EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Missionary John Sanders travelled by canoe, dog team, snowshoes in 19th century Northern Ontario

Rev John and Mrs Sanders circa 1898
In 1845, John Sanders, one of a family of 20 children, was born to Ojibway parents at Flying Post, at the time a native settlement on Groundhog Lake, about sixty miles north of Biscotasing.

About 1860, Rev. John Horden, a missionary of the Church of England (Anglican) journeyed by canoe from Moose Factory to Missanabie, a distance of more than 500 miles. (As an aside I always wanted to make this trip to Moose Factory by canoe, and on two occasions I started out on it, once from Chapleau and the other time from Missanabie. Both ventures failed but we went) part way which was really an awesome experience.)

Returning to old Brunswick Post which was about 10 miles south of the present Peterbell, and about 60 miles north of Chapleau, Rev. Horden struck overland to Flying Post. There he met John Sanders who was to become one of the first native persons (he may have been the first) ordained as a priest in the Church of England in Canada.

With the consent of his father, Rev. Horden took the young man with him to Moose Factory where he was to live with his grandmother commonly known as 'Old Maggie Sanders'. John Sanders entered the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company, working as a carpenter, and attending the mission school at Moose Factory.

By 1872, John Horden who by then had become the first bishop of Moosonee decided that John Sanders, who was now married, should have training for the ministry.

Follow me on the trip they made to get John Sanders to college in Winnipeg. They set out from Moose Factory by canoe, crossing portages and eventually arrived at Michipicoten Harbour near the present community of Wawa. Then they got on a sailing vessel on Lake Superior to Fort William and then overland to St. John's College in Winnipeg. Apparently a great storm occurred while they were on Lake Superior, bringing fears that the vessel would sink.

Following his studies, John Sanders was ordained deacon in 1876 and priest in the Church of England in 1879 in Moose Factory.

As a missionary, he travelled from his base at Mattagami to Flying Post to Missanabie to Michipicoten. He also travelled by way of Loon (Borden) Lake, the Loon Lake portage, and to the present site of Chapleau.

John Sanders was carrying out missionary work for his church before the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, and he would have travelled by canoe, on foot and dog team and snoe shoes in the winter months across a vast stretch of Northern Ontario. Quite honestly as I adapt the story of John Sanders from my 1984 book 'Sons of Thunder ... Apostles of Love', the history of St. John's Anglican Church, I am amazed at the travels of people like John Sanders. For sure we shall never see their like again.

Rev. Sanders conducted one of the first Christian services at Chapleau on the banks of the river. After Chapleau was established many early residents recalled the open air services he held at the Indian reserve and at the first St. John's Church. In 1982, Rev. William Ivey, then the rector of St. John's organized the re-enactment of the service conducted by Rev. Sanders one hundred years earlier. Canon Redfern Louttit, who had attended the residential school and graduated from Chapleau High School returned to portray Rev. Sanders. Canon Louttit had been ordained at St. John's in 1940 after graduating from Wycliffe College, and had worked as a missionary in the Diocese of Moosonee. The service held on the banks of the river behind the church was conducted in Cree, Ojibway and English.

After the CPR was completed Rev. Sanders moved his headquarters from Mattagami to Biscotasing. Although my research indicates that Rev. Sanders established one of the first churches in the diocese south of James Bay at the Mulligan Bay Hudson Bay Company Post, there has been considerable discussion on this point as to where it was actually located. Anyone with information please let me know. He was responsible for the building of the Anglican church at Missanabie.

On February 26, 1902, John Sanders died at Biscotasing. Funeral services for him were conducted at Missanabie by Rev. A.O. Cheney, rector of St. John's, Chapleau. He was 57 when he died and is buried in Missanabie. Rev. Sanders had many relatives in Chapleau.

Without doubt, his arduous missionary labours and his travels by canoe, dog team and snowshoes had taken their toll. John Sanders was certainly one of the apostles of love that I wrote about some 26 years ago in my history of St. Johns.


I received the following from Tom Corston, now an Anglican priest and archdeacon, and of course, a very well known Chapleau boy after my column on telephone operators. Tom wrote: Hi Michael...Great story about the operators. I always laugh at the memory of the operators that worked the telephones in Chapleau. When people would call looking for my father, they would say to the operator, "I don't know his real name, I only know him as 'Chicken'." To which the operator would often respond, "Oh, that's 'Henry', his number is..." A time gone forever. Thanks for the great memories Mike, I enjoy them all."

And from Larry 'Ton' Comte, an old friend from Chapleau High School and member of another pioneer Chapleau family. Ton wrote about first diesel: "My dad "Raoul" or known as "Lulu" was the engineer on the first diesel in Chapleau. My dad was a graduate from Los Angeles as a Diesel Engineer. It was always interesting to hear the train crew mention that is was great to be on the diesel with dad, if it caused problems, he could fix it on the run."

My email is mj.morris@live.ca

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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