancouver long enough to be ordained.

The Assembly’s Home Mission Committee, meeting in October, swept off its feet by the enthusiastic report from the Superintendent in regard to the great rush of miners and gold-seekers to the Kiondike, and the appointment of the Rev. R. M. Dickey as first missionary, approved of the action of the Superintendent and instructed the Convener to " issue a check for Mr. Dickey’s travelling expenses and salary to date."

In the midst of this adventure there came news that smote the heart of the Church with a sudden foreboding, which is contained in the following brief note to Mr. Gordon:

"I am still not well. I am afraid that something serious is the matter. I was consulting Dr. Gilbert Gordon this afternoon, and am to see him again in the morning."

After a few weeks’ rest and treatment he is on his feet again and in the full pressure of the work he cannot and will not lay down. In addition to his ordinary Home Mission duties, the Yukon claims his full and enthusiastic attention. He is eager to secure additional missionaries for the Northern field. The trail has been broken, the lines of communication are established, and men must be found to follow.

Not in the history of our Canadian missions is there clearer evidence of a Committee being guided in its choice of men, than in the case of the Klondike. The next man appointed is the Rev. A. S. Grant, a man fitted in a very special way for work among the Klondike miners, strong, fearless, sympathetic, with experience of Western missions and with two years’ medical training. The people of the Edmonton district tell this story of him.

An Indian woman in his field lay dying with a broken leg that had begun to mortify from neglect. There was no doctor to be had. Grant was on the spot with his case of lancets, forceps, etc. The woman must lose her life or lose her leg. Grant decided it should he the latter. With a settler to assist him, he shut the woman’s relatives out of the cabin, got an old buck-saw which he rendered antiseptic with boiling water, gave the woman chloroform, sawed off the leg, tied up the arteries, sewed down the flap, her relatives raging at the door outside all the while. He had the satisfaction of seeing her stump round afterwards on a wooden leg which he either made or purchased for her.

Having secured Grant, the Superintendent looks around for a third. He has his eye upon a man of whom he writes in this way:

"Toronto, Nov. 29, 1897.


"Yours of the 17th I have replied to in part. The Rev. A. S. Grant, as I informed you, is appointed and leaves here about Christmas, and as soon as the West is ready for him I have another man who is ready to pull up stakes and go—a powerful man, sound in wind and limb, strong of joints, level of head and deft of brain, and I am assured courageous withal. The Principal and Professor Hart can rest assured that although not in Winnipeg, I am not forgetful of the needs of the West. My man is Crawford Tate. Keep quiet just now. He is spiritually minded—very necessary.

"Yours in haste,


That last phrase is a window through which we may see the Superintendent’s innermost heart. No man ever hated cant with a more violent hatred than did he, but no man ever knew how vitally important it was to success in mission work on the frontier, that a man should be spiritually minded. Something went wrong with this appointment, and Mr. Crawford Tate was denied the privilege of joining the Klondike force.

The designation service of the Rev. A. S. Grant offered an opportunity unique in the Home Mission department of the Church’s work, and the Committee decided to make the most of it. The service is thus referred to in the following letter written from Toronto, December 31, 1897:


"The meeting designating the Rev. A. S. Grant, took place last evening in St. James’ Square Church, and there was a good audience. Sir Oliver Mowat was in the chair, and Principal Grant, A. S. Grant, Drs. Warden and Cochrane and your humble servant were the speakers. At the close, two men told me they would give $100 each for Home Missions, and more, I trust, will follow. Grant leaves here Monday by the Canadian Pacific Railway and will reach Winnipeg Wednesday; 1 do not know that he will stay off at Winnipeg at all, so you had better arrange to see him at the station." There is no doubt that the mission is appealing to the imagination of the Church. The Superintendent is greatly encouraged. "If $8,000 or $10,000 more are needed," he continues, "for the work in the Klondike, I think it can be got, for prompt action and the character of our men are commanding attention throughout the Church. Even the dailies in Toronto are catching the enthusiasm. I am urging the appointment of more men, and without delay. I am writing Cochrane to come down some day soon so that we may outline our policy, select our men, and take action intelligently. He speaks of delay, but I am to be always opposed to a ‘to-morrow’ policy."

True enough. And never more opposed than in this present situation of rush and stress. The crowding gold-seekers struggling up the gulches will not wait till tomorrow. The Bread of Life they must have to-day or perish. And so, "Glenora must be provided for at once, and Fort Wrangel sooner! And Teslin Lake demands attention immediately, too. The Stickine route is evidently favoured by the Canadian Pacific Railway people, and since it admits of our reaching Canadian territory speedily, it is to be much preferred. The other route, however, we must provide for, especially on our own side of the line, for both routes are likely to be fully taxed. But men are an important element. If Herdman could be secured for a place like Glenora, it would be well. He knows frontier life and has a good way with men." That he has, as all Calgary Presbyterians and all his fellow labourers in the Presbytery will strongly testify. But Herdman cannot be spared from his present strategic position.

With the intense and concentrated energy of his being, the Superintendent is throwing himself into the administration and development of the Yukon Mission. This makes no small addition to the burden of work he is already bearing, but he has never shirked during his whole career, and though fighting silently and secretly a deadly disease, he will not shirk now. It is perfectly amazing with what rapidity and thoroughness he masters the geographical and other details of the Yukon mission field. In a letter to Mr. Gordon, through whom Mr. Dickey has carried on correspondence with the Superintendent, he indicates a plan of operations in modification of one suggested by Mr. Dickey, which the Superintendent considers too large, too heroic and too costly.

"The whole situation disclosed by Dickey’s letter we must consider seriously. I am not sure, however, as to the wisdom of incurring the whole expense and hardship his plan would involve. The C. P. R. people say that when steamer communication from Teslin Lake is established, the trip from Victoria to Dawson can be made in twelve days’ actual travelling. Moreover, they say that the Stickine River is open about May 1st, and continues open to October 31st, and Teslin Lake from May 15th to November 15th. Let us say this is the case. There is a steamer on Teslin Lake now, and others will likely be built at once, certainly they will be built if the C. P. R. people are to make this their route. In any case, since the distance between the head of Teslin Lake and Fort Selkirk is only 400 miles, and only one rapid, and that not a difficult one to navigate, and since there is plenty of timber to make boats at Teslin Lake, and men are likely to use it in making boats for themselves, even if steamer accommodation is limited, it seems to me that our men could get down for a reasonable figure and reach there as soon as miners are likely to do. Let our men for the interior leave Vancouver May 1st, it would seem that by June 1st or 10th at most, they could reach Fort Selkirk, or even Dawson. The C. P. R. people will carry men first class, meals and berth included, from Vancouver to Glenora for forty dollars. If we had men stationed at Glenora and Teslin, they could arrange to have our men go in from Glenora to Teslin, or from Teslin to Hootalinqua and on to Fort Selkirk at a small cost compared with Dickey’s figures. My view is, but of course I am only considering the case without all the data, that our best plan is to provide for Fort Wrangel, Glenora, and Teslin Lake at once, and any points on the other route that are likely to assume importance such as Bennett, Tagish, and other points farther down, and then wait for the opening of navigation. Grant and Dickey may be able to consult and throw light on the situation; my only concern is to combine, as far as practicable, economy with an enlightened, progressive policy."

To hear him describe to his Committee the physical features, relative positions of camps, the richness of the various placer beds, one would think he had travelled over the ground and had taken copious notes upon the spot. His Committee are nervous about his ambitious plans for expansion, and fear that he has forgotten the painful struggle of years past to make ends meet. But ambitious as is his plan and eager as is his spirit, he is, or at least thinks he is, on his guard against recklessness.

‘‘ There will be no disposition,’’ he writes, ‘‘having put our hand to the plough, to look back ; but we want the Church to understand that there is no recklessness in the methods employed." ‘

The Yukon is booming; the crowds of gold-seekers are growing in volume week by week; the terrors of the sunless winter are added to those of the deadly trail over the White Pass, but still the crowds pour in. The Home Mission Committee would fain call a halt, but the Superintendent is able to persuade them that on purely financial considerations the Klondike Mission must not be allowed to lag. In a letter to Mr. Gordon he writes as follows:

"The Klondike situation I have no desire to boom, nor will anything we do for it diminish contributions for other work. When the Governor-General, Sir Oliver Mowat, Principal Grant, Dr. Gordon of Halifax and others endorse your course, and money is being sent voluntarily to support the work—some of it from people outside our Communion—it would seem as if we were on the right track. Besides, unless you have a new ‘battle-cry’ now and then, something to catch the ear and appeal to the imagination, you will lose your influence with the mass, and fail in getting their help. ‘Manitoba and the great Northwest’ has lost its novelty and potency; you can no longer charm with it nor fill your coffers."

The Home Mission Fund is filling up. Voluntary subscriptions are beginning to come in, but still the Committee is burdened with a sense of responsibility for the wise expenditure of Church funds. And they are becoming more and more alarmed at this dashing policy of their Superintendent.

"We shall let the American Church," he writes, "care for her own towns, although in the interests of our work and men, it may be necessary to plant men at Fort Wrangel and Skagway (American). I am willing, however, to be guided by those on the ground, about that part of our policy." And here the Canadian empire-builder speaks.

"For patriotic as well as religious reasons l am anxious that the sentiment in the Klondike country should be strongly Canadian. We must take possession as if we wished to hold the ground, and give no occasion for a foreign Church to come in and, with so strong an American element, tamper with the loyalty of our people. This ‘Hinterland’ of ours is peculiarly surrounded, owing to the ignorance of British diplomatists; and Canada— Church and State—should take care not to leave room for more complications. And a large amount of Christian work is to be done if present expectations are half, realized."

The mingled plea of patriotism, good business and religious responsibility evidently prevails with the wary Secretary and cautious Convener, for in a short time he is able to write thus triumphantly :—

"62 Admiral Road, Toronto, Jan. 6, 1898.


"Yours has only to-day been received, although dated December 31st.

"We are thinking of making a special appeal to the rich men of the Church for $10,000 for the Klondike. As far as I can see, ten men—eight in addition to those we have—are needed. Fort Wrangel, Glenora, Teslin Lake, Skagway, Lake Bennett, Lake Tagish, Hootalinqua River, Stewart River, Fort Selkirk, and Dawson all need men, and the upper reaches of the streams where mining is going on will see villages and towns springing up for which we must provide. The C. P. R. will evidently give the preference to the Fort Wrangel route, and we should act accordingly. The Dalton route may also require attention. I do not know what to say of the Prince Albert and Edmonton trails, but evidently an effort is to be made to open up communication from the east of the Rockies. Dr. Cochrane seems hard to move. He is too timid about a deficit, and hence there is danger of our losing the prestige we have gained by former action.

"Yours sincerely,


"Eight men and $10,000 !" No wonder the Convener feels that with this engine of concentrated energy hitched to the Home Mission train, he must sit with his hand upon the brake. He has not had large experience of deficits for nothing. At the close of that letter the Superintendent pauses to put in this postscript:

"Like you, I feel grateful for all the past year brought, and only regret that more was not done. What a blessing that God is merciful and forgiving."

How this shames us and humbles us who have so much more need to be forgiven!

The tide of interest, however, in the Yukon Mission is steadily rising in the country and in the Church. Canada is sending in the best and bravest of her sons to join the gold-seekers there. Money is pouring in to support the mission and men are offering, and the Superintendent has the altogether new and delightful experience of being able to pick and choose his workers. One can imagine the almost wicked delight he finds in this situation.

"62 Admiral Road, Toronto, Jan. 81, 1898. "

DEAR MR. GORDON : —"I am going off to Ottawa in a very short time and am just writing you a note.

"I wished to have a meeting of the Executive of the Home Mission Committee here this afternoon, but Cochrane could not come. I am getting impatient at this dilly-daily ; it seems to me to argue a lack of grasp of the conditions obtaining, but I can do nothing till the authorities move." Whence this sudden reverence for authority? What has come to pass that he waits for any of them? Is there a suspicion of a rising impatience on the part of his Committee unwilling to be hustled along at this breathless and unseemly pace? "I want Glenora and Teslin occupied at once, and sooner if possible—if that is not a bull. Some men offer and others are to be pushed on us, I understand. To all so far I have said no, and colleges may do as they please, but we are to resist men who are not equal to the situation. I hope to have two or three names to submit when the Executive meets here Friday."

The hunter is being hunted now. The appeal of real danger and hardship has touched the heart of the noblest, and the opportunity to win fame has stirred the other kind of men and the colleges to apply. But now, for the first time in his history, he will enjoy the luxury of picking his men.

It is hardly to be expected that the eager pushing of the Klondike Mission upon the attention of Canada and especially of the Presbyterian Church, should go without challenge and criticism. He has already been violently. attacked by the Rossland Miner, to which he addresses a vigorous reply. From another quarter there comes somewhat veiled criticism that disturbs him not a little. He thus refers to it in a letter to Mr. Gordon:

"From all I can learn, we have the cordial approval of the Church so far, only that the Synod of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, who, by their action in the matter of the extra-mural legislation, would seem to censure us for sending Dickey before he had completed his course. I only wish all the men who complete their course would show that they had that stuff in them that he evidently possesses."

The overture in question originated with the Presbytery of Winnipeg, in which the College professors have a preponderating influence, and was, doubtless, inspired by a desire to protect the College from further violence by this filibustering Superintendent. For unless something is done, no man can tell to what lengths he may proceed in his raid for Yukon missionaries. The overture is transmitted to Synod, and through Synod to Assembly, without injury to any one.

But more serious, in that it affected the opinion of the Secretary of the Committee, was the following criticism from a leading minister of Winnipeg, namely, "Winnipeg is not in favour of the Klondike Mission."

"What does this mean?" indignantly writes the Superintendent. "Surely you do not mean that we are to leave that district uncared for? One town or city or Synod should guard against belittling or opposing what another city or Synod regards as important, and is pushing. Winnipeg will gain nothing by opposing the work in the Klondike; the Home Mission Fund will be helped by our action, for we shall get what we require for the Klondike specially, and more for the Home Mission Fund than if the Klondike matter was not taken up. You up there have but a faint idea of the hold the Kiondike has taken of the people here. From Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal, everywhere people are going off; and we must prepare to provide for them at places where they are sure to congregate in the largest numbers."

But he is not to be deterred. The following week he writes in this fashion:

"We are going to send forward more men to the Klondike at once. I am in correspondence with several, by the authority of the Executive. We must not falter now. Glenora and Teslin we must occupy at once. I heard from Grant; he was in good spirits."

But the trouble is not over, as is apparent from the following letter, dated Toronto, Feb. 24, 1898:

"DEAR GORDON : —"As you know, Dr. Blank was here, and discussing the Klondike with Dr. Warden, and Dr. Warden was telling me of the ‘opposition’ in Winnipeg, and asking for an explanation. I told him of the attitude of the Free Press last autumn, and attributed it to the fear that some young men might catch the fever and leave their farms, and that thus the population of Manitoba might suffer. This, in my opinion, is folly, for Manitoba stands to gain a good deal by this advertisement, and our prints are on the wrong track to decry the Klondike. Dr. Blank quoted a Winnipeg layman as scouting the idea of a Klondike Fund, or Churches sending missionaries there. Dr. Warden was affected by all this. I told him that when the Rebellion took place Gordon, Pitblado, Barclay, Mackenzie and others were sent out as chaplains, and surely when ten or twenty times as many miners were going, we should provide for them; that British Churches provided for people who went to watering-places in summer, and that digging-places where people were likely to be summer and winter should not be neglected."

Criticism and opposition, however, do not check his pace, nor do they chill the ardour of his triumphant enthusiasm. He has got another man worthy to stand in the front rank with his Klondike heroes. From the time he had first seen him as a student, he had kept his eye upon him, and now at this crisis he sent for John Pringle. On the 23d of February, 1898, he writes thus joyfully:

"DEAR GORDON: —"Pringle writes that he is leaving St. Paul for Winnipeg on the 4th March. He will be with you over Sunday; arrange for your meeting for Monday, so that there may be as little delay as possible. Should Presbytery meet at the time, it would be, perhaps, as well to have Presbytery take charge, although you might feel freer with the Home Mission Committee. Do what you and the brethren think best. I hope to be with you by Saturday the 5th. I am writing Pringle and telling about suggestions and asking him to communicate with you. I have just received a letter from Pringle.

"In haste,


In another letter he writes:

"Pringle seems to be prepared to go at once, and we are anxious he should do so, because Dickey may go away any time. Klondike Fund—J. A. Macdonald’s— is doing well; $128 to-day and we are hopeful. It is thought better not to appoint more men till the Committee meets on the 22d, but letters received will determine our action.

"In great haste,


Yes, "in haste," "in great haste," always so in these days.

On the 20th of April, 1898, a fourth missionary was designated to the Klondike Mission—Rev. J. A. Sinclair, of Spencerville, Ontario, a man worthy in every way to take his place with those who were already in the Yukon. Mr. Sinclair reached Skagway the latter part of May, and there took up the work begun by Mr. Dickey, who had gone on to Bennett.

In the March meeting of the Committee, the effect of the letter and the visit from Winnipeg is plainly seen. Doubt is expressed as to the wisdom of an aggressive campaign in the Yukon. The Superintendent, on the contrary, is consumed with the desire to have a "full dress" discussion in regard to a Yukon policy. But nothing is done. This means disappointment, keen disappointment, not only to the Superintendent, but also to all those in the Committee and throughout the Church who had been following with interest the progress of this mission. This feeling finds expression in an editorial in The Westminster paper of date April 2, 1898, in which the Committee is severely criticised as follows:

"These are crisis-times in Canada. Not since Confederation, indeed, never in our history, has a year been so crammed with opportunity and risk. . . . But the crisis-time of the nation is the crisis-time of the Church. . . Is there in the councils of the Church the statesmanship needed in this new time? the wide-visioned, large-minded, risk-meeting statesmanship equal to the sudden demands made by Northern Ontario, the Northwest, British Columbia, and the Klondike ? Is the Church’s leadership strong, steady, statesmanlike ? - - . For answer to these questions the Presbyterian Church turns to the Committee to whom was given the solemn charge of that vast territory stretching from Gaspe to Klondike. . . . It is the business of the Home Mission Committee to lead the Church out into new fields, and take possession in the name of Christ and His Kingdom - . - This Committee, with imperial interests pressing for a hearing, met on Tuesday forenoon and adjourned on Wednesday afternoon. The work attempted was the passing of grants, revising of lists, and making of appointments. At noon on Wednesday the list of appointments was complete, and adjournment was decided on without one hour’s discussion of a policy, without even a hint of a policy being needed. . . . All this is extremely discouraging. We had thought that there was something in the Klondike work. The country thinks so. The Church thinks so. . . . If the Home Mission Committee were to read the letters which every mail brings to this office, it would have planned, not for three men for the Yukon, or four or five, but for at least twenty missionaries and a Presbytery. Had the Committee said to the Church : Give us $20,000 for work in the Klondike, the money would have been on hand as soon as the men were ready. Gentlemen of the Home Mission Committee, the Presbyterian Church in Canada is able and willing and ready, waiting only for the policy you did not adopt, the call you did not issue, the leadership you have not shown."

Of course, there was wrath among the conservatives of the Committee. The Superintendent was charged, and wrongly, with inspiring the article. The Convener and Secretary were deeply grieved, considering that they were specially criticised, though, as is often the case, it was the system rather than the men that was attacked.

It cannot be denied that The Westminster article, while not inspired by the Superintendent, gave him very considerable satisfaction. This is evident from the following letter:

"Toronto, March 31, 1898.


"Macdonald called here last evening to show me your letter—which was in his other coat pocket and which I could not, consequently, see—and his Home Mission article. ‘The fat is in the fire’ but the blaze will help some people to see the density of the darkness in which the Committee is dwelling. The article is courageous, cannot be passed by, and will mightily help us in the West. Last Wednesday I had a card from Cochrane saying that since Sinclair was now appointed we could rest for a time. I wrote him a stiff letter at once, pointing out to him that Skagway, Lake Bennett, Glenora, Teslin, Leberge, Fort Selkirk, and Dawson needed to be occupied immediately, not to refer to the Big Salmon, the Little Salmon, the Stewart or the upper reaches of the Klondike at all, that unless men started soon, they could not get in till late, that they could not visit or explore during the open season, nor get familiar with the country, and that the long and severe winter would lock them as fast as the rivers. I also pointed out that organization was absolutely necessary and that there must be enough men in the northern part of the territory to meet and deliberate and post the Church as to what is needed. I have had no reply.

"In haste,


War is brewing, and the Superintendent is not the man to decline battle; rather does he rejoice in the prospect. This warlike spirit breathes in the following letter written from Brockville, April 11, 1898:


"The Westminster article is strongly resented by Dr. Cochrane, who is to say nothing now, but to reply at the Assembly. Dr. Warden does not like the article, as he supposes it reflects on him, too, and he tells me that several have written him saying that they disapprove of it entirely. Some have written me, again, approving of it, and saying that the article was called for. Dr. Cochrane aecused me of inspiring it, and based his accusation on the correspondence between certain phrases in letters of mine addressed to him, and certain phrases in The Westminster article. I told him that I did not inspire the article, that the style was not mine, that the editor had abundant opportunity of judging for himself, and that it was for us to consider, not who inspired, wrote or published the article, but how much truth it set forth. Dr. Warden does not see that the Committee has failed to do anything it ought to have done during the past year, and points to all that has been done in the West as an evidence of the Committee’s enlightened statesmanship! Now there you are—prepare your indictment, marshall your arguments and let the Assembly judge."

But the war-clouds blew over. Those men were too big, too closely bound by ties of mutual affection and esteem, and too deeply interested in the work of the Church to allow their differences in opinion to threaten in the slightest degree the interests of the work to which they were giving their lives. An understanding was arrived at in regard to the Yukon policy, and the Assembly, which had been expecting war, was glad to pass instead a resolution eulogistic of the Yukon Mission and its vigorous prosecution.

The only legislative result of the disturbance was an overture from the British Columbia Synod asking for a reorganization of the Home Mission Committee and a change in its methods of administration, which overture, being duly presented, went the way of its kind, being referred to a Committee and then buried, but achieving results before its demise. The Church was fully roused. The Home Mission Committee adopted a vigorous policy and, being assured that the Church was behind the movement, warmly and even enthusiastically prosecuted its mission in the far north, to the great joy of all concerned.

It is pleasant to think that this slight flurry of a difference in opinion between these great leaders, passed so quickly away, and all the more that before the year was out Dr. Cochrane, the Convener of the Home Mission Committee for twenty-six years, in the very midst of his service and in the full tide of his strength, was called away. He was greatly missed and greatly mourned by all his associates in the cause of Home Missions, and by none more than by Dr. Robertson, the Superintendent, and Dr. Warden, the Secretary, with both of whom his fellowship had been so close for a quarter of a century.

In 1900, in response to an urgent request from Mr. Pringle, two nurses, Miss Mitchell and Miss Bone, were sent into the Yukon.

The excitement in connection with the gold-digging in the Klondike gradually subsided and the mining of gold settled down into a legitimate industry from which the Dominion has continued to reap large revenue year by year.

Early in March the whole Church, but especially the Church in the West, suffered a heavy loss in the death of the Rev. Dr. King, Principal of Manitoba College. His removal was a severe blow to the College and to its important work, but it was a severe blow to the cause of Home Missions as well, for there was no man in all the West who stood closer to the Superintendent and more warmly supported him, than did Principal King; and to no man in all the Church was the Superintendent bound by stronger ties of friendship. And because the Superintendent well knew how keen would be the grief in the heart of every student of the College, he took care to write at once to Mr. Dickey in the Klondike, conveying to him the sad news.

"You will be sorry to learn," he writes, "that Dr. King is no more. Last evening I received a telegram here from Winnipeg, informing me that yesterday he had passed away quietly. His death is a distinct loss to the College, the Church, and the country. Time and opportunity were given him to do service; he availed himself of both, and he has reared for himself an enduring monument."

Throughout the whole period of their association in Western work, these two leaders, each supreme in his own department, wrought together in undisturbed mutual confidence and affection. And none knew better than Dr. Robertson how to appreciate the simple sincerity and the superb self-devotion of Principal King.

In the spring of the same year it was reported that Mr. Dickey’s health showed signs of breaking down. The Superintendent thus writes to him:

"As to your coming out, we shall be glad to welcome you to civilization again, but had your health permitted, I would have been pleased to have had you remain till the autumn of 1900."

But this was not possible. The evil effect of toil, exposure, insufficient and improper food was so serious that it was decided that Mr. Dickey must return. None knew better than the Superintendent what he had borne, and none could sympathize with him more truly. Under date July 12, 1899, he wrote this truly beautiful letter:


"I was very sorry to learn that spring did not restore your health and that you were compelled to come out. We shall all do what we can for you on your return, and hope that a change of scene and diet, rest and medical treatment, may restore you completely to health. I know a little of what working while unwell means, and I most sincerely sympathize with you.

"As to your work and service, let me say that the Church feels proud of the staff she has in the far north, and that no one holds a higher place than the pioneer. Your good sense, your intrepidity, your broad catholic spirit, and the service rendered to men as men and Christians, all this has taken hold of the heart of the Church; and when you come out and appear on platforms and are lionized, I hope your head will not be turned, but that you may remain the modest and manly Dickey we all knew and loved, and I believe you will. Nor is the Church the only body that has learned of your work and heroic spirit; the public press has done much to familiarize the names of all of you. You will find it hard to live up afterwards to all that has been written in your praise. But we deeply sympathize with you in your travels and exposure, with hard roads and hard fare; but if some souls have been saved, some strengthened to resist temptation, some cheered, some brought out of gloom and darkness, some inspired to hold fast, surely there is some reward—’ Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it to Me.’"

That letter Mr. Dickey will always cherish among his household gods.

In the autumn of the same year Mr. Grant returns. The following resolution of the Assembly’s Home Mission Committee, prepared and moved by Dr. Robertson, seconded by Dr. Armstrong, sets forth the high appreciation of their missionary’s work and their warm welcome to him on his return:

"That in welcoming Mr. Grant on his return from the Yukon, the Committee desires to assure him of their high appreciation of the valuable service rendered by him in that new and difficult mission. To say of any man that he found a mass of people and organized them into a congregation; that in a year’s time he brought it up to the point of self-support; that he succeeded in getting a church built for the homeless congregation, and paid for, at a cost of $8, 000; that he acted as leader in building such an hospital as the Good Samaritan Hospital at Dawson, and from its inception till the day of his departure from Dawson, acted as its medical superintendent, is to bestow high praise. These things Mr. Grant did, and they will remain a monument to his loyalty to the Church, his efficiency as a missionary, his power over men, the largeness of his sympathies and his willingness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ to endure hardness."

In the following spring it was found necessary on the ground of broken health to recall Mr. Pringle, and this is done by the following resolution:

"That in view of the privations and hardships experienced during the past two years, the Rev. John Pringle be granted three months’ leave of absence, that he be allowed the sum of $225 to cover his travelling expenses, that on his return to the Yukon he be appointed to the new field known as The Creeks (the Committee suggesting to him the advisability of his taking his family to Dawson City), and that all the arrangements in connection with his holiday be left in the hands of the Home Mission Executive."

At that same meeting of the Committee the administration of the Yukon was transferred from the Assembly’s Home Mission Committee to the Presbytery of Westminster, with which Presbytery the Yukon has remained associated to this present time.

During its short history the Yukon has suffered much at the hands of lawless and wicked men and women, but those who know it best join in testimony that it has been saved from much by the noble character of those who represented the Presbyterian Church in that northland, and by the service they rendered to those to whom it was their privilege to minister. And for the early establishment and the energetic prosecution of that mission, the Church has cause to be grateful to the faith, the courage, the energy of the Superintendent who selected and hurried forward these heroic missionaries to that remote and perilous field.

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