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In Their Own Voices

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Ben SinclairI am sorry that you have not come to preach to our friends, but now I am in sure hope that someone will come this summer . . . You are tired in taking care of my cattle. I am not yet tired but I wish to go home this summer. I fail too much . . . but then I have collected 400 house logs.

- Letter from Benjamin Sinclair to William Mason, 1851 

Benjamin Sinclair was an enigmatic figure. A Métis from the area near Norway House (the precise date of his birth is unknown), he was among the first people to hear Robert Rundle preach in 1840.  At Norway House, Sinclair worked for the superintendent of the British Wesleyan mission, James Evans, as a translator until Evan's departure in 1846. The problems and scandal that surrounded Evans leaving of Norway House evidently soured Sinclair's opinion of him, and he is quoted as stating, "that Evans was a bad man."

When Rundle wrote Sinclair from Fort Edmonton and asked him to help establish a new mission-the first Protestant mission outside the fort-Sinclair came. In 1847 heWhip Sawing travelled to Pigeon Lake with his 17-year-old wife, Margaret Collins, and two-year-old son, Ephraim. To the mission he brought experience in growing crops, whipsawing lumber and knowledge of the Bible and the Cree syllabic system of reading and writing. When Rundle left the region in 1848, Sinclair remained and continued to labour at the Pigeon Lake Mission. Between Rundle's departure and the arrival of Thomas Woolsey and Henry Bird Steinhauer in 1855, Sinclair was the sole Methodist missionary west of Norway House. In 1851, having received no further assistance, he left Pigeon Lake and eventually continued his work at Lac La Biche, where he started a school. 

In 1855 when Thomas Woolsey and Henry Steinhauer arrived in the West, Sinclair remained in Lac La Biche until he was offered the opportunity to establish a new mission to the Cree people away from Hudson's Bay Company posts. Benjamin Sinclair and Henry Bird Steinhauer died within days of each other during a local outbreak of the flu. The families decided to bury them in a joint grave.Consequently, Sinclair accompanied Steinhauer to Whitefish Lake and helped him to establish a mission there in 1858. Sinclair continued to play an active role in the community life at Whitefish Lake, where he remained until his death from influenza in 1884-both Sinclair and Steinhauer died during the local influenza outbreak and the two men that established the Whitefish Lake Mission were buried together in the same grave.  

Citation Sources
Hutchinson, Gerald. The Roots of the Province: Alberta's First 50 Years and 100 Years of Christian Service. Telfordville: The United Church of Canada, 1955.


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