We were anxious as soon as possible to have both church and Mission-house built on the Sarnia Reserve, so that we might move down among the Indians and dwell in their midst. When therefore the matter of the land was settled, and one acre of Antoine Rodd’s farm had been given over for the use of our Mission, we began preparations for the erection of the two buildings. For the building of the church, I wished the Indians to give as much in the way of labour and help as possible, so as to show their earnestness in the cause; but for the erection of the Mission-house, we had to depend largely on contributions from our friends in England. However, the Church Missionary Society made us a grant of L100, and friends helped liberally, so that we had no lack of funds, and by the time the two buildings were completed and fenced round with a board fence, all was paid for.
We moved into our new house on the 29th of January, 1869, just six months after our arrival in Canada. It was a nice little frame cottage, with a large room or hall in the centre, study and bed-room on one side, and sitting-room and bed-room on the other; and at the back, connected by a covered passage, were the kitchen and pantry, with servants’ bed-room over. We were close to the river, and from our front windows could see in summer-time all the shipping passing to and fro, which made it quite lively.
We were sorry not to get into our Mission-house before Christmas, but this was impossible. Our little church, however, was opened for service two days after Christmas Day, and was beautifully decorated for the occasion.
I must go back a little, and tell how it all happened. I had bought some pews from an old Scotch church in the town which was going to be pulled down, and one day early in December we got them carried down to our little church building, and the Indians assisted me in putting them up; there were ten on each side, and as they would seat five each we had room for a congregation of just a hundred persons. On Christmas Day, thirty-four people assembled in the log-house, which had been beautifully decorated by the Indian women with cedar branches for the occasion. After service I took the opportunity to say something to them about the arrangements in the new church. Among other things I suggested that they should sit together in families instead of the men on one side and the women on the other, as had been their custom. The proposal was well received and caused some amusement Shesheet said humorously that he would consider it a great privilege to be allowed to sit by his wife. Just as we were coming away the old Chief’s wife, Mrs. Chief as we used to call her, came running after Mrs. Wilson with a parcel, and pushed it into her hand, saying, in her broken English, “Christmas, Christmas!” It proved to be a prettily worked sweet-grass basket, and the old lady giggled and laughed joyfully as Mrs. Wilson expressed her surprise and pleasure at the present.
Two clergymen besides myself assisted in the services at the opening of the church, which on that occasion was crammed with about a hundred and fifty people. One of the most interesting features was just at the close of the service, when an Indian named Buckwheat, from the neighbouring mission of Walpole Island, came forward, and, after giving a short address expressing the sympathy that was felt by the Walpole Islanders for the Indians of this newly-formed Church mission, proceeded to loosen a belt from his waist, and to take from it a little carefully wrapped up packet, which he brought forward and presented as the offering of his brethren towards the erection of our church and Mission-house. It contained nine dollars.
The next day was the children’s treat and Christmas tree. It was held in the hall of the new house, although we had not yet moved in. It was amusing to watch the faces of the children as they gazed upon the unusual sight of a Christmas tree lighted up with tapers. Not even the older people had ever seen one before. There were thirty-one children present, and there was some little gift for each of them. During the evening we taught them to scramble for nuts and candies. It was absurd to see them, at first all standing in mute astonishment and wondering at my ruthless waste in throwing away such excellent sweatmeats all over the floor; however, they soon learned how to perform their part of the game, and began scrambling for the good things as eagerly as any English children.
The Indians, although to all appearance so grave and stoical, have a fund of quiet wit and humour about them, and are even sometimes quite boisterous in their merriment. Joseph Wawanosh, the Chief’s eldest son, was a particularly quiet grave-looking man, and yet there was often a merry twinkle in his eye, and sometimes he would come out with some funny remark in his quaint broken English. He was our churchwarden, and had a great weakness for making up large fires in the church, to which my wife strongly objected, and they waged a chronic war on the subject. Joseph, when spoken to used to pretend to shiver, and say he felt particularly cold. One day Mrs. Wilson said to him, “How soon is your wife coming home?” “Oh, about two weeks,” he replied. “Why, you will be starved before then; you have no one to cook for you.” “Ah, no, I guess not,” replied Joe; “Indian never starve in bush.” “Why not?” asked Mrs. Wilson. “Oh,” said Joe, shaking his head humorously; “lots of squirrels.” Old Antoine Rodd, or Shesheet, as he was more generally called, was a huge portly man, and was often very comical in his remarks, his good-natured face beaming with fun. One day Mrs. Wilson nearly slipped into a large puddle while threading her way along the ill-kept road, “What would you have done if I had been drowned?” she asked jokingly, as the old man helped her out of her difficulty. “Oh, I would, have dragged it!” he said.
We, were very glad when at length we moved into our new house, and we soon had plenty of our Indian friends to visit us. Widow Kwakegwah brought a black and white cat as a present for my wife. She threw the cat into the kitchen in front of her, and then followed laughing. It was amusing to watch the cat making a survey of the whole house with true Indian curiosity. The Indians did not generally venture beyond the kitchen part without invitation; in that part, however, they made themselves quite at home, and Jane was somewhat taken aback when Joe Wawanosh told her he was going up to see her room. Mrs. Chief also went up, and was delighted with Jane’s trunks. She said she would come again another day to see what was in them!