The Northern Missionaries - Bishop Stringer - The Bishop who ate his Boots

William Kirkby  |  Robert McDonald  |  William Bompas  |  J.W. Ellington  |  Isaac & Sadie Stringer

William West Kirkby
(1828-1907)

The first Anglican missionary to reach the Yukon Territory was the Reverend William West Kirkby. In June 1859, he arrived at Fort Simpson (Northwest Territories) with the intent to establish a church and mission. Although he had been deprived the privilege of attending school as a child, he later educated himself and eventually attained the position of schoolmaster in his native Lincolnshire.

Kirkby was accepted and trained by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and sent to Red River (Winnipeg) to teach school. He made such a good impression that within two years he was ordained and sent to minister at Fort Simpson. He devoted his energy to learning the Slavi language spoken by the native people of that area, but his active and inquiring mind soon led him to explore the surrounding territory.

In the summer of 1861, Kirkby set out to reach Fort Yukon. Accompanied by two native guides, he canoed down the Mackenzie and up the Peel Rivers to Fort McPherson. He reported meeting with a large number of Gwitch'in who received him kindly and provided him with an escort for the next stage of his journey. He then travelled west via the Porcupine River to Fort Yukon, the remote Hudson's Bay Company post situated near the confluence of the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers in what is now Alaska. At the end of the summer, Kirkby returned to Fort Simpson fired up with the determination to open that vast area before any other religious denomination could begin work there. He enthusiastically wrote in the CMS magazine -

"Gladly would I, if it were not for my family, live permanently among them [Gwitch'in]."

Married with a family, Kirkby felt he could not take on the enormous task of establishing the Fort Yukon mission. He appealed to the CMS to find someone more suitable. In October 1862 the CMS found their permanent missionary for that area - Robert McDonald.

Old Log Church Museum 2002
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