Father Pat of Kootenay

Is There Always a Good Side to a Suspicious Character?

EDGAR WM. DYNES October 1 1913

Father Pat of Kootenay

Is There Always a Good Side to a Suspicious Character?

EDGAR WM. DYNES October 1 1913

Father Pat of Kootenay

Is There Always a Good Side to a Suspicious Character?


SOMETHING like sixteen years ago a sky pilot in a live Western town played a game of cards on the way to church, won the game, and brought all the boys along with him to evening service. The town was Rossland. The time was the eriod of the boom, when well groomed rokers sat in their offices dictating letters that would have turned Ananias black in the face. The pilot was the much beloved Father Pat, not unknown to honorable fame. In the archives of his church he is set down as the Rev. Henry Irvine, but he is best known by the other name.

Nowhere but in such a country would such a thing have been possible. It came about in this fashion. While on his way to conduct the usual evening service the good pastor met a number of the “boys” and invited them to come along. The leader shook his head. They were going to have a quiet game at the cabin of Sourdough Bill. Father Pat said nothing for a moment ; but he was sorry. He did so want to get a hold on some of the wild, reckless, big-hearted men of the hills. As there was still a few minutes to spare before the hour set for the service, the padre smilingly suggested that they play with him ; and if ne won, they were to come to church. Good sports to a man, they took him up. Being no second shake of a card player, he won the game; and they accompanied him to church, much to the chuckling pilot’s delight.

At the early age of forty-one he died under very tragic circumstances. Hardly had the news been flashed over the wire from Notre Dame Hospital than the men of the hill country—the prospectors and the miners, the smelter men and the muckers, the blanket stiffs and the tie-passers, and not forgetting the business and professional men of the towns—together, everybody, all set about to do honor to the memory of the well loved vicar who had passed out into the Great Beyond all too soon. At the comer of Columbia Avenue and Washington Street, Rossland, there stands the granite memorial they erected—a

monument to the undying memory of a plain man with a heart of gold.

Now as a rule handsome and stately monuments are not very common things in the mountain country. In the hurlyburly of the strenuous life the heroes of camp and trail are too often forgotten. Little is left to tell posterity of their life and sacrifice except the feeble mound that the bunch grass soon obliterates. Or perchance some one puts

Editor’s Note.—Many plain folk whose qualities of greatness have been put to practical use, are tremendously inspiring to the ordinary reader. Many ordinary people in Canada, by their patience, persistence, courage, and optimistic faith, have achieved wonderful things in their own particular spheres. As announced in MacLean’s Magazine recently, it is our policy to hunt out these men and to secure suitable writers to handle their story. This entails much research and waiting. In this article we have the story of a heroic preacher, whose methods were a little out of the ordinary, but which were, nevertheless, effective in helping his neighbor—which is, anyway, the real business of religion.

up a wooden stake that so quickly rots and crumbles into decay.

In the boom days big things happened in the vicinity of the spot where the monument stands. On the corner facing the square is the palatial home of the Bank of Montreal, where the nervous teller handled a million dollar

check when the ownership of the Le Roi was transferred from Spokane to London. To the north and wast is the Red Mountain which made millions for a few, while others, lured by the promise of quick returns, exchanged hard earned cash for worthless paper and seal. Hardly a block away is all that remains of the Old International, a gay resort—a la Paris—the less said the better. For what Service writes of Dawson when he says :

"Oh, those Dawson days, and the sin and the blaze, and the town all open wide. Sure if Ood made me in his image he let the devil inside.

Oh, we all were mad, both the good and the bad, and as for the women—well,

No spot on the map in so short a space has hustled more souls to hell.”

was equally true of those boom days in Rossland during the time of Father Pat. And the average man of those times had not much use for a parson. I looked at the monument a second time. But here was one who had been loved, and honored. This granite was the evidence. Why was it? How had it come about? What had there been about this man that had set him apart from the others? I must find out. I immediately set about it. This article is the result.


Of the padre these are some of the things that I found. That unceasingly he refused to spare himself, that he was unconventional and impulsive to a degree; that he believed there was a divine spark in every man that proper treatment and sympathy could fan and vitalize; and that last, but not least, in moments of crisis he was always led by his heart instead of by his head. Add to this, courage and you know a little more about him. The multitude have a habit of loving a man like that.

It seems to be one of the ironies of life that deathless fame with honor rarely comes except through suffering. It is said that Jenny Lind did not rise to the height of her power until marital unhappiness had broken her proud spirit, made her acquainted with the company of those who have known sorrow, and with a definite finftlity had disturbed the peaceful current of her life. Cold and unfeeling before, she now sang as few voices have ever done this side of the heavens. Fate is no respector of persons and was no kinder to Father Pat.

When he came to Rossland in 1895

lie had just passed through the mo>i bitter experience of his life, having lost his wife and infant babe within one year of his marriage. In his earlier years he always said that he would become a missionary, and when ordination was behind him, he was firm in his determination to remain a celibate. He held to this determination until he met the estimable woman who became his wife. Cupid played 'Nature’s old trick upon him, and he loved as men love but once in a lifetime. Frances Innes was one of those shy, womanly creatures who appeal to a strong brave man because of their essential womanliness. She had soft, curly brown hair, expressive blue eyes, and the winsome smile of a child. After four years of waiting he was made Vicar at New Westminster and marriage became possible. A little more than a year later he turned away from the cemetery gates with a broken heart, conscious that life could never be quite the same again.


It was impossible for a nature such as his to forget. He had worked hard before but it was nothing compared with his labor now. He was known to walk forty miles through the mountains in a day, and seemed to be trying to drown his sorrow in work. He carried a copy of “In Memoriam” with him constantly, and struggled hard to believe that it was all for the best. His superiors saw how he suffered, and persuaded him to take a trip to England, in the hope that his mind might be drawn from his sorrow.

When he returned he asked for a

good, stiff field where there would be liant, pioneer work to do. His request was granted. The Kootenay was just beginning to open up, and he was sent to Rossland. In spite of the difficulties under which he labored he did a work ' which had a definite effect on the period of his incumbency, and still lives on, years after his death.

Prof. A. G. Campbell, of Chicago University, claims that one of the reasons for the indifference of the masses to the church is that in the early Christain era the apostles were physicians as well as preachers, and that now this function has fallen into disuse. This criticism could not have been levelled at Father Pat as the following incident will show.

Prospector Bill, thirty miles out in the hills, was lying seriously ill—alone, and without any medical attendance. Some one took word to the padre and he took action at once, gathering some victuals, appliances, and a few bottles of medicine in his knapsack. Without any hesitation he set out on the long and weary tramp over the mountains to the lonely cabin of the prospector.


Tired, footsore and weary, he met three miners a short distance from the cabin home of the sick man. They were on horses, and saluting him in a rather uncivil manner, they enquired where he was going. He made no disguise of his intention with the result that they barred his way. Bill had more need for a doctor than a parson, they told him.

“I know it,” he calmly replied.

He made an attempt to pass, but they

held their ground. They had no use for parsons anyway. Then quicker than thought he took definite action, for he was a skilled man. He came up beside one and jerked him off his horse. Without stopping for breath he repeated this with the second man. The third was too much surprised at the turn things had taken to further interfere.

Reaching the bedside of the sick prospector he ministered to his needs without delay. After giving him a little stimulant he put on a fire, made some broth, and before evening cooked a good supper. He remained with him that night and on the following day having done everything possible to make his patient comfortable, he set out on the return journey.

A short distance: down thé trail he encountered the three mineris who had attempted to bar his progress on the day before. They surrounded him, made a. number of threats, and insulted him in every possible way. He enquired if they would see fair play if he fought them one at a time. They replied that nothing would suit them better.

A ring was formed with the result that the first man soon measured full length on the ground. The second fared no better, and the smiling padre invited the third to come on. But evidently he had seen enough, as the third man took to his heels. After bathing the bruises of his two adversaries, Father Pat continued on his way unmolested.

Probably one of the secrets of his success in getting hold of the hearts and lives of men was his faculty of treating every man as an equal until be was proved otherwise. He was at his best -when discoursing upon human nature. He believed in trying to find the good side of the most suspicious character.


“My experience in this western country,” he would say, “is that the more you trust human nature and treat people like human beings, and.not with suspicion, the better you will like them. If I knew a man was a thief I would throw the doors open to him just the same, and trust to his better nature not to betray me.”

And the men understood him.

“He’s a good man,” said one, we know that. There’s nothing we can give him. His reward is ready for him. Some day he will get his pay for nursing the poor fellows that no one else would bother about. He has recorded | his Claim right enough.”

There wTas a young woman who had s led an evil life, but in whom Father Pat ft saw the seeds of better things. En-1 couraged by him, some young fellowsf

clubbed together to put her in a decent lodging. They also bought her a sewing machine so that she might earn an honest living. And this she was sincerely endeavoring to do.

But a man met her in a hotel one day and greeted her with insulting words. Father Pat happened to be there, and with his fist in the fellow’s face, said: “You scoundrel! You get out of here as quick as you can, or I’ll help you out. The man very soon disappeared, for the padre’s reputation in this line was well known.

While stationed at Fairview in the Southern Okanagan country, one day he was among a group of miners, when a coarse, mouthy, brutal fellow, ventured to insult him. The beloved pilot paid little attention until words were added which were an insult to religion and the Creator. He strongly resented this, and turning upon him, said: “I don’t mind your insulting me, but you shall not insult my Master.”

The man drew nearer and dared the padre to fight. He wouldn’t be talked to in that way. He could say anything he liked. It may be that he expected his physique would frighten the padre.

He was sadly mistaken. Without warning Father Pat turned on him, and using his fist scientifically, as he so well knew how to do, he gave him the trouncing that he deserved. After a hard tussle, the man went down like a log, bleeding and almost unconscious. In a moment the big-hearted pilot was kneeling beside him, and in a fit of remorse, exclaimed, “0 Lord, forgive me for not telling this poor man that I was champion boxer at Oxford.”

In 1887 while Father Pat was stationed at Donald word came of a snowslide up the line. A snow plough was sent to clear the way, and while at work a second slide occurred in which the conductor of the snow plough train, a man named Green, was killed.


In the meantime other slides had come down behind the snowplough and the way was completely blocked. It was impossible to get the body back to Donald, and Mrs. Green was wild with anxiety lest they should bury him in the mountains. Afraid that the woman’s strained mental condition might have serious results, Father Pat resolved that if at all possible, he would go to the scene of the accident, and bring back the remains of the unfortunate man.

Disregarding the danger to which he was exposing himself on account of the smaller slides that were still coming down, he took a small toboggan, and set out for the scene of the accident, He .found the body, reverently placed it on .the toboggan, and in the face of obstacles that would have chilled the

enthusiasm of a less determined man, he brought the body back to Donald. The thankfulness of the wife can well be imagined.

At the same time another wife was much alarmed about her husband who was with one of the trains held up in the blockade. Half mad with fear and anxiety she came to Father Pat. He saw the situation at a glance, and with a recklessness that was characteristic of him. told her that he had heard from her husband, and that he was all right. She was comforted and went back to her home happy, hut in reality Father Pat knew nothing of him. A few days later he returned safe and sound.

Perhaps no one thing gave his congregation so much concern as his reckless benevolence. He had an entire disregard for his own personal needs. At one time they presented him with a new suit, but he kept it but little longer than some others that had preceded it. When questioned about it he admitted having given it away to a young fellow who had found himself on the rocks financiallv. having spent his substance in riotous living.


During his Russland pastorate he made his home in a few rooms under the old church shown in the photograph. On one occasion a voung man came out from England with a letter of introduction to the Rev. Henry Irvine. Finding a gentleman in anything hut clerical attire in the church basement he came to the conclusion that he had been misdirected, and did not deliver the letter. On another occasion when the bishop visited him he found him living in a shivering, cold shack, while a homeless prospector was domiciled in the more comfortable quarters under the church.

The end came rather unexpectedly. Through his hard work he had become very much run down, and the bishop hoped that a trip to the old land

would restore his old time vigor. .After his return it was proposed to make him a travelling superintendent of missions, having charge of all the missions in the interior of the Province.

But it was not to be. It would seem that the hardships he had gone through had not only undermined his physical constitution, but his mind had become affected as well. Nobody knows just how it happened, but when on his way to his old home he got off at a small station near Montreal, and lost his way. In his partially demented condition, he appears to have started off, intent on a long walk. Becoming weary, he may have laid down under the glistening stars, just as many a night he had done in the milder climate of the mountain country in the land beyond the Rockies.

Early one morning a farmer driving along the Sault au Recollet road, a few miles from Montreal, saw a man walking with difficulty on the frozen ice. A\ ith each movement he seemed to be shoving his feet along, instead of lifting them up. Immediately the farmer ran to him and enquired if his feet were frozen. The reply was that he did not feel any pain—just a numbness in his legs.

The farmer took him in his sleigh, and drove him to a doctor in the Sault. After examination a cordial was administered, and the farmer was told to drive him to Montreal and place him in a hospital as soon as possible. He refused to give his name, but asked that he be taken to Notre Dame Hospital. When he arrived there, he gave his name as William Henry, although the sisters suspected that this was not his real name.

His feet were very badly frozen. The shoes had to be cut off and the frozen members were put in a medical preparation to thaw out.


The kind-hearted sisters knew too well the agony that would soon begin, and could not refrain from tears. But William Henry laughed at their fears, and affirmed that their tears affected him more than the pain.

For a time he suffered a great deal. Then mortification set in and he felt no pain. His appetite was good and his mind had become clear. But his manner, his kindness and his wit and drollery convinced the doctors and nurses that he was no ordinary patient. His magnetic personality seemed to attract to him every one who came into the room and one day the Superioress came to him and said that she felt sure that he had not given them his real name. He gave her an evasive answer, joking that women were inquisitive and never satisfied, finally asking for the house doctor of the hospital, a son of Sir \\ illiam Hingston.

Dr. Hingston had been in the habit of having long chats with him each day, and in the long conference which followed the mysterious patient admitted that he was none other than Father Pat. On the understanding that his identity would not be revealed until after his death, he gave all his papers and valuables into the doctor’s keeping.


When nearing the end he lost the power of speech, and to prevent suffocation he had to submit to a severe operation on the throat. When it was over he made a sign for pencil and paper, and wrote: “That was needed, but it was hard.” During the night Dr. Hingston called to see him twice. When he was going away the second time the dying pilot beckoned him to come back, and by the bedside he clasped his hand in a last good-bye. Early in the morning he became unconscious, and as the day wore on he sank rapidly. Toward noon of the 13th of January, 1902, he passed away without having regained consciousness.

Speaking of him afterward, Dr.

Hingston said that he had rarely ever seen so much sweetness and strength combined in one individual.

When the news of his death reached British Columbia numerous requests came pouring in that he should be buried in the province where he had spent the best years of his life. This was granted and when the casket was placed in the cathedral at New Westminster great crowds came to pay their last tribute of respect. And on a lovely afternoon he was laid to rest in Sapperton cemetery beside the wife he had loved so well.

The monument erected to his memory stands on the main business corner of Rossland, amid the whirl of its busy life. Aside from being a monument it combines the use of a street light and drinking fountain; one an emblem of the light that the dead padre tried to make shine among men, and the other of the Water of Life, around which he had woven his message of Life and Hope.

The inscriptions on the monument are as follows:

On the face of the monument,


In loving memory of REV. HENRY IRVINE, M.A. (Oxon) First Rector of St. George’s Church, Rossland, B.C.

Affectionately known as Father Pat.

Obit., January 13, 1902.

Whose life was unselfishly devoted to the welfare of his fellow-man, irrespective of creed or class.

“His home was known to all the vagrant train :

He chid their wanderings and relieved their pain.”

On the several sides of the same stone fountain are these shorter inscriptions: “I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink.”

“I was an hungered, and ye gave me to eat.”

“A man he was to all the country dear.”

“ 3n iflemoríum—jFatfjer $at ”

“He who would write an epitaph for thee, And do it well, must first begin to be Such as thou wert. For none can truly know Thy life, thy worth, but he that liveth so.”