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Fri 13 December 2019

Robert MachrayRobert Machray’s ancestors came from Kintail, the clan country surrounding Loch Duich. His family moved to the district of Inverness and then on to Aberdeenshire where Robert was born on 17th May 1831. His father, also named Robert, was a graduate of Marischal College and a member of the Society of Advocates of Aberdeen. The Advocate’s father, John Machray, held a farm at Caiesmill in the parish of Dyce near Aberdeen and was a weaver by trade. Robert, the Archbishop, had a younger brother William Forsyth, my great great grandfather, and a sister Mary.

In 1847, Robert entered Kings College Aberdeen and went to study at Sydney College in Cambridge from 1851 to 1855. He was raised as a member of the Church of Scotland but, during his college years, the Church of Scotland was going through a period of deep change and many ministers left to form the Free Church. Robert was frustrated by this and entered the Church of England. Upon further theological studies he was ordained deacon and priest in Ely Cathedral.

He left Cambridge with a Master of Arts degree (Mathematics) and in 1862 was offered the post of Vicar of Madingley near Cambridge. He accepted and remained there for three years. Subsequently, he was offered the Bishopric of Rupert’s Land in Canada in 1864 by command of Queen Victoria. He accepted this invitation and challenge and so began his great adventure in Canada.

He sailed from England in the spring of 1865 with his personal servant, Thomas Smith, a young fellow from Cambridge village. Smith, in later years, became Member of the Manitoba Legislature. Their travel from the UK to Canada was memorable travelling by sea, land and river until they arrived at St. Paul, Minnesota. There, the bishop brought a horse and carriage and they continued their journey to St. Cloud. In Canada, the transcontinental railway was not finished until 1885.

At St. Cloud they were accompanied by the Sheriff of Rupert’s Land as they journeyed north. With their rifle and shotgun at their sides, they travelled some four hundred miles of prairie by stage, carriage and wagon. They ate duck, geese and prairie chickens, but Robert fired not a shot. He left that to Joseph Monkman, his cook, and to young Thomas. Their progress was slow and it was not until 13th October 1865 that they crossed the Assiniboia River, entered the Gates of Fort Garry and into the little hamlet now rising around the Fort, what has now become the city of Winnipeg. They came to their journeys end and St. Johns Cathedral.

The second St. John's Cathedral, Winnipeg

The name ‘Rupert’s Land’ has now all but vanished from the cartography of Canada, that is, from all but the church maps. Over the years, the vast landmass of Rupert’s Land, from the BC border to Ontario and the Arctic, was divided into provinces and territories. This area was the extensive ‘home’ of the Hudson Bay Company. The famous Thomas, fifth Earl of Selkirk, a Scottish nobleman and large shareholder in the Company, settled many dispossessed Highlanders in the Red River Valley. Previously, Selkirk led settlements to Prince Edward Island and Ontario.

A well informed church warden once described Rupert’s Land as ‘the most uninviting Diocese on the face of the earth’. However, Robert was impressed with his new surroundings. His cathedral was a plain building and he lived in the Bishop’s Court by the it. His early days in Winnipeg were devoted to organizing his parishioners. The level of education, or lack of it, was one of his main priorities and he set about to revive the defunct St. Johns College.

In late 1865, six weeks after his arrival, the Bishop planned a visit to the interior and set out on his journey in January. He visited every parish and settlement in the central west of his diocese. He travelled across the snow clad prairie by a dog sled that had been provided by the Hudson Bay Company. In eight weeks, he covered thousands of miles and in temperatures of minus 40 degrees F. His mission was to visit his diocese. He travelled through harsh terrain and freezing weather. It is a tribute to his many strengths, for he possessed the fortitude and physical endurance so legendary of the Clan MacRae. He was by any estimate a formidable presence in the Church and Civil communities in Manitoba.

In 1869, the Red River Rebellion began. The Bishop was very involved in trying to negotiate an end to this uprising by meeting with the leader, Louis Riel, whose parent were French and Indian. The uprising came to an end in 1885, not in Red River, but in Saskatchewan at Batoche.

With the coming of better transportation, Canada was changing rapidly. Rupert’s Land/Assiniboia became Manitoba, the fifth province of the new Dominion. The Bishop looked forward to the influx of settlers. By 1870, there was a small collection of houses, stores and saloons and by 1874 a population of 3000. The college was developing with the growing number of students. In 1871, he left for England to raise money for parishes and the college. He brought back $26,000. After 1885, Winnipeg became the greatest rail centre on the North American continent, beyond Chicago.

At the Diocesan Synod in 1885, Bishop Machray said ‘I believe that the Cathedral and College of St. John’s have been the salvation of the country’. Many of the Canons of the cathedral became Bishops in the west. By 1902, more than half of the eighty-five clergy of the diocese had been trained at St. John’s and there were ninety-one parishes and missions represented a the Synod. He was elected Chancellor of the University of Manitoba, an appointment he held until his death.

Robert MachrayRobert Machray’s achievements were remarkable and in 1893 his work was recognised by Queen Victoria. She bestowed upon him Prelate of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, an Order awarded to those who had given outstanding contributions to the British Empire. In the same year, he was elected Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, the first to hold the position.

Archbishop’s Machrays health was deteriorating during these years but he lived long enough to see 10,000 settlers arrive in Manitoba. When he died at the age of 73 in 1904, he lay in State in the Manitoba Legislature and was buried in St. John’s Cathedral cemetery. As his cortege arrived at the cathedral, bells tolled Machray’s passing. One of the pall-bearers was the Honourable Colin Inkster, the one-time Sheriff on Manitoba, who had escorted the new bishop from Fort Cloud over a prairie wagon trail to Fort Garry and to Rupert’s Land. On March 12th 1904, Inkster carried Machray’s last remains to its resting place.

A magnificent stained glass window in the cathedral commemorates Robert Machray’s work. Not only is his own portrait in glass along with the arms of the Diocese in the Rupert’s Land Ecclesiastical Province, but also two panes of stained glass proudly display his personal coat of arms embellished with the MacRae shield of mullets (stars) and lion rampant, plus the arms of the Hudson Bay Company. It is a remarkable piece of art highlighting much of Manitoba’s history. Archbishop Machray was an outstanding contributor to Canada, and particularly to Canada-West.

by David F. Machray
great great nephew of Archbishop Robert Machray

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