On Sunday, August 8, 2021, my husband Keith Hyde and I had the opportunity to visit the site of the Rev. Henry Budd’s Nepowewin (“standing place” or “good lookout”) Mission on the banks of the Saskatchewan. Budd established this mission to reach out to the Plains Cree in 1852/53 and ministered there with his family until 1867. The mission was disbanded sometime after 1876, and the forest took over the site. The site has recently been cleared thanks to the hard (volunteer) work spearheaded by Dave Rondeau, who was our guide along with his wife Karen. They did the back-breaking work of clearing out trees and thick brush that had grown up, and have been working with archeologists and grad students from the University of Saskatchewan to survey the site and get a sense of how the mission/settlement would have looked. They have used ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electromagnetic conductivity (EM38) technology to begin to map where the church and the dwellings were located, along with the cemeteries.
Having spent some of the past two years helping Keith transcribe Budd’s journals, I already had a sense of both the spiritual and the physical difficulties of Budd’s work at the Nepowewin Mission. Budd’s descriptions of the hard work and deprivations took on new meaning as we canoed across the Saskatchewan River, climbed the steep banks, and sliced through the thick bush to get to the site. While Dave and his team have cleared the site, you would not know that there was a mission there – there are no buildings left standing, not even foundation stones. Likely there were multiple forest fires in the area after the Mission had been disbanded, taking much of the above ground structures. A great number of depressions in the land, some significant and some very slight, were the only material evidence of the mission site. The area had been surveyed in past decades, but those maps lacked precision, so Dave and the team of researchers used GPR and EM38 and began to mark the presumed locations of building foundations, cellars, and graves. Of course, until actual digging is done, these locations are best guesses guided by what is known from Budd’s own scant descriptions of the physical layout of the Mission.
I felt a strange mix of wonder, respect, and sadness as we walked into and around the site. I had no illusions that Budd’s life was an easy one, and while the Nepowewin Mission was a place where Budd found joy in ministry, it was also a very hard place, both as a missionary and as a man trying to support and feed his family and community. In 1864, Budd lost his beloved partner and wife Betsy (nee Work) here to a scarlet fever epidemic, along with his eldest son, Henry Budd Jr. who was ordained as a minister so he could carry on his father’s robust legacy of ministry, education, and care for the community. Besty and Henry Jr. were buried in a vault in the school chapel. Budd also buried three of his daughters, Caroline (1852-1860), Ellen (1860-1861), and Christiana (1850-1864), in the cemetery at the Nepowewin Mission, along with many men, women, and children.
I knew that these people were buried by Budd in a good way, but I wanted to honour them and to honour the site, so I did a short prayer ceremony with Keith, Dave, and his wife Karen. I thanked God for the work of the mission and Budd’s legacy of love and selfless service; and, I especially remembered Betsy in prayer. My voice wavered and my eyes welled up with tears as I thought of Betsy and the work she did alongside Henry. Unlike Henry Sr., she has no day of commemoration in the church calendar (Budd is commemorated on April 2) and her name wasn’t ever bandied about as a stellar example of missionary service. Nevertheless, she served alongside her husband in life and ministry; she bore 13 children and lost 6 of them to disease while she was alive (3 more died after she passed). She opened her home to anyone in the community, she fed her family and many others in the community, she prayed and served alongside Budd in the thousands of morning and evening prayer services they held in their home, open to any who wanted to join. Likely she gardened, administered medicine, taught, worked with the women and children, and managed the site when her husband was away in other communities. As I prayed to honour and remember Betsy, I was reminded of all the women, who served tirelessly in the name of Jesus, offering food, shelter, comfort, prayer, and hope, whose names are not remembered, whose work is not honoured, but who walked and lived in the way of Jesus.
There is more to be said about our trip to the Nepowewin Mission, and we hope to return in the future and continue to work with Dave and the others. Our final act of the trip was giving an offering of tobacco at the river bank, the site of so many canoe launches to the Nepowewin Mission. The Saskatchewan River is so important in the history of the Indigenous peoples who navigated those waters for thousands of years, and it is essential to the work of Budd, who travelled its waters bringing education, teaching, material goods and food, and the love of Jesus to both Indigenous peoples and settlers over his 35 years of ministry and service. May our Creator honour the ministry and legacy of the Rev. Henry Budd Sr., his community and the work that is now being done to make sure this Mission is not forgotten.