Reflecting on the legacy of Rev. Robert Terrill Rundle

This month (October) marks an important, but largely overlooked milestone in our province’s history. It was 175 years ago, on Oct. 16th, 1840, that Rev. Robert Terrill Rundle, the first missionary in Alberta, arrived at Fort Edmonton.

Rundle was born in Mylor, Cornwall on June 18th, 1811. He enrolled in a business school in northwest Cornwall in 1837. While there, he began to take an active interest in the Wesleyan Methodist Church.

After several months of religious training, Rundle was ordained as a minister in March 1840. Almost immediately, he was selected to be a missionary in the vast territories that belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company in western North America.

While the HBC had struck a deal with the Wesleyan Missionary Society to bring missionaries to Western Canada from England, the Company was quite ambivalent about the initiative. It had the benefits of improving the Company’s image with both government and the general public.

However, the Company was concerned that the spread of Christianity, even under controlled circumstances, would distract its employees and the First Nations from the fur trade. Moreover, it worried that Christianity might interfere with such business practices as the use of alcohol as a trade incentive.

The Rundle’s trip across the North American continent was a long and grueling one. Rundle also had apprehensions about the First Nations with which he would be working. Fortunately, he quickly found that he generally got along very well with the natives and most of the Company’s employees.

Rundle was to serve as a Company chaplain at the fur trade posts. However, almost immediately, he began to travel to the various First Nations encampments, to meet the people in their own communities. This helped to strengthen Rundle’s rapport with many First Nations. Conversely, it bothered the HBC’s management that he was thereby removed from their strict oversight and control.

In early 1841, Rundle made the first of many trips to Rocky Mountain House. He also made visits to First Nation’s camps near Gull Lake and Pigeon Lake.

In 1842, Rundle was very upset when Father Jean Baptiste Thibault arrived to start missionary work in the region including Fort Edmonton and Rocky Mountain House. Rundle felt threatened by a Roman Catholic “competitor” in the same area.

Despite his worries, by the summer of 1843, Rundle was enjoying great success with his work. In August, he conducted a large baptism service along the Red Deer River and, shortly thereafter, on the Tobacco Weed Plains farther south. Rundle got a great deal of assistance from the famous Cree chief, Maskepetoon, and Maskepetoon’s son, Benjamin.

Rundle had considerable success in teaching Cree syllabics to many of the people he met. Cree syllabics were so easy to learn and understand that the ability to read and write was soon more widespread amongst the First Nations than with the fur traders and laborers employed by the HBC.

Nevertheless, there were continuous reminders of the widespread violence across the region. During a visit to the Red Deer area, Rundle had the horrifying experience of witnessing a double murder a short distance from his tent. Two days later, he was forced to spend the night in the same tent as the murderers. On a number of occasions, Rundle came across the sites of bloody battles between warring First Nations.

As Rundle’s mission progressed, he struck a warm friendship with Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, a Jesuit priest. In 1847, he established a permanent mission site on the western shores of Pigeon Lake, which was later managed by his protégé, Benjamin Sinclair.

In 1848, a fatigued and somewhat ailing Rundle returned to Britain. While he initially planned to return to Western Canada, he never did so. He passed away at Garstang, Lancashire on Feb. 4th, 1896.

Mount Rundle at Banff is named in honour of Rev. Robert T. Rundle.

Just Posted

Red Deer’s newest outdoor ice facility opens to the public next week

The speed skating oval at Setters Place at Great Chief Park will be open Dec. 17th

Exhibition explores the rich history and culture of Métis people

The exhibition is on display from Dec. 15th to March 10th at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery

2019 Hockey Alberta Provincial Championship host sites announced

A total of 39 Provincial Championships will be hosted across the province

40-year Big Brother match a gift to Lacombe man

Andy Pawlyk and his Little Brother Chris Selathamby honoured at BBBS Awards Night

UPDATE: Elderly male has been located

Red Deer RCMP thank the public for their assistance

VIDEO: Royals reveal the images on their Christmas cards

Prince William and his wife Kate are shown outside in casual clothes, their three young children in tow

New home for Calgary Flames estimated to cost up to $600 million

The city and the Flames are not yet talking on who will pay how much for a building to replace the Saddledome

Family searching for B.C. professor last seen at Colombian salsa club

Ramazan Gencay, a professor in economics at Simon Fraser University, was last seen in Medellin

Rash of bomb threats a learning opportunity for response capacity, Goodale

Thursday’s wave of bomb threats swept across communities on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border

Mike Duffy can’t sue Senate over suspension without pay, judge rules

Duffy’s lawsuit sought more than $7.8 million from the upper chamber

Language on Sikh extremism in report will be reviewed, Goodale says

A public-safety ministry document indicats terrorist threats to Canada included a section on Sikh extremism for the first time

Questions raised over retailers who shame shoplifters with photos

Alleged theft from a sex shop in Newfoundland led to posts on social media

Fashion Fridays: How to change your beauty routine

Kim XO, lets you in on her style secrets each Fashion Friday on the Black Press Media Network

Stettler man found guilty of illegally trafficking wildlife

Hunting license suspended for three years

Most Read