The Diocese of The Arctic
PO Box 190, Yellowknife, NWT, Canada
Anglican Church of Canada
Contact Administrator
Today is: Wednesday,13 November,2019 08:44:37 PM

Information about and History of the Diocese of The Arctic

The Diocese of The Arctic covers an area of some four million square kilometres (1.5 million square miles) that is, one third the area of Canada and fifteen times the area of the United Kingdom. It stretches in the West from the border of Yukon Territory, is bounded to the South by the 60th parallel, and in the East includes the north coast of Quebec from James Bay to the tip of Labrador. To the North its ministry stretches to the most northerly permanent civilian settlement in Canada, that of Grise Fiord. The people in this vast area however, number only 55,000 with Inuit living above the treeline, Indians living south of this and a few people whose origin is traced to other areas of the world in all communities.

The vast majority of the Inuit are members of the Anglican Church. Those whose origins are traced to outside the boundary of the Diocese represent the whole rainbow of Christian denominations found elsewhere. The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches serve the whole area but some communities are also served by the United, Lutheran, Baptist and Pentecostal churches.

The first regular contact of the people of the area, which now constitutes the Diocese of The Arctic, with other people of the world happened only relatively recently. Many of their first contacts were with whalers and traders who came seeking the resources of the area. A number of traders were great Christians bringing their faith as well as their trade-goods to the North. Their support and encouragement were often vital to the missionaries that came to this land and in the founding of the Church here. In fact, the pattern of the coming of the Church of the North can only be understood as we see also the development of the area for trade with the native peoples.

In the far West the history of the work of the ordained members of the Anglican Church goes back to 1858 when Archdeacon James Hunter of the Diocese of Rupert's Land first met and ministered to the people of the Upper Mackenzie (Fort Simpson) but it was not until two decades later that the Good News of Jesus Christ was carried to the Inuit of the Mackenzie Delta (Aklavik) and it was not until 1915 that the Reverend Herbert Girling moved east along the coast to reach the Inuit of Coronation Gulf (Kugluktuk, formerly Coppermine).

The Inuit of the west coast of Hudson Bay (Arviat, formerly Eskimo Point) learned of Jesus Christ through visiting Churchill where in 1883 the Reverend Joseph Lofthouse ministered. It was not until 1926 however, that a long term ordained residential ministry was established in the area by the Reverend Donald B. Marsh (later the second Bishop of the Arctic).

In 1853 a mission had been established at Fort George in James Bay and the Gospel of Jesus Christ was carried up the east coast of Hudson Bay (Great Whale River). The year 1884 saw the Reverend James Peck travelling overland from the coast into Ungava Bay (Kuujjuaq, formerly Fort Chimo) which had been influenced already by the faithful work of the Moravian Church in Labrador. In 1894 the Reverend Peck extended his work further north establishing a mission at Blacklead Island (near Pangnirtung) from which the Gospel of Christ spread across Baffin Island.

In writing of the spread of the Gospel and the establishment of the Anglican Church in the Diocese special mention must be made of the role of lay people of all races who by simply sharing their faith by action and word brought others to faith in Christ. There were also hospitals and schools established by the churches which had an important role to play in bringing the love of Christ to the people of the North.
Very quickly after coming to faith in Christ, the native people themselves began to take formal leadership roles in their church, becoming layreaders and catechists, first in their small camps but later also in large settlements that have grown up. Early in the life of the northern church native people were called to the ordained ministry, the first being John Tssietla, a Gwich'in Indian, being ordained a deacon in 1928. Armand Tagoona was ordained in 1960 to become the first Inuk priest to serve in the Diocese of The Arctic.

Various training courses have been used over the years for catechist and layreader training and their development to meet present day needs continues. The training of ordinands was formalized with the establishment in Pangnirtung, in 1970, of the Arthur Turner Training School. (Arthur Turner was the missionary in Pangnirtung,  with a few breaks, from 1928 until his death there in 1953). Ordinands who need and are best served by the specialized training available at A.T.T.S. attend with their families for a three-year course. There, under the direction of the principal with assistance from teachers from universities, seminaries and churches in Canada and around the world, they receive a comprehensive training and education to fit them for the ordained ministry of the Church. It is through the A.T.T.S. that the Diocese has been enabled to have half of its priests, who are native, trained for work in our area.

We must return in history somewhat to recount the beginnings of our life as a Diocese. For many years the work in the area, which now comprises our Diocese, was supervised by a number of dioceses. This was consolidated in 1927 under the leadership of Archdeacon Archibald Lang Fleming. In 1933 when the Diocese of The Arctic was formed the Archdeacon became its first Bishop. Bishop Fleming was succeeded in 1950 by the Rt. Rev. Donald B. Marsh.

In 1962 the Rt. Rev. H.G. Cook was elected to be Bishop Suffragan to assist in the work of this huge Diocese. Shortly after this however the Mackenzie area of the Diocese was removed to become an episcopal district and later a part of the Diocese of Athabasca. In 1975, with the Rt. Rev. J.R. Sperry having been elected Diocesan Bishop, the Mackenzie area again became a valued part of the Diocese of The Arctic. In 1980 the Rt. Rev. J.C.M. Clarke was elected Bishop Suffragan assisting in the episcopal work of the Diocese until his retirement. In 1987, the Rt. Rev. J.C.R. Williams was elected Bishop Suffragan and in 1990 Bishop Coadjutor, becoming Diocesan in 1991. In 1996 Paul Idlout was elected the first Inuk suffragan bishop of the diocese and in 1999 two additional suffragans were elected, Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk and Bishop Larry Robertson. In May 2002 Bishop Atagotaaluk was elected coadjutor and upon Bishop William's retirement in August became the first Inuk diocesan bishop. Bishop Paul Idlout retired in April 2004.

Other major changes occurred in the administration and care of the Diocese. In 1972 the Diocese held its first constituted synod in Iqaluit, adopting a constitution with canons leading to government by synod. This meets every three years for about a week and has the unique feature of having all its proceedings in at least two languages. In between synods a duly elected Executive Committee has the responsibility for the making of important decisions for the synod.

With such a vast Diocese there has always been a problem as to where best in Canada the Bishop of The Arctic and the administrative office of the Diocese should be located. When the Diocese was formed its bishop and his offices were located in the Toronto area but with the election of Bishop Cook, the Bishop Suffragan set up his residence in Yellowknife and when Bishop Sperry was elected the Diocesan also moved into the Diocese living in Iqaluit. In 1996 the diocesan office was relocated to Yellowknife.

All this however is nothing if there is not growth encouraged and happening among the people of our Diocese. Over the years and particularly since the 1950s the small nomadic groups of people have gathered into permanent settlements many of which have populations of 1,000 or more, with varying degrees of self-government. The Anglican Church has congregations in fifty-one of these settlements and these grouped into thirty-one parishes. In all but six of these congregations the native language of the area is used for the main Sunday worship, worship in English taking a second although a very important place. Some measure of the commitment of Christ of the people of the North can be demonstrated by the fact that of the thirty-one parishes nine are financially self-supporting, and this number rises even though we live in the most expensive part of Canada and the economy is weak.

The members of our Diocese see their commitment to Christ leading them to actions whose results go far beyond the church walls into their own communities, our country and into God's world.