Late Dawn

Why has the Light of Christ's love been so long in reaching Canada's Maritime First Peoples? (from Issue #521)

Ministry in the Maritimes

WelchPhil Welch’s mind and heart were never far from a project he took on – writing a history of evangelical outreach among Maritime First Nations.

He’s collected numerous reports of opportunities and challenges of those involved as early as the 1800s, and of NCEMers and others who’ve followed.

Underneath it all has been the question: Why has the Light of Christ’s love been so long in reaching Canada’s Maritime First Peoples?

Here is an excerpt (adapted) from “Late Dawn”:

by Phil Welch

While still in Bible college in Ontario, for one of the requirements of a course, I wrote a paper on “The Social Conditions of the Native People of the Maritime Provinces.” To gain information for the paper I wrote to a missionary by the name of Art Wellwood, who was working with NCEM in Nova Scotia at the time.

Very wisely, he wrote back to me concerning the social conditions of the people, but also included the deplorable spiritual condition of the people, and the desperate need for more missionaries.

At the same time, some of my Bible college buddies asked to get together in the mornings for prayer for the Native Peoples of Canada. So before breakfast and before we had our jog around the neighbourhood, we would find a secluded spot and spend valuable moments in prayer for Native people in this country who we had never met, but whom God had placed upon our hearts. Thus began my burden for these people!

Phil and Native friendsAlthough I had grown up in Nova Scotia, I knew very little about the Native population, other than now and then we would see a Jeep Apache wagon loaded with people selling baskets. (It is interesting that years later, as a missionary in Cape Breton, I would have the privilege of meeting some of these very people who had come to our little island in southwestern Nova Scotia, selling their beautifully constructed ash baskets – some of which are still in existence today around our old house.)

In researching the history of evangelical work among the Native population of the Maritime provinces, I was able to come up with very little evidence of this type of outreach. I did discover that the Catholic Church had been there and very active early in the 17th century, and possibly before.

There are documented records of Chief Membertou having been baptized into the Catholic Church in the year 1610. However, there is no record of any organized evangelical outreach for at least 236 years – until Silas T. Rand appeared on the scene in 1846. This is in spite of the fact that it is difficult to travel very few miles in the Maritimes without seeing the familiar steeple of little white evangelical churches, some of them within walking distance of a reserve.

This man, Rand, basically struggled alone to reach out to the Native people. He was promised help, including finances, but ran into various difficulties and eventually started living the “George Mueller way” – by faith. God wonderfully undertook for his needs until his death in 1890. However, when Rand died, the work basically died out with him. For another 65 years darkness reigned among the Native people of the Maritimes until Art and Dorothy Wellwood arrived here in 1957 to look after her parents. (“Grampy” was almost 105 years old when he passed away.)

The Wellwoods, who were members of NCEM, worked in the area for close to 17 years, reaching out to all the Maritime provinces, into Quebec, and across the border into the state of Maine. Having laid a foundation, the Wellwoods helped open the way for others to come.

We have seen the spread of the Gospel among the Maritimes First Nations grow from small beginnings to the point where today there are a number of Christians on the reserves, and several fellowship groups started. But there is still so much more to do.

Late Dawn is the continuing story of NCEM’s ministry among the Native people of the Maritime provinces, and of other missionaries who have worked and are still working among them.

For a copy of “Late Dawn” please contact our Bookstore.

Phil & Grace Welch served with NCEM for 40 years and were granted honorary membership. They served on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia for most of those years, along with Eastern-Field leadership, and a term in Kuujjuarapik, Quebec.

(from Northern Lights issue #521). Note: some of the locations and involvements of our missionaries may have changed since the original publishing of this article.