The Grenfell of the West Coast
The Brigus native, John Antle ( 1865-1949), left a significant imprint as a Church of England minister in Newfoundland, Washington State and British Columbia.
The son of a schooner skipper, John participated in the seal and Labrador fisheries in the summer. He also shipped fish and fish products worldwide, returning home with a variety of cargo.
In 1888, following a stint of teaching, he entered Queen’s College in St. John’s. Deaconed by the Bishop in 1890, John was posted to the Greenspond Parish. He was priested in 1892.
Most of his parishioners, living on islands in Bonavista Bay, earned their living at the Labrador fishery. To serve his parish, John had to be a good sailor, as he spent much time operating small vessels.
While at Greenspond, John heard about Wilfred Grenfell (18651940), the English medical missionary to Newfoundland and Labrador. The Newfoundlander was both intrigued and influenced by tales from Coastal Labrador.
In 1894, John was transferred to Catalina. Prosecutors of the Labrador fishery found safe anchorage in the harbour before continuing their homeward journey. Intimately involved with them, John learned more about Grenfell and his work.
In 1897, John relocated to Washington State, before transferring to the Diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver, British Columbia, serving as Rector of Holy Trinity Parish (1899-1904).
In 1905, weary of city life, he cruised down the coast in a 16-foot boat w i t h a t h ree-quar t er - horsepower Bullpup engine. The Lavrock was named after the Newfoundland Church ship.
E. Rex Kearley writes that John “ found conditions on the northern B.C. coast similar in many ways to what he had known in northern Newfoundland.” He made contact with Whites, most of whom were loggers, and Indian settlers.
Inspired by Grenfell, John had the Hastings Logging Company erect the small Queen’s Hospital at Rock Bay. The Victorian Order of Nurses staffed it. ( The structure was destroyed by fire in 1910. By September 1911, John had rebuilt the hospital, now with 21 beds.)
In 1905, aided by Church friends, he had built at Vancouver a 60-foot hospital church ship, the Columbia. Skipper Antle and Dr. W.A.B. Hutton then began the Columbia Coast Mission ( CCM). However, many Church people were opposed to the Church’s involvement in medical work.
Undeterred, John built a hospital at the isolated and difficult-to-reach Alert Bay, which lacked medical assistance. In 1909, he acquired a doctor, two nurses, a cook and an orderly, and opened a new hospital at St. George. (It was destroyed by fire in 1923. Within the year, John had rebuilt St. George’s Hospital at Alert Bay.)
In 1909, responding to a request from Van Anda residents, John converted a former dance hall into Columbia Hospital. It operated until 1921.
In 1910, John built a second Columbia, which became the CCM flagship. The 100-foot boat operated with a gas engine and, later, semidiesel and diesel engines.
In 1921, the peripatetic minister, buying several small houses and large rafts, created a floating hospital, to be moved on demand. It was used at O’Brien Bay and Carriden Bay.
Responding to another request, John began towing the floating hospital, rafts and houses to Pender Harbour. However, the hospital itself was lost in a gale in Johnston Straits. Unfazed, John determined to erect a permanent hospital at Pender Harbour. St. Mary’s Hospi- tal, the last he was to build, was officially opened by the Lieutenant Governor on Aug. 30, 1930.
Undoubtedly influenced by his Newfoundland background, John worked to improve the education for White and Indian children. Building small schools in villages, he staffed them with volunteers.
John travelled to England several times in search of funds. In 1934, he was given a mission boat, which he renamed the John Antle. Crewed by volunteers, he sailed to Vancouver, where he used the vessel in the CCM. As difficult as it was, he retired as Superintendent of the CCM in 1936.
Returning to England in 1939, he purchased a 48-foot vessel, which he called the Reverie. That fall, he set sail for Vancouver. Two of his three helpers jumped ship on the Atlantic coast. John reached his destination in October 1940.
Not without reason did Rev. John Antle of Brigus become known as “ The Grenfell of the West Coast.”