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Minnehaha Angela Clarke - 1864-1893 - African Missionary

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Memorial Tablet, Minnehaha Angela Clarke, 1893
Orig. oak tablet- Size - 42 x 74 cm, wt 6 kg
Found - Guelph, ON

Minnie would have been pleased to know that she touched the lives of two young men in Guelph enough that they would create a memorial in her honour that would last more than a hundred years.

HH and JF took a heavy slab of oak, carved out and painted the design, and burned this artistic and moving inscription to her memory. How they must have talked about Minnie as they worked out the design that would best honour the beloved teacher they remembered..

In her honour, the parish hung this heavy framed tablet in the hall, along which countless members of the congregation would pass it by, and think of one of their very best, whenever they entered or left the church, for worship, Sunday School, or church socials. For over a hundred years...

Below, Chalmers United Church, where Minnie's memorial tablet hung for over 100 years.

MinnIe Clarke was a Canadian original.

She must have been a powerful personality to have left such a lasting impression on two boys - HH and JF - from her Sunday School class, that they created - several years after they last saw her - this strongly emotional tablet in her memory.

It was an amazing ambition, in the late 1880s, for anyone to decide on going to do mission work in "Darkest Africa" which was so wild, impenetrable, and dangerous, at the time, that it was barely a dozen years since Dr. Livingstone had been deemed lost - probably killed by wild savages - and then miraculously found by Henry Stanley.

And it was only five years since General Gordon had been killed by the heathens, and hundreds had died on Stanley's next Expedition to find Emin Pasha in the aftermath.

Africa was no place for even the toughest white man to survive long at the best of times... Rampant diseases, hostile tribes, and ruthless slave traders made it a terrifying place for human beings whatever their origin.

Certainly God seemed to have forsaken the place.

And yet this 26 year old girl from Guelph, Ontario, Minnie Clarke, decided to serve her fellow man in deepest, darkest, central Angola. She knew the risks and yet put her life on the line for the sake of black Africans whom she considered less fortunate than she was.

She was, after all, every bit her father's daughter - he who had fought racist discrimination in Victoria, British Columbia - being possessed of the same strong will, and belief in the dignity and rights of all men and women, regardless of race.

In 1890 she left for Central West Africa, today known as Angola, and the interior, to the province of Bihé, and the little town of Chisamba (today Chissamba), where the Congregational Church had a mission site with a school and hospital.

But it was a most unhealthy spot, especially for one with so fragile a disposition as Minnie Clarke, who fell ill and had to be evacuated to a healthier part of the province.

When she recovered she demanded to go back - against all the best advice of Mission staff, to go work in a healthier place. The strong will, inherited from her father, won out.

She did not long survive the return.

For 113 years - since it was created in 1893 - the Memorial Tablet to Minnie Clarke hung in the Chalmers Street Church above in Guelph, Ontario.

The church was built in 1871 when Minnie was only 7. She attended services there and later taught Sunday School there as well. It was the building in which her farewell dinner was held, when she left to go to Africa in 1890.

How many would have guessed that she would never return?

Then, three years later, came the tragic news, and her memorial tablet was installed, and became an honoured place to make a stop and say a silent prayer for one of Guelph's very best.

When the United Church sold the building in 2005, some things had to go; one of them was Minnie's tablet.

Angola - Sadly, Minnie would not be pleased at what has happened to Angola in the hundred years since she laboured there.

In the 1990s the hospital and bible school at Chissamba, in Bihé province - still there after 100 years - were burned to the ground during fighting between rebels and government forces.

But then, Minnie had done her bit for mankind; it was up to others to do theirs...

It would be nice if we could find a picture of Minnie or her grave in Chissamba... And the identity of "Her Boys," HH and JF.

In Memoriam, March 18, 1893

Miss Minnehaha A. Clarke, of West Africa.

The West Central African Mission has been deeply afflicted in the death of Miss Minnehaha A. Clarke, who fell asleep in Christ at Chisamba, Bihé, on the eighteenth of March. Some months previous, Miss Clarke had an attack of bilious malarial fever, which reduced her strength and which led the members of the mission strongly to advise her not to return to Chisamba, where she had laboured so earnestly and successfully.

The particular location at this stations was deemed unfavourable to one having her predisposition to the fever, but her deep love for the pupils whom she had begun to train led her to think the fears of her associates needless, and to resolve that she would make another experiment before leaving Chisamba. Alas! that experiment proved fatal.

She was the daughter of Rev. William F. Clarke and Mary Ann Clarke, of Guelph, Ontario, at which city she was born January 31, 1864.

Just three years ago she offered herself to the American Board as a missionary, replying in answer to the question as to “What led you to decide to go to the heathen?? – “The reading of missionary literature, and an ever-deepening sense of duty.? This sense of duty seemed to be all-controlling but there was nothing sombre about it.

Her face and her voice alike bore witness to her cheerful spirit, and it was with a bound of love an zeal that she undertook the work to which her conscience led her. She greatly endeared herself to her missionary associates and to the native pupils in the mission, whom she loved with an intensity of devotion which cost her her life.

Her last sickness was very brief, and most of the time her mind wandered. Mr. Read, in writing of her last days, says: “Her work was uppermost in her mind during her sickness, and her Master’s name often broke from her lips in prayer of simple ejaculation.? Her term of service was very brief, less than three years, but she won to herself the deep affection of many of the people, who gave to her every token of love and respect and who at the funeral services manifested their deep feeling.

One of the lads who had been under Miss Clarke’s care, and who two years ago was a wild heathen, wrote the following touching letter to Mrs. Stover, of Bailundu, telling her the sad news: - “Kumba says, Nana Stover, Ondona Clarke is dead. She died on Saturday; she began to be ill on the fifth day (Thursday). As for me, I have not slept for three nights. My heart aches so because the Ondona is dead. Jesus has taken her to his own home, indeed, but since we can never see her more my heart is broken. The Ondona Clarke is dead. If we accept Jesus, we shall meet the Ondona again.?

We believe there will be many from Africa who through the life and death of this young and faithful missionary will be brought to meet her in the presence of the Master whom she loved and in whose service she died.

The Missionary Herald 1893.

Rev. William Fletcher Clarke - 1824-1902

Minnie's father was the Rev. William Fletcher Clarke. He was the founding spirit and major mover to create Canada's famed Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), which is part of today's University of Guelph.

The Rev. Clarke was born in England in 1824, to a minister of the Congregational Church who emigrated to London, Ontario when William was a teenager. He was ordained into the Congregational Church, himself, in 1844, but dedicated his life to a passion for journalism and agriculture. He founded a periodical for the Congregational Church in 1854.

In 1857 he took up a posting in Victoria, British Columbia, then a British colony, totally isolated from the eastern part of British North America.

The Reverend Clarke was known for having a strong personality and immediately led a protest against the Governor of the colony, who wanted to make the Church of England the colony's official church. Clarke raised more hackles in Victoria for strongly opposing racial segregation in his congregation. Though the Congregational Church supported him, the Mission Society who employed him, sacked him. He returned to Guelph were his religious and agricultural journalism consumed him.

From 1863 to 1871 he edited the Canadian Farmer and the Ontario Farmer, two highly influential Canadian agricultural journals. In the Ontario Farmer (1869-1871) he developed a family magazine aimed at farming families. Some sections dealt with agriculture, horticulture, gardening, farming mechanics, while others aimed at young people, with puzzles, games, rhymes, and advice, as well as music and poetry, even a novel which he serialized over several issues. It was also laced with pictures, often of prize-winning animals.

He also developed a strong hobby in bee-keeping, becoming the President of the Ontario Bee-Keepers Association.

In his time as editor of the agricultural magazines he strongly pushed for the development of an agricultural college for Ontario. In 1869 he was chosen to study American models and asked to make suggestions for Ontario. His influence led the government to set up its first college in Mimico in 1871, later moved to Guelph. It became Canada's justifiably famous Ontario Agricultural College.

Ontario Agricultural College: When it opened, in 1874, with 28 students, the Reverend William Clarke became its first rector, but almost immediately resigned after a clash with the principal of the school. He did lecture at the college on bee-keeping till he retired in 1888.

(In 1964, OAC became a founding college of the University of Guelph and remains a world leader in innovative agricultural education and research.)

The Reverend Clarke also oversaw the construction of a Congregational Church.

In 1898 he ran for mayor of Guelph on the platform that he was not under the thumbs of any special interest groups. He demanded other, younger candidates, step down, to await their turn, and to let him serve his community in his old age. Feisty to the end...

Wrote one, in his obit, "his hard knocks and straight talk brought him often into hot water."

Yet it is exactly those qualities which make some men leaders, and trailblazers, while others dawdle behind as followers, and leave no trace.

It must have grieved him, in his last years, that his daughter Minnie was cut from the same cloth, and blazed her trail to the wilds of Africa.

The death of his adventurous daughter, in his 70th year, must have been an especially hard blow to the old man.

When his time came, he was probably glad to go; together again, at last...

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