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

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


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