Last year, however an unexpected difficulty arose. All calculations of the amount of winter feed required by the stock were thrown out, first by a poor crop in many districts, then by a plague of rabbits who attacked the stacks, and lastly by a long winter, with an abnormal depth of snow. Usually, horses can exist on the old grass found beneath the snow supplemented by a certain amount of feeding up towards the spring. They are then strong enough for the farm work that awaits them.
This winter, however, the snow came in October, and had not yet gone when I left after Easter. In March, Government orders were available in certain cases for grants of feed, to be paid for by work on the roads. But local supplies were soon exhausted, and teams were too weak and trails too bad to risk a journey to the railhead sixty-five miles away [Dawson Creek] on the chance that trails, in districts where there was feed to spare, would enable farmers there to get this feed to the train.
“There’s no money in the country”, is an expression often heard in these days. But of no places can it be more literally true than of those like Fort St. John, where for many families the only money seems to be the monthly Government grants given under certain conditions and taken out in work on the roads. A mother of nine children who still hears from her people in England told me in the autumn that “she hadn’t written home since the spring, as she hadn’t had the money for a stamp”. A man who had been farming for five years, and this year was lucky in his crop, told us when we bought feed for our horses, that (except for 35 dollars from someone last year) ours was the only money he had received from the produce of his farm since he began.
The settlers, therefore, had the greatest difficulty in procuring clothes. Those with which they had come into the country were mostly worn out. Game licenses and trapping for furs costs money and are restricted. Sheep so far have not done well in that district and as money was scarce for sugar and flour there were very few sacks out of which to make clothes.
We co-operated, therefore, with the Red Cross Nurse in the distribution of “relief clothes”. Thanks to friends in England, and to the Fellowship of the Maple Leaf in London (which made itself responsible for the postage of dozens of parcels) we were really able to do something to ease the situation. We found that our knowledge of the homes helped us to get a very fair idea of the degrees of destitution in the various families. In many cases those who are really in need told us, when they would not have told a stranger. Sometimes a father, very scantily clad, would come for clothes for his family and not ask for anything for himself. Several times we were given pork or other produce for other poor families by those whose only need was clothing.
Without these clothes, many children would have been kept from school, and men would have suffered great hardship in a country where the temperature may drop to 50 degrees below zero. Money from England enabled us to buy at Christmas a quantity of flannelette for the mothers to use as they thought best, and a good deal of yarn. The latter we gave to those who liked to knit, on the understanding that half was returned to us made up into garments for distribution.
The Church House (or Rectory) was the depot for distribution, and we were thankful to be able to do anything to ease the burden of people in a land where there were so many instances of courage, resource and cheerfulness. We felt that the sympathy shown by the people at home could be a great help in the more directly evangelistic work which was our chief concern.
There are now three Churches in the Parish which has an area of about 4,000 square miles. Besides the clergyman and his wife, there are at present two women workers, and it is hoped that a third will join them after Easter next year.
Our program has changed slightly, owing to the advent of a resident Minister of the United Church of Canada, who looks after a large area in the district. Consequently we are no longer responsible for monthly Sunday School in that area, which we had taken while there was no religious work being done there. At present, our clergyman holds weekly Sunday Services in two churches, eight miles apart and monthly ones in four other centres. The inside of one week a month is usually devoted to a settlement 65 miles up the river, where they hope one day to have a church.
Weekly Sunday Schools are held in two centres and fortnightly ones in four others. Monthly visits, which include a Sunday School, are paid to two other centres and it is hoped this summer to visit some new settlements in more remote parts of the parish. There are several tiny groups of Guides and the Sunday School by post is in operation throughout the district. In the expense of producing and posting these lessons we are greatly helped by the Fellowship of the Maple Leaf.
We are in very close touch with the Red Cross Nurse in her district visiting and, as religious workers, are welcomed at any time of the day by the Roman Catholic Sisters who run the local hospital.
We long to be able to help the children up-country, by having a boarding house from which they could go to the High School, lately started in Fort St. John. We wish too that we could do something for the Indians who still live in the district and seem to be very much neglected.
Very naturally, a great many families have got quite out of touch with religion in the battle for existence, and their whole purpose is directed towards the goal of material prosperity. The exigencies of the life make attendance at Sunday School and Church services very irregular. But often we are heartened by meeting a real spiritual hunger, and our faith in the Power of the Holy Spirit is strengthened by finding, away from all the spiritual helps which we take so much for granted here at home, shining examples of lives “hid with Christ in God.”
Adeline Harmer, North British Columbia News, July 1933.