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Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter XXIII

Confirmation Journeys in 1845.

OUR readers will not expect that we should give in my detail, or even at much length, the accounts of the journeys for the holding of Confirmations throughout the Diocese made by the late Bishop of Toronto; although the published journals of these visitations supply many statistical facts of great value in respect to the physical improvement as well as religious progress of the country. We must, therefore, content ourselves with a few extracts, which will be instructive as well as interesting.

On a hot and dusty day in July, 1845, the Bishop visited Binbrook, and returned to Hamilton in the evening. The conversation turned on the progress of the Church in the Diocese; and the Bishop remarking that this was more rapid, as a general rule, in the new settlements than in the old, and in the towns than in the country, accounted for this fact in the following manner:—

“At the first settlement of Upper Canada, the U. E. loyalists, —most of whom were members of the Church of England,— constituted the great majority of the inhabitants. But, instead of being placed in contiguous neighbourhoods, where schools and ministrations of religion might have been supplied with comparative ease, they were scattered over many districts, and so poor and few in number at any one point, that the attainment of these advantages was impossible: And when, after a long intervening sickness of heart from hope deferred, these great blessings came to be despaired of they by-and-by ceased with many to be viewed with concern or anxiety. This was the more to be deplored, because the Government had manifested much kindness in their case; but the expense attending the assistance awarded to the patriotic settlers at their scattered localities, in conveying provisions, farming utensils, Ac., cost more than the supply of these articles, even with the addition of schools and churches, would have done, had the settlements been judiciously concentrated. There was, for many years, scarcely any commerce in the Province; and the little produce which the inhabitants were able to raise by their hard labour,—since cattle and horses were for a time out of the question,—-commanded very low prices, and forced upon them habits of extreme parsimony, in order to obtain even a small portion of what, before the American Revolution, they had considered necessaries of life. Hence, when their circumstances were somewhat mended, they were unwilling to contribute towards the support of schools and the ministrations of religion, of which they had so long been deprived, and for which many of them had lost both taste and regard. In such a sad state of things, their children grew up without instruction; and a deadness to Christianity has, in some cases, been perpetuated to the present day.”

Many of our readers will have noticed the realization of this statement in the languid and declining condition of the Church in some of our oldest settlements; in some of our wealthy farming tracts where the old inhabitants, with traditional attachment to the Church, have died out; and in some of our older villages whence life and vigour seem to have evaporated with the migration of the young and enterprising to fresher scenes. Recalling this fact, we shall feel it to be a mistake to say that pecuniary aid for the support of the Church should be denied to such places, and given only to new and distant settlements.

The following interesting account is given of a visit to the Tuscarora Mission under the charge of the Rev. Adam Elliott:—

“This mission comprehends three tribes, the Tuscaroras, Delawares, and Cayugas. The greater number of the first have long been converted, but the Delawares were for the most part jmgans until within a few years: now, however, through the indefatigable exertions of Mr. Elliott, they are nearly all converted; and even the Cayugas, who have so long kept aloof and clung to their idolatry, are beginning to relax from their prejudices, and to discover the Divine origin of Christianity, and the futility of their own religious belief. Many adhere to the idea that their religion came from heaven, and that spirits appeared to them and forbade them to change; yet, with all their characteristic shrewdness, they confess themselves unable to bring forward proof or argument. As the Missionary is making progress with the young,—for they are very desirous of having their children educated,—the parents are gradually reached through them. A great attraction with them is the Mechanical Institution, where they soon learn to construct the ordinary farming utensils and other implements of daily use, established at the Mohawk village; an institution highly creditable to the New England Society, at whose expense it is maintained.

“Thirty-four Indians were confirmed on this occasion,— several of them very old. One woman in particular must have exceeded eighty; and amongst the number was a lame warrior of the Delaware tribe, a person of great shrewdness, and, till lately, a stern pagan. A great taste for sacred music was discernible in the congregation. A choir has been formed, and they have learned music by note. They had their books before them, and it was pleasing to see them turn to the tune and sing from the notes. What was still more remarkable, one of them had constructed a bass-viol, on which he played and kept time with great accuracy. The Missionary informed us that many of his people had a great faculty in learning languages, and he brought forward a chief who affirmed that he knew, almost all the Indian dialects in North America. He was naturally eloquent; and, in a short conversation, made many shrewd remarks upon the peculiar situation of his countrymen, and their relations with the white population and the Government.”

The following pleasing episode occurs in the account of his Confirmation journey westwards:—

“While we were resting on the little gallery before the door of the inn, there came up a rough waggon half-loaded with boards. The driver drew up to water his 'team' and sat down on the steps near the Bishop. He seemed intelligent, but dissipated and careworn; and the Bishop entered into conversation with him, and asked him the way to the Church at Dereham, the road to which was represented as rather intricate, but could obtain no information from him upon this point. As is not unusual, the man, finding himself treated kindly, entered into a sort of history of his life. He said he had come into this Province at an early day, and had by his industry acquired an excellent farm; had married a wife, to whom he was much attached; and had had two fine children. He stated further that his wife and children, some years ago, were carried off by the ‘lake fever' and ever since he had been listless, perhaps reckless, and could never bear to stay at home, and attend to the usual business of his farm. He chose rather, he said, to employ himself with his-waggon in conveying loads from place to place; but he was afraid that this loose way of life had introduced him to bad company, and, as a consequence, to intemperate habits. ‘Alas' said the poor man with some emotion, ‘what am I to do? I see my two brothers, with their wives and children, living comfortably on their farms; and when I visit mine, there is none to welcome me; while the remembrance of the time rushes on my spirit when I, too, met joyful faces, and had a happy fireside: I feel forlorn' he added, 'and am eager to get away.’

“There was evidently a deep well of feeling in this man, who had thus become, as it were, a cast-away. We all got interested, and the Bishop, with much affection, endeavoured to turn his attention to better things and better hopes. ‘Why, my friend' he asked him, ‘have you not, under this chastening, had recourse to religion,—to prayer, reading your Bible, thoughtful meditation, and attendance on the means of grace? All this might, with the Divine blessing, do much for you.’ ‘I have often gone to meeting/ said the man, ‘but found no comfort. The old members were all satisfied with themselves, and looked upon me with contempt.

They called themselves “the chosen few”; told me the day, and even the hour, when they were converted, or, as they term it, when they got religion; and yet, in my dealings with them, I found neither truth nor honesty. 1 felt none of those things, and 1 am unable to believe that a man can be religious without being good.' The Bishop agreed that such could not be religious people; and then remonstrated gently with him on his present way of life, and exhorted him to keep to his farm. Finding, too, that he had a Bible and Prayer Book which belonged to his wife, he seized upon his tender feelings for the departed, and urged him to use them diligently, evening and morning, and after a little time he would, with God’s blessing, derive comfort from such a course, and be enabled, with His help, to part with those irregular habits into which he had fallen The man went away apparently much encouraged; and our waggon being ready, we pursued our journey. Were this man in the neighbourhood of one of our Clergy, who could see him occasionally, instruct him in the truth, and lead him to public worship, and habits of piety, he might, we may reasonably hope, still be recovered; but, unhappily, we have no Clergyman within twelve miles of the farm upon which he occasionally resides.”

Of his visit to Westminster, the Bishop has occasion to speak in this pleasant strain :—

“In this place we have another example of what a willing heart and persevering energy can do. We owe this Church almost entirely to the vigorous and unwearied efforts of Mrs. Watson: a lady who came to Canada principally with the view of establishing her nephews on land. On arriving at this settlement, where a purchase had been made on her behalf, she found it entirely unprovided with religious ordinances. She accordingly gave ten acres on which to build the Church : she appealed to her friends in England for assistance ; and now she has the satisfaction of beholding her efforts crowned with success. Her piety is active and unaffected ; and the good she has done and is doing, in promoting the cause of religion in her neighbourhood, is beyond price. A few such persons in every District, and their waste places would soon rejoice and blossom.”

He speaks in the same encouraging manner of the Church at Morpeth

“We owe this Church, so far as it has proceeded, almost entirely to the liberality of five zealous farmers, though not more wealthy than many around them, and they deserve to be honourably mentioned. First, John and Freeman Green, two brothel’s. John gave the site for the Church, Parsonage, and Burial-ground, consisting of six acres in a very eligible situation, and fifty dollars in money. Freeman gave one hundred dollars; Walter Patterson and John Degrand gave each one hundred dollars; and so did David Gesner, although living five miles distant,—because he considered the position central for the settlement Now, considering the station of the parties, and the low price of produce for some years past, these contributions may be considered very large; and there is no doubt that they will yet do more, and, by influencing their neighbours, contrive to finish the Church. Some of them are from Dunwich, where they had been accustomed to see a still greater liberality, and certainly the example was not lost upon them. To encourage them, I paid over the liberal donation of £25 sterling made by Lord Morpeth for the benefit of this- Church,—a very seasonable help towards completing their sacred edifice, and likely to crown with success the exertions of these honest and right-hearted people.”

The following remarks and incidents connected with the Bishop’s visit to Walpole Island, are very interesting :—

“Walpole Island seems to be a continuation of the shallows or flats of Lake St. Clair, and to have been formed from deposits from the upper lakes. The soil is altogether alluvial, and the surface is so little raised above the river that the greater portion is covered with water, when the lakes and rivers rise. This they seem to do periodically, although the exact cycle has not yet been ascertained. It is a curious fact, the cause of which has not yet been solved, that when the waters of the large rivers and lakes are high, the small lakes and rivulets in the interior which have no communication with them, are likewise high. Thus, for instance, Lake Simcoe, the most elevated of all the lakes, empties itself by the River Severn into Lake Huron, with a fall of from seventy to eighty feet; yet when the waters of Lakes Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, are high, Lake Simcoe is high also. This periodical rise of all the waters of this section of the American continent, has never yet been satisfactorily accounted for. It is attributed, indeed, to greater falls of snow occasionally happening in the North West; but this might bear upon the great lakes which are directly connected with it, but can have no influence upon the smaller interior lakes where no additional snows and rains appear to have fallen.

“We made [after service on the island] a hasty dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Keating; and as it was by this time getting dark and threatening rain, we hurried to get across to the main shore. In our haste we did not perceive, till we cast off from the land and were in the stream, that our canoe was too small for our number and the water within an inch of its edge. Had there been any wind, we should have be8n in the greatest danger; but, blessed be God, by using every precaution, sitting quiet, and maintaining a careful balance, we got over safe. The Indian who paddled us across, seeing the storm approach, hastened back, aud had scarcely reached the island when the rain, and thunder and lightning commenced in a terrific manner.

“As there was no sort of accommodation whatever at the small tavern where we had left our horses and waggon, we were compelled to move forward in the hope of reaching an inn a few miles further up the river St Clair. By this time it was growing dark, and before we had proceeded half-a-mile, the rain came down in torrents, and the thunder and lightning became so frequent and terrible, that our horses trembled and could scarcely keep their legs. The darkness also became so great that, except from the flashes of lightning, we were unable to see the road. Having crept forwards about a mile and a half,—the storm continuing without intermission,—we descried, from a friendly flash of lightning, p. farm-house, and happy were the party when I consented to stop. It was now late, for we had consumed much time in making this short journey, and the inmates of the house were all sound asleep. After knocking for some time, they at length opened the door and let us in. We stated our distress and the causes that made us disturb them,—which indeed were sufficiently visible from our miserable and drowned appearance,—and upon hearing our story, they received us kindly, and did all in their power to make us comfortable.”

But this was nothing in comparison with the difficulties encountered on the journey from Owen Sound to Guelph. To the former place the Bishop had gone by steamer from Manitoulin Island. At starting, he says :—

“We found the road very rough, and getting worse as we proceeded. It ran along a stony ridge, which seems to have been chosen in preference to the low grounds which, in many places, were low and marshy. Be this as it may, what with large stones, deep crevices between them, roots of trees, and deep holes, the shaking of the waggon became intolerable.” After confirming at two places, the latter thirteen miles from Owen Sound, “we left for Edge’s at half-past four; and, though scarcely nine miles off, with little hope of getting there, as the road was becoming more and more impracticable. After bounding from stone to stone, the rain meanwhile falling in torrents, and occasionally a deep hole by way of variety, we found darkness rapidly approaching, and were glad to crave shelter for the night from Mr. Smith, who, with his wife and ten sons and one daughter, had taken up land from Government, and was gradually clearing a good farm. We no doubt put the family to much inconvenience, yet they made us heartily welcome, and insisted that we should occupy their beds, such as they were, and doing all in their power to make us comfortable.

“We rose next morning as soon as we could see, and the rain having abated, we got ready for our journey. A mile onwards there is a very long, deep slough, full of roots and loose stones, through which the Smiths told us it would be impossible for the horses to drag the waggon, and they very kindly offered to accompany us and assist us in getting past it. We found their account of it by no means exaggerated, for we were obliged to take the horses from the waggon, then they plunged so much, and got so deep in the mud, that they were in the greatest danger of sinking over their heads. The poor animals, when they at length reached the firm soil, trembled and looked much frightened. The waggon was dragged through by three of the Smiths, the driver, and two men whom I had hired to attend us on this perilous journey. The Smiths returned home, and w.e sent forward to Edge’s to request that they would meet us with a yoke of oxen at a bridge over the river Saugeen, which was said to be very insecure, and at the further end of which was a slough much worse than the one we had just passed. We soon came to the bridge, where we alighted; and after examining it, and carefully mending some of the holes, by using great caution we got the waggon and horses safely across. But they had no sooner left it, than they sunk so deep into the mire that we thought they should be lost. After some labour, we got their harness off, and separated them from the waggon, and then, on our cheering them, (for they appeared frightened and ready to give up,) they were roused to fresh exertion, and at length we got them upon hard ground. Had it not been for the two men who attended us, and the driver, the poor animals would have been inevitably smothered.

“After extricating the horses, we waited patiently for the oxen, —the waggon in the meantime floating on the slough, the wheels having sunk below the hubs. At length we heard them coming down the hill beyond us, which was thickly covered with trees; and from the noise, one of our attendants, an American, pronounced the driver to be an Irishman, and therefore knowing nothing about the management of oxen. Of the correctness of this judgment we soon had abundant experience, for the Irishman was unable, without the aid of the American, to ‘hitch' as they call it, the oxen to the waggon, and nothwithstanding our remonstrances would insist on driving them himself. The consequence was, that he drove them between two large trees, alleging that there was sufficient room for the passage of the waggon, although it was quite evident that he was mistaken. The oxen struggled through, the one a little ahead of the other; but when the waggon came up, it was jammed immovably between two trees. ‘I guess' said the American, ‘that you have got into a pretty bit of a fix.’ The poor Irishman was much mortified; but comforted himself with observing that he had never driven oxen but twice before. The American was desired to take charge, and as there was no alternative, one of the trees was ordered to be cut down. This was, however, a work of time, for we had no axe, only a tomahawk ; and a work of skill too, for there was no little danger of the tree falling on the waggon, or doing other damage. But the American was experienced in such matters: the tree was skilfully felled; and the oxen having been again attached to the waggon, struggled through the swamp and reached the bottom of the hill. The road up the declivity was so wet and slippery, and withal so deep, that the poor oxen were put to the exertion of their utmost strength to reach the top. This was a severe trial to us all, but it was useless to murmur. We had been seven hours getting over nine miles, and it was past ten when we reached Edge’s house. At eleven we had service: the Congregation numbering seventeen, and only one person was presented for Confirmation.

“We proceeded on our journey at half-past one, and had not advanced far when we found the road, or path, obstructed by a large tree, which a settler had just cut down and was in the act of dividing into lengths. We found much difficulty in getting round through the wood : we asked very civilly why he had blocked up the road ; but instead of answering, he smiled and seemed to enjoy our difficulty. We thought him rude and insolent, but he had no such meaning ; for going a little further on, we stuck fast in a bad mud-hole, and in a moment we saw the chopper running to our assistance. Luckily, two other men came up who were on their way to fish in the River Saugeen, and who, seeing our distress, very willingly offered to help us. With these additional hands, we managed to relieve the horses, and to drag the waggon along till we reached the hard ground. The two fishermen volunteered to accompany us two miles further, where there was the worst slough, they said, upon the whole road between Owen Sound and Fergus. There were several bad spots before we reached this,—the king of mud-holes,—which it cost us no little trouble to get over. We now began to dread these sloughs, and the poor horses trembled "when they saw one. At length we reached the famous mud-hole, pronounced by the settlers so formidable. We made a halt to beat up for additional recruits : oxen were not to be had, nor was it quite clear that even they could have got through with the waggon, the swamp was so long, so deep, and so intersected with fallen trees, roots and stones. I held the two riding horses, and all the party, including the Rev. Mr. Mockridge, the verger, and four settlers whom we had collected, besides those who had come with us, went to work, and with strong arms pulled the waggon through. We had taken fourteen hours, including the service, to travel seventeen miles.

"We did not reach Mr. Realty’s, our next appointment, till nearly 7 o’clock, although, in ignorance of the road, I had appointed three o’clock for the service. The people, however, judging more wisely of the obstructions on the way, did not begin to assemble till after 6 o’clock, and we overtook many of them as we passed along. The service commenced immediately on our arrival; the house was crowded; and the congregation were much affected by the prayers, sermon, and address to the candidates for Confirmation,—these last being only three in number. What with the largeness of the congregation, and the attention and feeling which they manifested, I felt myself more than rewarded for all the difficulties and toils I had endured.”

The trials of the two following days were not so formidable, and Elora was safely reached on the evening of the 29th August. In the course of his journey, the Bishop frequently heard complaints from the people in the newly opened settlements.

“They would speak bitterly and feelingly of their grievances ; that they had no mill within many miles, and had sometimes to carry on their backs their wheat to be ground, and to carry it home again in flour in the same way. Mere trifles, he would reply. I was in the Province when it contained scarcely a mill in any part of it, and the people had often to travel more than a hundred miles to get their wheat ground; and as this could only be done in winter, they used to bruise their com and wheat in the interval between smooth stones, and make rough bread of it iu that way. Others would complain of their hard labour; and he would ask them, in reply, how long they would have had to labour at home before they obtained, what they now possessed,— a freehold of 100 acres of land.

“An Irishman was detailing his many grievances with some eloquence; but it had come out that he had been a hodman, attending masons in Glasgow before he came to Canada. I said nothing until he had expatiated upon all his difficulties, and had come to a full stop. I then took up an axe, and asked him if this was as heavy as a hod of brick 1 The Irishman appeared surprised, and said, 'surely not' How many years' I replied, ‘must you have carried the hod to the top of the highest building in Glasgow, before you could get a farm like the one you are now cultivating? ‘You are right' said the Irishman, with the honest frankness of his countrymen: ‘at home there is no prospect of bettering our situation; sickness and old age, too, are frightful; but here we have plenty to eat and drink, good hopes for our children, and a comfortable old age for ourselves'. It was easy, after this, to turn the conversation to their religious condition; urge upon them family worship and Sunday-schools; learning portions of the Psalms, and repeating them as sources of consolation; reading the Scriptures regularly, and remembering to keep holy the Lord’s Day.”

This was a most laborious Confirmation tour; commencing on the 14th July, and, after unremitted travelling and services, ending on the 8th September. About 1600 miles by land and water were traversed; and notwithstanding the great extent of country to be visited, and the number of appointments to be kept,—some of them far distant the one from the other, and others separated by roads or paths all but impassable,—the Bishop was enabled by Divine favour, to keep every one of them, and through judicious arrangements and active travelling, was late only two or three times. In these touching words, he says, “I have much reason to be thankful: the Church prospers; and my journeys and fatigues are every where sweetened by cordial welcome and respect. In every house we enter, there is the kind hand and happy look to greet us; and surely, under such circumstances, labours and perils might be cheerfully endured, were they threefold greater than they are.”

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