In the 1800s, as Canada's North opened up due to increased exploration and the arrival of the fur traders, missionaries answered the call to go preach the Gospel to the native people. Encouraged by trading companies such as the Hudson's Bay Company, Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries descended on the area in a bid to be the first to spread the Christian faith. Many of the fur traders had taken native wives who acted as translators for the missionaries and helped ease them into native society.

Fierce rivalry existed between the Anglicans and Roman Catholics as each attempted to expand their influence throughout the North. Denominational supremacy resulted largely from chance and depended on who reached a particular area first. The race for converts found the Roman Catholic Church entrenched along the upper Mackenzie River while the Church of England secured the lower Mackenzie River and across the mountains into the Yukon Territory.

The Anglican missionaries brought with them the educational philosophy and teaching methods of their time. Trained by the Church Missionary Society (CMS), an evangelical arm of the Church of England, the CMS was made up of w Read More
In the 1800s, as Canada's North opened up due to increased exploration and the arrival of the fur traders, missionaries answered the call to go preach the Gospel to the native people. Encouraged by trading companies such as the Hudson's Bay Company, Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries descended on the area in a bid to be the first to spread the Christian faith. Many of the fur traders had taken native wives who acted as translators for the missionaries and helped ease them into native society.

Fierce rivalry existed between the Anglicans and Roman Catholics as each attempted to expand their influence throughout the North. Denominational supremacy resulted largely from chance and depended on who reached a particular area first. The race for converts found the Roman Catholic Church entrenched along the upper Mackenzie River while the Church of England secured the lower Mackenzie River and across the mountains into the Yukon Territory.

The Anglican missionaries brought with them the educational philosophy and teaching methods of their time. Trained by the Church Missionary Society (CMS), an evangelical arm of the Church of England, the CMS was made up of wealthy and politically influential lay people who were concerned with upholding their faith, literacy, and social morals. To this end, the CMS provided financial support and missionary personnel that they sent to the British colonies to "civilize" the native people and arrange their eventual entry into heaven.

While the CMS provided the spiritual training, they had very little knowledge of the lands to where they were sending their missionaries. This was particularly true for the remote Canadian North. Consequently, most missionaries, especially those sent out from England, were ill prepared for what lay before them. Some would endure better than others the isolation, loneliness, and privation that this land offered; a sharp contrast to the lives they left behind. A few, such as William Carpenter Bompas, gave themselves completely over to the missionary work. Bompas… "decided"… as his brother recalled "…to take nothing with him [to Canada] that might lead back his thoughts to home, and he gave away all his books and other tokens of remembrance, even the paragraph bible which he always used."

William Kirkby, Robert McDonald, William Carpenter Bompas, J.W. Ellington, and Isaac Stringer are just a few of the Anglican missionaries who came to the North to work among the native and non-native populations scattered across this vast region. Stringer is perhaps the most celebrated. Thanks to his diligent collecting, writing, and photography, a tremendous archival record about Native and Inuit culture, Euro-American whalers, and the Anglican missions has been preserved in numerous Canadian museums and archives. Join us on a fascinating journey with this remarkable man to a harsh and formidable land.

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white photo of John Firth and his wife

John Firth and his wife and grandchild in 1929. Mr. Firth Hudson's Bay Company factor arrived at Fort McPherson in 1874.

Yukon Archives
1874
88/99 #1
© Yukon Archives


The first Anglican missionary to reach the Yukon Territory was the Reverend William West Kirkby. In June 1859, he arrived at Fort Simpson (Northwest Territories) with the intent to establish a church and mission. Although he had been deprived the privilege of attending school as a child, he later educated himself and eventually attained the position of schoolmaster in his native Lincolnshire.

Kirkby was accepted and trained by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and sent to Red River (Winnipeg) to teach school. He made such a good impression that within two years he was ordained and sent to minister at Fort Simpson. He devoted his energy to learning the Slavi language spoken by the native people of that area, but his active and inquiring mind soon led him to explore the surrounding territory.

In the summer of 1861, Kirkby set out to reach Fort Yukon. Accompanied by two native guides, he canoed down the Mackenzie and up the Peel Rivers to Fort McPherson. He reported meeting with a large number of Gwitch’in who received him kindly and provided him with an escort for the next stage of his journey. He then travelled west via the Porcupine River to Fort Yu Read More
The first Anglican missionary to reach the Yukon Territory was the Reverend William West Kirkby. In June 1859, he arrived at Fort Simpson (Northwest Territories) with the intent to establish a church and mission. Although he had been deprived the privilege of attending school as a child, he later educated himself and eventually attained the position of schoolmaster in his native Lincolnshire.

Kirkby was accepted and trained by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and sent to Red River (Winnipeg) to teach school. He made such a good impression that within two years he was ordained and sent to minister at Fort Simpson. He devoted his energy to learning the Slavi language spoken by the native people of that area, but his active and inquiring mind soon led him to explore the surrounding territory.

In the summer of 1861, Kirkby set out to reach Fort Yukon. Accompanied by two native guides, he canoed down the Mackenzie and up the Peel Rivers to Fort McPherson. He reported meeting with a large number of Gwitch’in who received him kindly and provided him with an escort for the next stage of his journey. He then travelled west via the Porcupine River to Fort Yukon, the remote Hudson’s Bay Company post situated near the confluence of the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers in what is now Alaska. At the end of the summer, Kirkby returned to Fort Simpson fired up with the determination to open that vast area before any other religious denomination could begin work there. He enthusiastically wrote in the CMS magazine -
"Gladly would I, if it were not for my family, live permanently among them [Gwitch’in]."

Married with a family, Kirkby felt he could not take on the enormous task of establishing the Fort Yukon mission. He appealed to the CMS to find someone more suitable. In October 1862 the CMS found their permanent missionary for that area - Robert McDonald.

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white drawing of William West Kirkby

William West Kirkby

Old Log Church Museum

1984.423
© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


Robert McDonald was well suited for mission work in the North. He had grown up on the Canadian frontier, had previously worked with a native population, and had a gift for languages.

Born in 1829 of mixed parentage, part Ojibway and part Scottish, McDonald grew up in the Old Red River settlement (Manitoba). He attended St. John's College and was ordained in 1852. For the next 9 years he worked at the Islington mission in Manitoba. Here he mastered the Ojibway language and began the translation work for which he is known.

In 1862, McDonald responded to Kirkby's request to establish a mission at Fort Yukon. He began in earnest to learn the native language. His work was cut short when devastating epidemics of influenza and scarlet fever swept across the North. The diseases wiped out large populations of natives and McDonald himself became ill. Fearing he would not survive his illness, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) sent William Carpenter Bompas to replace McDonald. However, before Bompas arrived, McDonald had regained his health. He owed his recovery to a tonic the natives gave him made from a plant root called "Toayashi". The English translatio Read More
Robert McDonald was well suited for mission work in the North. He had grown up on the Canadian frontier, had previously worked with a native population, and had a gift for languages.

Born in 1829 of mixed parentage, part Ojibway and part Scottish, McDonald grew up in the Old Red River settlement (Manitoba). He attended St. John's College and was ordained in 1852. For the next 9 years he worked at the Islington mission in Manitoba. Here he mastered the Ojibway language and began the translation work for which he is known.

In 1862, McDonald responded to Kirkby's request to establish a mission at Fort Yukon. He began in earnest to learn the native language. His work was cut short when devastating epidemics of influenza and scarlet fever swept across the North. The diseases wiped out large populations of natives and McDonald himself became ill. Fearing he would not survive his illness, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) sent William Carpenter Bompas to replace McDonald. However, before Bompas arrived, McDonald had regained his health. He owed his recovery to a tonic the natives gave him made from a plant root called "Toayashi". The English translation of this word meaning "it helped cure his uncle".

Although not credited, McDonald is believed to be the first man to discover gold in the Yukon. In 1863, while visiting natives on Birch Creek, he reported seeing gold and scooped a spoonful which he sent to the British Museum for analysis. McDonald was interested to learn that the substance was indeed gold, but he did not wish to pursue the life of a miner. He was more concerned that news of a gold discovery would trigger an influx of gold miners and feared the devastating effects the miners would have on the native way of life.

McDonald travelled extensively, visiting native camps throughout the area. He had a natural empathy and respect for their culture and concerned himself with teaching them to read in their own language so they would have access to the teachings of the Bible during his absences. Two years after his arrival at Fort Yukon, he baptized the first Gwitch'in converts. Over the course of his 42 years in the North, he baptized 2,000 adults and children.

McDonald remained at Fort Yukon until 1872 when the first Alaska/Yukon boundary dispute was settled and the mission was relocated to Rampart House, located inside the Yukon border. After a year at Rampart House, McDonald moved to Fort McPherson (Northwest Territories) and in 1875 he was appointed Archdeacon of the Mackenzie Diocese.

Robert McDonald's greatest legacy is his translation work. Assisted by his native wife, Julia Kutug, he translated the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and many hymns. He also prepared a scholarly grammar of the Tukudh language, a book of family prayers to be used in native camps, and a primer for teaching the Gwitch'in people how to read. Julia would repeat words over and over to him until he understood the phonetics. From the phonetics he composed a written language. His syllabarium of phonetics and his translations are still used today by the Gwitch'in people.

In 1905, McDonald retired from the ministry. He died in Winnipeg in 1913 in his 84th year.

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white photo of Robert McDonald

Robert McDonald

Old Log Church Museum

1984.74
© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


Normal 0 false false Read More

Fearing they were about to lose Robert McDonald to poor health, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) called for a replacement and William Carpenter Bompas answered. Within three weeks he settled his affairs in England, packed his belongings, and left for Fort Yukon. While Bompas was en route, McDonald recovered his health. Instead of sending Bompas back to England, the CMS decided they could use his help and instructed him to continue on to Fort Simpson (Northwest Territories) to assist Rev. Kirkby. He arrived there on Christmas Day 1865 and began his forty years of commitment and service in the North.

 

Willing to travel great distances, Bompas spent his first years in missionary work travelling and establishing contact with the native people. He also concentrated on learning their language. As indicated in one of his letters to the CMS, he was encouraged by how receptive the native people were to his arrival -

"I have been much cheered in my work among them by finding them all eager for instruction and warm-hearted in their reception of the missionary."

 

Under pressure from their Northern missionaries, the Church of England authorities agreed to divide the Diocese of Rupert's Land, which encompassed all of Northern Canada, into smaller, more manageable jurisdictions. In 1874, the Diocese of Athabasca was formed and Bompas was recalled to England and consecrated as its first Bishop. While in England, Bompas married his cousin Charlotte Selina Cox. Immediately after their wedding, the couple left to take up duties at their new post. Charlotte was amazed by her new home and put into perspective the vast area for which her husband was now responsible -

"The Athabasca Diocese extends both in length and breadth to a distance about equal to the length of the two provinces of Quebec and Ontario together, the length of the diocese being from end to end 3,000 miles and containing 750,000 square miles. The distance from London to Constantinople will represent to a European the length and breadth of the diocese."

 

Like Robert McDonald, Bompas had a talent for languages and he quickly learned to communicate in many of the native dialects. In the decade between 1870 and 1880 he composed four primers in Slavi, Beaver, Dogrib, and Gwitch'in languages. He felt strongly that his clergy should be able to converse well with the native people. To this end, he insisted that new clergy arriving in the North should spend at least four hours per day in language study.

 

Bompas frequently pointed out to Church authorities that his Diocese was far too large to be adequately served by one man. In 1884, the Church authorities agreed to split the Diocese of Athabasca and created the Diocese of Mackenzie River that included the area around the lower Mackenzie River and present day Yukon Territory. In 1891, the Diocese of Mackenzie was divided and the Diocese of Selkirk, with its boundaries solely encompassing Yukon Territory, was created. In 1892, Bompas was consecrated the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Selkirk and he took up residence at the Forty Mile mission, near the confluence of the Yukon and Fortymile Rivers.

 

During the next few years, Bompas' main concern at Forty Mile was to firmly establish the work of the church among the native people and to protect them from the influx of white miners who exerted a baneful influence upon them, demoralizing them through drink and in other distasteful ways. He recorded his thoughts about the small settlement in a letter to the CMS in 1895 -

"A town laid down at Forty-Mile, and they have two doctors, library, reading room, debating society, theatre, eating-houses, and plenty of saloons, as public-houses are called in the West, besides two stores, or shops, and a few tradesmen. One debate was as to which has caused most misery in the past century - war or whisky? It was decided to give the enviable preference to whisky."

 

Bompas' great love and admiration for the native people was evident in his adaptation to their way of life and movement away from his own culture. He had become opposed to pomp or show, gave most of his own salary and possessions away, neglected his own health, and often shocked newcomers by his unkept appearance and the simplicity of his lifestyle. In 1904, his attendance at a meeting of the Canadian Bishops in Winnipeg, Manitoba, aroused considerable interest. He had become a legendary figure, patriarchal in appearance, poorly dressed, so accustomed to life in the wilderness that he preferred to sleep upon the floor rather than in a bed.

Bompas' legacy to the North was his commitment to education. He was the happiest when engaged in teaching in the mission schools or at fishing or hunting camps while the native people followed their seasonal pursuits. The setting did not matter as long as teacher and pupils could spend time together in pursuit of literacy and the teachings of the Gospel.

 

Bompas served 43 years in the Mackenzie and Yukon Dioceses, returning only once to England during that time. He died on June 9, 1906 in Carcross, Yukon.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white photo of William Carpenter Bompas

William Carpenter Bompas

Old Log Church Museum

1984.283
© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


The daughter of an English doctor, Charlotte Selina (Cox) Bompas was raised and educated in England and Italy and took part in the many of the refined social and cultural events of her time. In the fashionable port city of Bay of Naples, she often attended lavish parties and balls, and on one occasion, had the honour of dancing with a King. She was spirited, musical, and loved everything of artistic beauty.

Back in England, she came to know a number of clergymen and attended missionary meetings which she described as -
"…the dullest affairs, and the clergy who addressed us, I looked upon as the most dismal old slow coaches it was anyone's fate to attend to."

She obviously changed her opinion before marrying William Bompas and agreed to a new life completely opposite to the old one to which she was accustomed and embraced missionary work with zeal and courage.

Charlotte learned enough of the native languages to be able to converse with the native children and women for whom she developed a deep affection. On occasion, she took a number of native and métis children into her home, Read More
The daughter of an English doctor, Charlotte Selina (Cox) Bompas was raised and educated in England and Italy and took part in the many of the refined social and cultural events of her time. In the fashionable port city of Bay of Naples, she often attended lavish parties and balls, and on one occasion, had the honour of dancing with a King. She was spirited, musical, and loved everything of artistic beauty.

Back in England, she came to know a number of clergymen and attended missionary meetings which she described as -
"…the dullest affairs, and the clergy who addressed us, I looked upon as the most dismal old slow coaches it was anyone's fate to attend to."

She obviously changed her opinion before marrying William Bompas and agreed to a new life completely opposite to the old one to which she was accustomed and embraced missionary work with zeal and courage.

Charlotte learned enough of the native languages to be able to converse with the native children and women for whom she developed a deep affection. On occasion, she took a number of native and métis children into her home, and was always willing to assist Bompas with the school classes.

Like other missionary wives, she endured the inevitable months of separation from her husband while he travelled his vast Diocese and accepted the many hardships that came her way as part of the missionary lifestyle.

One of her achievements was to establish a Yukon branch of the Women's Auxiliary (WA) in 1905 which provided a link to other WA groups in other Anglican Dioceses across Canada.

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Sepia photo of Charlotte Selina Cox Bompas

Charlotte Selina Cox Bompas

Old Log Church Museum

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


In response to Rev. Sim's appeal for assistance in the Yukon, Mr. T.F. Buxton promised the Church Missionary Society (CMS) an annual donation in return for establishing a mission at Forty Mile, located near the confluence of the Yukon and Fortymile Rivers. The CMS recruited Rev. John W. Ellington from England to start the mission. The son of missionary parents, Ellington was young and naïve and his connection with the North was brief and unhappy.

In March 1885, Ellington set out for Rampart House where Rev. Sim was to train him for the work in the Yukon. He had already left for Canada when word reached London of Sim's untimely death, but the CMS decided not to recall him.
Delayed one year while en route to the North, due to the Riel Rebellion, Ellington reached Fort Simpson (Northwest Territories) in August 1886. He spent the winter at the Fort learning the Tukudh language. Bishop Bompas was impressed with his quick grasp of the language and understanding of the scriptures. Bompas did not doubt the young man's suitability for mission work and ordained him as a deacon.

Ellington's first winter was spent with George C. Wallis at Rampart House where Read More
In response to Rev. Sim's appeal for assistance in the Yukon, Mr. T.F. Buxton promised the Church Missionary Society (CMS) an annual donation in return for establishing a mission at Forty Mile, located near the confluence of the Yukon and Fortymile Rivers. The CMS recruited Rev. John W. Ellington from England to start the mission. The son of missionary parents, Ellington was young and naïve and his connection with the North was brief and unhappy.

In March 1885, Ellington set out for Rampart House where Rev. Sim was to train him for the work in the Yukon. He had already left for Canada when word reached London of Sim's untimely death, but the CMS decided not to recall him.
Delayed one year while en route to the North, due to the Riel Rebellion, Ellington reached Fort Simpson (Northwest Territories) in August 1886. He spent the winter at the Fort learning the Tukudh language. Bishop Bompas was impressed with his quick grasp of the language and understanding of the scriptures. Bompas did not doubt the young man's suitability for mission work and ordained him as a deacon.

Ellington's first winter was spent with George C. Wallis at Rampart House where they shared the preaching and worked out a comfortable pattern of splitting the other chores. On August 3, 1887, Ellington left Rampart House and arrived at the community of Forty Mile. He decided to build Buxton Mission on an island by the town and enthusiastically began organizing the construction of the mission house.

Things were going well for Ellington. The two native bands in the area were responsive to his teachings and the mission house was nearing completion, however, the growing population of gold miners at Forty Mile proved to be too much for the inexperienced missionary. Humourless and quite incompatible with the irascible miners, Ellington was an easy target for their practical jokes. One prank had Ellington convinced he was holding a funeral for some unfortunate soul when in fact he was burying a coffin filled with rocks. To add to his misery, he had fallen into debt with the traders and his relationship with the natives had deteriorated. The native people claimed his speech was hard to understand and it is also possible they resented his tendency to perceive them as lazy.

Mr. J.E. McGrath of the Yukon River Boundary Survey, spent some time at Forty Mile. He is reported to have said that Ellington had never known anything of the world and that
"while he was a pious, zealous and conscientious man, he was almost as unfit to be left to himself in a wild country like this as a 12-year-old schoolboy would be."

Although the Church Missionary Society had cautioned Bompas not to let Ellington work alone, the Bishop was too short of staff to follow this advice. By June 1889, it was all too much for the man and his sanity began to give way. Overcome by loneliness and oppressed by a sense of failure, Ellington set off down the river intent on leaving the country. He stopped at Nuklakayet on the Yukon River to see the Reverend Canham who persuaded him to return to his post. Sadly, his mental state continued to deteriorate and a year later he was taken home to England. In those days, the science of psychiatry was limited. As a result, his family felt his condition was probably due to severe sunstroke. The doctor stationed at St. Michael on the Alaska coast diagnosed his affliction as "softening of the brain". Ellington was committed to an asylum in England where he died in 1902.

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Colour photo of a board labeled J.W.Ellington, Upper Yucon

Ellington used boards from his shipping crates to build the first rectory at Forty Mile.

Old Log Church Museum

1984.254
© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Identify a variety of reasons that led to the exploration of the Canadian North;
  • Identify the difficulties encountered when living in the Great North;
  • Explain the possible repercussions of those difficulties;
  • Analyze the relationships between Aboriginals and Europeans that led to many explorations;
  • Analyze the desire to spread the Christian faith in Canada and the results obtained, as well as the links and relationships that this created with indigenous peoples.

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans