Grandson artfully celebrates bishop’s Yukon legacy

Published November 1, 2009

In 1914, King George V requested the presence of Rev. Isaac O. Stringer, bishop of the Yukon and his wife, Sadie, at a function he was hosting. The king wanted to meet the Canadian bishop who ate his boots.  The misadventure took place in 1909, when Bishop Stringer was returning from his annual tour of missions. Winter was closing in. En route to Dawson City, he and his companion, C.J. Johnson, were caught in river ice and had to abandon their boat and walk to Dawson across the mountains.  They arrived two months late and would have starved had they not eaten their leather mukluks.  Bishop Isaac Stringer (1866-1934) left extensive documentation of his life and times in daily journals, letters, films and photographs. Historian Frank Peake wrote a biography of Stringer in 1966 entitled, The Bishop Who Ate His Boots.  Now, 40 years later, Isaac Stringer’s grandson, Richard Stringer (1944-2007), has left behind a documentary celebrating his grandfather’s legacy as a pioneer missionary. Bishop Stringer had a great impact on the people of Fort McPherson and Herschel Island and later became bishop of the Yukon and then archbishop of Rupert’s Land. The film tells the story of Isaac and Sadie, seamlessly interweaving the narrative with interviews with historians and personal contacts, shots of Richard Stringer doing research, and use of original photographs and footage from Isaac Stringer himself.The film examines the story in the larger context of initial contact with First Nations people in the north and then focuses on Bishop Stringer’s mission and the relationships he built with the Inuit people and whaling captains.  Richard Stringer does not shy away from the thorny issues of residential schools and the cultural effects brought about by the missionaries of that era. He concludes, however, that Bishop Stringer was a positive influence thanks to his gentle and respectful approach to the people and his benevolent contribution to the communities he served and for which he is remembered to this day.   Laurel Parson is assistant archivist at General Synod in Toronto.


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