Robert McDonald, Missionaryadmin | 28 August 2010
The collect for a Missionary, in commemoration of The Venerable Robert McDonald (1829-1913), Archdeacon, Missionary to the Western Arctic, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):
O GOD, our heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst call thy blessed Apostles and send them forth to preach thy Gospel of salvation unto all the nations: We bless thy holy Name for thy servant Robert McDonald, whose labours we commemorate this day, and we pray thee, according to thy holy Word, to send forth many labourers into thy harvest; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Robert McDonald was born in Point Douglas, Red River Colony (in present-day Winnipeg, Manitoba). He was the second of ten children born to a Scottish immigrant and his Ojibway wife. Ordained a Church of England priest in 1852, he ministered among the Ojibway people for almost ten years, mastering the Ojibway language and translating parts of the Bible.
He was chosen to establish a Church Missionary Society mission at Fort Yukon, a settlement then believed to be in British territory but now located within Alaska. Reaching Yukon in October 1862, Robert McDonald was the first Protestant missionary designated for mission work in that territory. He ministered to the Gwitch’in and other aboriginal peoples in northwestern parts of North America for over forty years, during which time he baptised 2000 adults and children.
In 1870, he worked among peoples along the Porcupine River (Old Crow) and later settled in Fort MacPherson on the Peel River, in present-day Northwest Territories. He married Julia Kutuq, a local Gwitch’in woman, in 1876; together they had nine children. He was appointed Archdeacon of the Mackenzie Diocese in 1875.
Archdeacon McDonald developed the first writing system for the Gwitch’in language. (The Gwitch’in Athapaskan language is also known as Tukudh). With the help of Gwitch’in people, including his wife Julia, he translated the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, and compiled a Tukudh hymnal. Finally, in 1911, he published a dictionary and grammar of Tukudh.
Soon after retiring in 1904, he returned to Winnipeg where he died in 1913. He is buried in the cemetery of St John’s Cathedral.
More biographical information on The Ven. Robert McDonald may be found online at these sites: