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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
The Missionary

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"There is but one effectual means of staying the evils we have occasioned, and of imparting the blessings of civilization, and that is, the propagation of Christianity, together with the preservation, for the time to come, of the civil rights of the natives." 

- British House of Commons,       
Report of the Select Committee on       
Aborigines (British Settlements), BHCSP, 7, No.425, 1837      

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, indigenous peoples world-wide experienced the arrival of Europeans, which generally threatened their traditional way of life. Britain was not unaware of the detrimental effects of settlement and commerce on the lives of the native people in the colonies. The 19th century was marked by growing social concern and an outcry against the inhumane treatment of people, both within Britain's own borders and abroad. As a Christian society, the British considered-as did other European countries-the achievements of European culture and science as the culmination of Christian discipline and dedication. The 19th-century European was blind, however, to the beauties of other ways of living in the world, as well as to the destructive and exploitative aspects of European civilization. 

           

The changes in western Canada came like a watershed - during a period
of 50 - 70 years, one man's lifespan, life on the prairies took on a totally different pattern.

How would the Canadian West be different had there been no missionaries? How would the fabric of society look without Christian churches? In Canada the legacy of the missionary is an aspect of the European influences which shaped the colonial era, along with that of the Enlightenment, Victorian values and ideals, Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and the French Revolution. The role of the church and missionary is entwined with these other developments, so the questions are purely hypothetical. 

These pages can do no more than highlight the lives and work of people for whom faith was the sole motivation and inspiration. European in their upbringing, human in their limitations and 19th-century Christian in their interpretation of life and its promise of grace, the missionary brought both gift and peril. While many of Canada's Aboriginal peoples identify with the Christian faith and the missionaries among them, many communities are struggling with the institutional approaches born of the mission movement and state policy.


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