Thursday, October 04, 2007

Lure of the Labrador Wild, excerpt #6

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.

The evening was well upon us when we saw the rocks off Cape Charles rising from the water, dismal, and dark, and forbidding. All day the rain had been falling, and all day the wind had been blowing a gale, lashing the sea into a fury. Our little ship was tossed about like a cork, with the seas constantly breaking over her decks. Decidedly our introduction to Labrador was not auspicious. Battle Harbour, twelve miles north of Cape Charles, was to have been our first stop; but there are treacherous hidden reefs at the entrance, and with that sea the captain did not care to trust his ship near them. So he ran on to Spear Harbour, just beyond, where we lay to for the night. The next day I made the following entry in my diary:

"Early this morning we moved down to Battle Harbour, where Mrs. Hubbard left us to return home. It was a most dismal time and place for her to part from her husband, but she was very brave. It was not yet six o'clock, and we had had no breakfast, when she stepped into the small boat to go ashore. A cold, drizzling rain was falling, and the place was in appearance particularly dreary; no foliage nor green thing to be seen--nothing but rocks, cold and high and bleak, with here and there patches of snow. They pointed out to us a little house clinging to the rocks high up. There she is to stay until the steamer comes to take her home, to spend a summer of doubts and hopes and misgivings. Poor little woman! It is so hard for those we leave behind. I stood aside with a big lump in my throat as they said their farewell." Up there in the dark wilderness for which we were bound Hubbard talked with me frequently of that parting.

On July 6th, the day after we left Battle Harbour, the captain informed us for the first time that the boat would not go to Rigolet on the way up, and gave us the option of getting off at Indian Harbour at the entrance to Hamilton Inlet or going on to Nain with him and getting off at Rigolet on the way back. Hubbard chose the former alternative, hearing which the customs officer came to us and hinted that nothing could be landed until we had had an interview with him. The result of the interview was that Hubbard paid duty on our entire outfit.

The next morning, Tuesday, July 7th, we reached Indian Harbour. Amid a chorus of "Good-bye, boys, and good luck!" we went ashore, to set foot for the first time on Labrador soil, where we were destined to encounter a series of misadventures that should call for the exercise of all our fortitude and manhood.


The island of the White Bear group upon which is situated the settlement of Indian Harbour is rocky and barren. The settlement consists of a trader's hut and a few fishermen's huts built of
frame plastered over with earth or moss, and the buildings of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, a non-sectarian institution that maintains two stations on the Labrador coast and one at St. Anthony in Newfoundland, each with a hospital attached. The work of the mission is under the general supervision of Dr. Wilfred T. Grenfell, who, in summer, patrols the coast from Newfoundland to Cape Chidley in the little floating hospital, the steamer Strathcona, and during the winter months, by dog team, visits the people of these inhospitable shores. The main station in Labrador is at Battle Harbour, and at this time Dr. Cluny Macpherson was the resident physician.

Dr. Simpson, a young English physician and lay missionary, was in charge of the station at Indian Harbour. This station, being maintained primarily for the benefit of the summer fishermen from Newfoundland, is closed from October until July. Dr. Simpson had a little steamer, the Julia Sheridan, which carried him on his visits to his patients among the coast folk. We were told by the captain of the Virginia Lake that the Julia Sheridan would arrive at Indian Harbour on the afternoon of the day we reached there; that she would immediately steam to Rigolet and Northwest River with the mails, and that we undoubtedly could arrange for a passage on her. This was the reason that Hubbard elected to get off at Indian Harbour.

The trained nurse, the cook, and the maid-of-all-work connected with the Indian Harbour hospital ("sisters," they call them, although they do not belong to any order) boarded the Virginia Lake at Battle Harbour and went ashore with me in the ship's boat, when I landed with the baggage. Hubbard and George went ashore in our canoe. A line of Newfoundlanders and "livyeres" stood ready to greet us upon our arrival. "Livyeres" is a contraction of live-heres, and is applied to the people who live permanently on the coast. The coast people who occasionally trade in a small way are known as "planters." In Hamilton Inlet, west of Rigolet, all of the trappers and fishermen are called planters. There the word livyere is never heard, it having originated with with the Newfoundland fishermen, who do not go far into the inlet.

The "sisters" who landed with us had difficulty in opening their hospital, as the locks had become so rusted and corroded that the keys would not turn. We offered our assistance, and after removing the boards that had been nailed over the windows to protect them from the winter storms, we found it necessary to take out a pane of glass in order that Hubbard might unlatch a window, crawl through and take the lock off the door. The sisters then told us that Dr. Simpson might not arrive with the Julia Sheridan until the following day, and extended to us the hospitality of the station, which we thankfully accepted, taking up our temporary abode in one of the vacant wards of the hospital.

To be continued.