Bishop John Grisdale and his ‘Gossamer Thread’

Posted: November 22, 2013 in Australian Gold Rush, Canadian history
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In an earlier article I left the Bolton cotton bleacher and Indian missionary, the Rev. John Grisdale, at Liverpool docks in late April 1873. He was waiting with his new wife Ann and their infant son Robert Chaplin Grisdale to take ship to New York, from where they would travel overland to Rupert’s Land in Canada. Within a month they had arrived at the Church Missionary Society’s church of St. Andrews in the Red River Settlement.

The Manitoba Historical Society has this to say about John’s clerical career in Canada:

John Grisdale (1845-1922). Cleric.

Born at Lancashire, England on 25 June 1845, he spent five years in the C.M.S. College at Islington, London. He was ordained deacon in St. Paul’s Cathedral in June 1870. He then spent a year doing missionary work in India, returning due to ill health. There he married Annie Chaplin. In May 1873, they emigrated to Canada and came to Winnipeg where he served as rector of Holy Trinity Church. He later held positions at Christ Church, professor of systematic theology at St. John’s College, canon of St. John’s Cathedral, and dean of Rupert’s Land. In 1879 he helped to found the Manitoba Historical Society.

He received a DD degree from the University of Manitoba in 1887. In 1896 he was elected Bishop of Qu’Appelle. He held the position until 1911 when he retired due to ill health. He died at his Winnipeg residence on 27 January 1922.

These are the bare facts, but let’s try to add some flesh to the bones.

St Andrew's Church, Manitoba

St Andrew’s Church, Manitoba

In my previous article I told that John was primarily a missionary. He had trained with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in London for five years before being sent to India where eventually the climate had proved unconducive to him. The CMS was primarily concerned with converting the ‘heathens’. By the way, the word ‘heathens’ was the one used by the CMS, whose whole purpose, which was very explicit, was to convert the native “heathens” – the religious care of colonists generally being left to the SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), although the lines were often blurred. It was in this capacity that the CMS had sent him to Rupert’s Land. One month after leaving England, he and his wife and young son Robert arrived at the CMS mission in the Red River Settlement at St. Andrews, where his job was to be ministering to the Anglo-Métis community there.

As soon as he arrived John immediately wrote to Mr Wright, the secretary of the CMS in London:

St. Andrews, Lisgar, Manitoba, May 30, 1873.

My dear Mr. Wright

We arrived here on Saturday last, exactly a month from the date of sailing from Liverpool.

We are each of us in moderate health, and do feel deeply grateful to Him who has so abundantly answered the prayers of our many friends at home.

Our heavy luggage has not yet reached us, so that we feel a little unsettled.

The Bishop has himself instituted me at once, so that on Sunday I hope to have two services in the Church and one in the northern school. Dear Archdeacon Cowley has just said ‘Goodbye’ and is on his way to the Indian Settlement. He must have toiled very hard, too hard, during the vacancy. McDonald and Rayner have not yet reached us. The boats are going in about a fortnight. I hope shortly to write to you more fully.

With … Love and earnest prayers for God’s blessing on the Committee’s ‘plans & proceedings’.

Very truly yours

John Grisdale

Bishop Robert Machray

Bishop Robert Machray

The ‘Dear Archdeacon Cowley’ John refers to was Abraham Cowley who had first come as a CMS missionary to the Red River Settlement in 1841 and was by this time based at the ‘Original Indian Settlement of Western Canada’: St. Peter’s (in present-day Dynevor). The Bishop who had ‘instituted’ Grisdale was Robert Machray, who had been made Bishop of Rupert’s Land in 1865 and was to become the first Primate of All Canada in 1893. Machray would be John Grisdale’s friend, mentor and sponsor for many years.

Although John’s primary role was to minister to the Anglo-Métis community in St. Andrew’s, he obviously from time to time went to preach to the native Indians living at St. Peter’s Indian settlement, a thing he was to continue to do even after he had been elevated to higher positions within the Anglican Church. See for example my story of Alex Grisdale and his grandfather here.

But Bishop Machray had plans for the future organization of the Anglican Church in Rupert’s Land.

Owing to the statesmanlike plans of Bishop Machray, of Rupert’s Land, it was decided to divide the vast district, comprising more than one-half of all Canada, into separate dioceses. The Bishop realized that more effective supervision was needed in the large field, as the distances were too great for one man to think of undertaking. The distance from the Red River to the farthest posts on the Mackenzie River was as great as “from London to Mecca,” and it would have taken him two years to visit the northern posts with profit. Crossing to England, the Bishop set forth the proposal for the division of his diocese into four parts, which was accepted by all concerned.

The reduced Diocese of Rupert’s Land would comprise the new province of Manitoba and some adjacent districts; the coasts and environs of Hudson’s Bay would form the Diocese of Moosonee; the vast plains of the Saskatchewan, stretching westward to the Rocky Mountains, the Diocese of Saskatchewan; and the whole of the enormous territories watered by the Athabasca and Mackenzie Rivers, and such part of the Yukon basin as was within British territory, the Diocese of Athabasca.

The first St. John's Cathedral in Winnipeg

The first St. John’s Cathedral in Winnipeg

Machray also became the warden and headmaster of St. John’s College in Winnipeg in 1874 and he immediately made John Grisdale the Professor of Systematic Theology. And then on the 2nd of November 1874 Grisdale was made a canon of St. John’s Cathedral. Bishop Machray gave a long sermon in the cathedral on Grisdale’s inauguration. He said:

To those of you dear brethren who are Parishioners of St. John’s, the induction of Mr Grisdale can scarcely fail to have a lively interest, for in becoming one of the pastors of the Collegiate Church that has been established here – the Mother Church – the Cathedral Church of the Diocese – he will in a peculiar degree be a pastor of St. John’s Parish, as it is still intended that the Cathedral should partake of the character of a Parish church.

John’s rise had been rapid, all this had happened in eighteen months or so from his arrival in Canada. In 1875 Canon Grisdale was made secretary of the ‘First Provincial Synod of the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s land’.

Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Winnipeg in 1884

Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Winnipeg in 1884

As canon of St. John’s Cathedral, John took an interest in rebuilding Holy Trinity Church as well. He was appointed Rector of Holy Trinity:

On 8 April 1867 some of the residents of the small hamlet at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers met in the Court House to organize a parish, and a building committee was appointed. At first, religious services were held in the Court House, just outside the enclosure of Fort Garry, and afterwards in the upper level of Red River Hall near the corner of what are now Portage Avenue and Main Streets. The large numbers of people that crowded into this fragile structure required the use of wooden poles as temporary supports for the floor to prevent the assembled congregation from falling into the store below. The small congregation commenced work on building their own church at the corner of Avenue and Garry Street on land donated by the Hudson’s Bay Company. However, the enterprise was thwarted by a violent windstorm that destroyed the incomplete structure and killed a workman who was sleeping there overnight. Starting over, the congregation successfully completed a simple and unpretentious wooden structure that was opened for public worship in two services on 4 November 1868. The first vestry of the church that was constituted five days later included the rector, The Venerable Archdeacon John McLean, and other prominent members of the community.

By 1870 the church was already too small for the expanding congregation, so steps were taken to enlarge the building to accommodate 350 persons; this was accomplished by Christmas Day of that year. A later cleric, Rev. Canon Grisdale of St. John’s College, promoted a new church with a capacity for 450 worshippers; it was opened on 11 November 1875, when Rev. O. Fortin was inducted by the archbishop of Rupert’s Land, but only the chancel and transept were completed at that time.

John was also instrumental in founding Christ Church in Point Douglas, Winnipeg:

Christ Church began in 1875 as a Sunday school started by Rev. Canon J. Grisdale in the home of W.G. Fonseca in the Point Douglas district. The Sunday School was moved to a log building, known as the Sutherland House on the northeast corner of Henry Avenue and Main Street. Land was purchased from W.G. Fonseca in 1876 at the corner of Princess and Main. There a brick church was built and opened on 13 August 1876. The parish of Christ Church was officially formed that year as well. A new church was built on the corner of Princess and Higgins in 1881. It opened for service 24 November 1881.

When the church was first opened in 1876 the local newspaper carried this report:

Christ Church, Point Douglas

This handsome little Church will open for Divine service tomorrow afternoon, at half-past three o’clock, when the Lord Bishop of Rupert’s Land will preach. Rev. Precentor Beck will preside at the organ, and will be supported by a choir of St. John’s College boys.

A little more than a year ago the Rev. Canon Grisdale bought the block of land on which the church now stands for the Church Missionary Society, London; last year a substantial fence was put around it, also at the cosy of the Society; and this spring the church about to be opened was put up.

The cost of the building, exclusive of the inside fittings and furniture, was $2,300. Of this sum $300 has been received from England, and Rev, Canon Grisdale is confident that he will shortly receive the balance from the same source.

The building is 46 by 26 feet, built of wood with a veneering of white brick. It is intended as soon as the population of the city shall warrant it, to put up a large and substantial church edifice of either brick or stone, when the present building will be used as a school house.

Rev. Canon Grisdale went about the work of building this church in a quiet and unostentatious way, feeling that there was a need of a church in that part of the city where it is situated and he expresses himself gratified at the liberality with which he has been met on every hand. The carpet for the chancel and vestry rooms is a rich Brussels, of a pattern that corresponds finely with the inside painting, and is the gift of the Hon. Mr. Graham, Chief Commissioner of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Messrs. Higgins, Young and Peebles present a beautiful crimson communion cloth. Two oak chairs for the chancel are the gift of Mrs. Wm. Besant. McMicken & Taylor give two four light chandeliers; and Kew, Stobart & Co. Furnish the necessary cocoanut matting for the aisles. A small harmonium made by Prince of Buffalo, was paid for by the contributions of Mrs. F. C. Mercer and Mr. W. H. Lyon, but it has not yet come to hand. Instead of a reading desk and pulpit, there is a double lectern, of oak, contributed by Bishop & Shelton; and the Bible, Prayer Book and Service Book – all beautifully bound – are the gift of the English Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. The organ to be used tomorrow has been kindly lent for the occasion by Messrs. Cornell & Clements dealers in musical instruments in the city.

The contractor for the building was Mr. J. J. Johnston; the painting was done by Mr.Peter Stanley; the upholstery by Bishop & Shelton,; the seats were made by Mr. Henry Sellick; the windows and doors are from the shop of Messrs. Brown and Rutherford; and the two elegant designs in stucco are the work of Mr. Moulds. The doors and windows are in the gothic style – the chancel window in particular being a rich design and of excellent workmanship. The main window is 11 by 4 feet, and is composed of two gothic windows, surmounted by a circular window composed of eight concentric circles diverging from a common centre. It is intended to put stained glass into this window – an improvement which will add much to the appearance of the church.

Hereafter Sunday School will be held every Sunday afternoon at half-past 2 o’clock, and Divine service will be held by Rev. Canon Grisdale, Incumbent, at half-past 3 o’clock.

It is expected that a balance of about $250 will remain due on the inside fittings, and to aid in reducing this debt a collection will be taken up at the close of the service tomorrow afternoon.

From his earliest time in Canada, John started to make many trips back to England. Often he was sent to London to try to raise money for the church in Rupert’s Land, including money to help rebuild Holy Trinity Church. But he always took these opportunities to visit his parents and sibling in Bolton. In 1883 he even took his two children, Robert Chaplin and Alice, back to England to visit his family, including his parents who both lived until 1897. Later, in 1888, he was also back in Bolton and conducted the wedding of his younger brother Levi.

As already noted, in 1879 John was one of the 26 original founders of the Manitoba Historical Society. Here is an account of the Society’s first meeting when Canon Grisdale was certainly present:

On the appointed night, the old City Hall on Main Street was “completely filled” by a distinguished audience which was said to include “much of the worth and intelligence of Winnipeg.” The citizens parked their carriages and tied their horses on either side of the wide, rutted street and jumped onto the board sidewalks, boot heels ringing in the frosty air ignoring the shouts from several nearby taverns, they entered the lamplight at the door and mingled with the other leaders of Manitoba society. It was an exciting evening, precisely because it was all so new. Manitoba itself seemed a new world. Of the old-timers, McTavish of the Hudson’s Bay Company was gone, James McKay of Deer Lodge was on his death bed, and Louis Riel, now in exile somewhere near the Missouri River, was little more than a name. With few exceptions, these citizens had arrived in the province within the decade. To them an old-timer was John Christian Schultz, who had come to Red River in 1859, or Jim Ashdown, who had walked from St. Cloud to Red River in 1868. The number of native-born Red River citizens in their midst, like the métis Premier John Norquay, was tiny. This audience crackled with excitement because John Macoun would provide the first real assessment of the worth of their empire.

As the gentlemen settled in their oak armchairs, Chief Justice Wood introduced their guest in his inimitable prose. The burden of his message lay in a peroration that brought his listeners to life: “we are now waking up to the conviction,” he said, “that our North-West is destined to be one of the most important parts of the globe … and with the older eastern Provinces … will soon be the right arm of the British Empire.”John Macoun took up this theme where the Chief Justice had left off. He responded to the hearty applause with a few jokes, told stories about his trek across the vast plains to the west and, as everyone hoped, he provided enthusiastic reports about the potential of the prairie soil and the salubrity of prairie climate. Here was the confirmation of the best features of the Hind and Palliser reports that Winnipeggers had awaited. Macoun was assuring them that the West would soon contain an agricultural empire. His concluding comment, a statement attributed to Lord Beaconsfield, described this imperial frontier as a land of “illimitable opportunities.” His words provoked cheers from the audience.

MHS‘Among other trifling pursuits this young society set itself to build up three libraries. It organized, purchased, managed, housed and made available for the people the only public library and reading room the city had until the Carnegie library was opened. A second, the special joy of the Society’s heart, was a general reference library which included a fairly complete collection of books, historical and other, relating to Western Canada. Part of this collection went to the Carnegie reference library, and part was buried in the catacombs of the Parliament building. The third of the Society’s libraries had as its nucleus the books bequeathed by Mr. Isbister. This carefully preserved, used, and added to, was the beginning of the library of the Manitoba University.’

John’s church career and ministry in the growing city of Winnipeg continued. In 1884 he was promoted to the important position of dean of Rupert’s Land, and finally he was made Bishop of the huge prairie province of Qu’Appelle in 1896. But before this, in 1883 when John took his children back to England and when he was still Canon of St. John’s Cathedral, he must have talked with his brothers about them emigrating to Canada, because when he returned in April 1883 he was accompanied by his younger brother Joseph. Brother George arrived the next year in Winnipeg having travelled via Quebec. George had been a packer in a Bolton bleach works but became a bookkeeper in Canada, while Joseph had been a railway clerk back home but became a bank manager in Canada. I’ll tell something about them at a later date.

John Grisdasle

John Grisdasle

Dean Grisdale, as he now was, continued to be a trusted emissary and fund raiser for the diocese. Not long after Grisdale’s appointment as Dean, Bishop Machray we read:

Spoke of the place the Cathedral should hold in a Diocese, employing much the same terms and ideas he had used in setting forth his Cathedral system in 1874, when Mr. Grisdale, the Dean, had been installed as Canon He announced that while funds were not yet at his command for building a suitable Cathedral edifice, nor for the holding of daily Services, still his plans had to a large extent been realised, as the proceeds of the sale of Cathedral land, together with the endowments already formed for the Professorships in the College, now gave the means of having an effective staff–a Dean and four residentiary Canons–as well as of providing residences for them. The Dean and the four Canons would hold the Chairs of Pastoral Theology, Systematic Theology, Exegetical Theology, Ecclesiastical History, and Music respectively; he hoped to make an appointment to the last in a short time. The endowment of the Cathedral Chapter having now been secured, the next great effort at the centre of the Diocese was to be for the College, which needed a new building. He stated that Dean Grisdale was to proceed to England to try to raise an Endowment Fund for teachers in Arts, which also was necessary.

To assist Dean Grisdale, who left Winnipeg for London in the summer, the Bishop issued a circular, drawing attention at some length to the growth of Manitoba and the North-West, and the consequent needs of the Church. Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, was becoming a large place, wrote the Bishop, and was of great importance as a railway centre. East of it the Canadian Pacific Railway Company had built (1882) 450 miles of line to Port Arthur on Lake Superior, where connection was made with steamships on the Great Lakes for eastern points; and west of it the Company had constructed 450 miles of line across the prairies, and were still carrying the line westward at the rate of three miles a day. The line had gone beyond the boundary of Manitoba into Assiniboia, into which settlement was flowing to such an extent that it would be necessary to think very soon of providing a Bishop for that Territory. As regards Manitoba itself fifty-two new municipalities had been formed, and in thirty-eight of them, embracing over 700 townships, each comprising 36 square miles, there was no resident clergyman of the Church, while in several other municipalities, each with from twelve to forty townships, there was only one clergyman.

Returning to John’s irresistible rise:

Upon the death of Bishop Burn (in 1896), Dean Grisdale, of Winnipeg, was chosen successor, being the first Bishop of Qu’Appelle to be elevated to such dignity by the authorities of the English Church in Canada. He was fortunate in having as co-workers a corps of faithful and industrious priests, among whom may be named Archdeacon Dobie, Archdeacon T. W. Johnson, Canon Beale and the Rev. M. McAdam Harding. Thanks to the strenuous labours of these and other clergymen under Bishop Grisdale’s leadership, his episcopate was prosperous in the extreme. By 1906 the diocese contained sixty-seven churches and more than thirty-three hundred members of the Anglican communion, served by forty-eight ordained clergymen and twenty-four lay readers. By 1908 there were eighty-two churches, thirty-nine rectories and vicarages and eight parish halls.

Today the small town of Qu’Appelle in southern Saskatchewan isn’t of any great importance (except to those living there), but in the nineteenth century there were great hopes for the settlement. It was for a time the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the major distribution centre for what was then the District of Assiniboia in the North-West Territories. Qu’Appelle had at one stage been credibly anticipated to be the major metropole of the North-West Territories by both the federal government and the Church of England. In anticipation of Qu’Appelle’s future urban importance the Church had designated it the cathedral city for the new Diocese of Qu’Appelle, which geographically corresponded to the District of Assiniboia.

Political events, however, passed Qu’Appelle entirely by when Lieutenant- Governor Edgar Dewdney selected the locale of his own landholdings at Pile-O-Bomes (then re-named “Regina”) as his Territorial capital: Qu’Appelle’s significance… then largely lapsed.

Bishop's Court, Indian Head, Qu'Appelle Diocese

Bishop’s Court, Indian Head, Qu’Appelle Diocese

When John Grisdale became Bishop the pro-Cathedral church was St. Peter’s in Qu’Appelle which had been built in 1885 one year after the appointment of the first Bishop Adelbert Anson. The diocese briefly operated a training facility for Anglican clergy in the town and the St John’s College Farm, a model farm immediately to the west of town. Bishop Burn, Anson’s successor, ‘closed both of these facilities in 1895’. Burns also moved the Bishop’s Court or Palace to Indian Head. When Grisdale arrived the he too would live in the imposing Bishop’s Palace at Indian Head, although he would later move to the provincial capital of Regina where he established St. Chad’s College in 1907 for the training of students in Divinity. It also was recognized by the Provincial University and carried affiliation status. ‘In 1964, Emmanuel College and St. Chad’s College were amalgamated under the name of the “College of Emmanuel and St. Chad,” thus establishing on the Saskatoon Campus one college for the training of ministers for the Anglican Church of Canada.’

This is not the place to retell the story of the diocese of Qu’Appelle but some flavour is given by Trevor Powell in Building ‘a Holy Catholic Church’ on the Prairies:

REGINA  Cross, candles and flowers on the altar, intonation of the service, surpliced choirs, liturgical colours – very much part of Anglican services nowadays, but more than 125 years ago such outward expressions of traditional Catholic worship created a deep rift among Anglicans in England and overseas. Division between those of the Catholic and Evangelical traditions manifested itself not only in worship, but also in other aspects of church life – theological education, forms of ministry, missionary work – to name a few.

The Diocese of Qu’Appelle was no exception. Of the Catholic tradition, Bishops Anson (1884-1892), Burn (1893-1896) and their clergy, emphasized sacramental worship and ceremonial. These innovations to varying degrees were to be found in mainline parishes such as Moosomin, Grenfell, Qu’Appelle, Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Maple Creek, and with the advance of the railway to Saltcoats, Churchbridge, Estevan and Oxbow. Not everyone was pleased with such changes. Opposition by the congregation of St. Paul’s, Regina, to candles on the altar led Anson to ask the people of St. Peter’s, Qu’Appelle to become the pro-cathedral.

During Grisdale’s episcopate (1896-1911), a different course was pursued. To meet the spiritual needs of a growing and scattered population after the turn of the century, he invited clergy, theological students and lay workers of the Evangelical tradition to minister to settlers. Students from Wycliffe College, Toronto, served the missions of Condie, Foxleigh and Winnetka north of Regina. The Colonial and Continental Church Society took charge of a vast area on either side of the CPR main line from Caron to Herbert. Missioners reported to the Society that they had laid the foundation for a strong Church based along Evangelical lines at Morse, Herbert, Elbow, Mortlach, and Caron.

While pleased with the inroads made into what it had hitherto considered a Catholic preserve, the Society was not given further territory by Bishop Harding (1911-1934). Instead he brought in clergy of a strong Catholic tradition and through St. Chad’s Theological College ensured that candidates for ordination received a similar grounding. New mission fields were given to the Railway Mission brotherhood which used the expanding railway network as the chief means of bringing the sacraments to the newcomers. Like Anson and Burn, Harding unswervingly upheld the tenets of the Catholic faith and successfully led the diocese through war and peace followed by the Great Depression and the ravages of drought. He and his successors thus ensured that the Diocese of Qu’Appelle maintained its strong Catholic identity which set it apart from other prairie dioceses.

The ‘evangelical’ John Grisdale retired from his Bishop’s duties in 1911 ‘due to ill health’. He lived out his retirement with his wife in Winnipeg.

What sort of a man was Bishop John Grisdale? We can infer things from his career of course. There are many records of his work in Canada and even the story of his conversion of an Ojibway Indian (see here), and I even have a few of his letters sent to the CMS in London. But what was he like as a man? Perhaps one indication is the story he chose to tell when he himself was nearing his death in Winnipeg. This story was published in Winnipeg in 1937 by Kathleen Blanchard and was called, by her, The Gossamer Thread. It seems that when Bishop Grisdale was nearing his death he asked Wilfred Thomas, the Bishop of Brandon, to come and visit him. He then told him a story. Bishop Brandon wrote in the Foreword to The Gossamer Thread:

… It was while the good Bishop was living in retirement, and very shortly before his death, that he related to me the reminiscence which now finds the light of day in the pages of this little book Inasmuch as I was charged by the Bishop to keep the story alive and to make it known, I now owe to the writer a debt of much gratitude for fulfilling his wish in this commendable form. I earnestly hope that it may help to bring back to recollection some memories of one who loved to spend himself for others, and who in turn was loved by all.

Wilfred Brandon. Bishop’s Lodge, February 18, 1937

Kathleen Blanchard begins:

It was a festive night at our Parish hall in Winnipeg. We had gathered from far and near to hear an address by the newly consecrated Bishop of Brandon. We knew what a good speaker the Bishop was, and the story he told us was so remarkable that it is worth recording.

“When I was Archdeacon,” began the Bishop, “I was living very near to Bishop Grisdale. On morning early, the telephone was insistently ringing. I hastened from my bed to answer it. It was Bishop Grisdale’s nurse, who said, ‘Will you come over as soon as you can, the Bishop has something to tell you?’ Replying that I would come at once, I dressed hastily and was soon there.

“The Bishop was obviously pleased I had come, and said at once, ‘My dear Archdeacon, I sent for you early as I feel I have not much longer to live and I have been dreaming and thinking the night of a strange story of coincidence which I experienced years ago, and which I had forgotten – until my dreams brought them all back to my memory.’

“‘I want you to take what I have to say in writing, and when I am gone to pass it on to the world.’”

What follows is as near as we will ever get to John Grisdale’s verbatim dying story, a story he wanted passed on to the world;

Years ago, when I was Dean of Rupert’s Land, I made it a practice to go to the General Hospital every Friday morning and to go the rounds of the wards there. On one of my visits I was told by one of the nurses that a young Englishman who was very ill wished to see me as soon as I arrived.

I went at once to his ward and I saw that the poor fellow was indeed very ill and that his sickness was unto death. He roused himself however and asked, ‘Sir, will you do something for me?’ I at once replied, ‘My dear boy, I will do anything you ask me to do, that I can do for you.’ The young man then said in a low voice, ‘I feel I shall never see my home again, and I want you to take down the address of my mother in the Old Country, and when I am dead write to her and say you saw me.’ Having certain small personal articles, he asked that I would send her these.

I assured him that I would do so, and immediately noted the name and address of the boy’s mother and the messages. I then prayed with him, and after a little, left him and went on my way. I asked the nurse to let me know how he was and to keep in touch with me at my home.

I did not go straight home that morning and was a later than usual getting back, when I did so I found a message from the hospital waiting for me. The young man I had seen that morning had passed on soon after I left.

I felt very touched by the sad incident of the day and determined that I would do all I could. As I was Dean I had the privilege of choosing any plot of ground for a burial. I chose a spot not far from the east window – under a tree – and arranged for the body to be brought down to St. John’s. I buried him there. The day was beautiful, and after I had taken the burial I gathered some leaves from the tree over the grave and enclosed them in a letter to his mother, telling her all about the incident, as I had promised.

In due time I had a letter from his mother thanking me for all I had done, and enclosing to me the sum of twenty pounds with which to put up a small stone in the form of a cross, and asking me to put the following upon it:

‘Name – When born – When Died – and the following verse, “He brought me forth also into a place of liberty.”’ Psalm 18, verse 19.

Now I was much struck as to the reason his mother had chosen this particular line – as it was very unusual, and I pondered over it quite often.

However, it was all done as requested and the stone was put up. I often looked at it when I was passing through the churchyard – and wondered.

The years passed on. Sometime after I became Bishop, and had occasion to go over to England. During the course of my stay there I was invited to preach at Lichfield Cathedral one Sunday evening. The service commence, and the lovely voices of the choir were singing ‘He brought me forth also into a place of liberty.’ The whole scene of years ago flashed across my mind as the beautiful music rolled around the ancient arches I was transported to the little grave in Winnipeg.

As I looked round the noble building and at the vast congregation, I saw an old white-haired lady sitting in the front row. She was singing the Psalms of the day.

The thought flashed through my mind. ‘Could that possibly be the mother of the young man I had met years ago?’ I was determined after the service to ask someone who she was.

However my duties as a preacher took these thoughts out of my head and I thought no more about it just then. While I was disrobing, however, there was a knock at the Vestry door and the verger announced that a lady would like to speak to me. I knew at once who my visitor was a. It was the old lady I had seen at the service!

She said, ‘I wish to thank you personally, sir, for what you did for my son. You did the kindest deed one man could do for another. You fulfilled his last wises, and buried him with love and kindness.’ We had a little chat, and parted, and soon afterwards I returned to Canada and my work.

While going the rounds of my vast Diocese, I was preaching one Sunday morning in a small country town. The Incumbent was out in the afternoon to take service at a big ranch some miles away. He very much wanted me to go with him, and he said the cowboys would appreciate seeing me, even if I gave them only a little talk.

I was very tired, but consented to go. I enjoyed the drive and despite the bumpy roads and other discomforts. As we journeyed along I turned over in my mind what I would say to them on arrival.

At last we were there, the men were all assembled and the service had begun. Once again the singing commenced. Being the third day of the month, they came to the verse ‘He brought me forth also into a place of liberty!’ which as they sung, seemed to take volume and roll around me until the air was full of music.

I was spellbound. There and then I decided that I would say nothing of what I had prepared, but I commenced telling them of the singular coincidence of that particular verse of the Psalms and of all it reminded me of.

After the service was over, I was sitting on the veranda of the ranch, pondering over the happenings of the day, when the owner came up to speak to me, and said ‘That strange coincidence that you were telling us of, was even stranger than you thought, sir, for it was from this house he was taken to hospital, and it was to this house he first came to from England!’ And this was the singular end of my strange experience – it had following me to its conclusion.

Kathleen Blanchard added at the end: ‘Stranger indeed than fiction – like a gossamer thread.’

John Grisdale, the son of a Bolton cotton weaver, who had started his life as a cotton bleacher, died on 27th January 1922 in Winnipeg, a retired Bishop aged 76.

And memory gently takes our hand

And leads us by a silken thread

To recollections’ pool

K Blanchard

 

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

 

 

 

 

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Comments
  1. Bob Grisdale says:

    A thread that connects us through time indeed!

    A work colleague and friend of mine is a Métis descendant, as is my friend and former Olympic class boxer. I celebrated with them the recent decision by the Canadian courts and government to grant Federal legal status and protection to ‘non-status’ and Métis, a fight and right they have been pursuing for generations. Notwithstanding the long trail of sad, sad treatment, from the taking of their land, the “heathen” characature by such missionaries and up to residential schools and more, these Canadians are currently among the most impoverished and disadvantaged amongst us, and yet among the most respectable of cultures. The decision and the benefits that come with ‘status’ go toward connecting us, as representing generations past, to an opportunity to acknowledge misguided, even if inintended, actions of our forebearers.

    For myself, and in consideration of what appears to be the giving ‘intended’ spirit of Bishop Grisdale, I hope the respect and admiration with which I hold my Métis friends can be seen as a similar gossamer thread helping him and their descendants reconcile through me and us.

    Bob Grisdale

  2. […] port of Whitehaven. His cousin John emigrated to Sydney and his more distant cousin also called John became a missionary in India and later a Canadian Bishop!  His uncle George emigrated with his family to Hudson in Quebec and one member of his family […]

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