Mission infrastructure development in the Canadian North, c. 1850-1920
Turner, Emily Elizabeth
This thesis explores the development of missionary infrastructure in the Canadian north between approximately 1850 and 1915 and its impact on the evangelization of northern indigenous people by missionary organizations. Focussing on two groups of missionaries—the Catholic Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Anglican Church Missionary Society—this thesis demonstrates how missionaries used buildings to develop a programme for evangelization based on the convert and civilize model prevalent in nineteenth-century global missions. It argues that the intent was to convert indigenous people to Christianity and to enact significant changes on their traditional way of life, including their economy and social structure. Within this programme, architectural spaces, specifically the mission station, were used as a frontier location where indigenous people and missionaries interacted, providing a location for missionary teaching, a didactic place to demonstrate how Christians lived, and a method of transforming what was viewed as a non-Christian wilderness into a Christian ‘garden’ through construction of buildings and control of the natural world. While these ideas were applied to diverse locations throughout the global mission field in the early modern period of missionary activity, the Canadian north presents a unique area of study for this topic because of the relative lack of pre-existing non-indigenous development in the region, the difficulties in building resulting from its environment, and the romantic approach that missionaries took to it as the frontier of European and Christian activity—in biblical terms, the “uttermost ends of the earth.” Within this context, the use of architecture as part of a missionary programme of conversion and civilization became extremely important as a tool for the transformation of the land and its people to a Christian ideal rooted in European precedent. This proved problematic because of the inherent difficulties in evangelization in this geographic region. As a result, this thesis demonstrates how missionaries applied architecture within the mission station as a tool for evangelization in this region, taking into consideration both the way in which they perceived the territory and the realities they faced on the ground. It reveals how these missionaries created a unique set of architectures that responded to how missionaries understood building function within the missionary environment, as well as what was actually achievable in the northern mission field.