Religious life and its ideals have been very important in shaping the life and
experience of the region. The first Christian missionaries arrived with their
message, but they also intervened with fur trade and government officials on
behalf of the Aboriginal peoples they evangelized.
missionaries in the region such as the Methodist Robert Rundle (1840s) were
followed by missionaries of Aboriginal ancestry, such as Benjamin Sinclair and
Henry Steinhauer. The wives of Sinclair and Steinhauer, Margaret Sinclair and
Jessie Manuwartum Steinhauer, were parts of this work, although not a great deal
is known about these women. The Missionary Oblates were the first Roman Catholic
missionaries to come to the region and after their arrival, orders of religious
sisters soon arrived.
Along with the work of evangelizing, the early missionaries established
churches and related institutions such as schools and hospitals were foremost
among these. The role of women in establishing, running and administering these
schools and hospitals was very important. For the most part, religious
organizations such as missionary societies and orders of religious sisters
resulted in women having much great influence and opportunity in shaping the
emerging society and era.
Raising the Tabernacle by David
Records of Religious Schools in
the Red Deer District by Michael Dawe
Armand Trochu and the Ninetieth Anniversary
of the Founding of Trochu: A Speech by Jacques Bence
For Roman Catholic women, entering religious orders of nuns meant a life of
service devoted to the larger community instead of the immediate concern of
husband and children. Similarly, the travels of male missionaries left their
wives to look after the affairs of the missions while their husbands were away.
Towards the late 19th century, women established their own missionary
societies in Western Canada and single women began to venture out themselves to
become missionaries in distant countries.
In general terms, just as it was seen as necessary for a man to have a wife
to properly establish a homestead, male missionaries worked closely with women
in evangelizing the larger region with the Christian message. These women were
believed to be an important civilizing force in the perceived wilderness of the
Canadian West. Not only did women stand for the development of families and
home, the very basis of a stable society, but also the pillar of Christian piety
and morality. As missionaries, these women served as role models for Aboriginal
women because, it was believed, that by following this good example, the
Aboriginal woman would in turn be a civilizing force in her own community.
However, just as these women were viewed as bearers of traditional values and
morals, the mission field provided greater independence and authority for this
In this section, we will explore how women associated with religious missions
and institutions represented a particular ideal of womanhood and in instances
assumed roles as religious leaders of communities. We will also look at the
growth of established churches in the 20th century and how women's
involvement in these was an essential component of their own and their
communities' identities. Through this work, women met with other women and
become involved in many of the political and social issues of the day.