Teachers in Norther Manitoba
Jacob Toews' father-in-law encouraged him to do northern service. Toews had been in a work camp in Kapuskasing, Ontario, but he was destined for other things.
“One day I received a letter from Dad Neufeld which put me in some internal turmoil. He informed me that because of the war some of the United Church mission stations on Indian reservations in northern Manitoba were in need of missionary-teachers. The United Church office in Winnipeg, possibly through Dad's prompting, had reached an agreement with the authorities whereby these vacancies could be filled by Mennonite COs. He suggested that Anna and I take over such a position. The request posed a new turn of events. After prayerful consideration I consented. A new adventure loomed ahead.”
Toews left his alternative service work camp just before Easter.
“After Easter we made plans and preparations for our move to Poplar River where we were to take up the position of missionary-teacher. Upon the recommendation of the Rev. Dr. Cormie of the United Church office the Department of Vital Statistics issued me a dispensational certificate to perform marriages and register births and deaths.”
“In the last week of June, Dad Neufeld, Anna and I boarded the “SS Keenora” in Selkirk and embarked on a new venture. The unknown always brings with it a feeling of apprehension, but we saw in our new avenue of service the leading hand of God and this gave us confidence.
The SS Keenora was a large boat. It dropped them off at Berens River, a community on Lake Winnipeg. Toews' final destination was Poplar River, but it did not have proper docking facilities, so they would have to take a skiff for the final 80 km. J.J. Everett, a man from Berens River, piloted the skiff.
“The day after our arrival was a Sunday. J.J. showed me how to handle a canoe and outboard motor. We took a ride up the river to get the feel of the canoe, which was to be our main means of transportation during open water. Mr. Shanks [the previous missionary-teacher] showed us the church in which I was to hold divine services, and the school in which I was to teach Indian children the English language and good Canadian citizenship.”
Then, all too soon, J.J., Mr. Shanks, and Toews' father-in-law left, leaving Jacob and Anna to explore their new home.
“We set about to put the house in order and make a home of it. There was also outside work to be done. I went into the bush and cut some dry trees for firewood; I dug up the garden plot and planted some seeds under the watchful eye of the dog, to whom we never really gave a proper name. Anna tried her hand at baking bread in the wood stove – with disastrous results. But then we had a good axe to crack it open. The dog found it quite palatable.”
Since Jacob and Anna were working as teaching missionaries and not bakers, this mistake didn't matter.