Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lure of the Labrador Wild, excerpt #4

The following excerpt is from Lure of the Labrador Wild by Dillon Wallace. 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.


Labrador's uncertain game supply presented more than one vexed problem for Hubbard to solve. Naturally it would be desirable to take with us sufficient provisions to guard against all contingencies; but such were the conditions of the country for which we were bound, that if the expedition were at all heavily loaded it would be impossible for it to make any headway. Hubbard, therefore, decided to travel light. Then arose the question as to how many men to take with us. If the party were large--that is, up to a certain limit--more food might possibly be carried for each member than if the party were small; but if game proved plentiful, there would be no danger from starvation whether the party were large or small; for then short stops could be made to kill animals, dry the flesh and make caches, after the manner of the Indians, as supply bases to fall back upon should we be overtaken by an early winter. And if the game should prove scarce, a small party could kill, on a forced march, nearly, if not quite, as much as a large party; and requiring a proportionately smaller amount of food to maintain it, would consequently have a better chance of success. Taking all things into consideration, Hubbard decided that the party should be small.

To guard against possible disappointment in the way of getting men, Hubbard wrote to the agent of the Hudson's Bay Company at Rigolet, asking whether any could be obtained for a trip into the interior either at that post or at Northwest River. The agent replied that such a thing was highly improbable, as the visits of the Indians to these posts had become infrequent and the other natives were afraid to venture far inland. Hubbard then engaged through the kind offices of Mr. S. A. King, who was in charge of the Hudson's Bay Company Post at Missanabie, Ontario, the services of a Cree Indian named Jerry, that we might have at least one man upon whom we could depend. Jerry was to have come on to New York City to meet us. At next to the last moment, however, a letter from Mr. King informed us that Jerry had backed down. The Indian was not afraid of Labrador, it appeared, but he had heard of the dangers and pitfalls of New York, and when he learned that he should have to pass through that city, his courage failed him; he positively refused to come, saying he did not "want to die so soon."

We never had occasion to regret Jerry's faint-heartedness. Mr. King engaged for us another man who, he wrote, was an expert canoeman and woodsman and a good cook. The man proved to be all that he was represented to be--and more. I do not believe that in all the north country we could have found a better woodsman. But he was something more than a woodsman--he was a hero. Under the most trying circumstances he was calm, cheerful, companionable, faithful. Not only did he turn out to be a man of intelligence, quick of perception and resourceful, but he turned out to be a man of character, and I am proud to introduce him to the reader as my friend George Elson, a half-breed Cree Indian from down on James Bay.

The first instance of George's resourcefulness that we noted occurred upon his arrival in New York. Hubbard and I were to have taken him in charge at the Grand Central Station, but we were detained and George found no one to meet him. Despite the fact that he had never been in a city before, and all was new to him, his quick eye discovered that the long line of cabs in front of the station were there to hire. He promptly engaged one, was driven to Hubbard's office and awaited his employer's arrival as calm and unruffled as though his surroundings were perfectly familiar.

Our canoe and our entire outfit were purchased in New York, with the exception of a gill net, which, alas! we decided to defer selecting until we reached Labrador. Our preparations for the
expedition were made with a view of sailing from St. Johns, Newfoundland, for Rigolet, when the steamer Virginia Lake, which regularly plies during the summer between the former port and
points on the Labrador coast, should make her first trip north of the year. A letter from the Reid-Newfoundland Company, which operates the steamer, informed us that she would probably make her first trip to Labrador in the last week in June, and in order to connect with her, we made arrangements to sail from New York to St. Johns on June 20th, 1903, on the Red Cross Line steamer Silvia. On the 19th Hubbard personally superintended the placing of our outfit on board ship, that nothing might be overlooked.

As the Silvia slowly got under way at ten o'clock the next morning, we waved a last farewell to the little knot of friends who had gathered on the Brooklyn pier to see us off. We were all very
light-hearted and gay that morning; it was a relief to be off at last and have the worry of the preparation over. Mrs. Hubbard was a member of the party; she was to accompany her husband as far as Battle Harbour, the first point on the Labrador coast touched by the Virginia Lake.

To be continued.