KNOTT, CAROLINE SARAH (Tate), Methodist lay missionary and teacher; b. 1842 in London, England, eldest daughter of John Knott, a piano maker, and Caroline Sarah ---; m. 24 Oct. 1879 the Reverend Charles Montgomery Tate in Fort Simpson (Lax Kw’alaams), B.C.; d. 7 May 1930 in Victoria.
Caroline Knott came to Upper Canada with her family from England in 1856 or early in 1857. Shortly after their arrival in Hamilton, Caroline’s mother died, leaving her in charge of seven brothers and sisters. When they grew up, she applied to the general committee of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society for mission work. She was posted as a schoolteacher to aboriginal children, first at Rice Lake and then at Sault Ste Marie. When the call came for teachers to go to the Methodist mission at Fort Simpson in 1875, Caroline responded and was chosen, despite the fact that she was already 33 and was somewhat older than most applicants. At Fort Simpson she established herself as a good worker, winning the esteem of prominent Methodist missionary Thomas Crosby*. Four years after her arrival, she met and married Charles Tate. Together they embarked on over 31 years of missionary service, the longest of any couple in British Columbia, including postings at Bella Bella, Rivers Inlet, Burrard Inlet, Clayoquot, and Chilliwack.
Caroline Tate was both remarkable and typical of her time. The mere fact that her missionary career lasted so long indicates incredible fortitude and faith. Historian Rosemary Gagan has argued that home mission work, particularly among the First Nations, was often more physically and psychologically demanding than similar work in Asia. The majority of home missionaries left their jobs within five years and few continued until their retirement. Even at the time of her marriage, Caroline had outlasted many of her contemporaries in Fort Simpson. In total, she worked as a missionary among the First Nations for over 35 years and spent an additional 15 years in church organizations in Victoria. In many of her attitudes towards her work and towards the indigenous peoples with whom she associated, however, she was typical of her time.
As a missionary, Caroline lived an adventurous life for which little in her previous experience would have prepared her. She worked at a time of high mortality among the First Nations and so witnessed countless epidemics and deaths. Always reliant on the goodwill of aboriginal leaders for their survival, the Tates boarded in traditional longhouses, travelled in canoes over the ocean, and, when they reached a new posting, often had to build the mission from the ground up. On their arrival at Bella Bella in 1881, for instance, the crew of the steamer Princess Louise made a raft out of the lumber the Tates had brought to construct a house and a church and set them adrift on it as they approached the village. The Heiltsuk chief Humcheet organized a party to rescue the missionaries and welcomed them into his home. While other missionaries soon tired of the damp isolation of the northwest coast, the Tates endured.
Despite her many varied experiences in the field, Caroline Tate shared the negative attitudes towards aboriginal peoples then common among missionaries. Like them, she disdained aboriginal culture, particularly the feasting rituals associated with marriage and death. She approached indigenous healers with fear and loathing. Her attitudes towards women were mixed. She frequently blamed the deaths of children on what she saw as the poor housekeeping skills of their mothers. Yet she also viewed herself as saving indigenous women from a misogynist culture. On a speaking tour of Ontario in 1897 she reported to audiences of the Woman’s Missionary Society and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union that only the work of missionaries saved the lives and honour of aboriginal women and children. Though Indian agents and others rightly disputed her claims, she reported that infanticide was widespread, that children were sold into marriage, and that widows were often killed or maimed. She supported the ban on the potlatch on the grounds that the traditional feasting abused women by forcing them to generate wealth by prostitution. Her diary is replete with references to her efforts to disrupt aboriginal funerary practices with prayer and singing. She reports few aboriginal women friends, although her husband’s diary frequently refers to indigenous men he respected and relied on. Her fear of aboriginal culture never abated and fuelled her work to replace it with Christianity.
Like many other missionaries, Tate believed that cultural change could best be accomplished by removing children from their families. At Chilliwack she started to take into her home aboriginal girls who were orphaned or who were estranged from their community. Out of this endeavour emerged the Coqualeetza Home (later the Coqualeetza Institute), a Methodist boarding school which opened in 1889 on Stó:lo land at Sardis. Like that of many residential schools, Coqualeetza’s legacy is mixed. It was not immune from the cultural, emotional, and physical abuse that plagued other institutes. A report issued in 1905, after the Tates had moved on to another post, stated that over 20 per cent of Coqualeetza graduates died shortly after they left the school and pointed to poor institutional conditions as the cause. Yet the institute also helped produce a generation of aboriginal leaders in the province, of whom Haida chief Peter Kelly* is the most prominent example.
The Tates retired to Victoria in 1910. Caroline Tate remained active in church work until 1925, becoming the first member of the Woman’s Missionary Society of the Methodist Church of British Columbia. She died in 1930. Charles Tate died three years later.
AO, RG 22-205, no.2073. BCA, MS-0303. British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency (Victoria), Marriage registration records, 1872-1925 (mfm. at Victoria Geneal. Soc.). LAC, RG 10, 6422, file 869-1, pt.1; RG 31, C1, 1861, Hamilton, [Ont.], St Lawrence Ward: 368; 1871, Hamilton, St Andrew’s Ward, div.1: 65. New Outlook (Toronto), 4 June 1930. Victoria Daily Times, 7 May 1930. Directory, Hamilton, 1858, 1862-63. R. R. Gagan, A sensitive independence: Canadian Methodist women missionaries in Canada and the Orient, 1881-1925 (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1992). Jan Gould, Women of British Columbia (Saanichton, B.C., 1975). C. M. Tate, “A story of missionary adventure,” Western Recorder (Victoria), December 1929: 20-22. Western Recorder, May 1930. Margaret Whitehead, “Women were made for such things: women missionaries in British Columbia, 1850s-1940s,” Atlantis (Wolfville, N.S.), 14 (1988-89): 141-50.