It was at the end of June that I arrived at Sarnia. Very glad was I to be at home again after my long, rough journey, and very glad too was my wife to see me, for it was but seldom that we had had an opportunity of writing to one another during my absence. In the autumn our second child was born–a boy–to whom the Indians gave the name of Suhyahquahdung (proclaimer), and shortly after this we gave up our cottage on the Indian Reserve to Mr. Jacobs, and moved to a larger house in the town, where we should have room to take two or three Indian pupils as boarders. This seemed to be a judicious step, as of all things it appeared to be the most important, to commence preparing young men who might afterwards act as catechists and school teachers among their people.
And so Mr. Jacobs, who had recently married, settled in at the Mission-house as Pastor of the Sarnia Indians, and an Indian from Walpole Island was appointed to take his place as catechist at Kettle Point.
Our readers will not have forgotten poor Shegaugooqua, the poor decrepid bed-ridden creature whom we found in such a pitiable condition in an old wigwam back in the Bush. They will remember also the mention we made of her little five-year-old boy, with his shock of rough, black uncombed hair, and his bright intelligent eyes. This little boy, Willie by name, we now took in hand. I arranged that the catechist who had been appointed to the Kettle Point Mission should take two little boys into his family, and train them up to a Christian and useful life. One of them was to be Willie, and the other a grandchild of the unfortunate man who was murdered–Tommy Winter. So, a few days before Joshua Greenbird was expected, we brought Willie and Tommy to our house in Sarnia to prepare them for entering upon their new life. The first thing was to divest them of their dirty rags, and give them each a thorough good scrubbing; then they were put into two new little suits of grey cloth which my wife and I had each taken a share in making with the sewing machine. Thus, clean and neat, these two little fellows of six years old were shipped off to their new home. Walpole Island, where Joshua the catechist was coming from, was some 40 miles south of Sarnia, and Kettle Point was 30 miles or more to the north, the road lying direct through the town; and as Joshua had arranged to drive in a waggon the whole way with his family and baggage, he made our house his stopping-place on the road, and we gave him and his wife and four children all a lodging for the night; then in the morning they started on again, taking Willie and Tommy with them. For the first week or two the two little boys were quite happy and contented in their new home, and went regularly to school with the other children who lived at Kettle Point; but after a time they got home-sick, and then they did what Indian boys often do when first taken in hand and put under restrictions–they ran away. However, they did not get far on their thirty mile journey homeward before they were accosted by a farmer who was driving along in his waggon. Willie, always ready with his tongue, and already knowing a little English, called to the former, “Say, you going Sarnia?” The farmer immediately guessed what was in the wind, and cried, “Yes, come along, boys; jump in.” So in they jumped; but were somewhat mortified–poor little fellows–to find themselves, half an hour later, back again at the catechist’s house. The lesson was a good one for them, and from that day forward they had the impression deeply printed on their minds that farmers were everywhere on the watch for them, ready to bring them home if they tried to run away.
It was during this winter (1870-71) that we began making plans for building a church for the Sarnia Indians. The little building that we had put up on our first arrival had never been intended as a permanent church; so now that the Mission was fairly established and was beginning to show good signs of prospering, it seemed to be only right that a more substantial building should be erected for the purpose of Divine worship, and that the little frame building should be kept simply for a school. The first thing was to trundle the old building out of the way; so a “bee” was called, and a number of the Indians assembled, and with levers and rollers, and after working hard for a couple of days, the school was twisted round and removed to the far corner of the lot. Then the foundations were dug for the new church. It was decided that it should be a brick building, with a spire, to cost about 1500 dollars. Mr. Jacobs, my assistant, busied himself in the matter, and together we managed to raise the requisite funds; and early in the spring building operations were commenced.
However, it was not my destiny to be the pastor of this little brick church among the Sarnia Indians. God was calling me to other work. It so happened that, in the providence of God, the Garden River Mission just at this time fell vacant. The Rev. Mr. Chance, who had laboured there so faithfully for the past 18 years, was called away to another sphere in a more southerly district. Great were the lamentations of the poor Garden River Indians when he left. Both he and his wife had become much endeared to the people. Mrs. Chance was the schoolmistress and doctor, and what would the poor children and the poor sick people do without her? and what would they do without their Missionary who had laboured so long and so faithfully among them: who had baptized their children, and united their young people in marriage, and buried their dead, and preached to them the glad tidings of the Gospel, and visited them, and sympathized with them, and helped them in their homes? Mr. Chance’s children had all been born and brought up at Garden River; Indian nurses had attended them and cared for them during their infant days; the Indian women had learned to look upon them almost as their own; and one dear little girl–Alice–had died after a short illness, and was buried in the Indian Cemetery. It was a terrible wrench for these poor Indians one and all to be separated from their Missionary and his family. And the worst feature of all was that there seemed to be considerable fear lest the Mission might be given up altogether. The New England Company, under whose auspices Mr. Chance had worked, had determined on withdrawing from that portion of the field; and unless some other Society saw fit to take them up, there seemed but little prospect that the work among them would be continued.
All these things weighed with me, and I earnestly sought the guidance of Almighty God in prayer, content to follow His will and to be led by His hand.
As Mr. Chance intended to leave Garden River early in the spring, and it was a part of my duty to make extended tours among the scattered Indians, and minister to their spiritual wants, I decided on making another trip northward as soon as possible after navigation opened. My wife accompanied me, and we took an Indian boy with us, named Aleck Bird, as cook and general servant.