Catalysts and Watchdogs: BC's Men of God: 1836-1871


116 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55039-055-4
DDC 226'.009711'09034






Reviewed by T.D. Regehr

T.D. Regehr is a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan
and the author of The Beauharnois Scandal: A Story of Entrepreneurship
and Politics.


The first Christian missionaries who came to British Columbia were
colorful, quarrelsome, arrogant, and highly dedicated men who exhibited
not only the gentle philosophy of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount but also
the jealousy, petulance, and arrogance of the tribal deity of the
ancient Israelites. Many came from upper-class British families and were
peculiarly unsuited to life in the raw wilderness of the far west.

This book provides much interesting and anecdotal material about these
early “men of God.” While there are some references to Roman
Catholic and other Protestant missionaries, the primary focus is on
Anglican missionaries, beginning with the ones who came out as
Hudson’s Bay Company chaplains and almost immediately became a
disruptive force because of their opposition to many long-established
fur-trade practices. The author relates their escapades entertainingly,
although the conclusions she draws seem unduly generous to the
missionaries in the light of the evidence she presents.

Later missionaries who sought to serve the gold-rush communities in the
interior of British Columbia faced enormous religious, psychological,
personal, and physical obstacles. Efforts to educate the populace, to
combat prostitution in the gold fields by bringing in shiploads of
prospective “brides” drawn from English orphanages and workhouses,
and to create a new Christian Native utopia at Metlakatla produced mixed
results but nevertheless consolidated the anglo-Christian presence in
pre-Confederation British Columbia. What this book shows is that when
the intentions of the missionaries who went west clashed with the
reality they encountered, they dealt with that dissonance in very human


Weir, Joan., “Catalysts and Watchdogs: BC's Men of God: 1836-1871,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024,