Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Lure of the Labrador Wild, excerpt #10

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.

We were sitting in the office of the post on Sunday, comfortably away from the fog that lay thick outside, when we were startled by a steamship whistle. Out we all ran, and there, in the act of dropping her anchor, was the Pelican, the company's ship from England. In the heavy fog she had stolen in and whistled before the flag was raised, which feat Captain Grey, who commands the Pelican, regarded as a great joke on the post. Once a year the Pelican arrives from England, and the day of her appearance is the Big Day for all the Labrador posts, as she brings the year's supplies together with boxes and letters from home for the agents and the clerks. From Rigolet she goes to Ungava, then returns to Rigolet for the furs there and once more steams for England.

We found Captain Grey to be a jolly, cranky old seadog of the old school. He has been with the Hudson's Bay Company for thirty years, and has sailed the northern seas for fifty. He shook his
head pessimistically when he heard about our expedition. "You'll never get back," he said. "But if you happen to be at Ungava when I get there, I'll bring you back." "Sandy" Calder, the owner of lumber mills on Sandwich Bay and the Grand River, who came from Cartwright Post on Sandwich Bay with Captain Grey on the Pelican, also predicted the failure of our enterprise. But Hubbard said to me that he had heard such prophecies before; that they made the work seem all the bigger, and that he could do it and would.

At noon on Monday Dr. Simpson came with the Julia Sheridan, and we said good-bye to Rigolet. The voyage down the inlet to Northwest River Post was without incident, except that the good doctor was much concerned as to the outcome of our venture, saying: "Don't leave your bones up there to whiten, boys, if you can possibly help it." We reached Northwest River at two o'clock on Tuesday afternoon, and found the post to be much the same as Rigolet, except that its whitewashed buildings were all strung out in one long row. The welcome we received from Mr. Thomas Mackenzie, the agent there in charge, was most gratifying in its heartiness. Mr. Mackenzie is a bachelor, tall, lean, high-spirited, and the soul hospitality. Hubbard promptly dubbed him a "bully fellow." Probably this was partly due to the fact that he was the first man in Labrador to give us any encouragement. We had not been there an hour when he became infected with Hubbard's enthusiasm and said he would pack up that night and be ready to start with us in the morning, if he only were free to do so.

To our great disappointment and chagrin, we found that Mackenzie had no fish nets to sell. We had been unable to obtain any at Rigolet, and now we were told that none was to be had anywhere in that part of Labrador. Hubbard realised fully the importance of a gill net as a part of our equipment and had originally intended to purchase one before leaving New York; but he was advised by Mr. A.P. Low of the Canadian Geological Survey that it would be better to defer its purchase until we reached Rigolet Post or Northwest River, where he said we could get a net such as would be best adapted to the country. Hubbard had no reason to doubt the accuracy of this information, as Mr. Low had previously spent several months at these posts when engaged in the work of mapping out the peninsula. Conditions, however, had changed, unfortunately for us, since Mr. Low's visit to Labrador. Seeing the quandary we were in, Mackenzie got out an old three-inch gill net that had been lying in a corner of one of his buildings. He said he was afraid it was worn out, but if we could make any use of it, we might take it. We, too, had our doubts as to its utility; but, as it was the best obtainable, Hubbard accepted it thankfully and Mackenzie had two of his men unravel it and patch it up.

During the afternoon we got our outfit in shape, ready for the start in the morning. Following is a summary of the outfit taken from an inventory made at Indian Harbour: Our canoe was 18 feet long, canvas covered, and weighed about 80 pounds. The tent was of the type known as miner's, 6 1/2 x 7 feet, made of balloon silk and waterproofed. We had three pairs of blankets and one single blanket; two tarpaulins; five duck waterproof bags; one dozen small waterproof bags of balloon silk for note books; two .45-70 Winchester rifles; two 10-inch barrel .22-calibre pistols for shooting grouse and other small game; 200 rounds of .45-70 and 1,000 rounds of .22-calibre cartridges; 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 pocket folding kodak with Turner-Reich Verastigmat lens; thirty rolls of films of one dozen exposures each, in tin cans, waterproofed with electricians' tape; a sextant and artificial horizon; two compasses and our cooking utensils and clothing.

At Indian Harbour we had four 45-pound sacks of flour, but Hubbard gave one sack to the pilot of the Julia Sheridan, and out of another sack he had given the cook on the Julia sufficient flour
for one baking of bread, and we had also used some of this bag on our way from Indian Harbour to Rigolet. This left two 45-pound bags and about thirty pounds in the third bag, or 120 pounds in all. There were, perhaps, 25 pounds of bacon, 13 pounds lard, 20 pounds flavoured pea meal, 9 pounds plain pea flour in tins, 10 pounds tea, 5 pounds coffee, 8 pounds hardtack, 10 pounds milk powder, 10 pounds rice, 8 pounds dried apples, 7 pounds salt, 7 or 8 pounds tobacco and 30 pounds sugar.

This outfit, it will be remembered, was designed for three men. Hubbard tried to hire some of the native to accompany us a few miles into the interior and carry additional provisions that we
might cache, but failed; they were all "too busy."

Mackenzie treated us royally during the evening we spent at his post, and we enjoyed his hospitality to the utmost, knowing that it was to be our last night under shelter for weeks to come. Now we were on the very edge of the wilderness. To-morrow we should enter the unknown.

To be continued.