HE IS TALL, muscular, slightly bald, with a weather-seamed face and a cherubic smile. He has a habit now and then when he’s talking of placing his hands behind his back and swaying a little forward on his toes—and that’s the only ecclesiastical habit I have detected in him. He talks simply, and without unction, he has an engaging sense of humor, he likes Amos V Andy, he prefers seal-skin boots to gaiters and one way and another it’s hard to think of him as Lord Bishop of the second largest Anglican diocese in the world—a diocese which includes Ungava, Baffin Island and the whole of Arctic Canada.
Correctly styled he is the Right Reverend Archibald Lang Fleming, D.D., Bishop of the Arctic, but north of Churchill he is known simply as the Bishop. In the pleasantly expansive fashion of the Church of England his official signature is Archibald the Arctic, and the Eskimos call him In-nook-tah-kaub, which means one of the family.
Whatever you choose to call him there’s no denying the fact that he’s a man. You learn that much from his handshake and by the set of his jaw, but for confirmation there’s the story of his life.
Archibald Fleming was born in Greenock, Scotland, and came from an old Clyde family always associated with ships and shipping. While a boy at Greenock Academy he made up his mind that someday he would become a shipbuilder. After leaving school he secured a position with John Brown & Co., famous Clydebank shipbuilders, and spent eight years in the scientific department of their drawing office. During this time he took a two years’ course in naval architecture at the University of Glasgow and did so well that he afterward became a member of the Institution of Naval Architects, London, and a member of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. Then one day Providence—or whatever you chose to call the power that overrules our destiny—prompted him to flip open the Church Guardian one morning and read a letter. The letter was from the Bishop of Moosonee. It told of appealing for young missionaries to undertake work in his diocese among the Indians and Eskimos, and getting not a single response. Reading it, Archibald Fleming forgot about his ships and remembered only his vague, boyish yearnings to become a missionary.
For two years he carried on a correspondence with the Bishop of Moosonee. Finally the Bishop visited England with the Rev. E. J. Peck, famous Arctic missionary, and Fleming was able to meet them. As a result of the meeting he threw up his job and agreed to take a theological course at Wycliffe College, Toronto. He duly arrived in Canada and enrolled at Wycliffe College. Before he had time for even a brief tussle with Higher Criticism, however, there came an urgent call for a worker at Lake Harbor. Fie volunteered and went north.
Lake Harbor lies at the head of an inlet on the south coast of Baffin Land, as the island is commonly called. Today it is a model settlement—and bigas the North goes— hut when Archibald Fleming arrived there in 1909 to establish a mission, it seemed to him the most desolate spot in all the world.
His first job was to build a house in which to live. He had come north in the Lorna Doone, a schooner chartered from Dr. Grenfell, and he had brought with him enough lumber for a small shack and enough provisions to last a year. On the day after the schooner dropped anchor in the fiord he started building and proved just as good with a saw and hammer as he had earlier proved with pencil and drawing board. Within a week he was "in residence.”
There was a whaling station at Lake Harbor with a trader in charge of it and Eskimos came into the post from all parts of southern Baffin Land. During the summer many of them camped near the store in their tu-piks—slatternly looking skin tents propped up with lengths of driftwood. In the days that were left before the snow came, Fleming spent as much time as possible with them, learning their language and their ways. When winter came and they moved off to their hunting j grounds he travelled with them, for he realized that if he was going to be an effective missionary he w'ould need to live as they did and become In-nook-tah-kaub—one of the family. He did not always travel with family groups. He would visit isolated bands out of touch with the trading posts, and usually on these trips, which were often long and hazardous, he took with him only a native Bible reader.
Diocese of the Arctic
SOMEHOW Fleming managed to get away from Lake Harbor long enough to finish his course at Wycliffe. In 1912 he became a deacon and in 1913 he was ordained a priest. In that same year he was married to Helen Grace Gillespie of Port Hope—and two weeks after the marriage he left for the north, alone. It was not his fault that his ecclesiastical superiors decided that the Arctic was no place for a woman. Until her death recently, however, Mrs. Fleming proved an invaluable ally “outside.”
Returning to the North Fleming became a more indefatigable traveller than ever and it was not unusual for him to cover three thousand miles, on foot, in a single winter. On questions pertaining to Baffin Land and the Eskimos he became a j recognized authority. His knowledge ! of Eskimo ways convinced him that j they were better off following the nomadic life, living during the winter in igloos and following the ways of their fathers, than they would be if encouraged to ape the ways of the white man.
After ten years in the North Fleming was taken seriously ill and it seemed as if his career as a missionary was at an end. He was appointed Chaplain and Financial Secretary of Wycliffe College, later he became the rector of St. John’s (Stone) Church in Saint John, N.B., and it began to look as if the remainder of his life would be spent in ecclesiastical ease.
But in 1927 there came a call—as clarion clear as the first had been twenty years before. A man was needed to take full charge of the Arctic Mission—would Fleming consider the job? He would.
He was appointed an Archdeacon and took charge of the northern portions of the dioceses of Moosonee, Keewatin, Mackenzie River and the Yukon—an area covering approximately two - and - a - half - million square miles. When, in the course of time, this vast district wras made into a diocese, it was natural that he should become the first Bishop—and he was consecrated in 1933.
A Bishop’s life—according to all the best authorities—should be leisurely, unruffled, calm. The vigorous i Bishop of the Arctic set a new episcopal fashion, for there wTas nothing calm or leisurely about the way he tackled his new job. As a ! missionary he had seen that the j Eskimos and Indians of the far north were in dire need of hospitals and schools; as a Bishop he set out to supply their needs. Moreover, the hospitals he built were available for whites as well as natives. Where, before, men had gone north alone, they took their families with them, confident of being able to secure medical attention if the need arose.
The Bishop of the Arctic did not sit at home and plan his schools and hospitals on paper, leaving the building of them to others. He travelled more extensively than he had ever done before, he inspected sites, he arranged transportation of materials, he was usually on hand when building was under way—and he found the impressive sums of money which were needed to carry out the program.
Chief centre of building activities was Aklavik, which is now the “cathedral town” of the diocese. When the cathedral, built entirely by Loucheaux Indians under the direction of a white carpenter, was consecrated the Indians and Eskimos showed their pride and gratitude by contributing to the collection $176.60 —mostly in muskrat skins. Near the cathedral is a modern, fully-equipped hospital, a nurses’ residence and a residential school for Indian and Eskimo children. Other hospitals, missions and schools are strategically located along the rim of the Arctic from Coppermine to Fangnirtung.
Work That Endures
THE WAR has loaded the Bishop of the Arctic with many new problems. In the old days, when he was alone at Lake Harbor, his chief concern was in securing food for himself, but now his difficulty is in keeping his workers supplied. He is troubled, too, as to what may happen if there is a breakdown in the fur trade, for with governments restricting luxury purchases that seems likely to happen. Even in normal times the prices which the Eskimos receive for raw pelts are microscopic and if the market drops sharply or collapses they will be reduced to near-starvation, for they have become dependent upon the white man for rifles, ammunition and so on. Meeting such a situation will be a problem for the missionaries — and a difficult one, for the war has made it problematical whether supply ships will be able to visit the distant posts.
Whether the ships get in or not, one thing is certain: Bishop Fleming will somehow find ways and means of visiting his diocese. He has done so every summer since he was consecrated a Bishop and war or no war, he doesn’t intend to forego his annual pilgrimage. It isn’t an easy pilgrimage, even in peacetime. To be sure he travels by plane and ship, covering in some years as much as fifteen thousand miles, but he travels on foot or in native boats as well, visiting outlying camps.
Bishop Fleming is proud that the Eskimos regard him as one of the family, and he is proud, too, of the hospitals and schools he has been responsible for building. They may not be as impressive as battleships— but he believes they will be more enduring.
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