The Northern Missionaries - Bishop Stringer - The Bishop who ate his Boots

William Kirkby  |  Robert McDonald  |  William Bompas  |  J.W. Ellington  |  Isaac & Sadie Stringer

Isaac & Sadie Stringer
(1866-1934, 1869-1955)

Isaac Stringer was born on April 19, 1866, in Kingarf, Ontario, located 10 miles from Kincardine in Bruce County. He was a good student and was encouraged to pursue higher education. In 1888, he began courses at the University of Toronto and Wycliffe College, the Anglican Divinity School, studying the arts and theology.

In early 1892, the Bishop of the Mackenzie Diocese, William Day Reeve, addressed the Wycliffe students about the need for missionaries to go to the Arctic to work with the native people there. Stringer was very intrigued with the idea, but had some misgivings about the distance and isolation that he would endure. His father initially refused to support him, but time was running out and Stringer had to make a decision before Bishop Reeve left for England. Eventually as he stated in his diary, "The way seemed plain to me and so I decided to go." He accepted the posting on February 17.

A missionary in the isolated North was more than a teacher; he was also expected to be a doctor, dentist, druggist, and social worker to the people. Consequently, during his last term, Stringer was excused from his theological classes and took courses in dentistry, obstetrics, and minor surgery in preparation for his position. Isaac recorded his progress -

"As a special Easter Day celebration I pulled a tooth for my father."

Events moved quickly. On May 15, 1892, Stringer was ordained and the next day departed for the North. He arrived at Fort McPherson on the Peel River in the Northwest Territories after a journey that lasted 60 days and included travel by train, ox cart, foot, scows, and steamers. Meeting the boat was Archdeacon McDonald, a veteran of 30 years service in the Arctic. McDonald greeted Stringer warmly and introduced him to missionary life.

Isaac Stringer had left Ontario with an "understanding" that he would marry Sarah Ann "Sadie" Alexander, a friend from high school. In his letters home he encouraged her to prepare for life in the North. Sadie took his advice and enrolled in nursing courses at Grace Hospital in Toronto and attended the Deaconess Training School.

On March 10, 1896, Isaac and Sadie were married. Two months later, they set off together on the long trip north. As Sadie remembered,

"…both of us were burning with a missionary zeal laced by a sense of adventure on the far side of the cold horizon."

That summer, the Stringers spent 3 weeks on Herschel Island and then returned to Fort McPherson for the winter. In December 1896, Sadie gave birth to Rowena Victoria, the first of five children. In the spring of 1897, they returned to Herschel Island and set up a mission and remained here until 1901.

In 1905, Isaac Stringer was consecrated second Bishop of Selkirk (Yukon) and the Stringers relocated to Dawson City, the jurisdictional See. In his new position, Stringer travelled his vast Diocese visiting the scattered parishes. On many occasions he would return to his beloved Herschel Island where his missionary career began.

On September 1, 1931, Isaac was elected Archbishop of Rupert's Land and the Stringers moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was with a heavy heart, Isaac accepted his new position and said goodbye to friends he and Sadie had made during more than a quarter century of service in the Yukon Diocese. His strong attachment to the Yukon is recorded in his diary -

"When everything was considered it did not seem right to refuse to accept the position. It has taken some time to get accustomed to the new outlook. I shall not cease for a long time to think in terms of Yukon. The change from Yukon to Rupert's Land means a very serious break with the past. It will not be an easy matter to leave Yukon. Looked at in almost every respect it means saying good-bye to a work and a people that have become a part of my life."

The last few years of Stringer's life were difficult ones. Plagued by re-occurring illness and worried about the church's financial losses due to embezzlement by a trusted law firm, Isaac Stringer's health was compromised. Sadly, he died of heart failure on October 30, 1934.

Archbishop Owen spoke simply and sincerely of the death of Isaac Stringer -

"A great soul has been taken from us - great in simple goodness…strong in quality and without guile. He was utterly genuine. Over the vast area of Canada there are tears of sorrow shed today. There is lamentation on the banks of the great rivers of the north, in the scattered communities of the Arctic Sea,…in the solitary tent and in the miner's hut, in the trapper's camp, for the one they called the Bishop is dead. Their companion, their father, their friend of 10, 20, 30 years has gone from them."

Old Log Church Museum 2002