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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.

Nuns at Notre Dame Convent, Morinville.  Glenbow Archives.Early 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.

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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 work.

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.



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