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The Life of Jeremiah Johnston

Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Center – some of you may know what it is or where it is, some of you have visited but I strongly suspect most have not. And I’m pretty sure that Jeremiah Johnston didn’t ever contemplate about its future history, nor had vision of his part in it because he was born November 20th, 1860 at St. Peter’s (on the Red River in Manitoba). Jeremiah’s father was a Sadler of English descent who died when Jeremiah was two years old, his mother was a half breed from the York Factory region around Hudson Bay- Oxford Gull Lake. Jeremiah’s mother was a heathen who was also left a widow and brought her other children to St Peter’s where she became a Christian and enabled Jeremiah to be raised a Christian. Jeremiah’s siblings, two older brothers and an older sister, died after they were grown up; John at twenty, David at twenty-four and his sister in childbirth. As his brothers were dying, Jeremiah and his mother prayed that god would take him last and use him.

Jeremiah spoke Cree and English from boyhood and was educated at the Church Missionary School and St. John’s College and took a special year-long course for Indian mission work. At fourteen, he was confirmed by the Bishop of Ruppert’s Land at St. Peter’s. In 1880, he married Mary Macleod, in September of 1884 he left with the Red River contingent of Voyageurs for the Sudan and returned in March of 1885. While always inclined to be religious, his spiritual life deepened while abroad. He became more and more interested in active Christianity and felt that he ought not to be in the light when many of his native brethren were in darkness, he wanted to go into the work of preaching the gospel. The lord opened the way when there was a vacancy at a mission on the west shore of Lake Winnipeg. In July of 1890, Mr. Johnston set out in a sailboat with his wife, three children, and provisions accompanied by a Bishop and a pilot (on the journey there was an escape from capsizing when Mrs. Johnston saved the pilot with one finger on The Hole River). There standing on the Rock Jeremiah preached to the Indians. Two years afterwards, his labors saw fruit when a young girl thought to be dying was baptized and recovered, however the Indian agent a Roman Catholic said Jeremiah of the Church of England and could not baptize anyone, her parents put her back in the medicine tent.

In the summer of 1892 Jeremiah’s family returned to the mission with winter supplies, on the trip waves washed over the deck of the “Sunbeam” until it was awash and sank in the harbor. The wind changed and drove the boat into the harbor where the family went ashore and worked all night to save the boat but it was so badly damaged that they could not go on, they spent eleven snowy rainy days with only a tent for shelter.

In 1895 Jeremiah was called to take a Special Course for ministry and was ordained, he was appointed to the Long Sault and arrived there on July fourteenth. In September of 1896 a house and church were built on a lot of about five acres cleared by Jeremiah.

Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung means the place of the long rapids. The area had direct contact with European fur traders and explorers from the seventeenth century and is considered one of the largest concentrations of burial mounds in Canada. The Center located directly across from Birchdale, Minnesota is owned and operated by The Rainy River First Nations and offers interpretative tours and galleries, it houses a collection space with over 16,000 artifacts and a showcase of artwork by local indigenous artists. It is my intention to cover some of the testimonials from individuals from the time Mr. Johnston arrived in 1896 at the Long Sault and to highlight some of his adventures with testimonials from visitors during that time on the Rainy River.

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