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Twenty Years on the Saskatchewan, N.W. Canada
Chapter XVIII. Missions among Settlers

IT remains to mention the third kind of missionary work in this far North-West, viz., mission work among settlers. The Indian work is on reserves. The town clergyman may or may not supply out-stations, but he has his chief work near his home. The mission to settlers is, in fact, a mission at large, and may cover immense distances, and only occasional services can be held in any one district. This has been my principal work for twenty-five years; for five years in Muskoka, and for twenty years in these North-West territories. It is a very difficult and trying work; for the people to whom I ministered are widely scattered, either singly or in small groups, over an area of some two hundred miles. At first there were no roads or bridges to help the traveller. There were no inns, or stopping places, and it would take a week, or even sometimes a month, to go the rounds before the missionary could return to his home again. On these rough roads fifty miles a day would be no unusual journey, and it had to be undertaken in any weather; in summer surrounded by mosquitoes and horse-flies; in spring and autumn wading through mud and pools of water; and in the winter in the bitter cold, with the thermometer measuring 30, 40, and even more, degrees of frost. The work to be done includes the usual services of the church, the baptizing of children, the administration of the sacraments, and the visitation of the aged and the sick. When the night comes on, if the missionary is fortunate, he may sit beside the stove, either with the solitary settler or with an isolated family, and converse with a sympathy and confidence that are seldom known in the busier world, on matters of interest and importance relating both to this world and to the next.

The missionary meets with very various individuals on his tours. Now, it is a wandering American settler--a man who has roamed almost everywhere, and seen the wildest forms of life, or, perhaps, has been with General Custer in his last fight with the Indians. Another is a miner, who may not have been in a place of worship for twenty years. Another is a native of the country, who has never seen the sea, and thinks Winnipeg to be the centre of the universe. Another sold out in Ontario, and wandered here to begin life anew in this land of the setting sun. Another is a young man of good birth and breeding, who has been brought up at Eton or at Rugby, and has taken an Oxford or Cambridge degree, who, through some misfortune, or folly, has been cast upon the wide world. Many are the confidences that I have heard from this class in the evening twilight, or in the deeper silence of the night; tales as strange as any romance over which women weep and grave men look sad. Or it may be that the hut set up in the wilderness contains, on its rough walls, the portraits of a father, and mother, and sisters, and younger brothers, who are far away in some picturesque rectory in England, or in the front parts of Canada, whose anxious sympathies follow their son or their brother in his struggles to make an independent home in these vast solitudes.

While engaged in this work it has often seemed to me to be equal in value to any that the Church can undertake. Nothing can be more like the work of Christ, 'who went about doing good,' and told us of the shepherd, and of his wandering in order to seek the one lost sheep, and of the angels rejoicing over the one that was saved.

The true missionary cannot, in this section of the mission-field, fully report his work: he can only guess how many miles he has travelled; no description can efficiently picture his risks in travelling, the poor accommodation, the badly prepared food, the seeds of ill-health sown, and the weariness of the journeyings he has endured. Besides the general services at certain centres, the spiritual work done in silence is, in proportion to its effectiveness, that of which neither he nor others can properly speak; it cannot be blazoned abroad; it is often too sacred even for the religious magazines.

In time, however, some of his work will become visible. In the most unlikely places villages spring up and settlements are formed, a few earnest people gather others together for worship, and the 'small things not despised' are the beginnings of Christian institutions which will be sure to grow in usefulness and influence with the centuries. To do this settlers' work well, as it should be done, a clergyman needs many qualities of a high order; he should be no make-shift man, no crude person who is fit for no other work, and therefore put to this, for certainly such agency will prove worse than useless, and will only bring contempt on the Church, and this receives fresh proof every day. A travelling missionary lives in the full light, and is observed close at hand. He is surrounded by no enclosure of dignity, his every action is noticed and spoken of freely; the way he sits at table; the manner and the extent of his eating and drinking; his most simple actions are interpreted according to the feeling cherished towards him, and the opinion that people have formed of his character. If he be ignorant, it cannot be hidden; if selfish, his services will be ineffective; if proud, or vain, he is not in a city where he may strut to his heart's content. Here, as there are no places where comedy is enacted, they will place the missionary on the stage of their social life, and cover him with ridicule, and include in the ridicule not the man only, but also the cause which he represents.

To be efficient as a travelling missionary, a man must be vigorous in body and in mind. He must, indeed, 'endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.' He must be indifferent to luxury, or even ordinary convenience, and he should be as simple in his habits as the Spartans were. He must give himself no airs, but be the gentleman always, in feeling, in thought, and in action. Courtesy must be as natural to him as breathing, and it must be shown in his dealings with all, even the humblest. It is well for him never to take offence, and never to notice intentional or unintentional rudeness. His work won't bear contention, and he is to be an example of the Christian graces. His passions must be kept under control, for never were there such glass houses as are to be found in the wilderness. Everything is known; men seem to think almost audibly, and impressions of conduct are most direct. The missionary had better not use tobacco inordinately, or take spirits with him; and I have found it best, even when very weary, not to accept them when offered. As he for days must live in very simple relationship with families, within very limited house accommodations, he needs to be careful and modest in his deportment, especially with womankind, and to cultivate pure-heartedness. Besides this he must be prudent in speech, careful not to repeat what he sees or hears in the houses he visits, and never to break any confidences that are reposed in him. In a word, the travelling missionary must be really a Christian man--devout, sympathetic, good--a lowly image of the Master, who was the greatest of all missionaries.

Nor are the purely intellectual qualities to be neglected. Such a missionary comes directly into contact with individuals who have seen and read a great deal, and the missionary must face all men and be useful to them all. Tennyson's Northern Farmer should never be able to say of him:

'An' I hallus corned to his chorch afore my Sally was dead, An' eered un a bummin awaay loike a buzzard-clock ower my yead.'

He has no opportunity for 'bumming away.' Conversations of all kinds directly appeal to him on level ground; and he must wisely give and take; keep his mind clear, and see that his knowledge ripens into wisdom. This will necessitate previous culture, wide reading, observation of human life, and habits of thoughtful meditation. How often on my visits I have seen the face lighted with a smile, as the solitary settler has filled his pipe, and prepared to converse with his friend and clergyman, who has put aside all formalities for the occasion. The beginning is usually:

'Sir, if you will be so kind I should like to ask you a question.'

'Yes; what is it?' is the reply.

The question may be on church history, or on some passage of Holy Scripture; or the man has been reading Huxley or Emerson, or he requires light on the relation of this life to the life beyond, or a thousand other things. The missionary is there in order that under the form of conversation he might preach to this human soul, as Christ did to the woman of Samaria. The missionary may have travelled fifty miles to get this opportunity, and when he goes away in the morning he wants to leave behind light and peace, as every one of God's messengers should. Such work as this is not well done by an apprentice hand in the ministry; it requires an experienced workman, and one that 'needeth not to be ashamed.'

Another most necessary quality of the travelling missionary is the power to bear solitude and isolation. He may have to ride fifty miles and not see a soul, and even at night may have to 'camp' under the trees, all by himself, with his horse as his only companion. All by himself he collects the wood for the fire, gets water for the tea, lays his buffalo robe under the shade of his buck-board, arid through the night listens for his horse-bell; no human face near, and no human hand in any emergency to give assistance. And when he arrives back home, especially if there is no parsonage, but only a small hut where his few books are kept,--and these often disfigured and injured by the mice which have taken possession during his absence,---the missionary need be no coward. The more apostolic faith he has, the more comfortable he will be in his solitary surroundings. When we realize these things, and the self-denial that is necessary in order to continue such a life year by year, is it any wonder that so few clergymen can be found who will undertake it, and that those who do soon find the life unbearable? Not one young man in a hundred is able to endure it long. Often these men return to England from the Colonies, to be looked upon as deserters from the mission field; but let those who blame them try their experiment for a few years, and I venture to affirm that the criticism will be much moderated, and sympathy with this form of missionary enterprise will be more abundant.

In connection with this aspect of Colonial missionary work, I will tell a few simple stories of my Muskoka experience. I began the Rosseau Mission, and built the church there at the head of those beautiful lakes. In the middle of the summer we had crowds of visitors from all parts of Canada and the States, and some even from Europe, who filled the large hotel, and made good congregations on the Sunday; but when they went away I had similar work to that which I have pictured as being done in the North-West. In those days few of the settlers had accommodation for a horse, and therefore the travelling had to be on foot. Sometimes the settlers would be as much as twelve miles apart, and the so-called roads were merely a blaze through the woods. Therefore, to go from point to point on foot in the short winter days was not always easy, and if one got benighted he might suffer inconvenience, and fail even to reach any covering. This several times happened to me, and I had to spend the night in the woods all alone. On one occasion I had reached a distant lumber shanty on the Friday evening, and purposed the next day to go to another shanty to hold services on the Sunday, at a place where no service had previously been held and I sent the people word beforehand to expect me. The place was in the woods some twelve miles off as the crow flies, and I hoped to find some mode of communication between the shanties, and so to be taken safely to my destination. However, on that morning there was no connection, and the road that was used was nineteen miles round; but the master of the shanty offered to go two or three miles with me, and show me an abandoned trail, by which I could reach the place of service in a journey of only nine miles. I started in early morning with my guide, and having left him, I pressed on over fallen trees through the snow, quite confident that I should accomplish the object of my journey.

By-and-by I reached the 'Skid roads,' where logs had been cut and piled, and the walking was very easy and pleasant. Now I was elate, and expected soon to hear human voices and to see human faces; and going straight on, it seemed that I could not miss my way, when lo! at the end of the road there were impenetrable woods.

Another road was tried, and at the end again the woods appeared; and still another, with the same result. No men were about, and snow had fallen to hide their tracks. The more I tried to find my way through these roads, which were so much alike, the worse it seemed, and I failed altogether. But what was I to do? The sun had gone down, and the last twilight was departing. Several times I had passed a pile of logs, and noticed some in the centre were shorter than the others, so that I could just get inside and secure a little protection. On arriving there, the thought came to me that I must break my trail, as there were wolves in these woods; so, several feet off, I threw my overcoat down and jumped on it, and next my surplice, and then at the pile of logs, pulled them all inside after me, and there I remained during the long cold January night.

The snow glittered like silver in the moonlight, the silence was intense; now and then it was made more evident by the cracking of the trees by the frost. The call of the night owl made the scene weird and almost unearthly, and about one o'clock in the morning I heard the pattering of many feet, which were coming nearer and nearer to my shelter. It was a pack of wood wolves, who were on my footsteps, and hunted perhaps for an hour over the path where I had walked. As they came near to the logs they sniffed, and followed the trail again, going up and down until they were tired, and then left me to solitude, if not to peace. By the protection of God I was saved from destruction that night, because I, by what seemed an accident, broke the trail from the scent of those hungry wolves.

In the morning I tried again to find the right road through, but quite failed, and returned to the former shanty late on the Sunday evening, wholly worn out, but in time to hold service with a lot of wild rough Irishmen and Roman Catholics, who in other circumstances could not be gathered to join in the services of our Church.

While the supper was being hastily prepared these men put all sorts of questions to me as to how I had spent the night, and whether I had been near the wolves, of which they had a horror; and when they saw me quiet and in no way excited, and not anxious to make a scene, the rough men appeared to be quite touched and full of sympathy. Never after that was any rudeness visible when I visited that lumber shanty, although I was only 'a Protestant minister.'

A few weeks after this event I found my way by another route to the shanty I had intended to visit, and fulfilled my promise. Then I learned that when I did not turn up the people were anxious to hear of my safety, for the region in those days was a very wild one between the Maganetawan River and Nipissing Lake, although now it is a well settled country.

On calling at the Rosseau Hotel one day, I met a gentlemanly man whom I had not seen before, and as he looked at me with an evident desire to make my acquaintance, I spoke to him, and found that he had settled some nine or ten miles off, on the road to the Maganetawan River. Our conversation ended by his giving me a warm invitation to visit him when I went that way, and to stay at his place whenever it was convenient for me to do so.

After a time I called, and wished to arrange for a service, as there were two or three families a mile or two away who never had that privilege. As no one was in sight, I called and called until the son appeared, and he told me that they had no proper accommodation for me, and asked me to go on to the next place, as his father was not in. However, as I was tired, I told him that his accommodation would be quite sufficient for me, and I refused to go any further that night.

After a time the father came in, and apologized for his non-appearance, and offered me the best he had. Father and son bestired themselves, and prepared me a most comfortable bed. They cooked deer meat and potatoes, and, with some bread, we had a fine supper.

This visit was the first paid to a place which afterwards became a town, and it turned out to be in every way pleasant to those concerned. On my taking farewell of my host on the Monday morning, he confessed that he saw me coming on the Saturday evening, and that he was so distressed at his want of accommodation for me, he had hidden himself among the turnips he was hoeing, and only appeared when he found that I would not go away. He promised, however, he would not do so again, and for years he never failed to give me the kindest and most hospitable welcome.

Yet another story of colonial missionary life. Twenty miles beyond the house of my friend was a small hut, perhaps twelve feet by twelve. On calling there one day to tell them of the service to be held at 'the Depot' three or four miles off, the old lady, a daughter of Ireland, made me promise that the next time I came that way I would return with them and stay for the night; 'for indeed the good Lord would bless their shanty if a clergyman once stayed with them.'

When the time came I left very comfortable quarters, and walked several miles with the family, in order to fulfil my promise. We had some tea, without milk or sugar, some bread, and I think some butter with it. After a time we had prayers, and, as I saw no preparation for bed, I began to lay my rough overcoat down on the floor, with my folded surplice for a pillow. But this the old lady would not allow. There were two beds in the small apartment, and there were four persons present to occupy them. I was appointed to share one of them. The old lady, with a grown-up grandson, in the simplest manner turned into the other bed, and presently the son came to share mine.

An hour had passed, and a noise was heard outside which woke up the whole establishment. Another son had arrived with his oxen from Rosseau, where he had been on his errands for the family. The first thing he did was to inquire whether the minister had come. Then he expressed his satisfaction, and came also into the bed, gently pressing his brother lest he should inconvenience me; but the bed was not large enough for three, and the sides were made of round poles, which were not flattened in any way, but were just as they came from the woods, and it was my fortune to be pushed on to the round pole, with nothing between me and the wall. That was the way in which I rested that night, the people being quite unconscious of my position and discomfort. In the morning my truthfulness was sorely taxed when the anxious inquiry was made whether I had passed a good night.

Once I went down the lakes from Rosseau to Port Carling, to make a visit to the Musquosh, and found it difficult to get across a part of Muskoka Lake; at last, in a shop, I found a Scotch Highlander who offered to take me to his house for the night, and on the morrow he would in his canoe land me where I desired to be put ashore. The man had a little daughter with him, and he was partly intoxicated; yet, as I had duties pressing, I thankfully accepted his kindness. Our canoe was a very light one, and the winds became rough and the lake boisterous; the night had fallen, and we could only see the gleaming of the waters around the very top of the canoe. If one of us had moved one inch it seemed impossible that the boat could have lived in the waters--she must have gone down. The man saw the danger, and with skill broke the force of the waves, only saying sometimes, 'Steady, steady; don't move!' By a miracle we crossed safely the three miles of lake. Seldom have I felt nearer the other world than on that stormy night on Lake Muskoka.

As I stayed a day or two longer than I expected, on my return I found my friends at Rosseau organizing a party to search for my body; for the report had gone up the lakes that we were all certainly drowned. The work at Rosseau was much the same as the work in the North-West, so far as it was a mission to settlers; and a narration of these occurrences may show the real self-denying toil that is demanded of the missionary in the first stages of colonial settlement: it calls out a courage and endurance that are equal to that demanded by any other work in the world.

In this North-West only an Indian would be allowed to travel alone. Hudson Bay employes and mounted police go from station to station in small parties. Dwelling-places are found for the men, and some kind of rations are provided as a matter of course; but the missionary has to travel alone, on the ground of expense; he must find his own 'shack,' and do innumerable things which other men would regard as hardships. Whether this is good policy or not I leave to the good sense of those who have authority in the Church.

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