Robert Terrill Rundle has had a poor press. As a Wesleyan
on the prairies from 1840 to 1848 he occupied an early and unique position
in the history of Canada but has been largely neglected and sometimes
disparaged by historians.
- Gerald Hutchinson, introduction to The
With this opening statement, Gerald Hutchinson
identified in the 1970s
what has more recently become an important aspect in Canadian history-the
view and re-view of the role of the missionaries within the context of
change that dominated the 19th century.
View Gerald Hutchinson speaking about the use of Cree
syllabic script by missionaries and Aboriginal peoples.
Born on a farm in central Alberta, Hutchinson
grew up with a social awareness that was nurtured by the political
interests of his parents and their friends, his own curiosity, and the
life of the community, in particular the church. An interest in Alberta
soils led him to attend Olds School of
Agriculture, but soon after, in 1936, Gerald answered a call
to the ministry, spending four years in the mission fields in Sundre.
There, he made the connection between
the dismal conditions facing the families, displaced during the dustbowl
years of the Great Depression, and the soil conditions that shattered their
hopes for starting anew in the central foothills. He also realized the
potential of these soils, however. "If ever I am to settle as a
minister," Hutchinson said, "it will be here in Central
Alberta, to see the story of the Grey Wooded soils and the people who farm
there, develop." Consequently, in 1949, the Hutchinson family settled in
undertake a pastoral charge.
Once settled, a nearby stretch of land along the northwest
shore of Pigeon Lake, called "Mission Beach" aroused George's
curiosity-investigation into its story would determine the course of his
activities for the next 50 years. Gerald and his wife Miriam travelled to the archives of the
Wesleyan Missionary Society in London, England, the Hudson's Bay Company archives
in Winnipeg, and Universities and Colleges in search of the missionaries who
served the central Alberta region 100 years earlier. His biography
Went with Miriam to London, England, and spent 4 weeks in the
British Wesleyan Mission Archives, and were able to secure photo-copies of
all correspondence for the years 1840 to 1854, and later to supplement
these documents with the HBC records of correspondence of Governor Sir
George Simpson, Chief Factor Donald Ross and others.
The letters, reports and journals they found
contained the words of familiar people, of friends-these men and women
had walked the same lakeshore and byways as the Hutchinsons now did
themselves. This personal connection became the inspiration
for Gerald's work and in 1977 his thoughts appeared in the
introduction to The Rundle Journals.
Since the publication of The Rundle Journals, Gerald Hutchison has
continued to explore the era of the missionary, in particular the life and
work of James Evans. The rediscovery of Evans' notes on Aboriginal
languages and those of other people of the world shed new light on the
background and development of the syllabic script. Once regarded as
"Evans' Invention," the work of Hutchinson and others reveals the
relationship between the development of syllabic script and pre-existing Aboriginal symbols, as well as other ancient modes of writing,
in particular those from Asia.
Gerald Hutchinson has collected a large body of research resources
that will serve historians for years to come. But, more than that, he has
forged the fragments of stories, which he found in the soil, among the
people, and between the pages of countless documents, into the story of
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.