MISSIONS ON THE LABRADOR COAST.
EXTRACTS FROM “ LABRADOR,” BY DR. W. T. GRENFELL AND OTHERS.
NEW EDITION (NEW YORK, 1922), pp. 226-250.
If a man in Labrador is not a fisherman, that is, a cod-catcher, he traps fur-bearing animals in winter and catches salmon in summer. The trappers form a class apart from the rest of the shore people. They seldom come out “ to the coast,” their winter industry keeping them far inland and their summer salmon-catching being convenient in not forcing them to transfer their families very far down the bays. There is, however, every gradation, from the mountaineer Indian, who does nothing all the year but trap and kill deer, through the Eskimo, who once only killed seals, but now even catches furs and “ fishes,” to the man who lives entirely “ out of the water,” i.e., never outfits for the winter furring.
Until 1905 the trade of all these people was carried on by two great companies, the Hudson's Bay Company and the Moravian Missions. The Hudson's Bay Company originally dealt only with Indians, but the intermarriage and settling of their own imported servants have built up a class which beats the Indians at their own industry, and now does a far larger trade in fur. The Indians are reduced to a mere handful, while the strong Scotch and Norwegian stock is steadily growing and displacing both Indians and Eskimo. Farther north, the Moravians care for the Eskimo. The Hudson's Bay Company have also made a bid for their trade, establishing posts at Nachvak (since abandoned) and at Ungava.
At present the Moravians have four stations. The most northerly station is that at Killinek, or Cape Chidley. Here the Eskimo, attracted by the excellent seal-fishery, walrus, and white-whale fishery to be had at the cape, have gathered from the northeast coast and from Ungava Bay.
At the present time one Moravian family dwells at the station. They have themselves built a house, church, and stores.
Proceeding north one passes an abandoned station of the Hudson Bay Company called Nakvak. Beyond that, near the old station of Ramah, about a hundred miles to the southwestward, the Eskimo dwell in holes in the ground with skin bowel-parchment windows that do not open, and with roofs and entrances made of sods. There are no islands near to supply birds and eggs ; the decrease in the number of seal and walrus and the low market or local value of sea-trout have seriously impoverished the people. This poverty means that they are poorly equipped for travel ; in consequence, they dawdle about the unsavoury village when they should be seeking and finding sustenance, gaining health and strength by migrating from place to place as they always did of yore. Here they are much more dependent upon the missionary, upon his supply of clothing, and upon his kablenak or European food, than is good for them. From their physical condition it is perfectly easy to tell a Ramah Eskimo from a Cape Chidley man, though you may never have seen either previously.
A journey to the southward of nearly another hundred miles brings us to the third station at Hebron. This is still a good hunting station. Its Eskimo have been wisely taught by the Brethren to segrate and not congregate. No permanent village has come into being. A few sod houses and one or two better houses exist. This would to-day be probably far the most creditable settlement of Eskimo, had it not been for the carrying of several families to show them to the curious at the exhibitions at Chicago, Buffalo, and elsewhere. Few returned, and they richer only in those heirlooms of civilization, the germs of specific diseases, which most efficiently put a stop to the growth of the community, and left a diseased and miserable people to be a constant danger to every “ innuit ” on the coast.
Another forty miles to the south was Okkak, the largest station. It is within the northern limit of trees, and consequently houses, boats, and firing were more easily acquired. A large number of permanent wooden houses had been erected. At certain seasons of the year considerable social life was possible. The annual census shows that during the fifty years previous to 1902 the congregation was steadily growing in numbers. Some small arts and crafts were established and quite a trade done in ivory carvings, in modern skin dolls, tubiks or tents, kayaks, etc., and in wooden models of native houses, komatiks, and such like. This station was entirely blotted out in 1919 by Spanish influenza. Out of 365 Eskimo 300 perished including every single adult male. It has been temporarily abandoned, but when Nain was destroyed by fire in 1921 a large portion of that congregation returned to reopen Okkak.
The Brethren here had a little hospital besides their educational and religious work.
Nain, the fifth station, is ninety miles farther south, and accessible by mail steamer. It is a perfect harbour, entirely shut in from the sea by countless islands, great and small. Its beautiful bay runs inland over forty miles, and one can travel by steamer for a hundred miles south without once going
into the open ocean. Nain is at once the head station of the Brethren, the seat of the Bishop, who is also a German consul, and is of the oldest standing. The well-tended vegetable patches, the tidy paths through the woods so long preserved, and now so lonely looking against the otherwise absolutely naked ground, the prim flower-gardens, and the orthodox tea-houses (with more often than not the now inappropriate picture of the Kaiser), combine to transport a visitor momentarily to Europe, to the German homes which these good men have left, never to return.
Some ninety miles to the south again is Hopedale, the sixth station. It is the southern border of the tribe now, and one cannot visit the station without feeling forcibly that the fringe is ravelling out, and that the race in Labrador is facing its inevitable doom. Mixed with the dying, purer type, are an increasing and stronger element of half-breeds. It is in these that much of the hope for the future population of Labrador at present lies. Here one of the Brethren has had some medical training, and has, single-handed, done some excellent work in emergency cases. The Brethren here, also, have done a considerable amount of scientific work in the past, both in climatology, botany, and ornithology.
The last Moravian station is Makkovik, fifty miles south. It was only erected in 1900, and was put there in the hope of fostering the scattered half-breeds and settlers who are slowly beginning to populate that section of coast. It is a valuable stand for those travelling the coast in winter. It has now a small boarding school during winter. To no other people on earth does the lonely Labrador owe one-half the debt it does to these devoted servants of the Moravian Mission.
THE INTERNATIONAL GRENFELL ASSOCIATION.
In the report of the Newfoundland Chamber of Commerce for 1892, the following item appeared :—
“ A new feature worthy of mention in this report, affecting as it does, more or less, the comfort of twenty thousand to thirty thousand of our people, was the appearance on the Labrador coast of the Mission to Deep- sea Fishermen ship Albert, outfitted by a philanthropical society in England, unsectarian in its lines, and intended to convey skilled medical aid to our fishermen and provide to some extent for their mental and material wants. This essay has been an unqualified success, and has evoked from the recipients of its bounty expressions of deep gratitude. It is likely to result in well-organized co-operation by the Colony next season upon the lines along which the Mission ship is being worked.”
With open water in spring (i.e. 1893) the Albert returned, carrying two additional doctors and nurses, together with fittings and drugs for two small hospitals. The first stationed at Battle Harbour was the gift of a merchant. The Government of Newfoundland supplied a well-skilled pilot for the ship, and excused all dues of every kind.
The second hospital was erected at Indian Harbour, 200 miles north, and a smart steam-launch supplied for use in the remote corners.
At the present time the Society has six small hospitals : one at Harrington on the Canadian Labrador, one at St. Anthony on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, one at Pitteys Island, Newfoundland, one at Northwest River N. Labrador, and the original two at Battle Harbour and Indian Harbour. Indian Harbour is situated on an island in the entrance to Hamilton Inlet, two hundred miles north of the Strait of Belle Isle ; Battle Harbour, just where the Strait meets the Atlantic Ocean.