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Missionary Work


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Throughout his eight-year stay in Western Canada, Robert Rundle was torn between his duties as Company Chaplain and his strong desire to be true to the Methodist tradition and be a travelling missionary among the Aboriginal tribes. His supervisors, in particular James Evans, Superintendent of the Northwest Indian Missions, wanted Rundle to remain close to Fort Edmonton and establish a mission there. 

While Rundle did spend time preaching at Fort Edmonton, he was often absent, instead preferring to go to the Aboriginal peoples in their own camps.  He visited the Cree, Sarcee, Assiniboine and Blackfoot people, learning about their customs and becoming proficient in the Cree language. In these communities he performed baptisms and marriages and taught hymns, which seemed to be popular with many of the tribes. 

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Maskepetoon SketchIn the early 1840s Robert Rundle befriended Cree Chief Maskepetoon. The two men shared a desire for peace, and Maskepetoon saw in the Christian message a means to reduce bloodshed and hostility among Aboriginal peoples. The two men made plans to promote peace among the tribes and, although the tour never took place, the ideal of peace was reinforced for the missionary and the Cree Chief.

In addition to peace, Rundle also believed in the necessity of establishing a mission to encourage agriculture and settlement. He surveyed soil quality as he travelled, in search of a suitable site. Finally, in 1847, he received permission from the Hudson's Bay Company and Wesleyan Missionary Society to establish a site at Pigeon Lake with the assistance of Robert Sinclair. Arriving at Pigeon Lake for the first time in November of 1845, Rundle reported:

. . . before I slept I went to the beach. What a spectacle. No sound was heard but the rise and splash of the fish in the lake. A slight ripple was all that was discernible on the lake. It lay almost like a sea of molten silver & the stars were reflected on its glassy breast. A mirrored heaven!  

Rundle chose the site with the hope of introducing Aboriginal people to agriculture. His journal reads:

June 12, 1848, Monday I put beans in ground & susette helped me . . . Ben made the table & enlarged fencing of garden . . .

They did not know that the soils around the lake were of poor quality. Farming in the area did not become profitable until, nearly one hundred years later, scientists at the University of Alberta developed ways to manage the soil's fertility.

Citation Sources
Rundle, Robert Terrill. Edited by Hugh A. Dempsey. The Rundle Journals, 1840-1848. Calgary: Alberta Records Publications Board, Historical Society of Alberta and Glenbow-Alberta Institute, 1977.

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