One of the first missionaries to the Indian and Metis people of northern Alberta was himself, an Indian.
Henry Bird Steinhauer's life, both before and after he became a missionary, makes an interesting story. It is a story that his descendants love to tell, including great-great grandson Ralph Steinhauer, the former lieutenant-governor of Alberta.
In an interview with "Windspeaker", the 82 year old former Queen's representative, shared some facts and stories about his illustrious ancestor.
An Ojibway Indian from Ontario, the man who would become a missionary to his people was "a waif living with two or three older couples" when he was discovered by a Methodist missionary named Case. Reverend Case took the boy, then six or seven years old, to the mission nearby and enrolled him in the school. Henry was an adaptable and intelligent student who did very well.
"I think he (Case) took a personal interest in him," Ralph says.
Case had formed a choir of boys from the school. He often would take the boys on tours to Philadelphia and other places in the northeastern United States, to raise funds for the mission because "that's where the money was."
The young Indian boy became a member of the choir, and attracted interest and attention wherever they went. A clever lad, Henry Bird learned fast, and it wasn't long before he made a lasting impression on a Philadelphia industrialist named Steinhauer.
Meanwhile, the young Ojibway had learned as much as he could at the mission school, and was now considering quitting. Although he had proven to be an exceptional student, neither he nor the mission had the money for him to pursue his education.
When Steinhauer asked about the boy, and Case described the situation, the industrialist offered to sponsor him. The boy was reluctant to accept until he was told that the one condition was that the take Steinhauer's name.
Thus, Henry Bird Steinhauer was able to complete his education and become a Methodist minister and missionary.
His first mission was at Norway House, with Rev. John Evans, the first Methodist missionary to the Cree, who is credited with developing Cree syllabics.
In 1854-55, Steinhauer and Rv. Thomas Woolsey travelled upon the Saskatchewan River by canoe. They camped at a point near what is now the Saddle Lake Reserve, before splitting up with Woolsey going on to Smokey Lake, and Steinhauer to Lac La Biche, where he first settled.
"There was a trading post there," Ralph says, "and a lot of drinking and rough play. His parishioners were being led astray by drink."
After a year in Lac La Biche, Steinhauer went to Whitefish Lake and "settled his little flock there. He wanted to settle down and teach them a bit of agriculture and have a quiet life. That was where he established his missionthe first mission in that area." Steinhauer settled into agriculture because "he was a man of vision, and he could see that there was going to be an influx of settlers, and that the Indian people were going to have to settle down when the game was all gone and do what the other settlers were doing ? living off the land by farming it.
"This was the great ambition in his life," added Ralph, "to get the people settled down because the time was coming in the near future (this was in the late 1850s) when the buffalo were going to disappear, the people were going to crowd in, and they should know something about agriculture."
Rev. Steinhauer was the first to break land in the area, and had the first farm long before the first settlers came from the Ukraine and elsewhere. At the same time, Ralph said that Father Alberta Lacombe, the Roman Catholic missionary, was teaching the parishioners at St. Albert to farm the land.
According to Ralph Steinhauer, Father Lacombe and his great-great grandfather were good friends. "I can tell you a little story about that. You see, the Indian people had their own religion, and they still do. The Protestants were just a bunch of church people whowere Christians. The Catholics were also a bunch of church people who were Christians. Each believed there was only one Great Spirit, and you had only one way of doing things. There came a call to baptize a little family at Rocky Mountain House. Henry Bird got the call. Father Lacombe, wherever he was, also go the call.
"Henry Bird took off with his eldest son, Sam, who was the best dog driver in the country and had the best dog team."
They got to Rocky Mountain House, baptized the family, stayed overnight and started back early the next morning. The second day out, near Sylvan Lake, they stopped and made camp.
"They just had the kettles boiling on the campfire when they heard another dog team coming. Who should drive in but Father Lacombe."
Father Lacombe asked where they had been. Rev. Steinhauer said that they'd been at Rocky Mountain House, named the family they had visited, and said that they had baptized them.
Father Lacombe said that the was on his way to do the same thing ? with the same family.
"They agreed it didn't matter who baptized them, as long as they became Christians," laughed Ralph.
"I guess old Sam really used to like to tell that story."
Henry Bird Steinhauer died in 1855, but his mission still stands on the Whitefish (GoodfisH) Lake Reserve; now an historic site that acknowledges his lifetime of work as a missionary and ttury and one-half ago.