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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

No. 26: Author and Missionary Alfred Campbell Garrioch

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One of Alberta's first and most prolific writers was an Anglican missionary of mixed Scottish and Cree ancestry.

Alfred Campbell Garrioch was born in 1848 at the Red River settlement.

In 1876, at the age of 28, Garrioch was sent from Manitoba to set up a mission in Fort Vermilion.

Then, in 1886, he was assigned to rescue a struggling Anglican mission in Dunvegan, the same community on the Peace River where his mother was born.

As historian Michael Payne notes, Garrioch distinguished himself as an exceptional linguist.

He put together a vocabulary of English, Cree and Beaver Indian words, which is a significant contribution to linguistics in the area.

And he also translated the Gospel according to St. Mark into the Beaver language.

While living in Dunvegan, Garrioch began work on two manuscripts. These books are among the earliest accounts of life on the Peace River in the late 19th century.

The Far and Furry North is a thinly fictionalized account of his life at Dunvegan. People from the Hudson's Bay Company there, various local traders and so on, who we know from other archival and documentary sources, are also included in the book.

Hatchet Mark in Duplicate is also loosely based on his time at Dunvegan. This is kind of a lively and melodramatic tale. It includes some autobiography and some basic history of the area, but it also includes this strange tale of a baby found floating on the river with a marked foot.

As historian Michael Payne points out, Garrioch's books provide a very personal insight into a time when the fur trade was in decline and many First Nations people were moving further west.

Probably he deserves to be better known.

He wrote some of Western Canada's earliest local histories, community histories, he wrote what is probably Alberta's first mystery, and he provides us with a very interesting account of life on the Peace River in the late 19th century, at a time of enormous social, political and demographic change.

Garrioch left the Dunvegan mission in 1891 and returned to Portage La Prairie. He continued writing, and published two more books, entitled First Furrows and The Correction Line.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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