OUR course to Edmonton lay
nearly due northwest. Crossing the Nose Hills on their western slope,
ferrying the Battle River at its southerly bend, rolling up the north bank
of this magnificent valley, we made good progress, and on Friday morning,
leaving Susa and George with the cart and loose horses, I pushed on alone
and in the evening stood once more on the bank of the river with Edmonton
and the new mission in welcome sight before me. Hailing the first man I saw
on the other side, he crossed over to me with a skiff, and, unsaddling, I
led my horse as he swam at the stern of the boat, then mounting him rode on
to my friends, by whom I was abundantly welcomed.
Father had been waiting
rather impatiently for me; already the Rev. Peter Campbell and Mr.
Steinhauer had gone from Victoria and White Fish Lake. If we started Monday
morning we would be eight days, and possibly a hundred miles or more, behind
them. I said I expected my boys and horses in Saturday night, and (D.V.)
would be ready for the road as early as he wished Monday morning, and that
if I were not mistaken the advance party would not reach Winnipeg before us.
George and Susa came in late Saturday evening and we barely got them across
by dark. I had a two days' visit with parents and sisters and my own two
little daughters, Ruth and Gussie, whom I found at Edmonton, and was busily
engaged helping father make ready for Monday morning. I took one of the
services on Sunday, drove with father to an afternoon appointment, where I
again spoke in Cree, and Monday morning we were away once more; father and
self in a single-horse buckboard in the lead, Susa with cart next, and
brother George in the saddle driving up the loose horses, of which we took
nine with us.
The first two days were easy
travel, as we wanted to camp and visit with my sister-in-law, Annie, and
also my own little girl, Flora. We found these well and flourishing, and
anxiously expecting my brother David back from Winnipeg, whither he had gone
to trade some months since. Eight hundred miles to do your shopping, and the
mode of travel heavily laden earth, with the privilege of bridging the small
streams and making boats wherewith to ferry the larger ones as you
journey—only the real pioneer will brave such hardships.
Next morning we were away
early, and now we really began to move. Father had said, "Now, John, you are
chief transport officer of the brigade," and I thereupon took charge of the
journey. Early and late we bowled across country, not with rapid step but
with a steady, continuous, up-hill-and-down-dale-all-day jog. At daybreak I
sprang for the horses, while father, Susa and George pulled down the tent
and had things packed away by the time I was back; then each man harnessed
and saddled, and we were off. In three hours, if we had water and grass and
wood, we stopped to camp, and the first move was to off-harness, turn the
horse loose, and put the lines on the next to be used. There is no more
propitious time to catch a horse than when you first come in from the road;
if you leave your horse until it is time to start, many a usually quiet
horse will, just for the fun of it, keep you running after it for a while,
thus using up valuable time. I never took such chances when I was really
travelling. Within the hour we were always away again, and with fresh
horses, freshly oiled rigs, and mending done up to time, we kept our speed
and run, and our night camps were far apart. Thousands of homesteads will
dot the land we are passing in our day's journey, and which now is solitude
sublime. This whole land is waiting, God has not yet touched the button
which will switch the trend of humanity this way. Nevertheless, I firmly
believe He will do so in good time.
Passing down the valley of
the Saskatchewan, George and I ride into Fort Pitt, while father and Susa go
straight on by Onion Lake and Frenchman's Butte. Here I bought a horse, born
and bred on the spot, and there is no better horse or stock range in Canada
than in the vicinity of Fort Pitt. A magnificent brown, a gem of horseflesh,
was this purchase of mine; old Mr. Roland was famous for his horses. It was
dark when we caught up to our camp that night. "Hello! another horse?" said
father, and in the morning when he saw him he said, "He'll do," and now we
had three changes and one to spare, and on we rolled. Crossing the river at
Carlton we drove by Duck Lake and crossed the south branch at Batoche. Our
horses had swum the two big rivers, and now we rolled faster than ever. Our
stock was settling down to work, regular hours, regular step, and they were
hardening to their business, which was to travel about seventy miles a day,
rain or shine. Six days of such work and the glorious Sabbath was a much
appreciated institution. From the waning of Saturday evening unto the
dawning of Monday's morn we rested, unless at some fort or settlement.
Horses ate and drank or rolled and rested; men ate and drank, and read and
prayed a little, and slept a lot. This was really to the Sabbath-keeping
"pony express traveller" a genuine restoration day, and thus on this trip we
used it and most thoroughly enjoyed God's wise and beneficent provision for
man and beast.
When still about three
hundred miles out from Winnipeg we met my brother David and party. David had
with him my aunt and her husband, the Rev. Benj. Jones, a pair of genuine
nomads. This was but another of their moves, the Saskatchewan being their
present goal. We spent a part of a day in visiting with these friends. Here,
too, we caught up with the rest of our western missionary folk, Messrs.
Steinhauer, Campbell and Snider. Eight days and one hundred miles of a
shorter distance—indeed, so far as my horses were concerned, there were
three hundred miles of a shorter distance—and when we compared stock our
animals were in far better condition than theirs, showing conclusively that
regular hours and regular speed of travel are the best methods in long
journeys. From thence on we took the lead, and crossing the Assiniboine and
Bird Tail rivers, we passed Shoal Lake and the Little Saskatchewan, and not
until we came to Rat Creek, now called Burnside, did we find the homes of
the first settlers. Nine hundred and more miles we had travelled through a
great farm, and not a farmer to break the virgin sod!
From this on into the little
village of Winnipeg there was a fringing of settlement, and it was amusing
to listen to Susa and little brother George discussing the people we saw.
Every little while George would gallop up to ask me about the folk we passed
or met, "Who are they, brother John? Where are they going?" and such like
questions from Susa as well. They seemed fully to expect me to know
everybody and everybody's business. I told them that we were only now coming
to people, and these were but as few compared to those farther east, at
which their astonishment was very great.
Somewhere about Poplar Point
we met the Revs. George Young and Dr. Enoch Woods who were driving as far as
the Portage and would follow us down to Winnipeg. From both these brethren
we had a hearty welcome. Driving on down the north side of the Assiniboine,
we approached Winnipeg and Fort Garry. I had not been here since 1864. Eight
years had made some change, but still the mass of Canadians— to say nothing
about the rest of the world— were lamentably ignorant of this most fertile
land. We camped outside the small cluster of buildings called Winnipeg, and
found willows for camp-fire and grass and water for horses. No billeting
committee in those days! On Mother Earth, as indeed for years, we now ate
and laid us down and slept. We found we were ahead of both the eastern and
northern contingents. In a day or two these arrived, those from the east by
river steamer and those from the north by York boat.
All being now gathered, the
first Missionary Conference west of Lake Superior was opened in due time and
in due form. Representing the far East there came the Rev. Drs. Punshon and
Wood and John Macdonald, Esq. Resident in the Red River Settlement were
Revs. George Young, Michael Fawcett, and Messrs. Robson and Bowerman. From
the north there came the Rev. Egerton R. Young, and from the west the Revs.
George McDougall, H. B. Steinhauer, Peter Campbell, and myself. The whole
work was, gone over in review and plans laid for the future. Dr. Punshon and
Mr. Macdonald were the guests of Sir Donald A. Smith (now Lord Strathcona
and Mount Royal) at "Silver Heights," some miles up the Assiniboine, to
which hospitable home we were all invited for a visit and dinner one
afternoon. Sir Donald, even in the early seventies, was noted for his
princeliness of hospitality, and he, as also the great company he
represented, did honor to our Conference in many ways. And to men of quick
perception like Sir Donald Smith here were citizens worthy of honor: Dr.
Punshon, the prince of orators, and President of the Methodist Conference;
Dr. Wood, the venerable General Secretary of Missions; George Young, than
whom no church had a fitter representative and foundation-builder for the
establishing of the Redeemer's kingdom in a new country; Henry Steinhauer,
who had now spent many years of hard toil on frontier missions as teacher,
interpreter, translator, intense missionary, himself a monument of
missionary enterprise. My own father was in the number, a pioneer from
child-. hood, a patriot prophet, the frontiersman and red man's friend.
These were indeed worthy of all honor, and Sir Donald willingly gave them
It was a great treat for the
lone settlement up in the heart of the Dominion to have the great preacher
and lecturer, Wm, Morley Punshon, to electrify and stimulate and inspire
with his world-famous lectures, "The Men of the Mayflower," and "Daniel in
Babylon," and his wonderful sermon Sunday morning, at the close of which I
was the whole of the ordination class. My examinations were summed up in the
one question given to me by Dr. Punshon the previous evening, "Are you
ready, John, for your ordination to-morrow morning?" and my brief answer
seemed to satisfy the Doctor. No oral or written examination, nor yet trial
sermon, was exacted; I was taken as I was on the merits of my twelve years'
missionary work in the north and west. But if there is anything in the
laying on of hands, then I was especially privileged with those of Drs.
Punshon and Wood and the two Georges, Young and McDougall, laid on my head.
The first Grace Church was
not sufficient for these things, and the Hudson's Bay Company cleared out
its large warehouse on the bank of the Assiniboine, and having handsomely
decorated it with cloth and bunting, and arranged it with improvised seats,
"Daniel in Babylon" was listened to by a mixed multitude which had gathered
in from the whole country. Sir Donald occupied the chair, and with him on
the platform was the Lieutenant-Governor. To me after twelve years in the
wilderness these gatherings were a feast indeed. Susa looked and wondered;
George was dumb-founded, and for a time forgot both Cree and English!
Twice during those days I was
interviewed concerning the west country and its future, and also as to its
present inhabitants. The Rev. Drs. Moore and Cochrane, of the Presbyterian
Church, put inc through a catechism which was by no means the "shorter," and
then the Lieutenant-Governor sent for me, and again I was questioned closely
as to the great West and its people. I suppose it was conceded that even at
that time I had travelled over the Saskatchewan valley more than any one of
our missionaries, and the others referred those who were inquiring about
land and people to myself as to an authority; and for my part, I was indeed
glad to bear witness to both Church and State as to the country and its
needs. This Missionary Conference decided on the opening of a new mission in
the wild country along the mountains. The site was as yet undetermined and
left largely to the Chairman of the District and the Missionary in charge of
the work. It was also decided that Bro. John McDougall should undertake this
mission. Thus I found myself facing a difficult and dangerous problem, for
even the Hudson's Bay Company had been forced to withdraw from that country
in the days gone by; and because of the lawless condition of the territories
to the south of us, the Indian tribes were now worse in every respect than
at any earlier date. Smuggling and whiskey and fearful demoralization were
now general. Nevertheless, I felt much honored with the appointment.
While we were in Winnipeg a
distinguished party arrived en route across the continent, among whom were
Mr. (now Sir Sandford) Fleming, Dr. Grant (later Principal of Queen's
University), and Messrs. Macoun and Horetsky. This was a Government part
sent out for the purpose of taking a look over the country on the line
proposed for the Canadian Pacific Railway. The world was moving, and at last
our Government was awaking to some sense of the importance of the great
West. We, who knew a little about the land, were glad to welcome this party.
Father and Susa and George returned with them to Edmonton, and they would
fain have urged father to go on in their company to the Coast, but he could
not spare the time from his work.
The experiences of this
transcontinental journey furnished Dr. Grant with the material for his book,
"From Ocean to Ocean," and I may be
pardoned if I quote from this interesting volume a passage in which Dr.
Grant, describing the difficulties of travel on the plains, takes the
opportunity to pay an affectionate tribute to my father. "In the afternoon
drive," he writes, "the big Canton waggon, drawn by the span, broke down.
The iron bolt connecting the fore wheels with the shaft broke in two.
Shaganappi had been sufficient for every mishap hitherto, but this seemed
too serious a case for it; but, with the ready help of Mr. McDougall,
shaganappi triumphed, and we were delayed only an hour. No one ever seems
non-plussed on the plains; for every man is a jack-of-all-trades, and
accustomed to makeshifts. When an axle broke, the men would hand out a piece
of white birch, shape it into something like the right thing, stick it in,
tie it with shaganappi, and be .jogging on at the old rate before a
professional carriage builder could have made up his mind what was best to
be done. Mr. McDougall in particular was invaluable. In every difficulty we
called upon him, and he never failed us. He would come up with his uniform,
sober, pleasant look, take in the bearings of the whole case, and decide
promptly what was to be done. He was our deus ex machina. Dear old
fellow- traveller! how often you are in our thoughts! Your memory is green
in the hearts of every one whoever travelled with you."