First Missionary Experiences.

My first service among the Indians was held in a little log-house on the Indian Reserve, at Sarnia (south of Lake Huron), on Sunday, July 26th. Twenty-two Indians of the Ojebway tribe were present. They all seemed most anxious to have a Church of England Mission established in their midst, as many of them, inclusive of their venerable old chief, Wawanosh, were already members of the Church, and had been from time to time visited by a Missionary. I promised to visit them again on my return from other Indian settlements and see what could be done.

The following day, Monday, I took train to Toronto, and thence to Collingwood, from which place I intended to branch off to Owen Sound and visit the Cape Croker and Saugeen Indians. I had with me as interpreter a young Indian named Andrew Jacobs, his Indian name being Wagimah-wishkung, and for short I called him Wagimah. At Owen Sound we met with some Cape Croker Indians, and engaged their boat and two men to take us the following day to their settlement, about forty miles up the Lake Shore.

Soon after four the next morning we were up and dressed, and an hour later were on our way. It was fine, but rather foggy, and the sun scarcely visible through the mist. Not a breath of wind was stirring, so we had to keep to our oars, sometimes one and sometimes another rowing. At noon we reached Commodore Point, and put in for about an hour, spending our time in eating raspberries, which were growing in the greatest profusion, and bathing in the bay. Then on we pushed again, past Griffith’s Island, White Cloud Island, and King’s Point, and arrived at length, after a voyage of eight hours, at Cape Croker. We found that there were about 350 Ojebway Indians in the place, the majority of whom were Roman Catholics or Methodists: they had good houses, some log, but mostly neat little frame weather-boarded buildings; the land, however, was much neglected, very little attempt being made at farming. A Church of England service was conducted on Sundays by an Indian Catechist named Angus. The Chief’s name was Tabegwun. On the day after our arrival I held a meeting with the Indians, and explained to them my object in coming to visit them, and began by reading the Scriptures, and preaching to them, and baptizing one or two children. They gave me the names of twenty-six persons who professed to belong to the Church of England, and were desirous of having a Mission established among them. During our stay we were guests at Mr. Angus’s house, a clean, respectable dwelling, and were regaled with venison and huckleberry pie.

The next Indian Reserve that we visited was Saugeen. To reach this place we had to return by boat to Owen Sound, and then go across country in a westerly direction to the shores of Lake Huron. The journey was accomplished by “buggy.” We started at 4 a.m. on the morning of July 31st, and stopped to have our breakfast on the roadside about 7 o’clock, sitting one at each end of a log facing each other, our plates and cups in front of us. We reached the Indian village at 8.30 a.m., and went to the house of the chief whose name was Madwayosh. Only his wife was at home, but we learnt all that we wanted from her. There were about 250 Ojebway Indians on this Reserve, and nearly all Methodists. They had a resident Methodist Missionary and a place of worship in course of erection. I at once came to the conclusion that it would be unsuitable for us to attempt any Mission work in this place; and when we bade adieu to Mrs. Madwayosh we drove on to the Sauble Reserve, five miles further. A most dreadful road it was the whole way. We had both to get down and lead the horse more than half the distance, and then our traps were in the most imminent danger of jumping out as the buggy went jolting and rolling on over huge boulders and logs and stumps. It took us over two hours to reach the place, and when we got there, rain was coming down in torrents. We inquired for Waubesee’s house, he being a member of the Church, and after some trouble we at length found it, but it lay back at a distance from the road, with only a trail leading to it, so we had to take the horse out of the buggy and lead him after us. The little house, made entirely of bark, stood in the most picturesque spot, surrounded by lofty pines. Near the house was a calf shed, into which we tried to squeeze our horse, but he would not go, so we had to take him to a stable about a mile off.

Waubesee and his family received us very warmly. They said there used to be a great many Church people among them, but no missionary had been to see them for many years, and now all who had belonged to the Church were either gone away into the States, or had joined the Methodists. Waubesee, his wife, children, and grandchildren, numbered eighteen in all, and he said that the whole number of Indians on the Reserve was about 250. He seemed to be an intelligent man, and got out his Ojebway prayer-book and Testament to show us. Before we left, the family and a few others were called together, and we had reading and prayer, and I gave them a short address, Wagimah acting as my interpreter.

We now had to drive to Southampton, a distance of eight miles, and it was 6.30 p.m. when we reached it. My interpreter left me here to return to his home by the way we had come, and I took steamboat to Goderich, and from thence by train to London, where I rejoined my wife.

My next trip was to Brantford, and my wife accompanied me. We started on the 5th of August, and on our arrival there, were hospitably entertained at the Rev. Mr. Nelles’ house. From there I went to visit the Indians on the New Credit Reserve, a considerable distance off. I called on Chief Sawyer, a tall, fine man, with a sensible-looking face. He said there were about 300 Ojebway Indians on the Reserve, and that many of them were most desirous of having a Church of England teacher.

The result of all these visits was, that after much earnest prayer for Divine guidance, we finally decided upon making Sarnia our headquarters, and on the 8th of August I paid a second visit to the Indians there, and told them that I had decided to come and live amongst them. We expected there would be a little difficulty at first, as the Methodists were already in the field, and might oppose our coming; but as the Chief and quite a large number of the people were already professed members of the Church, having been frequently visited by the Rev. Mr. Chase, the native minister at Muncy Town, it seemed only fair that their oft-repeated petition to the Bishop of Huron should be attended to, and that a Church of England Mission should be established among them. On the 11th of August a Council was held, at which some fifty Indians attended. They sat about indiscriminately on benches, some smoking their pipes, others chewing tobacco. In a few plain words I told them, how it was my own earnest desire to devote myself as a Missionary to the Indians, and how I had been sent by a great Society in England to search out and teach the Ojebway Indians of the western part of Canada. I had already, I said, visited the Indians of Cape Croker, Saugeen, Sauble, and the Grand River, and had now made up my mind to make Sarnia my head-quarters, and to build a church in their midst. We would not, I said, put up a large expensive one,–we would begin with a small rough one, and see how we got on,–an Indian had already promised us land, and now I wanted all Indians whose hearts were in the work to lend us a helping hand and aid in erecting the church; it should be a small log building, and cost not more than 200 dollars. Mr. Chase was also present, and spoke very nicely after I had finished. After the council was over I proposed to Mr. Chase and a few other Indians that we should kneel down and ask God’s blessing, and so we knelt down and laid our case before God and asked Him to guide and direct us, and to incline the hearts of the Indians to favour our undertaking. Next morning I returned to London, and on the 15th we moved down to Sarnia, and took up our abode temporarily at Mrs. Walker’s boarding-house.

Wilson, Rev. Edward F. Missionary Work Among the Ojebway Indians. London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge. 1886.

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