Ida Lawson Freeman
(From Vi Keenleyside, "They Also Came", Vibook Committee, Duncan, 1987, pp.41-45
"Mrs. Freeman was the finest looking lady on the coast." These words were spoken in later years by Captain Pamphlet who had been engaged in coastal shipping right up into Alaska. He had frequently stopped at Skidegate and knew the Freemans well.
The same Captain proceeded to tell of walking up the dock one day at Skidegate and stopping to watch two little boys at play on the beach. Their tongues were going at a great rate. As they were speaking in the Haida language the Captain just listened but did not understand. He called, the boys looked up. They were the Freeman preschoolers. Their "first" language was Haida!
What a contrast for a quiet farm girl from eastern Ontario to become a missionary's wife in a west coast Indian community with none of what we today consider essential conveniences! But when the impetuous young visionary with a mop of fiery red hair asked her to be his life's partner she entered readily into the partnership and never looked back. In later life Freeman wrote of the stable character of "the best girl in the world just providentially left for me, a wisely steadying influence ."
Barnabus Cortland Freeman had his own thoughts of what kind of minister he would be (after changing his mind from medicine to theology). Perhaps I should say he had definite thoughts of the kind of minister he would not be. He despised the "sanctimonious preacher of the orthodox frock coat, amen type, with his booming voice and his superior ways."
Cortland Freeman was positive about one thing. He would not have a "settlement" made for him. He would go where a need cried out. So it was when he read in the Christian Guardian a letter wherein Dr. Ebenezer Robson wrote that the Skidegate Haidas of Queen Charlotte Islands desperately wanted a missionary, that was it. Not that he knew anything of the Haidas; in fact, he had only a vague idea of where those islands lay. But, if they wanted him, that was all that was necessary. He answered the call.
The Manitoba and North West Conference, on order from Toronto, set out to ordain the young man who was leaving a mission field in northern Saskatchewan. On his way back to Ontario to marry his fiancee and prepare to leave for the west, he was taken from the train in Winnipeg, rushed to Grace Church where a few church members were waiting in the dimly lit sanctuary, hurried through what he called a "spiritual vaccination," and was thusly ordained into the ministry of the Methodist Church. Then he was whisked back to the waiting train to continue east.
January 10, 1893 the newlyweds left Bedford Station. Ontario. destination Skidegate, Queen Charlotte Islands. The senior Freeman remarked, "Let us give them a cheerful sendoff, for some of us will never see them again."
From Victoria they boarded the old Barbara Boscowitz, said to be a converted whaler with tiny, musty cabins lit by three-inch candles, and headed north. In later years, the Freemans recalled such things of that memorable trip as the square oil lantern hanging in the saloon; Wong, the general steward; the profanity of the captain in the Queen Charlotte Sound storm; the kindness of the engineer (who lent his gumboots and slicker to the youth from the east).
As no one in the village spoke English, the Freemans soon learned the Haida language.
Living accommodation was primitive. Water was gathered from above; plumbing was at the end of a path; fresh fruit grew on bushes in the forest (red huckleberries, blueberries, choke cherries); "fresh" vegetables came from Victoria via a freighter cum passenger boat that arrived two or three times in a summer, then no more until next summer. However, the sea around them provided an abundance of food-salmon, cod, halibut, clams, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and more-when the weather allowed.
When it was approaching time for the birth of their first child in 1894, Ida Freeman packed a bag and waited for a steamer to appear in the Inlet. She would go to the new hospital in Port Simpson, built by that dedicated pioneer, Dr. A.E. Bolton, three years previously.
The steamer arrived, her bag was deposited on board and her passage paid for. The most important passenger to disembark was the new school teacher. But to her dismay, she discovered that with the "exit" of the minister's wife she would be the only white woman in the village. She refused to stay. The only alternative left to Mrs. Freeman was to about face, retrieve her bag and stay in Skidegate. Their first daughter, Helen, was brought into the world by an Indian midwife assisted by Ida's husband.
In time three more Freeman children were thus born in Skidegate, Harold (named Gunwhaad by the Haidas) who lost his life in the battle of Vimy Ridge, Frederick and Percy. Kathleen came into the world in Kepler, Ontario, when her mother was visiting in the east.
One dark foreboding night in Skidegate, a violent quake shook the islands. It so happened that the Rev. Freeman was on one of his frequent visits to the other villages. A knock on the mission house door startled Ida but on opening the door, there stood one of the village elders to inquire about her welfare and to assure her that the islands were frequently shaken by earthquakes but no one was ever hurt.
She felt completely accepted by these quiet, loving people. While the missionary was often absent from the village, not only on visitations but also at area meetings in Port Simpson or attending the annual conference in Victoria, Ida cheerfully carried on, leading all weekly services including Sunday school, church, and prayer meetings. She dispensed medications as she felt able. She had already organized the women of the community into a sewing circle where they created gifts for new babies, or for brides or for any church needs.
With the responsibilities of a growing family of little ones, she was helped by young women from the village in the way of housework and babysitting. Two of these helpers were Sophie Gladstone and one of the Russ girls (Grace?).
After ten strenuous but happy years in Skidegate, the Freemans moved to Port Simpson where daughter Doreen was born. A seventh child, Gordon, came along later when the Freeman family had left the north for Vancouver Island.
It was while they were a few years in the busy Skeena fishing village of Port Essington that the Rev. Freeman officiated at the "wedding of the north" uniting Peter Kelly and Gertrude Russ. The mission house at Essington constantly overflowed with guests. When the hotel rooms were full the overflow was directed to the mission house. No one was turned away.
The Freemans sought service in centres where their children could have the benefits of high school. In 1910 they left the north but carried with them cherished memories of those seventeen years among the Haidas and Tsimpsheans, their "happiest years."
Barnabus Cortland Freeman in a letter of memoirs wrote "... the utter devotion of a long-suffering wife has been the greatest human strength my life has known." When he was elected to be President of Conference in 1920, he took his wife to the platform beside him.
The widowed Ida lived the last twelve years of her life with a loving and devoted daughter-in-law who said to me, "Mother Freeman was as nearly perfect as a woman could be."
From a newspaper clipping [newspaper uncertain, possibly the Kingston Whig-Standard?]:
One of the last links with the pioneer missions to the Indians of the Northern coasts of British Columbia was severed on July 31 with the passing of Mrs. Ida Freeman at the Vancouver Hospital after an illness of three weeks.
Born at Kepler, about 10 miles north of Kingston, in 1868, she there married the late Rev. B.C. Freeman in 1892. Setting out immediately by way fo Vancouver and Victoria, they arrived at their isolated mission in the Haida village of Skidegate, Queen Charlotte Islands, in January, 1893. In those days, 15 years before the site of Prince Rupert was chosen and five years before the Klondike gold rush, boat service was infrequent and irregular, the nearest settled white community was Comox, Vancouver Island, and the nearest doctor and hospital at the mission at Port Simpson, over 100 miles across the stormy Hecate Strait. Yet there, without either white neighbours or a store on the islands, Mrs. Freeman not only started to raise a family - she had five children while at Skidegate - but frequently spent anxious days while her husband accompanied canoe parties to distant villages, and even had to substitute for him in reading the burial service.
After 10 years at Skidegate and another eight years at the Tsimshyan missions at Port Simpson and Port Essington, the Freemans moved to other Methodist pastorates in the province, going successfully to Cumberland, South Vancouver, Revelstoke, Trinity (Vancouver), and Cranbrook. They then served the United Church at Beaconsfield (Vancouver), and Coquitlam. In all these places Mrs. Freeman, in her quiet way, made a host of friends, most of whom she outlived.
Since her husband's retirement in 1934 Mrs. Freeman made her home in Vancouver, where she was a faithful member of Marpole United Church.
She is survived by two sons, Frederick C. of Vancouver, with whom she has lived for 12 years, and Gordon E., Prince Rupert; two daughters, Mrs. J.E. Gibbard, Vancouver, and Doreen, Chilliwack; and eight grandchildren. Three of her children predeceased her, as did her husband who died suddenly while filling a temporary appointment to the mission at Quathiaski in 1935.
Funeral service was conducted by Rev. E.L. Bishop of Marpole United Church, and was followed by interment at Ocean View Memorial Park.
Many relatives of the late Mrs. Freeman reside in this district."
Rev. Barnabas Cortland "Cortland" Freeman, b. 30 Jul 1869, Godfrey, Central Frontenac, Frontenac, Ontario, Canada , d. 17 Dec 1935, Cape Mudge Indian Reserve 10, Strathcona, British Columbia, Canada (Age 66 years)
28 Dec 1892
Elginburg, Kingston, Frontenac, Ontario, Canada
Type: Ended by death of husband
Witnesses, 28 Dec 1892, Herbert Gage, Viola M. Lawson
1. Helen J. Freeman, b. 22 Sep 1894, Skidegate, Skeena-Queen Charlotte, British Columbia, Canada , d. 28 Apr 1942, Penticton, Okanagan-Similkameen, British Columbia, Canada (Age 47 years)
2. Harold Lawson Freeman, b. 6 Jun 1896, Skidegate, Skeena-Queen Charlotte, British Columbia, Canada , d. 13 Apr 1917, Vimy Ridge battlesite, Vimy, Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, France (Age 20 years)
3. Frederick Cortland "Fred" Freeman, b. 27 Nov 1897, Lax Kw'alaams, Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District, British Columbia, Canada , d. 25 Oct 1973, Arbutus Care Centre, Vancouver, Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (Age 75 years)
4. Percy Freeman, b. 17 May 1899, Ireland , d. 21 Jul 1900, Hinchinbrooke, Central Frontenac, Frontenac, Ontario, Canada (Age 1 years)
5. Kathleen Sarah "Kathy" Freeman, b. 25 Mar 1900, Kepler, Kingston, Frontenac, Ontario, Canada , d. 24 Feb 1977, Kensington Private Hospital, Vancouver, Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (Age 76 years)
6. Ida Doreen "Dornie" Freeman, b. 10 Sep 1903, Lax Kw'alaams, Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District, British Columbia, Canada , d. 26 Jan 1993, Vancouver, Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (Age 89 years)
Residence - - Skidegate, Skeena-Queen Charlotte, British Columbia, Canada
Married - Type: Ended by death of husband - 28 Dec 1892 - Elginburg, Kingston, Frontenac, Ontario, Canada
Residence - 14 May 1930 - 2627 Slocan St., Vancouver, Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Residence - 31 Jul 1952 - 1653 W 64th Ave., Vancouver, Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Died - Cause: Broncho-pneumonia, consequent to pulmonary edema and arterio-sclerotic heart disease. Also - 31 Jul 1952 - Vancouver General Hospital, Vancouver, Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Buried - 5 Aug 1952 - Ocean View Burial Park, Burnaby, Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Death Registration - 7 Aug 1952 - Vancouver General Hospital, Vancouver, Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
"Harold's Last Leave" L to r: Helen Freeman, Fred Freeman, Kathy Freeman, Gordon Freeman, Rev. B. Courtland Freeman, Harold Freeman, Dornie Freeman, Ida Lawson
Written on the back is the phrase "Harold's Last Leave". He was killed at Vimy Ridge the following year.