During the summer of 1937 I made a long projected journey of ninety miles up the Saskatchewan River to Cumberland House with the missionary, the Rev, (now Canon) C. J. Parker. It is the same route route that had been traversed by Hearne, Sir John Franklin, Sir John Richardson and many other noted explorers.
Early in the morning of a July day we set out from The Pas in Mr. Parker's canoe. The sun had not yet risen above the horizon. At 9:30 on the evening of that day we arrived at our destination having stopped but once to "boil Kettle". Throughout those sixteen hours I sat amidship on the canoe bottom and watched the sun rise, reach its zenith and set before us.
The Lower Saskatchewan which merges with the North Branch below Prince Albert flows rapidly between low crouching clay banks. At the water's edge grows a fringe of pea green goose grass. Merging with this delicate tint is the darkest green of sombre spruce woods.
A few yellow and crimson leaves of shrubs already changing to early autumn shades, and the stalks of red willow added a touch of colour, while a few scattered trunks of silvery birch laced the scene. There were moments during the hazy afternoon when the river banks were so perfectly reflect in the water that a snapshot I took scarcely revealed which was the river bank and which was reflection.
The river follows a serpentine course frequently doubling back upon itself so that an old Scotsman once remarked, "It's a river that does not know its own mind." The river waters are muddy and its shifting sands constantly form bars which change its direction sharply. Wild animals haunt the bush but rarely expose themselves to human view.
A paddler might surprise a deer taking a drink, a lordly moose cropping the vegetation in a wayside slough, or perhaps a red fox trotting along the beach but a motorist would not see those animals. He might however see a mother duck proudly convoying a train of her offspring away to the sheltering haven of a huge boulder, the little birds at a maternal signal diving suddenly, shortly to reappear and reconnoitre.
Through peep holes in a huge rumbling Gibraltar clay bank, sand martips peer saucily at human intruders, while night hawks dart at insects in the air, various kinds of gulls fly about unconcerned, intent on their own concerns. Fish are so plentiful that catching them is hard reckoned to be sport, varieties include trout, pickerel, whitefish, goldeyes and sturgeon.
My companion and I chugged along past three islands in midstream landmarks to travelers in those parts. The sun was by now dipping behind tree tops. We passed through a stretch of open water and at 9:30 we beached our canoe. But we were not yet at Cumberland House. We landed at Pemmican Portage having bypassed twelve miles of rapids and left our canoe to be brought up next day by an Indian.
The place name of Pemmican
is reminiscent of an ancient composite article of diet said to have been more nourishing than tasty.
There still lay ahead of us a three mile tramp to the settlement. Our walk led through clumps of willow
scrub and we roused millions of blood thirsty mosquitoes which attacked us viciously. Nearing the village
we were greeted by the howling of Indian dogs. A few stars twinkled and the Northern Lights danced a
merry jig. Most welcome was a light shining from a window in the Mission House. Mrs. Parker was waiting
up for us.
During my visit I preached at Mr. Parker's services, with the missionary acting as interpreter. Cumberland Lake is an expansion of the river. One day Mr. Parker and I crossed the lake and made a trip upstream forty miles to another mission where we held a church service.
A link with earlier days of Hudson's Bay Company history was H. D. Stuart Cotter. He had served many years in Northern Posts before his transfer to Cumberland House. He and Mrs. Cotter lived at Cumberland House for many years before retiring to live at The Pas. Miss Vadne Cotter, a nurse, also served at Cumberland as Public Health Nurse for a number of years. At The Pas Mr. Cotter administered the Company's business in connection with the closing of that historical Post. He was a familiar and much loved figure on the streets of The Pas. In fact at The Pas "H.M.S." was the Hudson Bay Company there. The withdrawal of the Company from business in The Pas marked the closing of an eventful chapter in the Northern trading enterprises.
On the day set for my return to The Pas, Mr. Parker's canoe man called for me and I set out on what was to be my first experience of running a twelve mile stretch of rapids. All that I had ever heard of an Indian's skill in performing that operation was demonstrated, as I observed the precision and nicety with which "Indian Ed." piloted his craft around opposing rocks, and down stretches of calm water. It was fascinating and I was thrilled with the experience. At the same time I had a feeling that Ed. was enjoying it as much as myself. He was in his native element exulting in that freed amid the forces of nature to which his race was born.
Up and down the Saskatchewan River there are still beauties of nature to behold and thrills to be enjoyed today just as there have been ever since travelers have gone down to the River in oaken dugouts, birch bark shells, outboard cabin cruisers, unwieldy York boats and Peterborough canoes. The romance of travel on its broad and swift waters does not fade away like the proverbial old soldier who never dies.
In 1937 I had the opportunity of achieving a long projected journey in the opposite direction with the Missionary of Cumberland House and visiting that Old Hudson's Bay Post. Both of these journeys proved intensely interesting and added a great deal to my knowledge of the Saskatchewan River and the country it traverses.
The trivial round the common task filled up all our time, for Christ Church was a busy parish. We were modern enough even in this remote location to suffer from the plague of over-
organization. There were endless afternoon teas to attend and meetings every night - often two meetings per night and many weekday Services
It was a long weary trudge on foot in the heat of the summer and the intense cold of water between the mill area in the southwest quarter and The Pas Annex in the northeast. I did not possess a car as there was no road on which to drive except the trail out to the cemetery.
There was a great deal of parish visiting to be done for I was old fashioned enough to retain the belief that "the home going parson makes for a church-going people."
Since retiring I have heard derogatory comments on the value of visiting, even that when the Rector is noticed to be approaching a home some inmates murmur "What is he coming here for today? We don't want to see him." I never found it so. I always felt that I was a welcome visitor. Even the children were glad to see me for they knew me well in Sunday School or in Wolf Cub or Boy Scout meetings. Actually those children were leading their parents into closer union with the church.
Home visits revealed in some measure "the state of the Church". Occasionally of course an unannounced visit might happen at an inopportune moment when I found a Metis bachelor entertaining some friends and he was moved to apologize for the situation saying "I know the Reverend Book says, "Be not drunk with wine" If you will excuse me this time, I will begin and come to Church." His contrition was comparable to that of the Irish trapper just home from a wedding celebration who was anxious to come to Confession when I could arrange a date. He promised to bring me a brand new Hudson's Bay blanket.
As President of the Ministerial Association I was troubled by the fact that apart from the usual Liturgical Services at customary hours in Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, Good Friday in The Pas was observed merely as another holiday. I resolved to do something about appropriately marking that Holiest Of Holy Days on which the Son of God and Saviour of the World was crucified as a day for religious observance in the community.
Accordingly I invited the other non-Roman members and their congregation to join in a Three Hour Service in Christ Church on Good Friday afternoon.
Some doubt was expressed as to the possibility of sustaining interest for three hours, as that type of service would be an innovation with most parties concerned. However the response to my invitation was most gratifying. I conducted the service and addresses were given at the Chancel steps on the "Seven Words from the Cross" by the other ministers, and appropriate prayers were offered. Many who came intending to spend but one hour in Church remained for the whole Service. Total attendance exceeded two hundred. That Good Friday Service became an annual event while I remained in The Pas. We found in it a fellowship and a unity in diversity, like that for which our Lord prayed "That they all may be one".