The Labrador Boundary

Privy Council Documents

Volume V


p. 2578

No. 1042.



The fishery as it exists in Labrador at the present day is confined practically to Newfoundlanders, Labrador settlers, or “livyeres,” as they are called, Eskimo, Americans from Massachusetts and Maine, and a few Canadians from the Maritime provinces.
The first of the fleet that leaves for Labrador sets out as early as the end of April. Those from the outports have still, owing to the unfortunate centralization of trade at St. John's, to repair first almost to the very extreme south of Newfoundland for supplies, and thence to leave for the north again.

On the part of the Labrador coast which is under Newfoundland jurisdiction, the first comer takes the best berths. This led to such unnecessarily early starts, with the suffering involved and risks incurred from pushing down among the floe–ice, that laws were made preventing berths being claimed till a certain date, according to the latitude. Any net set before that time is not only taken up, but the owner is fined. Every year, however, numerous disputes and quarrels arise from the eagerness to be sure of the choice of places, and never a season passes without some being brought to the travelling magistrate for settlement.
Some fishermen, without trying for more than one voyage, go direct to the spot of their choice, however long they will have to wait. These men, though living on their vessels, will always be found in the same places. Their schooners at anchor might almost be marked on the chart. These men, such as the Whites of Twillingate, the Milleys, the Lansons, the Barbours, etc., are almost always successful men.
Most of the schooners, however, are obliged to wander about, looking everywhere for “ good tucks ” of fish, and often so anxious to get the fish quickly that they leave the very places that later turn out to be best, only to find no others and so go home empty or “ clean.”
These wandering schooners are called “ green fish ” catchers, and when they have taken their “ fare,” or when their time is “runned up ” they come south, pick up the freighters they left, and carry them to their homes. Of late, however, more “ make,” or dry, their fish at the harbour, where their freighters are doing the same thing. Though curing seems an easy matter, it

p. 2579

involves much work and infinite patience. At home the gardens left in the spring sorely need tending now, and every man is anxious to be getting ready for the winter. Yet often for a week at a time, wet and cold days prevent any work being done.

The actual number of the vessels visiting Labrador I am unable to obtain, —probably one thousand each year. Every year quite a number go down that neither “ clear ” nor “ register ” at the customs house. About twenty thousand persons all told, constitute the summer exodus from Newfoundland.
One or two steamers have been used in the Labrador cod–fishery of recent years, but the people are strongly prejudiced against their introduction. They have seen the steamers supplant the schooners entirely for catching seals. They have seen any chance of large returns pass entirely out of reach of the small fisherman. Moreover, they believe that the seals are being killed out. As yet, however, it has not been possible to get a law prohibiting the use of steam fishing–vessels sanctioned in the Upper House of the Legislature. It should be added that laws relating to the fishery are, altogether, very few, and the total number of cases where trouble arises from all causes, when added up, are so small as to be almost negligible. The use of steamers to bring fishermen and their families to the fishery and back again is greatly to be desired.

The greatest drawback to the Labrador fishery has been, and still is, the want of proper communication. A small steamer, which is used for seal–hunting in the spring, makes ten trips each year. She is supposed to complete each trip in a fortnight, but as she has ninety ports of call to make, fully fifteen hundred miles to steam, is loaded with freight, and has fog, ice, and bad storms to contend with, she is frequently unable to keep within several days of her schedule time. With a captain second to none for pluck, and acquainted with the coast as probably no other man is, she still loses time. Day and night, when possible, she travels, but the scarcity of lights, the miserable survey, and the absence of artificial assistance to enter harbours, leave no question that she has far more work than she can accomplish.
Five Marconi stations have been placed on the coast, and these are of very great value. They cover two hundred miles of coast, but do not yet connect with Newfoundland, and only very indirectly with anywhere. When the Canadian station on Belle Isle is working, then Labrador can talk with the outside world viâ Canada. But none of these stations is opened except during the summer months. The power of the most southern station at Battle Harbour has been greatly increased and practically has put us now in touch with the outside world.

With commendable zeal, and with great success, the Canadians have succeeded in running a wire all the way from Quebec along the north shore

p. 2580

of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Straits. Unfortunately the line ends at Chateau, twenty–eight miles from Battle Harbour, where the terminal Marconi stations is situated.
In winter, residence in Labrador is specially discouraged by lack of communication, and the permanent population, except around the newly established mills, is decreasing steadily. The existing arrangement of one or, at most, two mails carried by dogs is not sufficient to meet the needs of a population of English–speaking people during a whole winter.

Exclusive of a school grant of $2,000, the total appropriations for Labrador are under $30,000 per annum. Twenty thousand dollars of this is for the summer mail steamer and the Marconi stations ; $2,000 is for collecting revenue on the coast. All the rest is spent on summer post–offices, and providing for sick fishermen. Five hundred dollars a year appears to be the amount granted to make Labrador habitable in winter.
As the revenue from its inhabitants direct is certainly $150,000 per annum, and the indirect revenue from the fishery so large, this does not seem fair. The Labrador people must purchase every supply from Newfoundland, from a rifle, a trap, a net, to flour, pork, and potatoes.

The testimony of hundreds of my friends who live in Labrador, among them men who have lived in the United States, England, Scotland, Canada, Norway, and elsewhere, is that Labrador is by no means a bad country to settle in, but it is handicapped by having too little government encouragement given to people to live there.

One other great drawback to settling is the impossibility of either getting grants of land or buying land with good title in Labrador. This partly arises from the unsettled question of ownership. For nobody knows the boundary between Newfoundland and Canada. Grants of timber lands have been made to Canadian firms in Sandwich Bay and Hamilton Inlet, covering about two thousand square miles in all. Grants to fishing firms have apparently been made to Baine, Johnston & Company at Battle, to Isaac Mercer at Long Tickle, to Job Brothers at Blanc Sablon and Indian Harbour, and to a few others at other points.
The policy of the Newfoundland government has always been in theory to leave the land free to any one, so that when one man leaves it another may make use of his former situation. Presumably this is on the assumption that nothing of value will be left behind. But though no legal conveyance has been made, men who fish any particular place, and even move a stone to “ spread fish on,” will claim that place, though they have not been using it for years, and the courts at home have upheld them. It leaves the land about the harbours in a very anomalous and undesirable condition. There are fishermen anxious to come and settle, there is land unused, and with no marks on it ; yet either some one refuses to allow them to settle or they dare not settle

p. 2581

for fear some one may arise who will some day eject them. Several of these cases have come before me as magistrate on the coast.
Labrador has no representation, and no one is appointed to look after its interests. The Governor's Report for 1906 does not put the matter one iota too strongly. The following paragraph taken from it is very significant, when the varied experience of its author in other out–of–the–way parts of the world is taken into consideration :—
“ If the difficulties of representation are considered to be too great, then there remains the obvious alternative of appointing a minister, or, at least, a secretary for Labrador, whose sole and special executive duty would be to study all the questions in connection with that country. It may be stated here at once that the proper development of the Labrador coast cannot take place unless one or other of the above suggestions is adopted, or some other more or less similar arrangement is provided, such as an annual visit to the coast of a Minister of the Crown.”

Only one such has ever visited Labrador, and that one, the Honourable Minister of Fisheries, accompanied Sir William MacGregor on his trip in 1906.
Education in both Newfoundland and. Labrador is another very difficult problem. It is rendered almost impossible to solve, owing to the denominational system of schools.

The best educated people in the country at present are the Eskimo. Almost without exception they can read and write. Many can play musical instruments, share in part singing, and are well able to keep accounts, and know the value of things. These accomplishments, entirely and solely due to the Moravian missionaries, have largely helped them to hold their own in trade, a faculty for want of which almost every aboriginal race is apt to suffer so severely.
I have known an Eskimo called in to read and write a letter for a Newfoundland fisherman, and I have had more than once to ask one to help me by playing our own harmonium for us at a service, because not one of a large audience could do so. I have heard more than one Eskimo stand up and deliver an excellent impromptu speech. Reading the Newfoundland Blue Books, reporting the numbers able to read and write in Labrador, I acquired an entirely erroneous estimate of the people's accomplishments in those directions. Our white population is still very largely illiterate. Some headway has, however, been made of late years, and literature and loan libraries distributed through the Labrador Mission are now accessible all along the coast. and are creating a love of reading.

The public health of Labrador has practically been a matter of chance. Houses are not drained. Few have even outside closets, much less one in the house. There are no sanitary officers. Very few residents have ever been

p. 2582

vaccinated. Until recently they have had no teaching as to the dangers of infectious diseases, and especially how to deal with and avoid tuberculosis. Consumption is the main enemy of these people who live here in one of the purest atmospheres in the world. But it is fostered and propagated in every possible way by the customs of the people and by their poverty. The total number of residents is now about four thousand, inclusive of thirteen hundred Eskimo. In spite of new mills and other new industries recently introduced, the number is not increasing. This is due partly to the fact that some return to Newfoundland to benefit by the schools and other advantages, or to escape starvation or the isolation that arises from no line of communication in the winter. Those residents, who make this journey, invariably tell me they would greatly prefer to remain on the coast in winter if it were possible.

The famous Ford family have, between them, carried the mail three hundred and fifty miles each way over these barren, uninhabited shores, winter after winter, where no man lives and no houses shelter them—across mountain fastnesses, over glaciated passes, and the still more dangerous sea–ice, year after year, without serious accident. The mail starts at Fort Chimo in Ungava Bay, then round and along the Labrador coast to Davis Inlet. The mail crosses the land to Nachvak Bay, and so on over a stretch of fifteen hundred miles to Quebec.




Partnered Projects Government and Politics - Table of Contents Site Map Search Heritage Web Site Home