First Anglican Minister in the North West

By George Siamandas

John West was born in 1778 in Surrey England, son of an Anglican minister. He followed his father's footsteps and was ordained in 1806 and earned an Oxford MA in 1809, where he met Henry Budd an evangelical rector. West was moved by evangelism and volunteered to serve the Church Missionary Society.


In 1819 West was appointed the HBC's chaplain. The HBC anticipating the merger wanted to begin to provide a community for retiring fur trade personnel and needed schools, pastoral care and other community institutions. He arrived in Red River in October 1820 as Rupert's Land's first Protestant missionary. His job was to meliorate the condition of the native Indians. West visited the Indian encampments and discovered a large number of orphaned mixed blood and native children. West found two native boys at York one of whom he named Henry Budd.


West may have pioneered the concept of the Indian residential school where the Indian child would be parted from his family and educated in the white man's knowledge and religion. He began a day school at Red River. The settlers eagerly sent their children. West taught practical skills to the children including domestic skills to the girls and horticultural and cultivation skills to the boys. He had intended to do the same with the Indian children but could not get the funding for it. During the 1820ws there was a great deal of anxiety and tension at the red River settlement with crop failures attacks by the Sioux as well as the lingering NWC and HBC difficulties.


West disapproved of the custom of common law marriages between white men and Indian women and called them morally and socially destructive. He also refused to baptise an illegitimate child. Many HBC employees felt compelled to formalise their vows in West's church.


The Selkirk Scots had wanted a Presbyterian minister and were not happy with West's Anglican services. Nicholas Garry was not impressed with West's preaching skills.

But West had a certain respect for the catholic missionaries and helped distribute bibles in French and even planned to learn French. West travelled widely in the northwest. He met Franklin in 1822 at York factory. He clashed with Sir George Simpson on his strict views against alcohol and the Indians and drunkenness in general. In 1823 west returned to England not knowing he would never return to Red River. He had dabbled in the politics of Red River too often. The HBC dropped him as chaplain. West published journals in 1824 and 1827 recounting his experiences in New York where once again he despaired at the exploitive tendencies oft he whites in the fur trade.

Back in England, West was helpful in facilitating immigration of farmers to New South Wales (Australia). He continued his interest in education and was one of the authors of the 1831 reform bill. West who had married in 1807, but was away from his wife for decades, had 12 children. West died in Dec 1845. Only 7 of his children survived his death.


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