A Canon in Politics

A character sketch of the sometime Indian missionary who now is British Columbia’s Minister of Education


A Canon in Politics

A character sketch of the sometime Indian missionary who now is British Columbia’s Minister of Education


A Canon in Politics

A character sketch of the sometime Indian missionary who now is British Columbia’s Minister of Education


HE IS not tall and he stoops a little. His hair is snow-white, but his clean-shaven face, healthily colored, still retains something of its youthful contour, and his eyes are as bright and alert as a boy’s. His is an open, frank countenance which seems to mirror his every thought, and his smile is ready, his laugh infectious. Yet with all these disarming, garçon characteristics there is something a little baffling about Canon Joshua Hinchcliff. One puts a question and feels pretty certain that his answer will be either this or that. Pas du tout. It is neither this nor that. He has been thinking about that very subject far more deeply than anyone would have guessed, and his answer suggests such profundity of research that the interrogator is more or less confounded.

This is one thing which distinguishes the Minister of Education for British Columbia. He makes sure of his ground. He leaves nothing to chance. Anything which comes under his consideration is studied until he can argue about it a priori and a posteriori. If he is not sufficiently conversant with a matter to turn it inside out, he will not discuss it at all. His deliberate manner of speaking, his careful enunciation are only to be expected. He is never hurried. He will not be hurried. And though the careful phraseology of his address may be a little maddening to his opponents, in reality it perhaps makes for better debating by giving others an opportunity to marshal their facts.

Certainly Canon Hinchcliff is a favorite in the British Columbia House. When it is known that he is to speak, the galleries are crowded, the silence intense. His voice is clear and pleasing. He talks without effort. He neither accuses nor berates. His tact is his sagacity. He imputes only the best of motives to his adversaries. While in one breath he exposes their shortcomings, in the next he is telling “Mr. Speaker” that he is quite sure the honorable member had no intention of wrongdoing; that, au fond, his one idea was to serve his

country; that the fault was only a mistake of judgment.

He is one of the older members of the Legislature; just three years younger than Premier Tolmie, who is sixty-three and much older than the two heads of the Opposition, Mr. Patullo, the leader, who is a brother of the well-known writer of that name, and Mr. Manson, erstwhile attorney-general under the Liberal régime which lasted for eleven years. During all that time, Canon Hinchcliff, from a modest seat in the back row of the Conservative benches, had little chance to show his ability as a Parliamentarian. But he was observant, studying and biding his time. Now it is his innings.

A brief review of his career gives evidence of a long and hard apprenticeship to the distinguished position he now holds.

A Frontier Missionary

A T TWENTY years of age we find him sent out by a missionary society in the Old Country to the heart of the Blackfoot Reserve in Alberta. That was a long time ago, 1890. There was not another white man or woman within miles of the reservation. Mr. Hinchcliff, straight from Yorkshire, and with an accent so thick that he could hardly understand himself, did not know a word of Blackfoot. Then was begun that careful, almost meticulous training which is* evidenced now in his precise speech. He desired to correct his own manner of speaking English and to learn the Blackfoot language, so that he could become one of the community in which he worked. Canon Stocken, who was a fellow-worker among the Bloods, laughingly recalls the strivings of the rosy-cheeked garrulous Yorkshire lad to curb his rich, colloquial loquacity. It took years. But he did it, and he learned the Blackfoot tongue till he knew it better than the Indians themselves. With Canon Stocken, he reduced it, for the first time, to writing, originated an alphabet and compiled a complete grammar.

When Mr. Hinchcliff arrived at the Reserve, the Indians, lu* says, were living in almost as primitive a state as fifty years before.

“The last of the buffalo were gone, but they still cherished their precious hides. Teepees were cheek by jow'l with log shanties, and many a proud old chief wore scalps dangling at his belt. They resented the presence of the white men, too, though they showed no real hostility.

“It was during my stay at the Reserve that the trouble started among the natives under Sitting Bull, which threatened to plunge the country into another Indian war. Sitting Bull was getting old at the time and had been living at peace with the Whites. But when the famous Messiah craze started and the Ghost Dance began, the great chief and medicine man decided it was time for him to resume authority. There was wild excitement among the Sioux, and this was communicated to the Indians of the confederacy on the Canadian side of the border.

“The Indians have legends which tell of the coming of a savior which will mean the restoration of the days of plenty, the return of the buffalo, and of power and prestige to the Indians. Many of them had been led to believe that this time had arrived. The Sioux started the trouble and wanted the Blackfeet to join them. Crow Eagle was then chief of the whole nation of Blackfeet, the Piegans, the Bloods and the Sarcees. One night a sub-chief, Big Calf, was sent to warn me.

“He came in quietly, closed the door carefully, and spoke in whispers. I can see his earnest old face yet. He wanted me to go away. When I shook my head and tried to explain that I could not desert my post, he was sad. ‘There will be a big fight,’ he said. ‘All Indians against the white men. All white men will be killed. Tortured and killed. If you will not go we shall set your house on fire. But when you come out, because

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A Canon in Politics

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you are our friend, we shall be kind. You shall be shot quick by many bullets

“But, after all, there was no big fight because Crow Eagle refused to make an alliance with the Sioux. History graphically relates how the threatened uprising ended and Sitting Bull came to his death. With him ended forever the hope of his people for a release from the power of the white men.”

Winning the Indians

'"THE CANON speaks lightly of those days when danger threatened and he was the one white man against a tribe of savages. He makes very little of the fact that for a long time he had a constant struggle to persuade the Indians to let any of their children come to his miasion school. He carried on for months with only two or three. But he used every quiet inducement in his power to win them. He pluyed with them. Possessing a fine voice he taught them to sing all the songs he knew. As the little Blackfeet youngsters had few if any clothes, he persuaded the Government to let him have blankets for the girls and trousers for the boys. He also received from the Government meat and hardtack. Every day he made soup at luncheon time, and served it with biscuits to the children. Food was scarce. They were always hungry. How could they resist such a master! It was not a year before his pupils came from all up and down the Belly River. And through the children he won the hearts of the parents. Before he left the Reserve every Indian, old and young, was his friend.

In 1893, Mr. Hinchcliff was ready for ordination. Apart from his duties at school, he studied to fit himself for taking holy orders. Shortly after he was ordained he was appointed to the Red River parish as a resident clergyman. Here he w'orked with characteristic energy, and it was largely through his efforts that the first Church of England building was erected in that part of Alberta.

By now he had reached the age when most men have left their schoolbooks long behind. He was married, too, with a family; a busy parson. But he had not nearly reached the height of his endeavor. He wanted to take a university course and get a degree. So to college he went, graduating with honors in 1903.

Three years later he came to British Columbia and was appointed rector at Chilliwack. Here in this pleasant delta country he remained for ten years going about his various parochial duties.

Then came the war. Fired with enthusiasm for the cause of the Allies, anxious to help in any way passible, he offered his services. Nineteen-sixteen saw him in the trenches in France. His record there for endurance and gallantry Is well-known among B. C. soldiers.

The hard life at the front had told upon him, however. His hair was nearly white

and he was a little lame. Also rather tired. But an election was pending. Hundreds of his returned comrades clamored for him to represent them. Enthusiastic meetings were held. No one better fitted, more trustworthy than he, to help set the country right after the devastation of the war; no one to whom they would rather entrust their cause. He hesitated. Teaching, preaching, soldiering, he had gone through them all. But politics was a new game, one in which he had never played a part. In the end, however, he was persuaded, and, with the consent of his bishop, left the ministry to offer himself as a Conservative candidate.

New Responsibilities

T—TE WAS elected by an overwhelming majority. But this was not the end of his striving. New work meant new obligations. If he was to serve he must fit himself for service. There is an old saying, “A priest grafted on a lawyer is a match for the devil.” Perhaps the Canon felt that a lawyer grafted on a priest ought to be a match for a politician. At all events he decided to study law. In 1923 he was admitted to the Bar of British Columbia at the age of fifty-three.

That was eight years ago. The Liberals were in power then and remained in power until 1929, when the Conservatives came in on a floodtide of votes, with Canon Hinchcliff well among the leaders.

As Minister of Education he holds, perhaps, the most important Cabinet position next to the Premier. It is certainly a very onerous and responsible post in the Pacific province which has a population composed of many and diverse nationalities. Of Orientals arriving in Canada during the past twenty years, British Columbia has eighty per cent of the Chinese, ninety-eight per cent of the Japanese, and ninety-nine per cent of the Hindus. Their presence is one reason for the complexity of the educational question.

The Indians, of course, furnish no difficulty. There are 24,000 of them west of the Peace, but there have been established for them seventeen residential and forty-five day schools. Scattered through the schools for white children, however, there are many foreigners, Scandinavians, Galicians, Russians, Germans, Austrians. Italians and others, including 4,500 Orientals. The Japanese and Chinese school attendance is increasing at an alarming rate. In the three years between 1922 and 1925, the last figures to be had, these nationalities showed a seventy-four per cent increase.

And then there are the Doukhobors. Every year trouble in this connection arises with prompt regularity. It has never been settled. Drastic steps were taken at Grand Forks some years ago, with tragic results. Last year some 500 of them banded together and drove the

children out of some of the schools, and became so obstreperous that the police were obliged to use tear bombs to reduce them to submission, if indeed their attitude could even then be termed anything so mild. It needed in addition a snowbath for some of the naked fanatics, whose “passive” resistance is far more difficult to deal with than active aggression. But Mr. Hinchcliff regards the Doukhobor difficulty, the Oriental difficulty, and any other difficulties, with the same calm, unimpassioned judgment with which long ago he faced the problem of dealing with the Blackfeet. He visited the Doukhobors at Brilliant and thoroughly enjoyed his stay.

“Peter was away,” said he, “but I was met by Berikov, who is the educated man among them, a brilliant writer, an excellent speaker. We had many interesting talks. He realizes the advantages of education. So did all of those with whom I spoke. There are extremists, of course. They are responsible for all the trouble. I did not meet them. I was given a friendly welcome. As we drew near Brilliant, crowds came to meet me. The packing houses were emptied and all congregated around me, the men on one side, the women on the other. They began to sing. It was very melodious, and, although I could not understand the words, I knew it was a song of welcome. They are a most interesting people. They have their lovable side, their reasonable side. I am convinced that, if we are patient, there will be a way out of the difficulty.”

One of the first bills which the minister brought before the House was one providing for the pensioning of school teachers. Another measure for which he was' responsible was the appointing of a woman inspector to the rural schools, not in connection with the school work, but to enquire into the social conditions of the community in which the teacher is living; the attitude of the school trustees and that of the parents of the children. This appointment wTas found necessary because of complaints which reached the. Department of Education from time to time, and following the tragedy of some months ago, in which a young woman teacher, goaded beyond endurance by an unsympathetic and hypercritical school board, committed suicide.

It is a far cry from the lonely outpost among the Blackfeet, forty years ago, to the British Columbia of today with its 1,100 schools, its college and its university. But Mr. Hinchcliff is not in any way daunted by the magnitude of the task. He is bringing the same careful, unhurried consideration to bear upon present problems as was his custom in the past.

“Many of our problems are without precedent. But so far as is possible,” he says with serene confidence, “the educational needs of this province shall be met, and difficulties, no matter how insurmountable they may appear, shall be overcome.”