The Labrador Boundary

Privy Council Documents

Volume V


      Difficulty in         making a census.

      Number of         Indians.

      Changes in         population.

      Number of         Eskimo.

      Whites on         Labrador coast.

      Total population.


      Winter quarters.

      Fur hunting.

      Seal hunting.

      Food supply.



      Tribes of Indians.

      Close relation of         different tribes.

      Fear of the         Iroquois.



      Coastal Indians.

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No. 1050.




With the exception of the white settlements along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the Atlantic coast, and the few whites employed by the Hudson's Bay Company in the interior and on Hudson Bay, the inhabitants of the Labrador Peninsula are either Indians or Eskimo.
It is very difficult to arrive at more than a rough approximation of the numbers of Indians inhabiting the interior, owing to their habits of roving from one Company's post to another ; and the consequent liability to counting the same family several times, if the returns are computed from the books of the various posts, which is the only available data for any exact enumeration.
From the returns given in the reports of the Department of Indian Affairs, the Indians of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including those of Lake St. John, numbered 1,919 in 1888, and 1,725 in 1893. These figures exclude 2,860 under the heading of the “Nascopies of the Lower St. Lawrence,” which number is the same in both returns. According to the same source, the number of Indians of Eastern Rupert Land is 4,016 ; that of the Labrador (Canadian Interior) 1,000, and that of the Atlantic coast 4,000. The last probably refers to the Eskimo, but is not so stated. These returns would give a total native population of more than 13,000 persons, if the Indians of Eastern Rupert Land are those of the east coast of Hudson Bay.
In Appendix II., page 336, of the report of the Committee on the Hudson's Bay Company (1857), a return of the native population is given, compiled by the Hudson's Bay Company and others. The total number of natives trading at, and belonging to, the various posts in the Labrador Peninsula is given as 3,885 persons ; and this estimate, although probably somewhat high, is still much nearer to the native Indian population than that given above. The population of the St. Lawrence coast is given as 1,800 persons, which agrees closely with the Department of Indian Affairs returns for the years

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1888 and 1893.* Of the remainder, 400 belonged to posts on the Atlantic coast, where probably a number of Eskimo are included, 950 belonged to the posts of the east coast of Hudson Bay, and the balance, 735, were attached to the posts of the interior. Since this return was made, the food resources and other conditions have changed considerably, and with them the distribution of the Indians.
In 1857, there were seven trading posts in the interior of the peninsula, and at present there are but three, Waswanipi, Mistassini and Niehicun. Fort Chimo, near the mouth of the Koksoak River was not then opened. The policy of the Hudson Bay Company was then to keep the Indians away from the coast and contact with opposition traders; this has now been changed, and the great body of the natives travel annually to and from their hunting grounds in the interior, to the various coast posts. In consequence, instead of 735 persons belonging to inland posts, at present there are not above 300 attached to these posts. The number of Indians trading at. Northwest River and Davis Inlet, on the Atlantic coast, is about 200 persons. At Fort Chimo the famine of 1892-93 reduced the number of Indians in that district from 350 to less than 200 persons. Connected with the posts at Great Whale River, Fort George and Rupert House, on Hudson Bay, the total number of Indians does not exceed 1,000 persons, and probably falls considerably short of that number, so that at the highest estimate the Indian population of the Labrador Peninsula does not exceed 3,500, and is more likely nearer 3,000.
The Eskimo inhabit the coast of the peninsula from Hamilton Inlet northward along the Atlantic coast to Hudson Strait, the east shore of Hudson Bay as far south as Great Whale River, while a few families live on the islands of James Bay. From the meagre returns available, only an approximate statement of their numbers can be complied. In the census of Newfoundland (1891), the Eskimo are not separated from the white population of the Labrador coast; but, as the number of resident whites is not above 100 persons north of Hamilton Inlet, and as the Eskimo form about one-half the population of that place, from a total of 1,191 persons there, and along the coast north of Hamilton Inlet, between 900 and 1,000 may be taken as Eskimo. The following estimate of the Eskimo population living on Hudson Strait and the east coast of Hudson Bay was supplied by Mr. R. Gray, who was for upwards of ten years clerk at Fort Chimo, and is well acquainted with the Eskimo of Ungava Bay :—From Cape Chidley to Hope's Advance, 51 families; about Hope's Advance, 30 families ; from Stupart Bay to Cape Wolstenholme, 80 families ; from Cape Wolstenholme to Great Whale River, 80 families. The average Eskimo family is small and rarely exceeds five persons. Taking this as the average, the total population to the west of Cape Chidley would be 1,200 persons. This estimate is probably excessive, and 1,000 persons would be nearer the number, if not still above it. According to the Newfoundland census of 1891, the total population of the Labrador coast between Blanc Sablon and Cape Chidley is 4,106, including the Eskimo already referred to. Subtracting the 1,000 Eskimo would leave a resident

*The census return for 1891 gives a total of 1387 Indians belonging to the posts along the north shore of the St. Lawrence, to the eastward, and exclusive of the Saguenay.

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white population of 3,106 greatly increased during the summer months by fishermen from Newfoundland. In 1890, 10,430 men, 2,076 women and 828 children from Newfoundland were so engaged, in 854 vessels.
According to the Canadian census (1891), there is a white population of 5,728, scattered along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to the eastward, and exclusive of those living about the mouth of the Saguenay River, who number 2,440.
To sum up, taking 3,500 Indians, 2,000 Eskimo and 8,800 whites, the total population of the Labrador peninsula is 14,300, or, roughly, one person to every thirty-five square miles.
The white population along the gulf coast consists largely of French Canadians who obtain a livelihood chiefly from the fisheries, with slight help from fur hunting during the winter. On the Atlantic coast the whites, northward from the Strait of Belle Isle to Sandwich Bay, are largely English speaking, and are either immigrants from Newfoundland, or the descendants of English fishermen formerly engaged in the salmon fishery. Northward of Sandwich Bay, the white inhabitants are, for the most part, descended from Hudson's Bay Company servants, who married Eskimo women and remained on the coast after their services had expired. They are known along the coast as “ planters,” and gain a fairly comfortable living from the cod and salmon fishery in the summer, and by fur hunting during the winter. They are all deeply in debt to the Hudson's Bay Company and Newfoundland fishing firms for supplies advanced. Having no capital of their own, they are compelled every spring in order to carry on their fishing, to obtain supplies and nets from the merchants. If the season is favourable, they may be able to pay off their debts at its close ; but, as a rule, of late years they have been going deeper and deeper into debt, owing to the scarcity of fish along the coast where they are accustomed to make their fisheries. The natives ascribe the failure of the fishery to the numerous trap-nets now used along the coast by fishermen employed by the Newfoundland merchants. The use of these nets is said to be contrary to the law of Newfoundland, but, as there is no strict government patrol of the Labrador coast, the law is practically inoperative.
At the close of the fishery, the greater number of the “planters” leave their small houses on the coast, and proceeding to the heads of the various bays, go into winter quarters in their small houses there. During the winter they are engaged hunting fur-bearing animals. These also are not so plentiful as formerly, owing probably, to the large areas burnt over, either from fires accidently made, or set on purpose by the owners of schooners, who often fire the country along the shore, so as to easily make dry firewood for future seasons.
Each “ planter ” has a “ path ” or line of traps, often extending fifty miles or more inland, and as these paths cannot be covered in one day, he has small “ shacks,” or log houses, at convenient intervals along them, where he can pass the night with some degree of comfort. Some of the paths are so long that they require a week to go over and attend to the traps on the way.

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During the months of April and May the planters and Eskimo are engaged s at the seal hunt. They kill these animals on the ice of the upper parts of the inlets, by watching at their holes or cracks, and spearing them when they come to breathe or sun themselves. Formerly the takes were large, but of late years they have been so small that many are abandoning the hunt. As soon as the ice leaves the bays, seals are taken in nets set along shore. The seals are used principally for local consumption, although some skins and a small quantity of oil are exported. The skins are used for outer winter clothing and other domestic purposes, while the fat and meat are preserved for dog food; for, as each “ planter ” has a team of dogs, varying in number from two to six, and as the Hudson's Bay Company keep a large number of dogs, a great quantity of seal meat is required.
Notwithstanding the decrease in the fishery, furs and seals, the planters make a much better living than many of the poorer people in cities ; and, if they were to exert themselves more, and were more thrifty, they might make a comfortable and independent living. As it is, with a reasonable amount of care, thought and labour, they can procure sufficient provisions to keep their families well fed, as in the fall, after the close of the commercial fishery, they can obtain an abundance of brook trout, that swarm at the mouths of all the streams flowing into the sea. At this time, spruce partridges are very plentiful on their migration from the coast inland, while, later, ptarmigan and rabbits are generally abundant. The proceeds of their fishery would easily provide them with flour and provisions, while all living inland might raise a small crop of potatoes; then, the proceeds of their winter's hunt would, in most cases, be ample to supply clothes for a year, and leave a surplus. This is, unfortunately, not the case, and a number of families are often without sufficient food and clothing every year.
For the spiritual benefit of the whites, the Methodist church of Newfoundland has a mission station opposite Rigolet, in charge of the Rev. Mr. Pollock, who resides there a part of the time; the rest of his time being taken up with house to house visitations to the planters. As his district extends to and includes Sandwich Bay, one hundred miles to the south, where there is a large settlement, the time devoted to each family is small. The Episcopal church has a mission school at Sandwich Bay, in charge of Mr. L. Dicks, who also travels from house to house, instructing the children.
In spite of lack of educational advantages, nearly everybody can read and write, and all are very religious. As alcoholic liquors are not openly sold on the Labrador coast, cases of intoxication are exceedingly rare, and many of the younger people do not know the taste of alcohol. On the whole, these people compare favourably with those of more civilized regions, being frugal, moral, willing, good tempered, and naturally intelligent ; their only fault, want of thrift and providence, is largely due to their mode of living, absence from any market of competitive labour, and the system of credit and debt under which they live.
The Indians of the Labrador Peninsula belong to tribes of the Algonkin family. The principal tribes of Labrador are the Montagnais, the eastern

p. 2610

and western Nascaupees, and the coastal Indians of Hudson Bay. The Montagnais inhabit the country extending south of a line drawn westward from Hamilton Inlet, to the headwaters of the St. Maurice River. The Nascaupees inhabit the interior country north of this line, or from the bottom of James Bay eastward to Hamilton Inlet. The northern limit of their territory is marked by the Koksoak River, from its mouth to the Stillwater Branch, and by this stream westward to its head on the neighbourhood of Clearwater Lake, and thence westward to Richmond Gulf on Hudson Bay. This line divides the Indian territory from that of the Eskimo, and the boundary is well observed, the latter keeping far to the north of it, when hunting deer inland, and the Indians rarely crossing it from the southward.
The coastal Indians of Hudson Bay are confined to a narrow margin extending from the bottom of James Bay to Little Whale River, along the east coast.
The various tribes are closely related by intermarriage, and, although using different dialects, have. many manners and customs in common. The northern Indians have apparently migrated to their present territory from a south-west direction, as their language contains many words of the Sauteaux or Ojibway tongue ; whereas the southern Indians speak purer Cree. The Nascaupees have traditions that their people originally dwelt far to the south, on the north side of a great river, with the sea to the eastward. They were driven northward by the Iroquois during the wars of the early French régime in Canada. Such was the terror inspired by the Iroquois, who followed them beyond the southern watershed to the shores of Hudson Bay, and eastward along the St. Lawrence to the Natashquan River, that at present they use their name to frighten the children. The writer had two Iroquois as canoemen on the Big and Great Whale rivers, and could only with great difficulty induce the native Indians to accompany him inland along with their traditional foes and conquerors. There are several places between Hudson Bay and the Lower St. Lawrence, where great massacres of the natives were perpetrated by the Iroquois.
The Montagnais are more or less of mixed blood, having intermarried with the old coureurs dés bois and the French and English traders. This admixture of white blood is seen in the better physique of the tribe, the men being more muscular and broader than the pure Indian of the interior. As a rule, the men are of medium height, but a few are tall. The women are inclined to obesity as they advance in years, like their sisters of the northern tribes. The western Nascaupees are, as a rule, the tallest men in Labrador, many of them being six feet and over in height, straight and of light physique. The eastern Nascaupees are usually not above five feet six inches tall, slightly built and not at all muscular, being incapable of carrying half the loads of the Montagnais. They are also the dirtiest and most degraded Indians of Labrador. The coastal Indians have apparently a large admixture of white blood, as many of them have blue eyes and the men as a rule have strong beards. They bear in figure and face a certain resemblance to their northern neighbours the Eskimo, being heavily built and unlike the typical Indian. The admixture



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