Normal 0 false false false Read More

Sarah Ann "Sadie" Alexander was born near the small community of Lucan, Biddulph Township in Ontario on April 8, 1869. During her childhood, she moved with her family to nearby Kincardine. Here she met Isaac Stringer while attending high school and their friendship blossomed.


Following graduation and unofficially engaged, Sadie and Isaac pursued their own interests. Sadie persuaded her parents to allow her to attend Barker’s Shorthand School in Toronto, while Isaac studied theology at Wycliffe College, an affiliate of the University of Toronto.

After completing her business courses, Sadie accepted employment with a Toronto law firm. Before long, she was offered a stenographer position with a New York firm, quite something for a young woman of her time.


Isaac, on the other hand, answered the Anglican Church’s call for missionaries to go work among the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic and he left Toronto for the North in 1892.


Later, he returned on furlough to discuss their future together. He encouraged Sadie to forego her New York career and return to Toronto for medical training in preparation for her new life in the North. She enrolled in nursing classes at Grace Hospital and attended courses at the Deaconess Training School. Although she never indicated any misgivings, it must have been a difficult decision to abandon her independence and fashionable New York City for a life with Isaac on the northern frontier.


On March 10, 1896, Sadie and Isaac were married in Kingarf, Ontario. Two months later, the newlyweds set off on the long trip to the North. Sadie was 24 years of age and Isaac was 29 years of age.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Read More

After four months of travel and various stops at missions along the way, the Stringers reached Herschel Island. Sadie recorded her impressions of the tiny Island -


"…as we neared our destination the grey mournful sea became studded with floating ice. On the horizon lay the hump of island, naked of trees and rocky of surface, its grey beach broken only by a few rough buildings that belonged to the American whaling company" ……"we threaded our way through the floating ice, across the black waters as the late evening sun glinted on the peaks of the mountains on the mainland to the south. Soon we reached the land - rolling uninviting hills clothed in coarse grasses, mosses and lichens with the occasional bright tangle of poppies, forget-me-nots, monkshood, and high-bush cranberry."


On his previous visit to Herschel Island, Isaac had purchased a small sod hut from a native man in exchange for 25 skins. The Stringers lived here for one month. Sadie described their first Herschel Island home which was devoid of ordinary comforts -


"It was primitive enough, with wild grasses sprouting from the roof, but it offered us protection against the gales and sudden blizzards that, even in the brief two months of summer, spring up without warning in this forlorn land."


The Stringers returned to Fort McPherson for the winter and Sadie gave birth to her first child, Rowena Victoria. She recalled the baby’s birth -


"My husband, who had had some medical training, was my only attendant. I was tough and healthy and didn’t worry and the little girl’s birth seemed a happy omen."


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Video of Iceberg movement

Iceberg movement , 16mm film.

Shot by Bishop Stringer
Glenbow Archives (F 88)
c. 1927
© Glenbow Archives


Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Read More

The Stringers returned to Herschel Island the spring of 1897. They established a home in the Pacific Steam Whaling Company warehouse. They lived in two rooms in the back of the building. The larger room served as the church, school, and first-aid centre. The smaller room served as the kitchen, communal bedroom, and parlour.


Their living quarters were made comfortable by the addition of their personal belongings. These included an eight-day clock, a rag carpet, a large writing desk, a sewing machine, and a small portable organ. Sadie had arranged for these possessions to be transported from Ontario by rail, boat, ox cart, and steamer.


"We slept in bunks covered with deerskin; we dressed in clothes made of caribou hide and trimmed with wolverine fur; we lived on caribou, moose, mountain sheep, seal, duck, goose and the occasional dry groceries that I bought once a year on a shopping trip to Fort McPherson."


Sadie was creative in her approach to housekeeping. In their first home, the sod hut, she made curtains from the Swiss muslin of her wedding dress. Cooking and baking in her converted whaling warehouse home meant using an oven made from biscuit tins, a rolling pin from a whiskey bottle, and a cookie cutter from the lid of a cocoa tin. She became very adept at roasting such delicacies as moose nose, caribou tongue, and beaver tail in the oven. She found that bread baked in large quantities and frozen while still hot kept indefinitely and tasted like fresh baked bread when thawed. Meat was stored in frozen blocks that were chopped apart with an axe. The water supply was 2 miles away from their home and was stacked in frozen chunks by the back door.


At the time of the Stringers’ first winter there, Herschel Island boasted a population of over 100 Inuvialuit and about 50 whalers. Sadie taught 30 Inuvialuit adults and children at a day school and held evening classes for the whalers. The most popular subject among the latter was shorthand. Four of her students quit whaling and obtained clerical jobs upon their return south.


During their third year on the Island, Sadie gave birth to Frederick Herschel, their first son. Once again, only Isaac attended the birth.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white photo of The Stringer's Home

The interior of the Stringer's home on Herschel Island

Anglican Church Collection, Yukon Archives

89/41 #102
© Anglican Church Collection, Yukon Archives


Black and white photo of The Stringer's Home

The interior of the Stringer's home on Herschel Island

Anglican Church Collection, Yukon Archives

89/41 #250
© Anglican Church Collection, Yukon Archives


Isaac was often away for several months at a time visiting the Inuvialuit and whaling ships at Baillie Island and places in between. Sadie was left alone with her Uncle, William Young, a lay reader, who had joined them to help with the mission, and 2 young children. She often felt the isolation of Herschel Island. There were no other white women to converse with and the mail, the only source of contact with the outside world, was delivered twice a year. On one occasion, the native boy hired to carry the mail from Fort McPherson to Herschel Island, found it too heavy and thinking the bigger items of greater importance, cached the smaller items. As Sadie recalled,

"He arrived at Herschel Island and delivered what he had. Imagine the disappointment! He had cached the letters from home and friends and arrived with the advertising circulars, papers, and similar literature. The cached letters did not arrive until the next half yearly mail."
Isaac was often away for several months at a time visiting the Inuvialuit and whaling ships at Baillie Island and places in between. Sadie was left alone with her Uncle, William Young, a lay reader, who had joined them to help with the mission, and 2 young children. She often felt the isolation of Herschel Island. There were no other white women to converse with and the mail, the only source of contact with the outside world, was delivered twice a year. On one occasion, the native boy hired to carry the mail from Fort McPherson to Herschel Island, found it too heavy and thinking the bigger items of greater importance, cached the smaller items. As Sadie recalled,

"He arrived at Herschel Island and delivered what he had. Imagine the disappointment! He had cached the letters from home and friends and arrived with the advertising circulars, papers, and similar literature. The cached letters did not arrive until the next half yearly mail."

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Read More

Sadie worked alongside her husband assisting with minor surgery, attending to the gravely ill, acting as a social worker when the need arose, and teaching the Gospel to the natives and whalers. Isaac eventually translated the Lord’s Prayer, Grace Before Meat, the Ten Commandments, many texts of scripture, and twenty hymns into the native tongue. Sadie proudly noted these accomplishments -


"Before we left the island we were able to bequeath the tribe a small library. We typed and mimeographed each page ourselves and bound the result in oilcloth wrappers stitched on my sewing machine."


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Read More

The Stringers left Herschel Island on August 17, 1901, four years after their arrival. They boarded the whaling ship Narwhal and embarked on a brutal 3 month trip. Reaching San Francisco on November 5, Sadie recalled feeling the ravage of time in her modern surroundings -


"As I walked down the gangplank I could feel the stares of the women on the dockside boring clean through me. It was a little while before I divined the reason: I had left Toronto five years before in the days when big sleeves and wide skirts were in fashion. Now all the skirts were straight up and down and I looked like a quaint creature from the past, which, in many ways I suppose I was. For the first time I realized how long we had been away from civilization."


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white photo of a trio of Whaling Ships

The Narwhal centre, Beluga right and Thrasher left.

Anglican Church Collection, Yukon Archives

78/67 #105
© Anglican Church Collection, Yukon Archives


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