Mission Life in Cree-Ojibwe Country

In May of 1868, Elizabeth Bingham Young and her new husband, Egerton Ryerson Young, began a long journey from Hamilton, Ontario, to the Methodist mission of Rossville. For the next eight years, Elizabeth supported her husband’s work at two mission houses, Norway House and then Berens River. Unprepared for the difficult conditions and the “eight months long” winter, and unimpressed with “eating fish twenty-one times a week,” the young Upper Canada wife rose to the challenge. In these remote outposts, she gave birth to three children, acted as a nurse and doctor, and applied both perseverance and determination to learning Cree, while also coping with poverty and short supplies within her community. Her account of mission life, as seen through the eyes of a woman, is the first of its kind to be archived and now to appear in print.

Accompanying Elizabeth’s memoir, and offering a counterpoint to it, are the reminiscences of her eldest son, “Eddie.” Born at Norway House in 1869 and nursed by a Cree woman from infancy, Eddie was immersed in local Cree and Ojibwe life, culture, and language, in many ways exemplifying the process of reverse acculturation often in evidence among the children of missionaries. Like those of his mother, Eddie’s memories capture the sensory and emotional texture of mission life, providing a portrait that is startling in its immediacy.

Skillfully woven together and meticulously annotated by Jennifer Brown, these two remarkable recollections of mission life are an invaluable addition to the fields of religious, missionary, and Aboriginal history. In their power to resurrect experience, they are also a fascination to read.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Cover 1
Contents 8
List of Abbreviations 12
Foreword 14
Acknowledgements 18
Introduction 24
PART I: Untitled Memoir of Elizabeth Bingham Young, 1927 50
“1859 & Sixtys” 52
Leaving Home 53
From Hamilton to Detroit 55
The Invitation to the North West 55
The Travelling Party 57
Detroit to Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Red River 58
Sojourn at Red River 62
From Red River to Norway House 63
Settling in at Rossville Mission 66
The First Cree Visitors 67
September 1868: A Brief Separation 68
The Chief Factor’s Cariole Ride 71
“Giving Out Medicines” 72
More on the Women 75
The Visit of Tapastanum 76
Queen Victoria’s Picture 77
Fish, More Fish, and Household Help 78
The Annual Requisition for Supplies 81
Christmas, a Recent Introduction 82
The New Year’s Feast 83
Smallpox and Measles 85
The Arrival of Eddie, June 1869 87
Little Mary and Eddie 90
Winter Travel and the Home Front 92
Prayer Meetings and Parcels 93
The Arrival of Lillian 94
Special Potatoes 96
“Still at Norway House” 98
The Birth of Nellie and the Pitfalls of Hospitality 99
Two Farewells 101
Back in Ontario, 1873–74 103
From Ontario to Berens River 105
“Where Are My Quilts?” 107
A Mother’s Crisis 108
Christmas Anxiety, 1875 109
The Birth of Florence and Other Memories 110
Witnessing Treaty 5 (and Two Mysterious Deaths) 110
Comment: Elizabeth Young’s Berens River Experience in Retrospect 112
Leaving Berens River, 1876 114
Life in Ontario Parsonages: Port Perry, Colborne, and Bowmanville 115
Our Last Two Children and Another Loss 118
Postscripts 120
PART II “ A Missionary and His Son” and Subsequent Reminiscences 140
Introduction 142
A Missionary and His Son 152
Reminiscences of 1962 for the Years 1876 to 1898 218
Illustrations 226
Index 330
A 330
B 330
E 331
D 331
C 331
F 332
G 332
H 332
I 332
M 333
L 333
K 333
J 333
R 334
Q 334
P 334
O 334
N 334
S 335
T 335
V 336
W 336
Y 336
Z 337