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Sir  Wilfred T. Grenfell, Canadian north, missionary, doctorW-MCP2-4.053 TO THOMAS B. MCQUESTEN from his sister Ruby
May 8 1905 Monday afternoon [date estimated by context]
To: Thomas B. McQuesten 22 Grosvenor St. Toronto, Ontario
From: Ottawa Ladies' College

My dearest Tom,

Your birthday letter was very acceptable indeed. I appreciated your remembering the day all the more when I knew how many other things the poor old brain was trying to keep on hand. It was a regular treat that morning to get the home letter with letters in it from Mary, Hilda & even young Mike [Edna] and then letters from you and Cal. I had a spare in the morning and found my letters in the mail pile and made straight for my room to open one after another of the supply. I had a mighty good time. Then came a box from home, the greatest surprise with two whole new summer dresses, a blue sailor suit and a muslin and two new blouses, a couple of belts, a kerchief and a lump of maple sugar. I wondered when I would come to the end of it all,--it was far too much.1

I'm glad you heard Dr. Grenfell. We have him in town now and yesterday he preached in the morning in Dominion Methodist and in the evening in the English Church and to-night we are to see his views and hear him speak in St. Andrew's. I did enjoy his sermons yesterday. I followed him around to both churches. I haven't for a long time heard a man I admired more. As you say his words all are from his real experiences in life whether outward experiences or inner ones. He is such a genuine Christian--not an intellectual Christian--but a real liver and worker like Christ, teaching while he works and heals. And he speaks out so plainly against thinking we can be Christians in one part of our life and yet not descend to anything, to anything the world considers indecorous, too far. He brought out where Christ was telling Peter that He would go to Jerusalem, & be tried and so on and at last die and Peter said "Not so Lord" (that is going too far) and the Lord said "Get thee behind me Satan."

There are so many people who would like you to be Christians if you would only not do anything in real earnest. If you do that they think you are losing yourself, you are going too far,--they don't realize that in the Christian life as in any other life if you are to get the real meaning and the beauty and the happiness out of it you must go as far as you can and be willing to do and go farther, just any place.

There are lots of people who think it is all right to teach so long as you do a little painting or learn some fine art when they consider it the main thing. They don't seem to realize that it is only as you consider that teaching is for character building and that as one tries by every means in teaching to give the very best and to be the very best that it is only in this way as a life of service that there is the real pleasure.

So many people would teach a Chinaman once a Sunday, would think it extreme to teach twice and when it comes to holding a prayer meeting for more blessing they think that is going quite too far and so about six out of our twenty-six teachers stay for ten minutes after the class in the afternoon. And as Dr. Grenfell said so many men think medical missionaries the most unhappy of men, away off without all their fine medical instruments and appliances. "Why," he said, "we are the happiest men in the world, we wouldn't exchange for anything." 2

I often think, you cannot but feel when you read Christ's life how infinitely peaceful he was, what calm control, so filled with the purpose of his Father and so conscious that he was doing his will that feared no one, he had an answer always ready for any question, never flurried or hasty with crowds coming, feeling always that each thing that came was another opportunity and gladly welcoming it. I think if people could only see this! But really Tom it is only Christ's spirit that can make people feel this. It is a strange thing and yet it is a wonderfully real time thing that Christ can and does give this Spirit that makes a monotonous round of life a whole world of opportunity,--that makes one feel the sin they have often glanced at carelessly and long to have it righted.

You know Tom I have often, tho' I have never told you, wondered what you were going to make of your life. I have wondered if in the course of time you mightn't become a member of Parliament.3 I just thought about it lightly but now I can't help thinking of you and longing and praying that God in mercy to a country that has so many blind (sin-blind) leaders may in His time raise up a savior. You think you are young and so you are but one needs to begin early. It seems as if in the study of the Old Testament one cannot but see how God chose leaders, (kings and prophets) and just as these kept themselves pure and obeyed God so the people followed them and were pleasing to God and were blessed accordingly. Now I don't know what God may have in store for you but this I know, and it is as real as life, that God will give his Spirit, the Spirit of Christ to those who earnestly and persistently ask it. And this Spirit will enable you to separate between good and evil as you never did before, it will help you as a lawyer to distinguish that faint line between right and wrong and it will make you pray earnestly and fearfully lest you ever be allowed to get on the wrong side and lose your keen sense of the right. I think Tom this alone could keep a man pure in politics now and make him so strong that he would keep above the tide of wrong-doing and stand firm and help up others. And you might be a statesman like Lord Shaftesbury who was the most useful and highly honored man in his time by wealthy and educated and nobility and poor alike. But this was not his aim,--it was as he himself said "In ending my life I desire only that it may be said of me that, I have served man with a patience and resignation like unto this faithful beast." This was a donkey some poor slum children had presented to him.

You know Tom though I joined the church at home and for three years taught here and tried to live a Christian life yet I got so indifferent, I really didn't enjoy reading my Bible and on Sunday I sometimes thought I'd just like to read the novels of the day and I wondered if it mightn't be a good thing to learn to dance, & play cards as nearly everybody else did and I felt pretty unhappy. 4 I felt tho' I could hardly express it even to myself that in some way I was drifting, I was not improving and I just prayed that God would give me something in some way that I might feel if only for a short time the real joy I knew some Christians had and that I might be given some power that I might love to read my Bible. And Tom I was answered and have been happier ever since and anything I give up I have repaid to me a hundred fold. I've never since been really unhappy--I keep studying my Bible studies, for about forty-five minutes every morning from breakfast to school and the quiet time for thought and prayer gives me a confidence and courage to enter into my day's teaching determined to let nothing be done carelessly and yet to win all I can from the girls by cheerfulness and brightness, not to scold it out of them. And my life is really very happy tho' very busy. And like Dr. Grenfell I know it is just the Spirit of Christ that has made all the difference. As he said, you could try to improve the people by making regulations against drink & by building hospitals but the only real blessing that utterly changed their lives and made them new men was the Spirit of Christ. And it is just as real for us tho' Satan tries to make us think there is nothing more in Christian life than we have in these civilized times & places. Don't you believe it & let Satan spoil your chance of a grand life.

Well dear, you'll think this is a sermon but I've so often thought of you & felt I owed it to you my own brother for I want you to have the very best. With very much love and thanks for your letter.

Your loving sister.


1 The letter is undated, however, the first Monday after her birthday, May 3, 1905 is May 8, 1905. We have also dated by context: Ruby mentions receiving a parcel from her family, and her mother mentions preparing a parcel for Ruby's birthday in her letter to Tom dated April 27, 1905, W-MCP2-4.054.

2 Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell (1865-1940) is one of Canada's most romantic heroes of the north. He was of an era when Victorian missionaries flung themselves into the far corners of the globe to bring civilization to the real or imagined uncivilized. Grenfell, motivated by both his religious and medical influences, brought to the coastal communities of Newfoundland, Labrador, and Quebec, a new degree of health care.
Born February 28, 1865 at Parkgate, Cheshire, England, Wilfred Grenfell received his medical education at Oxford University and London Hospital School. Converted to active Christianity in 1885 by Dwight L. Moody, an American evangelist, Grenfell practised his social gospel when he was fisherman's doctor in the North Sea in 1886. The National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen made Grenfell a superintendent in 1889, and after an urgent call to visit Newfoundland in 1892, he returned to England where he pleaded passionately for funds to aid thousands of seasonal cod fishermen, over 3,000 permanent settlers, and the native people living on the coast who had been serviced only by one government doctor on an annual visit from the Newfoundland colony.
The first mission flag was planted at Battle Harbour on the eastern tip of Labrador at the entrance to the Strait of Belle Isle in 1893. Hospitals, orphanages, schools, nursing stations, industrial centres, agricultural stations, and cooperative stores soon followed at other locations in Quebec, Labrador, and at his eventual headquarters at St. Anthony, Newfoundland. Facilities included a marine slip at St. Anthony to repair mission boats and fishing vessels, and a hospital ship used for annual cruises on the coast. There was also support of local handicraft business. The cooperatives helped break an economic dependence on unscrupulous merchants; the social clubs he promoted contributed to a sense of community and self-help.
As a widely read author and skilled lecturer, Grenfell brought attention and money to his mission. In 1909 he married the Chicago heiress, Ann MacClanahan, and a great deal of his support came from the United States. The International Grenfell Association was incorporated in 1912 as an umbrella of organizations in St. John's, Newfoundland; London, England; New York and Boston in the United States and the Grenfell Labrador Medical Mission of Canada. Also in 1912 Grenfell opened the King George V Institute in St. John's. Through hard work, courage, devotion, and a sense of mission for which the late Victorians were justly famous, Grenfell brought international attention to the plight of the cod fisherman.

Dr. Grenfell is also mentioned in W5800, Box 05-003, W-MCP1-3a.018. His image has been added to this letter, IMG234.

3 Ruby's aspirations for Tom are precisely what Tom achieved as a politician and a person. Ruby had made a great sacrifice, both financially and physically, to pay Tom's way through school and then she died--and this likely had a profound effect on his character and his career. See his biographical sketch by clicking on "Family" on the Home Page and then on his picture. Ditto for Ruby.

4 The Presbyterians of the day were fundamentalists and they did not believe in dancing or in breaking the Sabbath. Ruby here mentions a conversion she had after 3 years of teaching, and her letter to Cal. April 22, 1904, tells him of her struggle with her faith and her resolve, and encourages him with his (W5126).

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