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Searching for Robert Rundle

par Gerald Hutchinson

Page 1  | 

Ancien Modérateur de l'Eglise Unie Rev. Stan McKay à Norway House, 1974: sa rencontre avec James Evans à Norway House était de début de le travail de mission de Rundle et sa première rencontre avec les peuples autochtones.In 1950 I discovered, to my amazement, that Robert Rundle had initiated a mission on the north shore of Pigeon lake, in the area now identified as Mission Beach. The prominence of Mount Rundle in Banff, and the prevalence of his name elsewhere in that region, left me with the casual assumption that his work and influence were centred there. So began the merry chase that has claimed my attention ever since.

The first information was easily found. He was one of the four British Wesleyan missionaries appointed as chaplains to the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), and his base was Fort Edmonton. He arrived in October 1840, and departed for England in 1848. In 1858, the Palliser Expedition was searching for favourable mountain passes. Along the Bow River they met the Stoney Indians who had been strongly influenced by Robert Rundle. Presumably either Captain John Palliser or Dr James Hector or both named Mount Rundle. The name appears on the Palliser map of 1863. In 1914, the Banff Chapter of the IODE wanted to name its chapter after Robert Rundle and were able to correspond with Rundle's daughter, who provided them with "extracts from Father's jottings." This information was not widely known, but fortunately was preserved in the Legislative Library. Some English Methodists who had known Rundle in England after his return, settled in Fraser Flats, Edmonton, in 1910, and named their church in his honour. In 1940, the Alberta Conference of the United Church met in Edmonton, at which time a pageant was prepared depicting his arrival in Fort Edmonton in 1840. In 1941, the United Church in Banff was officially designated the Rundle Memorial Church.

Despite this honouring of his name, little was known about his ministry, his travels or the response of Indians to his ministry. Since the HBC mission was British, and all reports were sent to England, little information could be found in Canadian archives, but interest was rising steadily on the north shore of Pigeon Lake, and the Rundle's Mission Society was formed in 1956. A two-storey lodge was constructed in 1959-60, and the mission was recognized as a National Historic Site in 1965. The dedication service, centred on the newly constructed monument, was offered by the Government of Canada and the United Church of Canada. Also in 1965, my search for Rundle himself suddenly yielded results.

Les Rundle Journals: la chronologie de la mission de huit ans avec la Compagnie de la Baie d'Hudson.My work in the United Church of Canada involved considerable travel, so I was constantly exploring any possible sources. Shortly after the dedication service I had a meeting in Toronto, so I made a side trip to Ottawa to present pictures of the dedication service to the Hon. Arthur D. Laing, then Minister of Northern Affairs. Then I went to the Public Archives of Canada and spent hours in my first search of the microfilm of the Hudson's Bay Archives. This was a profound revelation, for the letters of Governor George Simpson over a period of eight years gave information and interpretation of the British Wesleyan Mission that I had never imagined, including charges of scandal and the recall of the Superintendent, Reverend Mr. James Evans. This provided me with a new background and perspective for understanding the work of Rundle when at last it became available.

I also learned, however, that the Chief Factor at Norway House, Donald Ross, lived daily with Superintendent Evans and his family, and with Reverend Mr. William Mason and his family. Ross reported regularly, and often privately, to Governor Simpson, but the Ross papers were in a separate collection held by the Public Archives of British Columbia. So I had to await a trip to Victoria to get into this exciting material. Many of us were searching, and sharing our results. Hugh Dempsey, archivist of the Glenbow Museum, Reverend Mr. John Travis, of Rundle Memorial Church, Banff, Reverend Mr. J. Ernest Nix, and others were all involved, and each contributed to the dramatic recovery of the documents. Very shortly after my return from Ottawa, Ernie Nix and I were attending a conference in Banff. John Travis telephoned to ask us to hurry down to the church. A young man had just introduced himself as a great-grandson of Robert Rundle, and delivered the long-sought diary and journals of Rundle's eight-year ministry. He also gave us the address of his mother, who had the rest of Rundle's papers. The journal, a heavy, bound book, was placed in the Glenbow Museum, and I began to anticipate a trip to Britain.

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