The Winter Of 1874-5.

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By the time winter set in, the walls of the new Shingwauk Home were erected and the roof on, but beyond this nothing could be done until spring. However, we could not wait for the new building to be completed before re-organizing our work. The two frame cottages, already mentioned, had been finished and furnished, and these we intended to utilize for the present. The first pupil to arrive, singularly enough, was named Adam, Adam Kujoshk, from Walpole Island. We had eighteen pupils altogether, boys and girls; a lady was engaged to act as matron and school teacher; they had lessons and meals in a large common room in one of the cottages, and in this one the matron and the girls resided. The other was occupied by the laundress and the boys. For ourselves we had engaged an old house at the Point, not more than half a mile distant across the bay; so all fitted in very well.

It was a hard winter, but the children kept well, and they had a merry and a happy Christmas. On Christmas morning we all drove in to the Sault to church; such a sleigh load–twenty, I think, altogether,–some sitting, some standing or hanging on, and two brisk ponies to pull. Then there was the Christmas dinner of roast beef and plum pludding, to which all the children did ample justice; and in the evening they came over to our house, and we had a few amusements for them, and sang some Christmas hymns. New Year’s night was the time fixed for the Christmas Tree and the prize-giving. Prizes were to be given not only for reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also for laundry work, sewing, baking, cutting wood, carpentering, &c. Such of the children’s parents as lived near enough were invited to be present, and a general invitation had been given to our friends at the Sault, so we had a good gathering both of whites and Indians, and the room was crowded. In the building occupied by the matron and girls, coffee and refreshments had been prepared for our guests, and in the other cottage was the Christmas Tree. Passing from one building to the other, a pretty sight was presented by the new Shingwauk Home, illuminated with half-a-dozen candles in each window. The Christmas Tree was loaded with presents, a large proportion of them being gifts from friends both in England and in Canada, and prizes were given to the successful children. We had several Christmas Carols and hymns during the evening, and all passed off pleasantly and happily.

After these festivities were over, I thought the matron needed a rest, for what had been play to others had been in a great measure work and anxiety to her. So I offered to take charge myself while she went to a friend’s house for a couple of days.

I was curious to see how the children would manage after three months’ training in the ways of the Whites. Our principle was to teach them to _do everything for themselves_, and so we kept no servants; the matron superintended, and every week the children were appointed to their various duties–two cook girls, two laundry girls, two house girls, and so on; and the boys in like manner, some to farm work, some to carrying water, some to chopping wood. Every Saturday the workers received pocket-money from two to five cents each–that is–if they had no bad marks. Well, as I have said, I was curious to see for myself how these rules would work, and how the children would manage, and in no way could I do better than by becoming at once their visitor, teacher, and quasi-matron. Another point, too, I was anxious to ascertain, and that was how “the four cents a meal” plan could be made to answer.

For three months now had these children been fed, and by dint of wonderful care and economy, the matron had managed to keep within the mark. How she could do it had been rather a puzzle to me. The only time that I had undertaken to cater for them, was in the Fall, when I took a number of them down to Garden River, to dig potatoes on our land there, and on that occasion I remember I gave them bread and jam for tea, and found that the jam alone which they devoured cost more than four cents a head, leaving out the bread and the tea.

Well, it was half-past two when I arrived at the cottage. The matron had just left, and it was time to commence afternoon school. The children sat on benches round a long table, Eliza Jane and Betsy, and Benjamin, David, Adam, eighteen of them altogether,–some of them rejoicing in long Indian names as well: Menesenoons, the little warrior; Puhgoonagezhigooqua, hole in the sky; and so forth. In ages they ranged from the eight-year-old little warrior up to Adam and Alice, the two eldest, who were both turned sixteen. And as regards education, one (_not_ the little warrior) was still stumbling over the Alphabet; while one or two who had attended school before they came to us had advanced as far as the Fourth Reader, and were learning English Grammar and Geography.

School was over at 5 p.m., and then the workers fell to their duties, and the non-workers went forth to play. Alice Wawanosh (grand-daughter of the old Chief at Sarnia) was girl monitor for the week, and Mary Jane and ‘Hole in the Sky’ the cook girls. I was interested to see how very systematically they set to work: Alice got the scales and weighed out the bread half a pound to each child; Mary Jane set the table with a bright array of tin mugs and plates, and ‘Hole in the Sky’ put the kettle to boil and measured out the tea. Then the bread and butter was cut up, and in a very little time all was ready. At another table a cloth was laid for me, and everything placed ready in the nicest order. When the big bell rang the children all mustered and got themselves tidy, and the small bell was the signal to take their seats. They stood while I said grace, and then quietly and orderly took their evening meal.

After tea came the washing up. Each one, without being told, fell to his or her duty. The boys brought in wood, and filled up the kettle and boiler with water; the girl monitor weighed out the oatmeal for to-morrow’s breakfast and handed over to the cook girls, who in their turn carefully stirred it into the big iron pot on the stove. A wise arrangement this to insure breakfast being in good time in the morning, as the porridge has only to be heated up with a little fresh water, and is none the worse.

By seven o’clock everything was in order, books were got out, and the children seated themselves quietly round the table, not for school, but just to amuse themselves, as best they liked. I sat in the Matron’s rocking chair by the cook-stove, and was amused to hear them puzzling over the English words, spelling, and helping one another; some of them had copies of my Ojebway grammar, and were teaching themselves the English sentences translated from the Indian.

At half-past seven I suggested they should sing a few hymns before prayers, so the monitor got the hymn books, and they started the tunes themselves, and sang very prettily “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” “Beautiful River,” and “Hark, hark my soul, angelic songs are swelling.” Then we had prayers. I read a short passage from the Gospels in English, and explained it in Indian. Kneeling down, they all joined audibly in the general confession and the Lord’s prayer. After prayers all went off to bed, the boys over to the Carpenter’s Cottage, and the girls into the three dormitories. The monitor and cook, girls, however, had to stay up another hour, for bread had been set and was not yet all baked. There was the large wooden kneading trough by the stove, and the scales, and as fast as one batch of bread came out of the oven another went in, one girl cutting the dough, weighing it–four pounds to a loaf–and another making up the bread and placing it in the tins. I think twenty loaves altogether were baked that evening, and very nicely baked too.

John Rodd was the wood-cutter, and his task was to light the fire in the morning. He was early to his work, and by 6 a.m. a bright fire was burning up, lamps were lighted, the bell rung, and soon the occupants of the dormitories began to make their appearance, shivering,–and so indeed was I–for it was a cold morning, twenty degrees below Zero, or thereabouts: the smoke seemed to freeze in the chimney, the window panes were caked with ice, and nearly everything in the house frozen solid. It was just as well that the porridge had been made over-night, even though it was frozen; a little hot water soon brought it to, and it did not take very long to heat up. “Hole in the Sky” stirred it, and kept her fingers warm, and we all huddled round the stove, wishing the wood would stop crackling and smoking, and begin to glow with a red heat.

At last, by seven o’clock, breakfast was ready, the bell rang, and each child sat down to his tin basin of steaming porridge, with a tablespoonful of treacle in the middle. This, with a cup of tea, and a hunch of bread, was their breakfast, and I don t think they fared by any means badly. After breakfast the “workers” went to their house duties, and the boys to their out-door work till half-past nine, when a bell called them to prayers. Then books and slates were got out, and school commenced. All were kept steadily at work till twelve, the cook girls only occasionally getting up to poke the fire or peep into the pots. Dinner was at half-past twelve, pork, beans, turnips, potatoes, and bread; and then there was intermission until half-past two, when they assembled again for school.

Thus all went on very satisfactorily during my two days’ visit to this embryo Institution. Merry enough they were, chasing each other about, laughing, talking, and singing, and yet all did their duties regularly and systematically–no jarring or disputes, and no shirking of work, all seemed kind and ready to help one another.

Of the Indian children who were with us that first winter we know the after-record of some. Adam Kujoshk and Alice Wawanosh married May 31st. 1878, and are now living comfortably in Sarnia. Adam is a first-class carpenter, and can command high wages. He was employed in the cabinet-work department, making and fitting the cabins on board the splendid new steamship _United Empire_, which was launched at Sarnia in the Spring of 1883. There is a young Adam, who we hope will one day be a pupil at the Shingwauk Home. Mary-Jane died at her home in Sarnia, trusting in her Saviour. “Hole in the Sky” has been out to service, is a very respectable girl, and gives satisfaction to her employers. David Nahwegahbosh married Sophia Esquimau, another of our pupils, and they are living on the Manitoulin Island. Benjamin Shingwauk, “the Little Warrior,” is still with us, studying, and will, we hope, shortly pass the public examination and receive a teacher’s certificate. John Rodd died at the Shingwauk in 1877, and was buried in our little cemetery; he died trusting in the Saviour. Joseph Sahgejewh is still with us, working at our sash and door factory, and receiving wages.



MLA Source Citation:

Wilson, Rev. Edward F. Missionary Work Among the Ojebway Indians. London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge. 1886. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 18 December 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/the-winter-of-1874-5.htm - Last updated on Apr 8th, 2013


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