Sir John Franklin passed through The Pas in 1819, journeying up the
Saskatchewan and eventually descended the Coppermine River into the Arctic in search of the Northwest
Passage. On his return to England three years later he urged the Church Missionary Society in London
to send a missionary to the Indians of The Pas and Cumberland House area.
As a result of this recommendation Henry Budd, an Indian protege of the Rev. John West of Rupert's Land, and first Cree convert, was sent in June, 1840, from the Red River Settlement to do Christian work among the natives of The Pas. Two years later an ordained clergyman, the Rev. John Smithhurst, visited the Mission and baptized eighty-seven persons. Construction of a church was commenced in 1847, and some men of Sir John Richardson's relief party in search of the Franklin Expedition lost in 1845, who were wintering at Cumberland House, assisted the missionary, the Rev. James Hunter, with building the church and making furniture.
One could not be long in The Pas realizing that the community was proud of its historical background. This was especially true of Christ Church members. In order to become familiar as rapidly as possible with its history I undertook to publish an historical sketch of Christ Church. To this end I collected material during my first year there from local and Diocesan records and from the Church Missionary Society in London, England, and had five hundred copies of a booklet printed by the local daily paper office. It found sale amongst local residents and tourists who visited the church.
This booklet has recently been revised by the Rev. T. C. Boon, Winnipeg Archivist for the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert's Land. Mr. Boon proves beyond doubt the tradition that two ship's carpenters of Sir John Richardson's party at Cumberland House, James McLaren and Robert Mackie, helped Archdeacon James Hunter to build the first church. He dismisses as unfounded legend the story that the Rev. John Smithurst and Florence Nightingale were lovers, who did not marry because of a supposed cousin relationship.
Some salient points in my historical sketch were to the effect that Henry Budd who was ordained at Red River had charge of Christ Church at different times before his death which occurred in 1875. He was buried in the cemetery beside the old church. A white marble slab surmounted by a Celtic Cross marked the grave of the first Indian Clergyman of Rupert's Land and Founder of Devon Mission and Christ Church, The Pas. The stone was lovingly restored and re-set upon a concrete base by a descendent of Henry Budd in 1930. In June 1919, under the Rev. William Brailsford, Christ Church became the property of a white congregation and the Indians withdrew across the River where they built new churches, Devon Mission.
In 1896 a new Christ Church was built by the Rev. John Hines and it still serves the congregation. The old furniture was moved into this building. The
pews have high ends with tops of fleur de lis pattern. On the back of one pew at the rear of the
nave can be seen the Indian novel method of keeping track of the days of the week. This consists of
a series of strokes and x's, - six strokes for week days and x for Sundays.
A true daughter of the Empire, Ann Hunter, wife of the man who built the Christ Church, Archdeacon James Hunter, ventured into the wilderness, the first white woman ever to make her home in The Pas area. A marble tablet recovered from the old church and now fixed to the wall of the present edifice, records her death on the 20th day of November, 1847 at the age of thirty-two. It bears this further touching legend; "Also their two infants who are buried in a vault with their mother." I have often seen visitors bow their heads reverently on reading these grief-laden words.
One day I witnessed the arrival by airplane of an Indian mother from the North, and her baby not only airborne but also airborn! The patients were rushed away by ambulance to the town's modern hospital. The plane had landed on the river within a few rods of where Ann Hunter had lived and died eighty four years previously.
Arrival of the railway from Hudson Bay Junction and the inception of the lumbering industry altered the whole aspect of The Pas which was incorporated as a town in 1912. It celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1962. Derivation of the town's name has been variously traced and it will probably never be settled to everyone's satisfaction.
One explanation claims the word is French and should read Le Pas - the step. It is also said to be connected with one Dupas, a companion of La Verendrye. Still another theory is that the name is an abbreviation of the Indian word Pas-qua-ow, which means "water converging to a narrows with high land and spruce trees on either side." In the Cockney, "Ye tikes yer chiece".
It was to this town "North of Fifty-three" that the Greenes moved from Sutherland in October, 1929. The church and large rectory stood on the south bank of the broad Saskatchewan River. Spruce forests formed the background on three sides of the town. The Roman Catholic Cathedral and Convent were a few blocks down the stream. At six o'clock every morning, long before daylight, a Trinity peal rang out from the Cathedral followed by a steady ringing of the bells.
At the first toll, Indian dogs tethered in the bush beside their owners' homes on the Reserve commenced their weird howling. Other groups of dogs along the riverbank joined in the discordant wail. When those opposite our home added their protest to the man-made music, our frightened children, unaccustomed to the strange husky pandemonium awoke and began to scream. We got to know how many seconds would elapse after the Cathedral bell rang before our children would be crying.
Not long after settling into the work at The Pas I made the first of many trips by mixed train to the new smelter town of Flin
Flon which was then under construction. We detrained at end of steel and walked over a rocky trail
to the townsite. There was one principal street which wandered amongst rocks and over muskeg bogs.
It was skirted at each side with three-plank walks and drainage ditches. Construction gangs were
laying foundations for smelter and concentrator. They were housed in large bunkhouses, and ate in a
community dining hall. I found the same kind of accommodation and held a service in a recreational
hall on Sunday evening.
We could not get into the hall to prepare it for the planned Thanksgiving Service until six o'clock as carpenters were busy working. Decorations utilized eventually, consisted mainly of ore samples - the miners' harvest. While the Service was taking place there was a boxing bout staged in another room and a poker game in yet another cell. Before I had finished packing up my robes the crowd was barging in to start the dance.
Mining was a new interest to me. One day I paid a visit to the mine shaft. It was surrounded by an angular tower. I knocked at a rough portal, "May I come in?" "Yeh sure". Inside was gloomy and there was little to see; a narrow gauge railway leading to a dump outside; a square shaft cribbed with rough lumber; overhead, a pulley from which a steel cable dangled into darkness. "One man walked down there last year. He's come up dead".
The attendant allowed that to sink in and then proceeded with guide-like skill to describe the works.
"You see that lake out there, the best ore lies under it. They're going to build a dam across it and pump one half dry. Then they'll mine it; scoop up the rock with a clamshell-open pit mining. This shaft is number two. It's four hundred feet deep. Number one is over there where that steel frame is going up. Number three is out this way. All three shafts are connected at the four hundred feet level. It's a mile from One to Three." ... The cable began to run! "Here she come!" A truckload of ore emerged from the bowels of the earth.
Another attendant appeared from nowhere. The men hauled off the laden truck, pushed aboard an empty car and consigned it to the nether regions. Workman number two tossed a few pieces of slimy rock into a sample box and wheeled the loaded cart out to the dump. I examined the specimens which were black and wet and glistening, and I wondered where was the zinc, copper and gold which Flin Flon was said to be mining.
Those samples did not look like our copper boiler or the five dollar gold piece I once saw in a bank. "Just heft a few pieces", the guide suggested. "They run twenty to eighty percent metal." On the way down there are manholes cut into the side walls to step into in case of accident
"They keep the pumps going all the time down there - if they didn't they would get drowned. When they blast down there the fumes come up this shaft... You get out in two minutes or you go dead..."