Manitoba Historical Society
     Keeping history alive for over 144 years

Centenary of the Departure of Bishop David Anderson from the Red River in 1864

by T. C. B. Boon

Manitoba Pageant, January 1964, Volume 9, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

Please direct inquiries to

Help us keep
history alive!

Bishop Anderson had arrived at Lower Fort Garry from England on October 3, 1849, after a journey of seventeen weeks by sea and canoe; he was then little more than thirty-five years of age, a widower who brought with him three young sons, and was accompanied by his sister, Margaret. He found his work lay in a vast territory extending from the height of land on the east side of Hudson Bay to the shores of the Arctic and borders of Alaska in the northwest; the only means of communication the canoe in summer and dog-sled in winter, except locally, where horse-back, waggon or cariole were possible. The work of the Anglican Church in 1849 was concentrated at four points along the Red River itself, and at Fairford, The Pas and Lac la Ronge. There only five clergy; William Cockran ministering to the Upper and Middle Churches, Robert James at what is now known as St. Andrew's, John Smithurst at the Indian Settlement (St. Peter's), Abraham Cowley at Fairford and James Hunter at The Pas, a roving catechist, James Settee, was at Lac la Ronge and another native Cree, Henry Budd was assisting at The Pas. Of actual churches there were few, the old Upper Church, located in what is now St. John's Cathedral Churchyard, was almost derelict, its walls propped up with timbers; the new stone church, well-known to us as St. Andrew's, was barely completed and still unfurnished; the Middle Church was at the moment the largest and best (built in 1844, it was demolished about 1868), the one at the Indian Settlement north of Selkirk beginning to deteriorate; a new church was in course of erection at The Pas. The most immediate problem which faced the new Bishop was the continuance, or not, of Red River Academy - the one residential school in western Canada which, for sixteen years, had provided a first class education for the sons and daughters of the Hudson's Bay Company's `commissioned gentle-men'. Feeling impelled to assume responsibility for it, he moved with his family into one wing of the building, and the higher educational life in the Red River valley went on. The parochial schools (as we called them later) were no trouble; they were satisfactorily staffed, and chiefly financed by the Church Missionary Society of London, England.

When Bishop Anderson left the Red River in 1864, there were twenty-two clergy in his diocese, nine of whom were working in the part of Manitoba now in the present diocese of Rupert's Land. The other clergy were at far distant points; Moose Factory, Albany, York Factory, Churchill, The Pas and Nepowewin on the Saskatchewan, Stanley on the Churchill, Fort Simpson on the Mackenzie, Fort Yukon in Alaska, Fort Ellice at the edge of the great prairies of the west. One clergyman, James Settee, was serving in the Swan River district; and young Robert Phair was trying to penetrate the Ojibway country between Fort Alexander and Rainy River. Of new churches built in Bishop Anderson's episcopate, five survive: that of Stanley on the Churchill River is treasured as the oldest church in the Province of Saskatchewan. St. Clement's, Mapleton, St. Anne's, Poplar Point and St. Peter's have been in continuous use; old St. James, hidden amongst the trees on the banks of the Assiniboine, remains an almost unheeded relic of the past. The Red River Academy faded out in a few years, leaving the name and motto ("In Thy light shall we see light"), which David Anderson gave it, to live again in a refounded St. John's College, part of the University of Manitoba.

Bishop Anderson was a scholar of some reputation in classics and mathematics at his Oxford College, Exeter, and had spent much of his ministry in the training of others who desired to be ordained. He was an admirable teacher: from his pupils at Red River, Colin Campbell McKenzie went on to Cambridge and James Ross to Toronto, both took Honours Degrees; Robert McDonald, in his forty years amongst the Loucheux, reduced their difficult language to script and translated the Bible, Prayer Book and Hymns for them; John Alexander MacKay, lived sixty years with the Crees and Chipewyans of northern Saskatchewan and spent six summers (1903-09) revising the text of the Bible in Cree Syllabics, edited by William Mason, which had first appeared in 1862 through the personal interest and efforts of Bishop Anderson himself.

One hundred years ago, literary reading groups were popular at Red River; one such met at Bishopscourt, of which John Black of Kildonan was a member. Bishop Anderson's sermons and addresses contain many apposite quotations, and his account of his journey to Moose Factory in 1852 (published as The Net in the Bay) also shows, not only the extent of his reading, but his deep interest in Nature. He was the president of the Institute of Rupert's Land, the first scientific and literary society organized west of the Great Lakes.

The same small book indicates his love for music - he greatly enjoyed part singing - and his taste for the outdoors; he was a good horseman and swimmer, and seems to have enjoyed the long journeys which he took under still primitive conditions. He was a friendly man; he was welcome in the Indian's tent, the fur trader's post and around the camp fire, equally as well as in the mission house. The boys of his school loved him - his easy rule was a contrast to the severe methods of his predecessor, John Macallum, for he led, rather than forced them, to achievement. James Ross wrote frankly to him from Toronto, Benjamin McKenzie affectionately of him in his own memoirs and the late Archbishop S. P. Matheson never forget the touch of the Bishop's hands on his head, when, as a small boy, he received his first prize in the old Middle Church parochial school.

David Anderson was a man of his Age, a different Age to this one of ours. He did a great work here, and should not be forgotten.

Page revised: 1 July 2009

MHS YouTube Channel

Back to top of page

For queries on the above page, please contact the MHS Webmaster.

Home  |  Terms & Conditions  |  FAQ  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy  |  Donations

© 1998-2023 Manitoba Historical Society. All rights reserved.