John Nelson's Ministry began in the post-treaty era,
a time of
reorganization and relocation for Aboriginal peoples and missions.
Samson, Ermineskin and Muddy Bull bands had been assigned reserves in the
Bear Hills along the Battle River, near present-day Hobbema, and the
Stoney people were located near Wolf Creek. Consequently, John Nelson's Woodville Mission on
Pigeon Lake received few visitors. Nelson nevertheless reported that "public service, class meeting, and Sabbath school have
been regularly sustained and well attended whenever the people were
On the recommendation of government agents, mission efforts
were re-organized. A new mission was started on the reserve at Bear Hills and the Woodville Mission was relocated to the other
side of the lake, where there was more arable soil. A mission school would
be built with the Cree living on one side and the Stoney on the other. But
a report from 1883-84 states:
Our arrangement, as reported last year, to have
this mission situated between the Stoneys and Crees was not a success. The
Stoneys, not satisfied with the selection of the reserve at the Bear
Hills, decided to remove to Wolf Creek and Battle River. We regretted to
leave the Crees without a school or even a prospect of one . . . but the
Chairman thought it better to send us to Wolf Creek.
The Riel Rebellion did not entirely bypass
John Nelson and the Woodville Mission. As at other missions sites, the missionary dissuaded
participation in the uprising. After bringing his wife and children to a
safer location, Nelson remained at the mission house:
I advised them to pitch off on a hunt for a short time .
. . Wile the tents were being pulled down and the horses packed,
the representative men met at the mission house, unsolicited, and asked me
to write a letter to Gov. Dewdney, assuring him of their loyalty to the
Government. Some of them expressed deep regret at leaving. One man said,
'My heart is sore leaving our church and school. I tell you this from my
heart not with my lips only.' In times like the present, we feel the
safest places with those with whom we have been labouring.
Report, The Methodist Church, 1882-1883. In The
Rundle's Mission at Pigeon Lake,
Hutchison. Edmonton: Rundle's Mission Conference Centre Inc., 1990.