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.”

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