Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Lure of the Labrador Wild, excerpt #2

The following excerpt is from Lure of the Labrador Wild by Dillon Wallance. Wallace's account of the failed canoe expedition through the Labrador wilderness that resulted in the death of journalist Leonidas Hubbard was first published in 1905 by Fleming H. Revell, New York. The unabridged audio edition is narrated by Jody Richardson and is available from Rattling Books.

More than a year passed, however, before Hubbard was able to make
definite arrangements to get away. I believe it was in February, 1903, that the telephone bell in my law office rang, and Hubbard's voice at the other end of the wire conveyed to me the information that he had "bully news."

"Is that so?" I said. "What's up?

"The Labrador trip is all fixed for this summer," was the excited reply. "Come out to Congers to-night without fail, and we'll talk it over."

In accordance with his invitation, I went out that evening to visit my friend in his suburban home. I shall never forget the exuberance of his joy. You would have thought he was a boy about to be released from school. By this time he had become the associate editor of the magazine for which he had been writing, but he had finally been able to induce his employers to consent to the project upon which he had set his heart and grant him a leave of absence.

"It will be a big thing, Wallace," he said in closing; "it ought to make my reputation."

Into the project of penetrating the vast solitudes of desolate Labrador, over which still brooded the fascinating twilight of the mysterious unknown, Hubbard, with characteristic zeal, threw his
whole heart and soul. Systematically and thoroughly he went about planning, in the minutest detail, our outfit and entire journey. Every possible contingency received the most careful consideration.

In order to make plain just what he hoped to accomplish and the conditions against which he had to provide, the reader's patience is asked for a few minutes while something is told of what was
known of Labrador at the time Hubbard was making preparations for his expedition.

The interior of the peninsula of Labrador is a rolling plateau, the land rising more or less abruptly from the coast to a height of two thousand or more feet above the level of the sea. Scattered over this plateau are numerous lakes and marshes. The rivers and streams discharging the waters of the lakes into the sea flow to the four points of the compass--into the Atlantic and its inlets on the east, into Ungava Bay on the north, Hudson Bay and James Bay on
the west, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the south. Owing to the abrupt rise of the land from the coast these rivers and streams are very swift and are filled with a constant succession of falls and rapids; consequently, their navigation in canoes--the only possible way, generally speaking, to navigate them--is most difficult and dangerous. In this, to a large extent, lies the explanation as to why only a few daring white men have ever penetrated to the interior plateau; the condition of the rivers, if nothing else, makes it impossible to transport sufficient food to sustain a party for any considerable period, and it is absolutely necessary to run the risk of obtaining supplies from a country that may be plentiful with game one year and destitute of it the next, and in which the vegetation is the scantiest.

The western part of the peninsula, although it, too, contains vast tracts in which no white man has set foot, is somewhat better known than the eastern, most of the rivers that flow into Hudson and James Bays having been explored and correctly mapped. Hubbard's objective was the eastern and northern part of the peninsula, and it is with this section that we shall hereafter deal. Such parts of this territory as might be called settled lie in the region of Hamilton Inlet and along the coast.

Hamilton Inlet is an arm of the Atlantic extending inland about one hundred and fifty miles in a southwesterly direction. At its entrance, which is two hundred miles north of Cape Charles, the
inlet is some forty miles wide. Fifty miles inland from the settlement of Indian Harbour (which is situated on one of the White Bear Islands, near the north coast of the inlet at its entrance),
is the Rigolet Post of the Hudson's Bay Company--the "Old Company," as its agents love to call it--and here the inlet narrows down to a mere channel; but during the next eighty miles of its course inland it again widens, this section of it being known as Groswater Bay or Lake Melville.

The extreme western end of the inlet is called Goose Bay. Into this bay flows the Grand or Hamilton River, one of the largest in Labrador. From its source among the lakes on the interior plateau, the Grand River first sweeps down in a southeasterly direction and then bends northeasterly to reach the end of Hamilton Inlet. The tributaries of the lakes forming the headwaters of the Grand River connect it indirectly with Lake Michikamau (Big Water). This, the largest lake in eastern Labrador, is between eighty and ninety miles in length, with a width varying from six to twenty-five miles.

The Grand River, as well as a portion of Lake Michikamau, some years ago was explored and correctly mapped; but the other rivers that flow to the eastward have either been mapped only from hearsay or not at all. Of the several rivers flowing into Ungava Bay, the Koksoak alone has been explored. This river, which is the largest of those flowing north, rises in lakes to the westward of Lake Michikamau. Next to the Koksoak, the George is the best known of the rivers emptying into Ungava Bay, as well as the second largest; but while it has been learned that its source is among the lakes to the northward of Michikamau, it has been mapped only from hearsay.

Now if the reader will turn to the accompanying map of Labrador made by Mr. A. P. Low of the Canadian Geological Survey, he will see that the body of water known as Grand Lake is represented thereon merely as the widening out of a large river, called the Northwest, which flows from Lake Michikamau to Groswater Bay or Hamilton Inlet, after being joined about twenty miles above Grand Lake by a river called the Nascaupee. Relying upon this map, Hubbard planned to reach early in the summer the Northwest River Post of the Hudson's Bay Company, which is situated at the mouth of the Northwest River, ascend the river to Lake Michikamau, and then, from the northern end of that lake, beat across the country to the
George River.

The Geological Survey map is the best of Labrador extant, but its representation as to the Northwest River (made from hearsay) proved to be wholly incorrect, and the mistake it led us into cost us dear. After the rescue, I thoroughly explored Grand Lake, and, as will be seen from my map, I discovered that no less than five rivers flow into it, which are known to the natives as the Nascaupee, the Beaver, the Susan, the Crooked, and the Cape Corbeau. The Nascaupee is the largest, and as the inquiries I made among the Indians satisfied me that it is the outlet of Lake Michikamau, it is undoubtedly the river that figures on the Geological Survey map as the Northwest, while as for the river called on the map the Nascaupee, it is in all likelihood non-
existent. There is a stream known to the natives as Northwest River, but it is merely the strait, one hundred yards wide and three hundred yards long, which, as shown on my map, connects
Groswater Bay with what the natives call the Little Lake, this being the small body of water that lies at the lower end of Grand Lake, the waters of which it receives through a rapid.

To be continued.