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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Missionaries in Alberta

The Morley United Church

Oral traditions, archaeological evidence and early documents all provide clear evidence that spirituality played a vital role in the cultures of the First Nations of western Canada at the time of contact. It is not possible to summarize in any short fashion the complexity and variety of these beliefs, but observations such as "religion has not yet begun to dawn among the Northern Indians," which can be found in Samuel Hearne's published journals, are obviously mistaken. European observers, however, rarely understood the real significance of the stories, rituals, symbols and observances they witnessed.

As a result, fur traders tended to see spiritual beliefs as superstitionsFur Traders and to dismiss Aboriginal spiritual leaders. Most fur traders, and the companies they served, had little interest in what their trading partners believed, and few made much effort to spread Christianity in any form to anyone else. Some officers in charge of posts did hold religious services for their employees from time to time, and the Hudson's Bay Company did send books of sermons and prayer books to some of the larger posts. For the most part though, fur traders showed little interest in missionary activity until the early 19th century.

The La Verendryes did bring chaplains west to their posts from the 1730s on, but surviving records do not suggest that these Catholic priests undertook much work with First Nations. The capture of Quebec by the British in 1759-60 meant that the old French posts in the North West closed, and for over 50 years no other Christian missionary came west of the Great Lakes.

The founding of the Red River Settlement in 1812 led some to suggest that both settlers and Aboriginal peoples needed religious instruction. InRed River Cart 1818 two Catholic priests, Father Provencher and Father Dumoulin, were sent to Red River, and in 1820 an Anglican clergyman, John West, joined them in Red River. Much of this early missionary effort was directed at the settlers and Hudson's Bay Company employees and their families, and this remained an important part of missionary activity in western Canada throughout the 19th century. Both West and Provencher also took an interest in evangelical work among Aboriginal groups, and this soon came to dominate missionary activity.


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