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The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company

A vast region—First spiritual adviser—A locum tenens—Two French Canadian priests—St. Boniface founded—Missionary zeal in Mackenzie River district—Red River parishes—The great Archbishop Taché—John West—Archdeacon Cochrane, the founder — John McCallum — Bishop Anderson — English Missionary Societies—Archbishop Machray—Indian Missions—John Black, the Presbyterian apostle—Methodist Missions on Lake Winnipeg— The Cree syllabic—Chaplain Staines—Bishop Cridge—Missionary Duncan—Metlakahtla—Roman Catholic coast missions—Church of England bishop—Diocese of New Westminster—Dr. Evans— Robert Jamieson—Education.

Wherever British influence has gone throughout the world the Christian faith of the British people has followed. It is true, for one hundred and fifty years the ships to Hudson Bay crossed regularly to the forts on the Bay, and beyond certain suggestions as to service to the employes, no recognition of religion took place on Hudson Bay, and no Christian clergyman or missionary visitor found his way thither. The Company was primarily a trading company, its forts were far apart, and there were few men at any one point.

The first heralds of the Cross, indeed, to reach Rupert's Land were the French priests who accompanied Verendrye, though they seem to have made no settlements in the territory. It is said that after the conquest of Canada, when the French traders had withdrawn from the North-West, except a few traditions in one of the tribes, no trace of Christianity was left behind.

The first clergyman to arrive in Rupert's Land was in connection with Lord Selkirk's colony in 1811. A party of Lord Selkirk's first colonists having come from Sligo, the founder sent one Father Bourke to accompany the party to Red River. The wintering at York Factory seems to have developed some unsatisfactory traits in the spiritual adviser, and he did not proceed further than the shore of the Bay, but returned to his native land.

The necessity of providing certain spiritual oversight for his Scottish colonists occupied Lord Selkirk's mind. In 1815 James Sutherland, an elder authorized by the Church of Scotland to baptize and marry, arrived with one of the bands of colonists at Red River. The first point in the agreement between Lord Selkirk and his colonists was "to have the services of a minister of their own church." This was Lord Selkirk's wish, and Mr. Sutherland was sent as locum tenens. For three years this devout man performed the duties of his sacred office, until in the conflict between the rival Companies he was forcibly taken away to Canada by the North-West Company.

Lord Selkirk entered into correspondence with the Roman Catholic authorities in Lower Canada as to their appointing priests to take charge of the French and De Meurons of his colony. We have already seen in the sketch of John McLeod that two French priests, Joseph Norbert Provencher and Severe Dumoulin, proceeded to the North-West and took up a position on the east side of Red River nearly opposite the site of the demolished Fort Gibraltar. On account of the preponderance of the German-speaking De Meurons, the settlement was called St. Boniface, after the German patron saint. Though these pioneer priests endured hardships and poverty, they energetically undertook their work, and maintained a school in which, shortly after, we are told, there were scholars in the "Humanities."

With great zeal the Roman Catholic Church has carried its missions to the Indians, even to distant Athabasca and Mackenzie River. In 1822 the Priest Provencher was made a bishop under the title of Bishop of Juliopolis (in partibus infidelium). His jurisdiction included Rupert's Land and the North-West or Indian territories. Besides the work among the Indians, the Bishop organized the French settlements along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers into parishes. In addition to St. Boniface, some of these were St. Norbert, St. Francois Xavier, St. Charles, St. Vital, and the like, until, at the close of the Hudson's Bay Company's rule in 1869, there wore nine French parishes.

The Indian missions have been largely carried on by a Society of the Roman Catholic Church known as the Oblate Fathers. A sisterhood of the Grey Nuns have also taken a strong hold of the North-West.

In the year 1844 a young French priest named Alexandre Antonin Taché came to the North-West and led the way in carrying the faith among the Indians of the Mackenzie River. A most interesting work of Father Taché, called "Vingt Années de Missions," gives the life and trials of this devoted missionary. In a few years the young priest was appointed coadjutor of Bishop Provencher, and on the death of that prelate in 1853, young Monseigneur Taché succeeded to the see under the name of the Bishop of St. Boniface. Bishop Tach6 became a notable man of the Red River settlement. He was a man of much breadth of view, kindliness of manner, and of great religious zeal. As an educational and public man, he wielded, during the whole time of the Hudson's Bay Company's later r6gimo, a potent influence. A year or two after the elevation of Bishop Tach6 to the vacant place of Bishop Provencher, Bishop Grandin was appointed a bishop of the interior and took up his abode at Ile à la Crosse. The Roman Catholic Church has done much in bringing many wild tribes under the civilizing influence of Christianity.

Though Lord Selkirk was compelled to betake himself to France in 1820 in search of health, he did not forget his promise to his Scottish colonists on Red River. He entrusted the task of procuring a clergyman for them to Mr. John Pritchard, who, we have seen, had entered the service of his Lordship. Pritchard, acting under the direction of the committee of the Hudson's Bay Company, seems to have taken a course that Lord Selkirk would hardly have approved. To some extent disregarding the promise made to the Scottish settlers, either the agent or the committee applied to the Church Missionary Society to appoint a chaplain for the Hudson's Bay Company at Red River.

The choice made was a most judicious one, being that of Rev. John West, who wrote a very readable book on his experiences, in which the condition of the settlement, along with an account of his missionary labours, are described. A little volume, written by Miss Tucker, under the name of "The Rainbow of the North," also gives an interesting account of the founding of the Protestant faith in the settlement.

Mr. West arrived in Red River settlement in October, 1820, and at once began his labours by holding services in Fort Garry. For a time he was fully occupied in marrying many who had formerly lived as man and wife, though already married after the Indian fashion, and in baptizing the children. He at once opened a school. Mr. West made an exploratory journey five or six hundred miles westward, visiting Indian tribes. In 1823 he erected the first Protestant place of worship on the Red River, and in the same year was joined by Rev. David Jones, who was left in charge when Mr. West returned to England.

Two years afterwards Rev. William Cochrane and his wife arrived at Red River. Mr. Cochrane, afterward Archdeacon Cochrane, was a man of striking personality, and to him has been given the credit of laying the foundation of the Church of England in the Red River settlement. The Indians to the north of the settlement on Red River were visited and yielded readily to the solicitations of the missionaries. Early among these self-denying Indian missionaries was the Rev. A., afterwards Archdeacon, Cowley. Churches were erected in the parishes that were set apart in the same way as the French parishes; St. John's, St. Paul's, St. Andrew's, St. Clement's, St. James, Headingly, and the like, to the number of ten, were each provided with church and school.

Rev. Mr. Jones did not neglect the educational interests of his wide charge. Having become convinced of the necessity of establishing a boarding-school to meet the wants of the scattered families of Rupert's Land, Mr. Jones brought out Mr. John McCallum, a student of King's College, Aberdeen, who had found his way to London. Coming to Red River in 1833, McCallum began the school which has since become St. John's College. At first this school was under the Church Missionary Society, but a decade after its founding it was conducted by McCallum himself, with an allowance from the Company.
In 1844 an episcopal visit was made to Red River by the first Protestant Bishop who could reach the remote spot. This was Dr. Mountain, Bishop of Montreal. He published a small work giving an account of his visit. Many confirmations took place by the Bishop, and Mr. Cowley was made a priest. John McCallum had taken such a hold upon the Selkirk settlers that it was deemed advisable to ordain him, and for several years he carried on the school along with the incumbency of the parish church. McCallum only lived for five years after the Bishop's visit.

In 1838 James Leith, a wealthy chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company, bequeathed in his will twelve thousand pounds to be expended for the benefit of the Indian missions in Rupert's Land. Leith's family bitterly opposed this disposition of their patrimony, but the Master of the Rolls, hearing that the Hudson's Bay Company was willing to add three hundred pounds annually to the interest accruing from the Leith bequest, gave the decision against them, and thus secured an income to the see of seven hundred pounds a year. In 1849 the diocese of Rupert's Land was established by the Crown, and Rev. David Anderson, of Oxford University, was consecrated first Bishop of Rupert's Land. In the autumn of the same year Bishop Anderson arrived at Red River, by way of York Factory, and his first public duty was to conduct the funeral of the lamented John McCallum. After an incumbency of fifteen years Bishop Anderson returned to England and resigned the bishopric.

In 1865 Dr. Robert Machray arrived at Red River, having been consecrated Bishop by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Under Bishop Anderson the college successfully begun by McCallum languished, for the Bishop seemed more intent on mission work than education. In the year after his arrival, Bishop Machray revived the institution under the name of St. John's College. It was of much service to the colony.

By the time of the passing away of the power of the Hudson's Bay Company, four years after the arrival of Bishop Machray, substantial stone churches and school-houses had been erected in almost all of the parishes mentioned as organized by the Church of England. To the Church of England belonged nearly all the English-speaking half-breed population of the colony, as well as a large number of the Hudson's Bay Company officers.

Bishop Machray's diocese covered a vast area. From Hudson Bay to the Rocky Mountains was under his jurisdiction. Much work was done amongst the Indian tribes. At Moose Factory on the Bay, another devoted labourer was working diligently. It is true the missions were widely scattered, but of the twenty-four clergymen belonging to the diocese of Rupert's Land, fifteen were among the Indians at the time of the cessation of the Hudson's Bay Company's rule. The remainder were in the parishes of Red River such as St. John's, St. Andrew's, St. Paul's, Headingly, Poplar Point, and Portage la Prairie.

The assistance rendered not only by the Church Missionary Society, but also by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the Colonial and Continental Church Society, and the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, was very great, and future generations will be indebted to the benevolence and liberality of the English people in sending spiritual assistance to Rupert's Land.

A perusal of the work, "Red River Settlement," by Alexander Ross, shows that a long and somewhat disappointing struggle was maintained by the Selkirk settlers to obtain the fulfilment of Lord Selkirk's promise to send them a minister of their own faith. Scottish governors came and departed, but no Scottish minister came. Sir George Simpson arrived on his yearly visits at Fort Garry, and was often interviewed by the settlers of Kildonan, but the Governor, though pleasant and plausible enough, was impenetrable as the sphinx. Petitions were sent to the Hudson's Bay Company and to the Scottish General Assembly, but they seldom reached their destination and effected nothing.

The people conformed to the service of the Church of England in the vicinity of their parish. They were treated by the Episcopal clergy with much consideration. Their own psalter was used in their worship, the service was made as simple as they could well desire, but the people, with Highland tenacity, held to their own tenets for forty years, and maintained among themselves regular cottage meetings for prayer and praise.

At length the question arose as to the possession of the church property and the right of burial in St. John's burial-ground. The Scottish settlers maintained their right to the church and churchyard. A very acrimonious discussion arose. In the end the matter was referred to Mr. Eden Colville, a Company director, who was in the settlement on business. Mr. Colville informed the writer that he claimed the credit of settling the dispute. Another site on the river bank two or throe miles to the north of St. John's, called La Grenouillère, or Frog Plain, consisting of several hundred acres, was handed over to the Scottish settlers for church, manse, and glebe. This was in 1851, and though the Kildonan people were still given the right to bury their dead in St. John's, in the future their chief interest centred in the new plot.

The presence in Red River of Mr. Ballenden, a countryman of the Kildonan people, as Hudson's Bay Company Governor of Fort Garry, led to an application being made to their friends in Scotland to send them a minister. Indeed, the call had been made again and again for a generation. This request was transmitted to Canada to Dr. Robert Burns, a man of warm missionary zeal and great wisdom. Sir George Simpson had been communicated with, and deemed it wise to reverse his former policy of inaction and promised certain aid and countenance, should a Presbyterian minister be found to care for the parish of Kildonan.

Dr. Burns had among his acquaintances a recent graduate of Knox College, Toronto, named John Black. Him the zealous doctor urged, if not commanded, to go to Red River. This trust was accepted, and after a tedious and uncertain journey Rev. John Black arrived at Red River, September, 1851. The Kildonan people immediately rallied around their new clergyman, who, though not able to speak Gaelic as they desired, yet became an idol to his people. In 1853 a church was erected, with the aid of a small grant from the Hudson's Bay Company, and the foundations of Presbyterianism were laid.

In 1865 Rev. James Nisbet, who had come a few years before to assist Mr. Black, organized a mission to the Cree Indians, and named his mission church on the banks of the Saskatchewan, Prince Albert. Growing by slow degrees, the Presbyterian interest increased and was represented at the end of the Hudson's Bay Company's rule by four or five clergymen. Schools as maintained by voluntary contributions were erected in the Presbyterian parishes of Kildonan and Little Britain.

Manitoba College was planned and arranged for in the closing year of the Hudson's Bay Company's regime.

The Methodists, with the fervour and missionary zeal which has always characterized them, determined to aid in evangelizing the Indians of Rupert's Land. It was the English Methodists who first showed a desire in this direction. They agreed to send the Indians a clergyman suited for the work, if the Canadian Methodist Church would send a few labourers trained in Indian work in Canada.

James Evans, an Englishman who had been long in Canada, and had laboured for years among the Indians of Upper Canada, consented to go to Rupert's Land and take the superintendence of the others sent out. Leaving Montreal with the three English missionaries and two educated young Ojibe-ways, Peter Jacobs and Henry B. Steinhauser, the party went by canoes up the lakes and then along the old fur traders' route, and arrived at Norway House, at the foot of Lake Winnipeg, in 1840. Evans made Norway House his head-quarters, George Barnley went to Moose Factory, William Mason to Rainy Lake and River Winnipeg, and Robert T. Rundle to Edmonton.

The missions to the Hudson Bay and Rainy Lake were soon given up, but Rossville and Oxford House, on Lake Winnipeg, and several points near Edmonton, are the evidence to-day of the faithful self-denying work done by these early Methodist pioneers. Having no whites in the country, the operations of the Methodist Church in Rupert's Land were, up to the time of the Hudson's Bay Company's transfer, confined to the Indians of Rupert's Land.

Mr. Evans, the superintendent of these missions, became very celebrated by the invention of a syllabic system of writing introduced among the Crees. The plan is simple, and an intelligent Indian who has never seen the system can in a short time learn to read and write the syllabic. The syllabic has spread widely over Rupert's Land, and the different Churches use, especially among the Crees, this ingenious invention in printing the Bible and service books. When Lord Dufferin, a number of years ago, visited the North-West as Governor-General of Canada, on hearing of Evans' invention ho remarked, "The nation has given many a man a title and a pension and a resting-place in Westminster Abbey who never did half so much for his fellow-creatures."

Some claim has been made for Mason as being the inventor of this character, but there seems to be no ground for the claim.

John Ryerson, a Canadian Methodist divine, in 1854 visited Rupert's Land from Canada, and after seeing the missions on Lake Winnipeg, went from York Factory to England. The taking over of the mission by the Canadian Methodist Church resulted from this visit.

These are the main movements of a religious kind that took place within the borders of Rupert's Land and the territories east of the Rocky Mountains up to the end of the Hudson's Bay Company's regime. A great service was rendered to the whites and Indians alike, to the Hudson's Bay Company, to the Kildonan settlers, and all the native people by the patient work of the four churches named. The best feeling, and in many cases active co-operation, were given by these churches to each other. The work done by these churches laid the foundation for the general morality and advanced social life which prevailed in Red River and in the regions beyond.

On the Pacific slope the Hudson's Bay Company took an immediate control of the religious and educational instruction of the people, upon the organization of Vancouver Island as a colony (1849). The Rev. Robert Staines was sent as chaplain and teacher to Fort Victoria, and was given a salary and an allowance for carrying on a boarding-school in which he was assisted by his wife. Mr. Staines did not agree with the Company, wont to Britain as a delegate from the dissatisfied employes, but died of injuries received on his homeward voyage.

Mr. Staines' successor was the Rev. Edward Cridge. The new chaplain was well provided for by the Company, being secured a parsonage and glebe of one hundred acres, and three hundred pounds a year, one hundred pounds annually being as chaplain of the Company. Mr. Cridge became a prominent clergyman of the colony, but in later years left his mother Church to become bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church. In 1859 Bishop Hills was made first bishop of the united colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Twenty years afterward the diocese was divided into (1) Vancouver Island and the islands, as Diocese of Columbia, (2) the southern mainland as Diocese of New Westminster, and (3) the northern mainland as Diocese of New Caledonia. The Church of England in British Columbia has enjoyed large gifts from the Baroness Burdett-Coutts.

One of the most remarkable missions of modern times is that of Metlakahtla, begun under the auspices of the Church of England by William Duncan. The village he founded became an example of civilization among the Indians, as well as a handmaid to the Christian work done. Unfortunately, the model Indian village has been largely broken up by a misunderstanding between Mr. Duncan and his bishop.

The first missionary of note of the Roman Catholic Church on the coast was Father Demers, who became Bishop of Vancouver Island and New Caledonia. The Oblate Fathers were early on the ground in British Columbia, the first of the Order having baptized upwards of three thousand men, women, and children of Indian tribes, the Songhies, Saanechs, and Cowichins, near Victoria. Many churches, schools, and hospitals have been founded by the energetic and self-denying Roman Catholics who have made British Columbia their home. Bishop Seghers succeeded the venerable Bishop Demers in his diocese.

Ten years after the formation of Vancouver Island as a Crown colony, Revs. Dr. Evans, L. Robson, and two other ministers undertook work for the Methodist Church on the coast. Good foundations were laid by the clergymen named, and still better by Rev. Thomas Crosby, who Joined them after a few years' service, and entered heartily into efforts to evangelize the Indians. He had great success among the Flathead Indians.

In 1861 the first Presbyterian minister arrived—Rev. John Hall, from Ireland, and he undertook work in Victoria. In the year following, Rev. Robert Jamieson came from Canada as a representative of the Canadian Presbyterian Church and settled at New Westminster. Churches wore soon built in Victoria, Nanaimo, and New Westminster, that now contain strong and vigorous congregations.

All of the churches were under deep obligations to the Hudson's Bay Company for protection, assistance, and sympathy in their undertakings on the coast. The inrush of gold seekers threw a great responsibility upon all the churches, and it was well that the Company, merely for motives of self-interest, should regard the influence of the missionaries among the fierce tribes of the mountains, of both island and mainland, as of the greatest importance. The record of self-denying missionaries of the churches has justified all the patronage and favour rendered them by the Hudson's Bay Company.

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