We met with a hearty welcome from Mr. and Mrs. Chance, though we had never seen them before. Their church and Mission-house and little log school-house were picturesquely situated on rising ground quite close to the river. The Mission-house, which occupied the centre of the three buildings, was constructed of logs clapboarded over and whitewashed. It had a verandah in front, over the trellis work of which hops grew in profusion, and clambered upwards to the roof. In front of the house was a neat little garden, with two or three fir-trees, some lilac bushes, and well-filled flower-beds. There was quite a profusion of roses, which, even at this late season of the year, scented the air deliciously. Outside the garden fence with its green gate, was a field of Indian corn which sloped down almost to the water’s edge. The view from the steps of the verandah was very pretty; one could see the broad deep St Maria River, nearly a mile wide, and long lines of sailing vessels towed by small tugs, occasionally passing and repassing on their way from the upper to the lower lakes. Across the river were the well-wooded hills of Sugar Island, with here and there a settler’s shanty and clearing. To the left hand could still be seen the broad river winding its course down toward Lake George, the smaller stream, called Garden River, joining it a short distance below. Then behind, the scene was equally, if not more grand–high rocky hills scantily clad with fir and birch-trees. We felt that we were now indeed in the land of the Indian, far away from civilization; no railways, no telegraphs, no omnibuses or street cars, no hotels or shops for many hundred miles.
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There was something very attractive and fascinating about this first visit to the wilds of Algoma. We were entertained royally. Peaches, cream, and preserved fruits were among the dainties which covered the table. Where all the good things came from was a matter of wonder to us. The meat, however, consisting of a hind quarter of mutton, had, we found, come with us on the boat, and it just lasted out our four days’ visit. We were told extraordinary stories about the difficulty of procuring the necessaries of life, and the manner of overcoming difficulties. Until quite lately the steamboats in their passage up the lakes had never deigned to stop at Garden River; now, however, through Mr. Chance’s exertions, a dock had been made and a Post-office erected; and about once in ten days a steam vessel would stop to leave or receive the mails. Mr. and Mrs. Chance were Postmaster and Post-mistress, and we had many a joke with them on the subject. Their fresh meat was always procured from the steamboats. Before this new arrangement was made, the steward on the boat used to tie the meat to a log of wood, and haul it overboard opposite the Mission-house, and Mr. Chance had to go out in his boat to pick it up. They had a capital large sail boat, with two sails, called _The Missionary_. It had lately been presented to the Mission by the Cathedral Sunday School, Toronto. It was very interesting to meet with the Indians of this locality. Many of them were tall, fine-looking men; notably so Augustin Shingwauk and Buhkwujjenene, both of them Chiefs, and very intelligent-looking men. Augustin was at this time about 60 years of age, and his brother Buhkwujjenene eight or ten years his junior. They could trace their ancestry back for four generations. Their father’s name was Shingwaukoons (Little Pine), and he appears, from all accounts, to have been a very intelligent Chief. The father of Shingwaukoons was partly French, but his mother, Ogemahqua (Queen), was pure Indian, and daughter of a Chief named Shingahbawuhsin, and this Chief again was son of a Chief named Tuhgwahna, all of them residents of the Sault Ste. Marie district.
The Indians of Garden River were not nearly so far advanced in civilization as those of Sarnia; very little was done in the way of cultivating the soil, and very few of them could speak any English. They, however, seemed to evince great interest in religion, the services were well attended, the responses in the Indian tongue well made, and the singing hearty.
I must relate one sad incident that occurred during our short visit. It was a beautiful Sunday towards the end of September; we had had service in the white frame church, and very attentive and orderly had the congregation been while Mr. Chance read the service and interpreted my preaching. I had been speaking on the subject of “Eternal Life”–“This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only True God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Very wrapt was the attention as I endeavoured to unfold before my simple hearers the great and wondrous subject of eternal life. Had they–sitting there before me–anything to do with this eternal life? Perhaps their thoughts day by day were on the things of this world–their fishing, their hunting, their basket-making, or planting or digging potatoes. Did they ever think that they had souls to be saved; that before another Sunday came round these things which now took up their time and thoughts might have passed away for ever, and they themselves have entered upon the eternal state? If they were true Christians, they would then be meeting with God, beholding Him face to face; they would be with the holy angels, with Jesus. But if not prepared, where would they be? A great gulf would be between them and heaven–a great impassable gulf; they would be with the lost! Before another Sunday came round this great and wonderful change might take place. Were they prepared?
Among my hearers were two women; one on the left hand side of the church was a newly-married young woman wearing a scarlet shawl and a hat with flowers. She could not have been more than twenty. The other, who was her mother, sat on the opposite side; an old woman–a widow–wrapped in a black shawl. The husband of the young woman was in the gallery overhead.
Service was over, and we had wended our way back to the parsonage, followed by several Indians, men and women with their babes, who had come to shake hands or to ask for “muskeke” (medicine). All at once we heard a shout from the garden, and a girl came rushing up, crying: “Quick! help! there are people drowning.” We all ran off with great haste to the shore, the Indian women wailing in their own peculiar way, some burying their heads in their shawls and sobbing with grief. Quite a little fleet of boats and canoes were already off to the rescue; six or seven in all. We could not at first make out where was the scene of the disaster, but soon it became only too apparent. There, far out in the very centre of the broad river, being carried away by the current, were four or five specks, the heads of people struggling to save themselves. The boats were still a long distance from them, and breathlessly we watched as they made their way onward. Two, three of the specks had disappeared; only two were now visible. “How many were in the boat?” was anxiously asked. “Oh, there must have been eight or nine;” and only two now above water. It was sickening to think of. The wailing cries of the women on the shore increased each moment, and great was the suspense as the foremost boat drew with all speed towards the poor drowning creatures. I waited to see the two who were afloat pulled into the boats, and then hurried up to the house to see if all needful preparations had been made. Mrs. Chance had got everything ready; a good bright fire, blankets, and brandy. When I went back to the shore, the poor half-drowned creatures had just landed. Shaking and shivering they were lifted out of the boat and supported up to the house. Four had been saved: two men–and two women. One was still missing, the young wife who had worn the hat and flowers! The children who were supposed to have gone, it was found on inquiry had been providentially left behind. As soon as we could get the poor creatures up to the house, we set to work to revive them.
One of the men, the husband of her who had not yet been found, was on the point of giving in when the boat reached him, and in a moment more would probably have sunk. He was perfectly cold when we brought him in, and being in a consumptive state at the time of his immersion, we much feared that he would not survive the shock. The poor old woman’s heart seemed almost broken at the loss of her daughter, and she sat wailing in the kitchen the whole afternoon. The house was of course crowded with Indians who came in to help or sympathize. From those who went to the rescue we learned that the poor woman who was drowned had her hand above the water when the boat came up, but she sank before the people could seize it. Her hat was afterwards found about two miles below the place where she sank. In the evening the poor old woman described how the accident had happened. She said the boat was small and rather too heavily-laden. Just as they got to the middle of the river, a breeze sprang up, and the waves began coming over the side. One of the men jumped into the water to lighten it, but it was of no use. The boat filled, and in a few moments they were all struggling in the water. The poor old creature described how she sank to a great depth, and then rose again; how she prayed to Kezha-Musnedoo (the Good Spirit) to save her; how she sank again; and then, while under the water, saw the dark shadow of the boat coming over her; how again she rose to the surface and was saved.
We met again for service in the evening, and Mr. Chance preached very solemnly to a large congregation from the words, “Prepare to meet thy God.”
A day or two after this we left the Garden River Mission and returned to Sarnia.