the 18th and early 19th centuries,
Christian worship at the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC)
posts was the responsibility of their officers. Increasingly, the HBC was criticized for its lack of Christian
discipline. The Company had not moved to place religious
leaders or to establish churches at its factories or in the surrounding areas.
The Company focus was, after all, on commerce and not the socialization of
Rumours of debauchery in the fur trade and a growing concern for
the physical and spiritual condition of Aboriginal
spurred reform groups. They pressured the HBC to attend to these
needs and, as a
result, in 1837 the British government renewed the HBC's charter to
exclusively control the northwest on the condition that it promoted
religious advancement. On March 4, 1840, the HBC made an arrangement with
the Wesleyan Missionary Society in England to establish missions in its
The Society was to be responsible for salaries and the
Company was responsible for the transport, accommodation and supplies of
the missionaries. The Society appointed James Evans as superintendent of
western missions and dispatched three missionaries from England-George
Barnley, William Mason and Robert
Rundle. Evans and
Mason went to Norway House, Barnley to Moose Factory and Rundle to
factors of Hudson's Bay Company were largely Protestant-Presbyterian Scots and Orkney Islanders or Anglicans from Britain. Most of
those employed by the Montreal-based North West Company were
Catholic. Métis voyageurs, on which the companies relied for the
transport of their furs, were predominantly Roman Catholic as well. They
regarded Saint Anne as "the patroness of the Canadians, in all their
travels by water." Whatever
their religious inclination, Christianity was an accepted part of the life
for all fur traders, if not
View an excerpt from Cloven Hoof, a play by Geoff
In this segment missionary James Evans reflects on the
between the fur trader and the missionary.
It was not long after the Methodists had established missions at fur
houses throughout Rupert's Land that the Métis people petitioned for Roman Catholic priests to
be sent to the Northwest.
When Rundle left in 1848 and was not replaced immediately, the chaplaincy of Edmonton House
was given to Fr. Thibeault, who had arrived in
the area in 1843.
Both Methodist and Catholic missionaries took their task seriously.
They had been invited to concern themselves with the spiritual lives of the
Company's men and so they did. They questioned the work schedules and
demands made on Company employees. They objected to the use of liquor and
work on Sundays and instituted regular worship hours to introduce a
sense of Christian moral consciousness. The formal presentation of this concern had been absent from the
fur trading establishments until this time.
The missionaries' questioning presence was not altogether welcomed by
those who set the Company's work agenda. Sunday labour and the use of
alcohol in trade deals, as well as severe working conditions, had been the
practice of those whose constant goal was efficiency,
increasing profits and moving supplies and furs before winter and
freeze-up. They were not used to being challenged by young men without any
experience in the West, let alone these frail-looking men of God who
seemed unlikely to withstand the rigours of life in the region without
Company support. Nevertheless, at the personal level, most
missionaries entertained friendly relations with the Company's personnel.