Remittance men began to appear in the Canadian West around 1880, in the early years of settlement. Well-to-do fathers in England groomed their oldest son to follow in their footsteps. The eldest son generally developed a mature sense of responsibility and found a ready opportunity to show his abilities. The second son often did not fare so well. Obviously his older brother was going to inherit the family estate or the family firm, but what was he to do? Many found scope for their abilities in the professions, but there were a few who seemed to rather enjoy the lack of responsibility.
Eventually their love of a good time would become a blotch on the family escutcheon. Father would decide that the best place for such a son was in the Canadian West. Perhaps the rigours of frontier life would give them opportunity to make something of themselves. At least they would be far away and would no longer be a public embarrassment to their families. Father arranged to send regular remittances to cover their living expenses, wished them well and shipped them off.
These young men had been educated at Oxford or Cambridge, had never done a lick of work in their life and were singularly unsuited for pioneer life. Nevertheless, the remittances from home were enough to provide their needs and often much more. Some lived like princes for part of the year, then disappeared to some remote shack to eke out their existence until the next remittance cheque arrived. Most of them remained bachelors.
Four young men settled in the area of Kindersley, Saskatchewan. Each had their homestead, with a house on it. I supposed they hired the work done to break the land and build the houses. They really weren’t interested in farming. They had fine horses and spent their time in building and racing on steeplejack courses and in coyote hunts, the local substitute for the English foxes.
They decided to share a house between the four of them and hire a cook. Their remittance cheques came at different times of the year, so when one young man’s remittance was all spent, another one’s cheque had just arrived.
The cook lived in the same house and shared their life of leisure. One evening he was sitting outside and playing his mouth organ. One of the young men told him to stop that racket. The cook mildly remarked that he had thought it would be nice to have some music. The next morning all four young men hitched up the wagon and headed for town. They did not return for a week, but when they came back they had a player piano on the wagon and a box of rolls to provide them all with music.
Now this is all very amusing to read about, but I can’t imagine that the life of the remittance men was all that satisfying. They had no need to find ways to earn money, their only responsibility seemed to be to find ways to spend the money that arrived regularly with no effort on their part.
Aren’t a lot of Christians much like remittance men — basking in the glow of being a child of the King without feeling much responsibility to contribute to the furtherance of His kingdom? They sit in church as spectators, enjoying the singing and the preaching. They talk freely of their wonderful Christian heritage but don’t seem to have much inkling that it is meant to be shared with others. Other people’s problems seem so remote to their experience that they are at a loss to how to help, so do nothing at all. They are agreeable companions to their close circle of friends, and isn’t that enough after all?
But let’s not judge them too harshly. The era of the remittance men came to an abrupt end in 1914 when the Great War began. Almost to a man, they abandoned their life of leisure and/or dissipation and enrolled in the army to combat the enemy.
We can sit back and point out the faults of the spiritual remittance men, but it would be much better to seek for ways to make them aware of the great and terrible warfare that is going on right here in our midst. There is so much they could do in the army of the Lord to protect the weak, rescue the wounded and drive the enemy from his strongholds.