William Henry Collison was reputedly the first missionary to preach to Haida, Nisga'a and Tsimshian in their own languages. Born in Ireland in 1846, he and his fellow Irishman Reverend Robert Tomlinson were among the few missionaries who could maintain amicable relations with Reverend William Duncan of Metlakahtla. He arrived to work with Duncan in 1873 accompanied by his wife, Marion Goodwin, a nurse. After three years with Duncan at Metlakahtla, they established the first permanent mission among the Haida at Masset. Ordained in 1878, he tried to mediate between Duncan and the Church Missionary Society, opened another mission at Hazelton in 1880 and oversaw the building of new church at Kincolith on the Nass River in 1891. After a disastrous fire, he spent time in Ireland raising funds for a replacement church that remains standing. With more than 40 years of contact with Aboriginal people on the north Pacific Coast, Collison wrote a frequently condescending memoir entitled In the Wake of the War Canoe (London, 1915). Its full title provides some indication of its commercial expectations and integrity. Collison died in Kincolith in 1922.


Collison, William H. In the Wake of the War Canoe: A Stirring Record of Forty Years' Successful Labour, Peril and Adventure Amongst the Savage Indian Tribes of the Pacific Coast, and the Piratical Head-hunting Haida of the Queen Charlottes Islands, British Columbia (London: Seeley, Service, 1915; Sono Nis, 1981).

[BCBW 2004]