St. Peter's Dynevor, The Original Indian Settlement of Western Canada
by Rev. T. C. B. Boon, B.A.
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 9, 1952-53 season
The name "Dynevor" is comparatively modern in relation to this place; it was acquired with the Post Office in 1876, as a change from the old name of St. Peter's. The name "St. Peter's" was bestowed upon the stone Church by Bishop David Anderson when he laid the foundation stone of it on 23rd May, 1853. From a time, certainly no later than 1836, the district was simply known as "The Indian Settlement," and it is under this name that from time to time, until about 1860, its progress and difficulties, its problems and achievements, are recorded in considerable detail in the Reports of The Church Missionary Society of London, England. It is during this same period that the Indian Settlement, or St. Peter's Parish, is most closely associated with well-known names in Red River history: Archdeacon William Cockran, Rev. John Smithurst, Archdeacon Abraham Cowley, and not least with that of Chief Peguis who was Christianly baptized William King.
Rev. John West and Chief Peguis
The association of the Church of England with Chief Peguis goes back a good deal farther than 1831. There are some interesting references to him in the Journal of Rev. John West, one of which may be quoted as having a lively interest in the present day for all who are concerned with the welfare of our Indian friends.
In June, 1822, Mr. West received mail from England which brought him the news from the Church Missionary Society "That a liberal provision had been made for a missionary establishment at the Red River, for the maintenance and education of native Indian Children". (It should be explained that that year Mr. West with John Halkett went to York Factory by way of Lake Manitoba and the Dauphin River, and that the ship which came in that summer to York Factory brought with it Miss Elizabeth Bowden-later to become Mrs. George Harbidge who was the first qualified lady teacher to come to Western Canada. The rest of this story may be quoted from Mr. West's Journal: )
Rev. William Cockran and the Indians
The name of William Cockran, first Archdeacon of Assiniboia, is so largely written across the history of the Red River valley, and his labours in connection with St. Andrew's and Portage la Prairie, are so widely known that it hardly seems necessary to say a great deal about him personally. Except that he and Mrs. Cockran arrived at the Red River on 4th October, 1825; that first of all he was assistant to Rev. David T. Jones at the Upper and Middle Churches, and that in 1829, after Mr. Jones had returned from England, Mr. and Mrs. Cockran moved to The Grand Rapids, now St. Andrew's, built their home there, and that the first St. Andrew's (or Lower) Church was opened and dedicated on 1st May, 1832.
In the same year (1831), however, in which Mr. Cockran began the building of this Lower Church his attention was drawn to the band of Salteaux and Swampy Cree Indians whose customary gathering place was at Netley Creek, some ten or twelve miles further down the river; whose Chief was the same Peguis who was the friend of Lord Selkirk and Rev. John West. He now tried to interest these rather miserable, wandering natives in a settled agricultural life, and assisted by a very hard winter in 1831-32, he succeeded in convincing some of them that such a life would give them more comfort and prosperity. His first efforts seem to have been made at Sugar Point, where the river stretches sharply to the east just above the present town of Selkirk, and a log schoolhouse was erected there which was taught by Mr. Joseph Cook. Mr. Cook was the son of William Hemmings Cook, a former Chief Factor of the Honourable Company, who was in charge of York Factory, in 1812, and later retired to the Red River Settlement. Joseph Cook devoted his life to the instruction and betterment of these particular Indians, and some dim recollections of him as a schoolmaster of a somewhat exacting type are still current among the older people of St. Peter's Parish. The tradition of working for and amongst the Indians was continued in his family: a son was Rev. Thomas Cook, long in charge of Fort Ellice; a daughter, was the mother of Archdeacon George McKay of Saskatchewan; and his grandson, Rev. Alfred Cook, now I believe 87 years of age and one of the oldest living graduates of the University of Manitoba is living a quiet, but by no means a retired life at Middle church.
About a year later the Sugar Point site was considered unsuitable, and the project was moved between three and four miles down the river, to a situation where a creek joins it on the east side, which has long been known as Cook's Creek. Here in 1836, sufficient progress had been made to build the first Church which was used until 1854, and here Mr. Cook and the school were located.
Rev. A. C. Garrioch, in his book "The Correction Line", gives the following account of Mr. Cockran's early labours amongst these Indians: "He took two men, a yoke of oxen and plough and harrows; and for a number of weeks he kept these and himself busy during five days of the week, returning on the Saturday to St. Andrew's to attend to the Sunday duties there, and getting back to work at St. Peter's on the Monday; and by working in this way, and by supplying seed as well as labour, he succeeded that year in converting seven Indians into little farmers-not very large results it is true; but followed up by Mr. Cockran's untiring energy, they proved the turning point for that band of Indians from a wandering to a settled mode of life. During the time he was initiating his protégés into the mysteries of agriculture he lived in his own tepee, a tent or lodge made of the dressed hides of deer or buffalo."
The summer was not favourable to the potato crop which was injured by a frost in August (1832), and discouraged the Indians just as they were beginning to enjoy the first fruits of their erratic and somewhat conscripted labours. The barley harvest which commenced September 3rd was more encouraging, and the seven farming Indians got good returns. Four of them at once commenced to feed all the Indians about two hundred-and in a few weeks the supply was exhausted. The other three were more prudent and made their barley pretty well last all through the winter. Encouraged by the success attending the first trial, fourteen Indians went in for farming in 1833, and after that the number steadily increased. It might be added that the above noted generosity is still somewhat typical of the older inhabitants of St. Peter's Parish, who are very open-handed with what they have today, as long as they have it, and think little about tomorrow or the day after.
Mr. Garrioch asserts that this move to Cook's Creek took place in 1834. The location of this first Church, and the other buildings which were in time erected close by it, was, I am told, on the south side and outside the present Churchyard. How the Church Missionary Society secured the rather charming picture of this property, which has often been reproduced, I do not know.
Some assistance in building this Church of 1836, was received from the natives themselves when they found Mr. Cockran was in earnest, but such was the enthusiasm that he engendered among the people of the Lower Church that many of them willingly trudged the twenty-six miles of the journey there and back in order to give their labour towards the building.
The work of promoting settlement was often slow, for it was hard to settle these wandering people down to the regular routine required by agriculture. This innate restlessness is still characteristic of their decendents, who are often here today, gone tomorrow and perhaps back again next week. Alexander Ross, in his book "The Red River Settlement" has given us what is perhaps the most striking pen-picture of Mr. Cockran at his work:
The senior representative of the Church Missionary Society in the Red River at this time was Rev. David Thomas Jones whose chief claim to fame is that he was the first to establish higher education in western Canada; whose claim to popularity lies in the fact that he tried to adjust the Church of England Services so that they would be to the liking of the Presbyterian settlers, thereby running the risk of incurring the displeasure of his Ordinary, the Bishop of London, who was some miles away in England; and against whom the chief point of criticism has always been that he never went beyond the limits of the Settlement. Not as robust a man, by any means, as Mr. Cockran, he probably found that his educational and ministerial labours were sufficient to engage all his time. He does, however, seem to have taken considerable interest in the Indian Settlement and to have visited it from time to time, and the news of his impending departure, in 1838, seems to have caused considerable anxiety there. On his way out from the Red River he stopped at the Indian Settlement on August 9th, and although it was a Thursday, a special service of farewell was held, and what happened is best recorded in Mr. Jones' own words:
This letter from Peguis to the Church Missionary Society is fairly well-known and has often been printed. It is unnecessary to quote it in full, but two paragraphs are quite worth repeating:
C.M.S. and Peguis' Letter
This appeal by Chief Peguis, and the natives of the Indian Settlement, was duly transmitted to the Church Missionary Society by Mr. Jones on his return to England in 1838, with the result that the Society entered into communication with the Hudson's Bay Company through Mr. Benjamin Harrison, then a prominent member of the Company's Committee, and Mr. Harrison attended a meeting of the Committee of the Society. Regarding this conference the Proceedings of the Society record:
The student was not specifically named, nor has yet been found the reply which was sent to Chief Peguis, but the Proceedings of the same year (1838-1839) give the following as being received by the Society:
Rev. John Smithurst
The missionary sent was Rev. John Smithurst, a student of the Church Missionary Society's Islington College, who was ordained Deacon by the Bishop of London at Christmas 1838, and a priest in the spring of 1839, possibly on Trinity Sunday, May 26th. He sailed on "The Prince Rupert" early in June, and reached York Factory on August 15th. The exact date of his arrival at the Red River is not known, and there seems to be some little confusion as to his exact status when he did reach there. On his way from York Factory he had learned that a house was being built for him at the Indian Village, and so on his arrival at the Red River he paid an official visit to the Governor (Duncan Finlayson) and his Diary says:
So eager was Mr. Smithurst to take up his work that he went direct to the Indian Settlement, refusing the hospitality offered by Mr. and Mrs. Cockran at the Lower Church until his own house was completed. He wished to be with the people of whom he had charge, and thought the house would advance faster with himself around.
In a note made some months later he has left one of the few descriptions we have of an early mission establishment.
Before November, Mr. Smithurst was already studying the Saulteaux language. Without any exact information I judge that he was about thirty-two years of age at this time, and he was evidently an experienced agriculturist. The only portrait we have of him was evidently taken in later life, and suggests a man in the true Georgian tradition of clergyman-farmer.
Rev. John Smithurst's Register
About fifteen years ago I had in my possession for sometime a Private Register of Births, Marriages and Burials which Mr. Smithurst had conducted during his ministry here. This he seems to have carried with him from the start, as the first Baptismal entries were evidently made at Norway House:
His first Baptisms at the Indian Settlement were all baby girls: Oct. 9 - Hannah, daughter of John and Hannah Ashman Oct. 13 - Maria, daughter of Robert and Eliza Stranger Nov. 24 - Betsy, daughter of Rich'd and Mary Flett Dec. 1 - Nancy, daughter of John and Jane Spence Dec. 25 - Margaret, daughter of Jacob and Jane Smith
These names are still current in St. Peter's and on the Peguis reserve at Hodgson. During the ministry of Mr. Smithurst, 324 Baptisms were recorded of which he took 323. 51 were adults, 127 were boys and 146 girls. The one he did not take was No. 287, on 25th December, 1849: "George, sone of George and Nancy Prince" which bears the honoured signature "D. Rupert's Land."
The section of this Register under "Burials" was opened on October 23rd, 1839, with that of John Mackie, aged about 30 years; it closes on 1st April, 1851, with that of Chloe Tate, aged 1 year. There are 188 entries altogether, and of these 79 of the interments were of children under five years of age, whilst only 13 were of people over sixty. Some of these entries are rather interesting: on 11th May, 1841, "Jane Johnstone, aged nearly 100 years"; on 23rd August, 1843, "John Cook (The Sky) about 60 years- he had been baptized on 27th June, 1841; 29th September, 1844, Aselik, a Canadian girl, aged 7 years; 24th February, 1848, Joseph Cook, aged about 60 years (the only occasion on which a funeral was conducted by another minister-Rev. Robert James of the Lower Church); 24th March, 1844, The White Bear, aged 80. This latter is of some interest, as according to Sheriff Inkster "The White Bear" came to the Red River from Cumberland House in the time of John West, because he heard authoritatively that Mr. West had brought with him a book containing the words of the Great Spirit, and wished to hear them himself.
Mr. Smithurst had to wait until 7th October, 1840, for his first Wedding, but it was a notable one: "William King (Pegowys) and "Victoria", and it seemed strange to note at the top of the next page and right opposite to it, the entry of the marriage of "Henry Prince" (the youngest son of the famous Chief) to "Sarah Badger." The chief witness to all the early weddings was Joseph Cook, who acted in that capacity at forty-two of them, the last on April 27th, 1847, thereafter the name of Thomas Cook, his son, later to be the S.P.G. missionary at Fort Ellice for many years (an unusual effort for that great Society in Western Canada) and later Incumbent of Westbourne. The arrival of the Right Reverend David Anderson in the Settlement in October, 1849, seems to have brought more definite order into the affairs of the Church, for on 13th December, in that year, is recorded both the first marriage by Banns (Joseph Badger and Harriet Smith), and the first by License (Samuel Tate and Sarah Bellentine), and after that most of the weddings took place by License.
The final pages of the Register are occupied by a Communicants' Roll and records of Christmas Communions. Beginning with 51 in 1839, the number rose to 79, in 1850. An interesting comment on the absence of a Bishop in these parts at that time is to be found in a sentence "Admitted by myself" written across the middle of the second page of entries.
Two other pages of this Register are worthy of note. In the summer of 1842, Mr. Smithurst visited the "Rivier du Pas" to consolidate the work already begun by the native Catechist, Henry Budd. On 26th, June, Mr. Smithurst took 86 Baptisms there, and on 27th June, married 13 couples. According to his Diary these Baptisms were preceded by an intensive examination, which beginning at 7.00 p.m. on the Saturday evening was only half-finished by midnight, and so was begun again at 7.00 the next morning and was not completed until 11.00 o'clock. The Actual Baptismal Service took place at 2.00 o'clock in the afternoon.
Mr. Smithurst's annual reports to the Church Missionary Society indicate the progress made both spiritually and materially. A few very brief extracts will be sufficient:
In his report for the same year, he says that at the Sunday morning Service, when the Prayers were in the Indian language, the attendance would be 250; on Wednesday evenings from 150 to 250. The Sunday School contained 184 scholars, and in addition there were evening lectures from Monday to Friday with an attendance of about 80. "Many Indians read the Bible fluently, and know the Church Catechism broken into short questions, can say the Collects for the whole year, together with a good part of the Thirty-Nine Articles. They converse in English with tolerable ease."
In 1842, a new and enlarged schoolroom was built at the Settlement, and a new School opened near Lower Fort Garry with 17 pupils, which seems to have been the initial step towards what has now become the Parish of St. Clements.
Bishop Mountain's Visit
The visit of Bishop George Jehoshaphat Mountain, of Montreal, to the Red River in the summer of 1844, is one of the most familiar of stories connected with the history of the Church, and reference is only made to it in so far as the Parish of St. Peter's is concerned. It will be remembered that the Bishop's party spent a strenuous and uncomfortable night in their effort to reach the Indian Settlement in time for Service on Sunday morning, June 23rd, and got there just as the bell was ringing. Coming out of the wilderness, Bishop Mountain suddenly found himself in the middle of civilization again. Mr. Smithhurst was waiting for him at the door of his house, his native parishioners gathering around him, the children coming with their books in their hands, all decently clothed from head to foot, and the Bishop noticed a repose and steadiness in the deportment of the people, which seemed to indicate a high and controlling influence upon their characters and their hearts. Nor did he find it unpleasant to hear one of his voyageurs remark to another "There are your Christian Indians: it would be well if all whites were as good as they are." There was a congregation of about 250 that morning, and the Bishop was greatly impressed with the native's demeanour and bearing, which could not have been more reverential and solemn. The Service was in English, the Lessons being translated into Cree by an interpreter. He was struck by the hybrid nature of the costumes, and comments in his Journal upon the universal wearing of moccasins in the Colony. But these people were a most agreeable contrast to the Indians he had met on his journey, who in spite of being physically fine people, presented a degrading picture in their dirty blankets, or dirtier dresses of worn and tattered hare-skin.
After Service the Bishop visited and addressed the Sunday School, then stayed during the pupils' examination, which consisted of reading the Bible, and questions from the Church Catechism and the Thirty-nine Articles. He has left us the following note: "I do confess that I was much disposed to question the profitableness of this last portion of the instruction and asked Mr. S. what the Indian youths would understand by Article 21 on the just subordination of General Councils to Sovereign Princes, but Mr. S. satisfied me on this point". The Indians were "quite delighted with the sermon, and said that it was not the first time their Chief Praying Father had preached to Indians, for he appeared to know so well what suited them." At the Indian Settlement the Bishop confirmed 204 candidates.
Mr. Smithurst returned to England in the summer of 1851. Before he left the West he gave some service as a Councillor of Assiniboia, being admitted as such at the same meeting as Bishop David Anderson (October 12th, 1849). From 1846 to 1848, he voluntarily acted as Chaplain to Colonel Crofton's troops stationed at the Lower Fort. It is said that the original road between the Lower Church and the Indian Settlement was constructed by members of the congregation of the Lower Church so that he might officiate there. And as I have from time to time traversed the parts of that road which remain, I have often wondered where he stabled the fine horse he is said to have ridden.
Upon Mr. Smithurst's departure, Mr. Cockran left his new house of St. Cross (at the north end of what is now St. John's Park), abandoned his scheme for training native Catechists there (Charles Pratt of Touchwood Hills and Qu'Appelle Valley fame was one of them; the others were Hebron More, Caleb Anderson and Edward McKay) and took up his residence at the Indian Settlement where he seems to have stayed most of the time, until he moved permanently to Portage la Prairie in 1857. He found the Church of 1836 now much too small, and apparently not in good repair. He wrote a letter, dated July 26th, 1852, to the Church Missionary Society which greatly impressed that body, not only by what it said, but because the members had a high estimate of the value of Mr. Cockran's experience and the soundness of his judgment. In this letter he outlined proposals for the construction of a new stone Church, "that might last a few generations." Boards, labour and cash had been promised, to be paid in three instalments within four years, and the subscription list amounting to £250 was attached though more would be wanted. The story of the two public meetings held to discuss the matter bears a striking resemblance to the story of the meetings at the Lower Church in 1844.
In the late fall of 1852, work was actually started. Eighty cords of stone were quarried in October and November at a point about eight miles away (which would seem to indicate the neighbourhood of Garson) and hauled to the site in January, February and March by the Indians themselves, who "made a comfortable subsistence at the price paid per cord". They also hauled 1686 bushels of lime, and an equal quantity of sand. To quote Mr. Cockran:
The work almost stopped, however, for want of funds. The Bishop had been generous and the Society now responded generously to Mr. Cockran's importunities:
Mr. Cockran had evidently felt the strain of what he had undertaken for in an earlier part of the same letter, which is dated August 4th, 1853, he says:
In spite of the difficulties he was experiencing with St. Peter's Church, in this same year of 1853, work was opened amongst the Salteaux on the Brokenhead River at the place now known as Scanterbury (a Centenary which was over-looked), and the first school-house built at Portage la Prairie and a congregation formed there. On 27th December, Bishop Anderson honoured his senior clergyman by making him the first Archdeacon of Assiniboia.
Rev. Abraham Cowley
Archdeacon Cockran's new and increasing interest in Portage la Prairie evidently indicated a need for assistance and probability of his moving to the west. In 1853-1854, he was assisted at St. Peter's by his prospective son-in-law Rev. Charles Hillyer. (Mr. Hillyer came to Rupert's Land as a Deacon in 1851, and much of his few years here seems to have been spent around the Touchwood Hills and Qu'Appelle valley in company with Charles Pratt.) A more noteworthy appointment was made however when the Bishop transferred Rev. Abraham and Mrs. Cowley from Fairford to St. Peter's in 1854, and according to the Minutes of the local Corresponding Committee of the C.M.S., Mr. Cowley accepted the responsibility of completing the Church. However in 1855-1856, the Cowleys took a well-earned furlough in England (during which time Archdeacon Cockran again acted as locum), but on returning in October, 1856, took up their residence in the Parish which was to be their home for the next thirty years.
Rev. Abraham Cowley was born at Fairford in Gloucestershire, on April 8th, 1816. He was the son of a local mason and received his education at Fairford Free School, where he was a pupil from 1821 to 1828. As a boy he came under the influence of the Vicar, the Rev. Canon F. Rice, who later succeeded to the Barony of Dynevor, a title derived from Dynevor Castle in Carmarthenshire, South Wales. Nothing is known of the intervening years, but he must have been quite young when he entered the C.M.S. College at Islington, where he was a contemporary of Archdeacon James Hunter. Nor is anything at present known of his marriage, but early in 1841, Mr. and Mrs. Cowley sailed to Canada and on March 7th, he was ordained Deacon by Bishop Mountain in Christ Church, Montreal, and then spent a brief curacy at Chatauguay River in the neighbourhood of Huttington, P.Q. Apparently it was the intention of the Cowleys to come west by canoe, but this could not be arranged and so they returned to England and then came to the Hudson's Bay on "The Prince Albert", and had for company a young lay-worker of the Society, Mr. J. Roberts, who for a year assisted Mr. Smithurst. They travelled from York Factory to Red River in company with young R. M. Ballentine, who records in his book "Hudson's Bay", his pleasure in being able to travel with them. For a year they lived at the Lower Church and Mr. Cowley assisted Mr. Cockran. In 1842, however, Mr. Cockran and Mr. Smithurst planned an extension of the work of the Church by the establishment of a mission station on the shores of Lake Manitoba, which was the home ground of a large band of Salteaux. Mr. Cowley made an exploratory trip there in May, 1842, and work was actually started in December under difficult weather conditions. The place chosen was on the Dauphin River and known as "Partridge Crop" to the Indians. Bishop Anderson, when he made his first episcopal visit there in 1851, changed the name to "Fairford", by which it has been since known. The work of the new mission was planned on the same lines as that of the Indian Settlement, but the Salteaux were less tractable and harder to convince. Mr. Cowley was ordained Priest at the Middle Church by Bishop Mountain on June 30th, 1844.
After 1856, the field in which the Church worked became considerably expanded, and little is to be found in the Church Missionary Society reports about the Indian Settlement, The Pas, Lac la Ronge and Fairford. Instead the centres of interest for the Society move eastward to Moose Factory, and north-west to Fort Yukon and increasingly the names of Cockran, Hunter and Cowley are replaced by Horden, Robert McDonald and later, William Carpenter Bompas. In the district of the Indian Settlement a new centre of local interest appeared at Sugar point, and this development took the direction of white work, not Indian. The beautiful Church at Mapleton, known as St. Clement's, was begun in 1860 and opened on the First Sunday in Advent, December 1st, 1861, by Bishop Anderson; and of it Abraham Cowley was the Incumbent. Some credit however in the preparation for this must be given to Rev. Charles Hillyer who conducted an afternoon Service in the School-house in 1853-54, the corresponding one at the Indian Settlement being taken by James Settee, then still an un-ordained Catechist; and also to Rev. E. A. Watkins, another son-inlaw of Archdeacon Cockran, who spent the winter of 1857-1858 at St. Clement's on his way from the shores of James Bay to The Pas. However in the summer of 1858, Mr. Cowley was provided with admirable and adequate assistance by the appointment of Rev. Henry Cochrane to St. Clement's.
Rev. Henry Cochrane
I have not been able to discover much of the early history of Henry Cochrane. The C.M.S. Record for 1858, states that he came from the neighbourhood of St. John's, whether he was "country-born," or as Archbishop Matheson stated at the time of the 1920 Centenary proceedings an "Indian Clergyman" cannot now be determined with certainty. He received part of his education at the Red River Academy under Rev. John Macallum, which most probably accounts for his beautiful hand-writing in our Registers. He spent some time as a school teacher at Moose Lake in the Cumberland District under Archdeacon Hunter, but was transferred to Fort Alexander in the summer of 1856. How he received his training for Holy Orders we do not know, but the proceedings of the local C.M.S. Corresponding Committee for 26th May, 1858, record that he was examined then to the satisfaction of the Committee, and he was ordained in St. John's Cathedral on August 1st that year, and ordained Priest in St. Andrew's Church on December 27th, 1859. He spent seven years at least at St. Clement's to the great satisfaction of the residents, who expressed it in the form of a Testimonial (signed by 28 of them) when he left to take temporary charge of Holy Trinity Church at Headingley in 1864.
Mr. Cochrane remained at Headingley until 1867, but in the meantime great changes had taken place. Bishop Machray had come; Archdeacon Hunter had returned permanently to England. Mr. Cowley had become Superintendent of the C.M.S. Missions throughout the undivided Diocese, and in 1865, had been made Archdeacon of Cumberland. In 1867, Mr. Cochrane returned to St. Peter's, this time as Incumbent, and there he remained until 1874, when he was moved to the Devon Mission at The Pas. His wife, Elizabeth, was a daughter of Rev. Henry Budd, and there is a sad memorial of their years at St. Peter's in a group of monuments directly behind the great East Window. Five of their children are buried there, the eldest boy, David Thomas, little more than six years old, the rest are all younger. Beyond 1880, when he was still at The Pas, there is at present no record of him. The Proceedings of the First Synod of Rupert's Land, in 1869, describe him as Chaplain to the Bishop, and at the Opening Service of the one in 1873, he read the Prayers to the end of the Third Collect. Archbiship Matheson on more than one occasion told me of the eloquence of Henry Cochrane, his wonderful voice and magnificent command of the English language.
Mr. Cochrane's successor was Rev. John Alexander MacKay, who spent the year 1874-1875 at St. Peter's in between his appointments at Stanley on the Churchill River and Battleford. John Alexander Mackay, however, belongs to the Diocese of Saskatchewan, of which he was the first Archdeacon, not to St. Peter's.
Rev. Gilbert Cook was at St. Peter's from 1875 to 1880, one of the very early graduates from the re-organized St. John's College of 1886. He was ordained Deacon in 1868 and Priest in 1869 by Bishop Machray. His main work, however was on the west side of Lake Manitoba where he spent 17 years in the ministry.
Rev. Benjamin Mackenzie came to St. Peter's in 1877, as Curate when he was still a Deacon, and after the removal of the Rev. Gilbert Cook remained as Rector till 1890. His personal story is interesting because it touches both the Hudson's Bay Company and the Church. Benjamin Mackenzie was born at Fort Vancouver, on September 13th, 1837. His father, who was accountant at the Fort, died shortly after and his mother took him across the mountains to Isle a la Crosse where his grandfather, Roderick Mackenzie, was Chief Factor. His aunt, Jane Mackenzie, was the last lady teacher under the Rev. John Macallum at the old Red River Academy; when she came there in 1846, she brought Benjamin with her. Benjamin Mackenzie, himself, in due course, became a Scholar of the College, as his elder brother Colin Campbell Mackenzie had been, and after that devoted his life to mastering school until he was ordained at the age of 39. I believe he lived until the 1930s and some of his children are still living in the Red River Valley.
Rev. John George Anderson. The time is not yet ripe to elaborate upon the career of the Rev. John George Anderson who began his ministerial work in Lac Seul, in 1889, and ended it as Archbishop of Moosonee and Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario. He spent 19 years as Incumbent of St. Peter's (1890-1909), the longest incumbency ever held there, and his elevation to the episcopate has been a source of pride to the parish ever since. When one hears of Bishop Anderson in St. Peter's it is to be understood that the reference is not to our own first Bishop, David Anderson, benefactor as he was to the parish and a true Father in God to the Indians, but to the later Right Reverend John George Anderson. He was the last incumbent whilst the Settlement was actually a Reserve, and so his day is still looked upon by the older people as the Golden Age.
Old St. Peter's Church
St. Peter's alone of the stone Red River Churches has a Chancel. This is 25 feet wide by 15 feet long, and contains a stained-glass window which is said to be a memorial to Archdeacon Cowley. This Chancel certainly did not belong to the original Church, and I have not yet been able to find out when it was added. The story is that originally the south side of the Churchyard was bounded by a stone wall; that this wall was taken down and the Chancel built with the materials. It adds much to the interior appearance and usefulness of the Church. Neither did the original Church have a bell-turret or porch on the west front. These were added subsequently, but we have no record of when the work was done. The bell-turret contains two bells; the large one by Mears of London, England, is dated 1850; the smaller one, which was made by Taylors of Loughborough, England, bears the date 1857. These bells have a singularly good tone, especially the smaller one, and to hear them ringing produces a sense of charm. The Church itself seems to have been opened sometime in 1854 and has been in continuous use ever since: hand-hewn timbers may be seen in the lower part of the belfry and the windows are conspicuous for their intricate design. There is a fine pulpit, and the Prayer Desk on the south side is of the same pattern as that in St. Andrew's, and like it, faces the congregation. A stone Font is rather peculiarly, but permanently fixed in the middle of one of the Chancel steps. Curiously enough, too, the Church was not consecrated until June 18th, 1886, when it had been in use for more than thirty years. All the furnishings from the original Church of 1836 were taken to Portage la Prairie to furnish the first St. Mary's Church there.
The most prominent monument in the Churchyard is the one to Chief Peguis. He died in 1864, and was buried on September 28th. The entry in the Register is No. 461 and reads "William King, alias Pegowys, Chief of the Red River Indians." Age: "about 90 years". The funeral was conducted by Archdeacon James Hunter and the Rev. Abraham Cowley. Others of his family are buried there too, though the graves are now hard to identify. Amongst them is that of little William George Prince, who was the boy given to Rev. William Cockran by Peguis when work at the Indian Settlement was first begun. This boy's New Testament, which was given to him by Mr. Cockran, is in our Archives.
Archdeacon Cowley: Dynevor Hospital
Archdeacon Cowley died on September 11th, 1887, when he was little more than 71 years of age. He is buried in St. Peter's Churchyard on the north side of the West Door, a position which seems almost a reflection of that of the grave of Archdeacon Cockran at St. Andrew's, who was his great friend. He spent more than forty-six years in missionary work in this country, twenty-two of them as a very active Archdeacon.. The old stone house on the west side of the River, into which he moved on August 19th, 1865, is still with us and now forms part of Dynevor Hospital. This house was quite probably the work of Duncan McRae, the Stornaway mason who came out in 1838 to work on the Lower Fort.
After the death of Archdeacon Cowley the house, which was the property then of the Church Missionary Society, stood empty for a while and in 1891, the local Corresponding Committee decided to dispose of it, and in fact did make a deal with a Mr. McNabb, but the deal fell through. On 14th September, 1892, Archdeacon Robert Phair, who had succeeded Archdeacon Cowley as Superintendent of the C.M.S. Missions, came forward with the idea of turning the house into a Hospital for the benefit of the Indians, and negotiations were opened up with the Society for its purchase for this purpose. These took a considerable time, but the Hospital was opened on March 13th, 1896, largely through the generous co-operation of the Diocesan Branches of the Woman's Auxiliary to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada, later on it came under the management of the Diocesan Board of Rupert's Land. In time this hospital was extended to its present size and provided not only for the care of regular cases, but also for the care of the very old. It was a sheet-anchor to the work of the Church in the district until its transfer to the Government in 1940. It has since been converted into a modern T.B. Sanatorium for Treaty Indians and Eskimos over a large area of Northern Manitoba, Northwest Ontario and the Hudson's Bay regions. The Church still tries to take a friendly interest in the welfare of the patients, but as an institution it has lost much of its parochial interest.
1909 and After
The past forty years or so have seen great changes in the Parish of St. Peter's. Curiously enough, the dividing line almost coincides with the removal of the Rev. John George Anderson to the larger sphere of Moosonee. In 1908, the Dominion Government arranged to close St. Peter's Parish as an Indian Reserve and to open the new Peguis Reserve which is north of Hodgson, Manitoba. Bishop Anderson's successors in the incumbency of the Parish have not had an easy time. Rev. Louis LaRonde, the Venerable Archdeacon Scott, Rev. Alfred Cook, Mr. William Tinney, Rev. W. A. Walker and Rev. George Gillespie (to go down to 1940) were constantly confronted by changing circumstances. We have amongst our Parish Records a priceless possession in the form of a Vestry Book which contains the entries of every Service held in the Parish from June 10th, 1886, to December 29th, 1939 - a period of 53 years. Here the story of removal and change is written in the numbers attending Services. Comparatively few of the descendants of the people of Peguis now remain in the district, and there is only one farm of any size which is held by one of them. Nearly all the land, particularly on the east side of the Red River, has passed into the hands of new Canadians.
There still remain, however, many of the log houses which are typical of this part of the country. They vary in size, but not in pattern. Where properly looked after they are cool in summer and rather snug in winter-time. Usually in the shelter of a small bluff of poplar bush, they are best seen when passing down the river itself; for fishing is still one of the major occupations of these people, and it is handy to be on the river-bank when you are a fisherman.
The old stone Church now stands in the solitude of its ancient grave-yard, there are no buildings within at least a mile of it, but it is still a stately and picturesque building, especially as seen from the river itself. The old Trindall Chapel down by West Hoey School has long since disappeared, and the old West Chapel, not far from where the Ferry used to be, was replaced in 1939 by the present beautiful little St. George's' Church at Peguis. When the Hospital changed hands a new little St. Peter's Church was built on the west side of the river, almost where for many years Services were held in a Schoolhouse. We still use the old stone Church on the first Sunday in each month in the summer time, and of course for Burial Services.
It is interesting to look through the old Registers and find names more than a hundred years back which are still familiar in the district today, and there is much in the history of the Parish which I have not been able to touch, which I am sure would be worth further investigation. As long as the old Church stands it will continue to remind us of past days, and it has at least fulfilled the wish of its builder, Rev. William Cockran, that "it might last a few generations".
Page revised: 18 October 2011Back to top of page