BAKER, LUCY MARGARET, teacher and lay missionary; b. 1836 in Summerstown, Upper Canada; d. unmarried 30 May 1909 in Montreal.
Lucy Baker is best known for her contribution to education in the Prince Albert region of what is now Saskatchewan. Born in Glengarry County, Upper Canada, she lost her mother at a young age and was raised by her aunt, a Mrs Buchanan of Dundee, Lower Canada. After schooling in Dundee and in nearby Fort Covington, N.Y., she became a teacher. She was employed at Dundee and later at a ladies’ school in New Jersey, was co-proprietor of a ladies’ school in New Orleans prior to the American Civil War, and in 1878 was teaching in a private school at Lancaster, Glengarry.
Baker’s mentor was the Presbyterian minister at Lancaster, Donald Ross. When in 1878 he was named missionary to Prince Albert by the Foreign Missions Committee of the Presbyterian Church, he asked that Baker teach in the mission school. Appointed the same year, Baker set out for the west with Ross and his wife. She arrived at Prince Albert late in October 1879. Her work at the school was well received, and the Foreign Missions Committee first extended her grant and then in 1880 made it permanent.
Initially the student population comprised children of mixed parentage who spoke Cree. Baker and her supporters believed they composed “the class from which teachers and other workers in the Indian department should be trained.” The white community in Prince Albert also sent their children to her school and as settlement increased their numbers grew. The proportion of native students was reduced further by the removal of the local Cree to the Mistawasis Reserve, 75 miles away. In 1882, of 70 students only 14 were native. In response to demands from the white community, a high school was established in 1884–85 as part of the Presbyterian mission school. The Foreign Missions Committee extracted a guarantee that children of native heritage would be educated free, but in fact very few attended. Upon her return from furlough in 1887 Baker became a regular staff member of the Nisbet Academy, the name that was given to this first high school in the North-West Territories in honour of former missionary James Nisbet*.
In the late 1870s several groups of Sioux had come to the Prince Albert area. Refugees from the American-Indian wars, they were not allowed homesteads in Canada because they were native people. The men were employed as labourers in town, on farms, or in the lumber industry; the women did “the rougher kind” of household jobs in town. “While we sit at worship, especially in summer we hear the beating of their drums attended by their heathen dances,” Baker reported in 1884. She worked diligently among them. By 1890, with the assistance of the Prince Albert community, the Presbyterian Church had constructed a small school north of the North Saskatchewan River to serve them. Baker was the principal teacher. Plagued by ill health, she took furloughs in 1891–92 and 1893–95, during which time her work was continued by her assistant Annie Cameron. In 1894 the Sioux were finally granted a reserve, known as Round Plain in the early years but now called Wahpaton Reserve 94A. Here, about nine miles north of Prince Albert, Baker taught from her return in 1895 until her retirement in 1905.
Baker’s educational service to the Sioux was essentially day schooling that had instruction in the principles of Protestant Christianity at its core. She taught the elements of the Ontario curriculum and, believing that native people needed to conform to the norms of Victorian Canada, included practical skills as well. She encountered great resistance. The Sioux manifested their opposition by their maintenance of traditional religious practices, irregular school attendance, and selectivity regarding the mission services they used. Her only innovative strategy was a threemonth visit by the Reverend L. Mazawakinyanna, a Sioux from North Dakota. This initiative apparently bore some promising results. She never shifted to incorporate the strategies of residential or industrial schools which came to prevail in native education. On her retirement the Foreign Missions Committee negotiated with the Department of Indian Affairs to have an agricultural instructor take over the school.
Baker contributed to education in the west through her stoic resolve that the Cree and then the Sioux of Prince Albert should receive the rudiments of a Christian schooling. Within the history of the Presbyterian Church, she was the first woman to serve as missionary and teacher among the native people of the west. By her example she helped break down the barriers that hindered women’s involvement in the development of western Canada.
E. A. Byers, Lucy Margaret Baker: a biographical sketch of the first missionary of our Canadian Presbyterian Church to the north-west Indians ([Toronto], 1920). P. D. Elias, The Dakota of the Canadian northwest: lessons for survival (Winnipeg, 1988). [J. W.] G. MacEwan, . . . and mighty women too; stories of notable western Canadian women (Saskatoon, 1975), 76–83. PCC Acts and proc., 1878–1910. P. L. Reid, “Lucy Baker, missionary to Canada’s north west,” Called to witness: profiles of Canadian Presbyterians . . . , ed. W. S. Reid (2v., [Hamilton, Ont.], 1975–80), 1: 67–82.
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