The Labrador Boundary

Privy Council Documents

Volume V

      [15 Aug,

p. 2564

No. 1039.



BY WILFRED T. GRENFELL, C.M.G., F.A.C.S., M.A., M.D., F.R.S.C., LL.D., Master Mariner and Justice of the Peace.

                                        Written at Capbreton,
                                                                     Landes, France.
                                                                          Augt. 15th, 1924.
I have visited Labrador and cruised in my own steamer amongst the peoples of the coast for 32 years, viz. 1892–1924. I have visited many times every settlement of every kind, have known personally almost all, even its visiting, fishermen, and have many times met its Eskimo and Indians.
I have written many books, scientific and story books, about the coast, and published many articles in magazines and newspapers.
There are still one or two fyords, to the bottom of which I have not been yet, but no white man has been there yet either, and no charts exist of them. I have made and published charts of much of the north coast, and have always been captain and master of my own boat. My cruises range from the boundary line at Blanc Sablon to Port Burwell in the straits of Hudson Bay, and I have cruised the coast also, as far as Quebec. The Admiralty accepted my survey (vide 1917 Coast Pilot for Labrador and Royal Geographical Map published for their journal).
We divide its fisheries into Canadian and Newfoundland though American fishermen have fishing rights on the Newfoundland section, and it is customary for Newfoundland and Canadian Schooners, to cruise also along the whole long area.
We subdivide the Newfoundland coast for convenience into the “ Straits Fishery ”—i.e. Blanc Sablon to Battle harbour, and the East Coast or Labrador Fishery, from Battle Harbour to Cape Chidley.


This is entirely an outside sea–coast fishery. There are no deep inlets, Chateau bay being the deepest.
It is fished by a diminishing number of fishermen, which is true of the

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whole coast, for the years 1892-1924. This is due to increased cost, as well as diminished markets, and personally I am convinced that the change of the method of fishing from lines and offshore work, to nets attached to the land and fished by small motor boats, has as much to do with this as the supposed diminution in the quantities of fish. This steady diminution has been a marked feature since the Great War.
This section is fished almost exclusively by Newfoundlanders and white Labrador residents. Occasional Canadians and Americans come, especially to haul bait. Rarely Canadian and American traders still visit this coast.
The chief methods used everywhere now on the Labrador coast are trap nets. Cord nets and seines, and flax gill nets are also used on this section. Bultos are used also, and handlines.
Salmon are also fished, outside the rivers only.
Indians rarely visit this coast, Eskimo never.
A whale fishery started at Schooner Cove, never functioned, and has fallen into decay.
The hair–seal fishery is only of local importance, being carried on by Labrador natives. But sealing steamers from both Newfoundland and Canada (Halifax) have hunted through the Straits of Belle Isle in March and April. Capeline, for bait, and occasionally lance fish, are taken on the shallows of the inlets.


This coast is deeply indented with estuaries, and has many large and well stocked rivers.
It is fished by Newfoundlanders, natives of Labrador, Eskimo, and occasional Canadians and United States fishermen.
The methods used are the same as in the Straits of Belle Isle. The Eskimo use trap–nets furnished mostly by Moravian Mission stations.
The salmon fishery on this section is much more extensive. It is carried on by the natives mostly. But it is customary for Newfoundlanders, the Hudson Bay Company, and the Moravians to supply nets and buy the salmon. The Canadian traders from Halifax, chiefly carried on by Mr. Robert Reed and Mr. MacConnell, have ceased to supply for this salmon fishery, for several years now. An effort by the Hudson Bay Company is now being made to export the salmon fresh to England, chilled. If successful the large sea–trout fishery would probably develop again.
For many years after my arrival on the coast, the Hudson Bay Company had a salmon fishery three miles up the Eagle river in Sandwich bay, a regular brick building, and a cannery. The Elsworthy's of Pinware in the “ Straits,” of which region they held special license direct from English authorities, fished inside Pinware Rivers mouth. These have both been closed up by the Newfoundland Government during my time. Commercial fishing of any kind is forbidden by Newfoundland laws within any river or estuaries, inside a line drawn from points 200 yards outside the mouths of any river. New–

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foundland maintains wardens along both sections of coast to enforce this law. Indians, sportsmen, Eskimo, and others, fish these rivers with rod and line, either illegally, or by license costing ten dollars.
The herring, mackerel, and whale fisheries on this section are temporarily anyhow negligible. The Cape Charles whale station has closed down.
The local hair–seal fishery is of importance to the Labrador men by whom it is carried on, and to the Eskimo. It is mostly confined to the outer Islands, and “ runs ” and pursued mostly in the late fall and early spring. An important hair–seal fishery however exists in Hamilton Inlet, as far up as its head, viz., Northwest river. The salmon fishery is also carried on to the head of this bay by the Labrador settlers.


The fact that cod fish are not fished commercially in fresh water precludes their being fished far up long estuaries into which flow many large rivers, such as Hamilton Inlet and Sandwich bay. The former has, besides the Hamilton, some twenty other rivers at least, while Eagle, White Bear, Dove Brook, Paradise, Muddy, and other rivers make Sandwich bay at its head of no value for cod fishing. It is safe to say that few cod fish enter Melville bay, a fact that is attested by the Eskimo cod fishery at Caravalla. This is at “the Narrows, ” or only entrance to Lake Melville, and is about 20 miles inside Rigolet. They have always led me to understand that all they get are Rock cod, a fish that so far has no value for Newfoundland fishermen. They are accustomed to reject these when taken by mistake amongst the cod on the outside. That no cod fishery by Newfoundlanders or Canadians, or anyone, except for Rock cod by native Labradormen, further up the Hamilton Inlet than the Narrows, or ever has been, is fairly certain. At any rate during the past 32 years I would assert with great confidence that none has been. The same is true of Sandwich bay above Divers Island, North River, and Cartwright. Our station at Muddy river fishes for food for the children, but so far as I know we catch nothing but Rock cod and possibly a stray true codfish, but nothing that could possibly repay a cod fisherman. The Rock cod are no value for export. With regard to other long inlets, however, the case is different. They too are numerous and run far into the land.
Beginning at the south, Lewis bay runs in thirty miles and though cod fishing is not carried on certainly above Hatters Cove, schooners seeking firewood do visit the head of the bay. Michaels bay is not fished above “ New York ” harbour, some 15 miles up, and Alexis not more than 15 miles either. In these statements I am using the farthest limits I have ever known any cod fishermen ever to go in search of cod.
In Hawkes Bay, I do not think cod has been taken commercially inside “ Squashho–run ” but from its very bottom fishermen in schooners seek firewood. Black bear bay, Porcupine bay, Rocky bay, Sandhills bay, Table bay, Mullens Cove, Goose bay, and all inlets to Indian Harbor, exclusive of Sandwich bay and Hamilton Inlet, have been fished to the bottom, except

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Table bay, where again inside the Narrows I think no cod fish were ever taken. It is safe to say that cod fishing at the heads of these bays, however, has never been more than experimental, and that, unless by some unusual accident, has never justified the time or effort and never would. North of the White bear Islands, however, the problem is different. Here the mountains reach nearer the coast. The volume of water carried by rivers which are short and rapid is much less, and cod unquestionably can be taken in all the shorter inlets at times, quite profitably, up to the land wash at the bay heads. But the fact remains that it is very, very, seldom done, and that may be due to the prohibition of the use of steamers in the fishery by Newfoundland laws. Byron's bay, Lords–Arm, Pomiadluk, Stag bay, Makkovik, Kippekok, Adlavik, Bay of Islands, Ujutok, Kanairiktok, Adlavik, are all known to me personally, right up to their heads, and I have seen schooners fishing up all of them, except Kippekok above the narrows, Adlavik above the big mountain, and up Ujutok, which besides being unchartered is very shallow. The longest of these bays is Kippekok and I reckoned its head to be 40 (forty) miles from the mouth. I have seen cod–fishing schooners in Jack Lane's bay, and I think in Jim Lane's bay. Of the rest of the many inlets as far as Cape Chidley little is known. No cod fishery occurs in Okpatik, and none in Okkak bay, above the old station, except by Eskimo. Nain bay and Kikkeraktokak bay both run in some forty miles above the station of the Moravian brethren, but rarely or never do cod fishermen pursue their calling above the station.
I have seen schooners fishing in Port Manvers, and I know they have passed thro' the inside run to Nain looking for fish. I have seen schooners fishing inside Okkak station, and Island. I do not believe they have ever taken cod fish inside the bay itself, that opens into the inside run. This is a deep bay. Probably 35–40 miles from the head to the run.
Ryan's bay, Eclipse, Komaktorvik, Ramah bay and Rowsells bay have also all been fished a long way up. Few schooners now fish north of Saglek bay. This large bay runs in at least 35 miles from Uivuk head, which is at the southern end of the sea entrance. Fishermen have been up twenty to 25 miles fishing up this bay. Bears Gut bay has been fished to the bottom. It is not more than ten miles deep. Navak bay has been fished for cod up to the old Hudson bay station, but not to the head, or up the Tallek branch. Eskimo fish with gill nets to the heads of all these bays for sea trout for sale and barter. The long uncharted bay north of Eclipse, Eclipse itself, and Joksut inlet are practically never used for cod fishing, but the harbours in Cape Chidley Island, Lady Job, Lady Blandford and Port Burwell, have all been fished successfully for cod during my time on the Coast. Captain Saml. Blandford fished Cape Burwell for several years with success, and established a fur, seal skin, and Narwhale fishery there.


The only possible fisheries of Labrador rivers are those for trout and salmon. These fish can only be caught on a commercial scale with profit

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if nets are used. As no nets are allowed to be used nearer than two hundred yards from the mouth of a river, and no nets at all within the river, it follows there are no river fisheries unless they be illegal, or the fisheries carried on for their own support by Indians, Eskimo, or solitary Labrador settlers.
Canadian traders fitted out and traded for salmon and codfish before and after my arrival on the coast, especially in Hamilton Inlet and Sandwich bay. But none have come of late years, unless to buy furs for cash,—and the Labrador men sell mostly to the Hudson bay Company, Revillon Freres, or sporadic Newfoundlanders. These former buy up to the very heads of all bays, even to the head of Hamilton Inlet. A New–York firm, Porter and Company, have a post trading for both fur and salmon at North–West River and at Cartwright.


There are no roads in Labrador, and no means for wheeled transportation. It has, therefore, never paid the Newfoundland fishermen to haul and cut their own timber needed for stages at any great distance from the high water mark.
The custom has been to buy it from Labrador men, who cut it in winter and haul it out to the landwash with dogs over snow.
This also applies to firewood, though schooners, while waiting to get north (for ice, etc.) go long distances up bays to get timber which there still grows so near the landwash, that they can cut it for themselves.
Since the nearness of timber to the landwash recedes as one goes north, it is obviously impossible to draw any line that would be suitable for all regions. North of Cape Mugford, wood is not cut by Newfoundlanders at all ; north of Hebron there is none to cut.
On the other hand he must be able to get wood, and those, who cut it and sell it to him, must be allowed to go five miles from the landwash in search of timber for spars, or large frame work in almost any part of Labrador, if they are to find it.


There being no roads, it is obvious all buildings of fishermen for summer fisheries will be as near the water as possible. I know every building in Labrador, and I cannot think of one single one that is more than 250 yards from high water mark, or one that ever has been. With regard to spreading nets, and drying fish, it is perfectly obvious that the nearer the water the better, if clean rocks and safety from seas are provided. I do not remember any time, anywhere, seeing either of these objects pursued over 250 yards from high water,—500 yards would be quite sufficient. Even of our six



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