The Labrador Boundary


Privy Council Documents


Volume VI
Contents




“ To S. K.
Parson,
Montreal,
June 23,
1886.”

“ To S. K.
Parson,
Montreal,
Jan. 14,
1890.”

“ To J.
Wrigley,
Commissioner,
Winnipeg, Oct. 11,
1890.”

“ To S. K.
Parson,
Montreal,
April 22,
1892.”

“ To Officer
in Charge,
Montreal,
April 22,
1892.”

“ To Charles
McLaren,
North West
River,
July 19th,
1893.”

“ To Peter
McKenzie,
Montreal,
April 4th,
1894.”

“ To Peter
McKenzie,
Montreal,
April 4th,
1894.”

“ To Thomas
McKenzie,
North West
River,
Dec. 23,
1901.”

Vol. ii, p. 125.




p. 2660

shape, besides the fires.” 1 Tales of calamity due to starvation occur in the records of the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1849, the officer in charge of the Esquimaux Bay district reported the death of 90 Naskapi Indians—hunters and their families—due to the fact that the deer had not crossed the passes where they had until that time been found in large numbers.
In the midst of this life of movement, opportunities were made for the exchange of news as to the happenings in all parts of the peninsula. To quote Cabot : “ About the great lakes of the central area the people meet as may happen during the hunting season and exchange their unwritten news ; on the far lake levels of the high interior, the hunting place of the strong and skilful, this network of communication is seldom long broken. There about the central area, gather the rivers that flow to the four coasts and there the people converge.” 2
Three such meeting places in this central region are, Kaniapiscau, Petitsikapau and Sandgirt lakes. Kaniapiskau is a large lake in the Ungava basin, from which the South or Koksoak river takes the rise. Of it John Bastian, an Indian guide employed by Cabot, says : “ At Kaniapiskau you meet Indians from all shores.” Petitsikapau at the head waters of the Hamilton river system attracted the attention of the factor in charge of Fort Chimo, and he recommended the establishment of a post there. In his journal to the Company he says of this lake : “ It is surrounded by a tolerable fur country. At or near it the Indians always separate on their way to the different settlements on the Gulf.3 Fort Nascopie was established on this lake in 1842.
Sandgirt lake forms part of the same river system, at some distance above the Grand Falls. The gatherings at this point are noticed by Cabot, who remarks : “ The people who descend the Moisie in the summer gather at Sandgirt lake on the Hamilton, apparently for the mere sake of seeing each other, and they keep together as may be until their final separation in the fall for their individual lands.” 4 Of Sandgirt lake Low says : “ Owing to the number of canoe routes that centre here, the lake is an important gathering place for the Indians of the interior.”

Labrador an undivided whole (to Indians and Trading Companies).

To the Indians, the peninsula was a geographic unit, an indivisible whole. They travelled over it from north to south and from east to west, small advantages often determining them in their decisions as to whether they would take their furs to the posts on Ungava Bay or to those on the St. Lawrence. Fort Chimo on Ungava Bay suffered greatly from this apparent perversity of the Indians. When it was opened by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1830, there were opposition traders at Esquimaux Bay, and at the posts on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. These traders had an advantage over the officers of the great Company, in that they were their own masters and could adapt themselves to a struggle for trade more readily than the officers of the Company, who were bound by the instructions they

p. 2661

received from London. The factor at Chimo found that the Indians of his own district were attracted by the better terms offered at the Gulf posts ; when the Gulf posts were acquired by the Company, he endeavoured to make them understand that there would be no benefit to them in carrying their furs the vastly greater distance,1 but they were sceptical, and were not satisfied until a party visited the Gulf posts.
The accounts of the Department of Indian Affairs of Canada show the Hudson's Bay Company's agent at Davis Inlet on the Atlantic coast giving relief supplies to a large number of Indians on Canadian Government account ; also, a shopkeeper at Tessiuyaksoak between Nain and Zoar on the same coast performing a similar service for the Indians who visited his district.
As between Fort Chimo and Esquimaux Bay, although separated by nearly 600 miles, the Indians made nothing of the distance. John McLean, the officer in charge at Fort Chimo made a trip to Esquimaux Bay in the beginning of 1838. On his arrival there he found that all the Nascopie or Ungava Indians, belonging to the Fort Chimo district, numbering between 70 and 80, had carried their furs to Esquimaux Bay. He and the Company's agent at Esquimaux Bay having come to an understanding, pointed out the advantages to them of having posts so conveniently situated on their lands.2
Rupert House on James Bay lost a portion of its business from the fact that a number of the Indians attached to that district had passed over the height of land, some into the Ungava district, and others into the territory attached to Esquimaux Bay.3
In 1863, Donald A. Smith, who was in charge of the Esquimaux Bay district, urged upon the Company the desirability of reopening the post at Chimo. Opposition there would lead to much trouble. “ The injury to the trade not only at Fort Nascopie, but in all probability of Rupert's River district and Eastmain would be incalculable.” 4 The Post at Chimo was re-opened, and in 1867, Smith notes with much satisfaction that a good many Naskapis “frequenting Fort Nascopie have gone to hunt in direction of Fort Chimo, where they will be removed from the influence of traders from the Gulf of St. Lawrence.” 5
The following extracts from the correspondence of the agent of the Hudson's Bay Company at Rigolet will give an idea of the embarrassment and anxiety caused by the wandering habits of the Indians :—
“ I hope that the Nascopies will return to Ungava (on Hudson's Straits) before long, but we can't make them go if they don't want to, and while they are in the habit of coming out on the Coast in the neighbourhood of Davis Inlet (on the Atlantic Coast) and the Missionary stations, it will be well to keep such things as they may require at D. I., otherwise their fur will be lost to the Company altogether.”
“ The question arises most seriously : what is to be done with these wandering Bohemian Gulf Indians ? Mr. Fraser wrote me in his last that five of them had cast up at Paradis the other day (25 miles from

p. 2662

Cartwright on the Atlantic Coast). He secured quite a lot of Beavers and Otters from them. It was more than fortunate that he was in time to intercept them.
“ The same occurred at N.W. River (on Lake Melville). Three hunters arrived there last Autumn from Ungava. There appears to be no mode of checking those marauders. The only plan to save future loss to the Company is to refuse the marauders advances in toto, both on this side as well as in the Gulf. In this way they will be at liberty to trade wherever they may strike out.”
“ North West River. The returns of this Post I am sorry to say show a considerable falling off from the last outfit. There wasan unusual scarcity of Martens in that section of the country. I may say also the Indians made miserable hunts. To this is to be taken into consideration that 12 or 13 families never made their appearance at all ; either two or three families, as far as could be ascertained, crossed the country towards Seven Islands (on the Gulf of St. Lawrence).
“ In my letter to you of the 15th January I drew your attention to the constant raid made upon this side by the Gulf Indians. They are becoming a perfect nuisance, and high time that the Government should deal with them most strictly. In no way can this be effected except by immediately putting a stop to the credit system. The Company should at once issue instructions that no advance be made to these Indians, especially Mingan and Musquarro (on the Gulf of St. Lawrence). This is the only check that can be laid upon them. Let them then go and trade where they please.”
“ Allow me to once more call the attention of the Company most earnestly to take immediate steps regarding these wandering Bohemians from the Gulf. I fully explained the matter to you in my letter dated the 20th of April last year, and apparently no steps were taken in the matter. The affair is of the utmost importance and should receive immediate attention. The Company should issue strict instructions that no advances be made to these wanderers, especially so to those from Mingan and Musquarro. This is the only effective check that can be laid upon them, and the only means of protecting ourselves and property.”
“ There were no fewer than 16 or 17 families near Cartwright about the New Year, comprising in all over 100 souls.”
“ I was very much surprised indeed to learn from your letter that the Oblat Fathers purposed discontinuing the Mission at North West River. I at once spoke to Père Lemoine on the subject, and he informed me that such was truly the case, and that he had told the Indians to go out to Musquarra next year to see the Priest there. Had I known of this movement on the part of the Priests, or even had the slightest suspicion of it before Père Lemoine went up to North West River, you most certainly would have been instructed not to give a single cent to any Indian on any consideration whatever. I trust that the Indians will not all go over to the Gulf, and that you have borne

p. 2663

in mind the chances of their going there in your dealing with them this summer.
“ While recently at North West River Post, I met some of the Indians who used formerly to hunt in the country around there. They informed me they intended coming back again to hunt in that locality, and asked if debt would be given them at North West River. I told them I would write you on the matter before we could give them debt. I shall be pleased to have your advice in regard to giving them debt. I understand these Indians get debt at the St. Augustine Post.
“ On the 20th ult. I visited Davis Inlet Post, but regret to say that the fur hunt in that section is the smallest for a number of years back. Seven Indians only visited the Post during the winter for the purpose of trade. It is presumed the majority of the Indians who have been in the habit of coming out at Davis Inlet to trade of late years have worked more to the south. Report says a number of them have been seen some distance south of North West River.”
“ I trust you will succeed in attracting the Indians to the Post to trade. They seem to have deserted North West River of late years.”

As the Indians in their migrations moved about, in utter disregard of the physical divisions of the territory, so the Hudson's Bay Company showed a similar disregard of these physical divisions in the arrangements they made for the transaction of their business. The territory was subject to no divisions, except those made by the Company for their own convenience, and these were changed as circumstances seemed to require. The Rupert River district, for instance, included not only outposts within its own territory, but the post at Kaniapiskau, at the headwaters of the Koksoak river, which was in the Ungava district.1 Fort Nascopie lying on the height of land whence flowed the waters which formed the Hamilton River system was placed under Fort Chimo, and a post opened on the St. Augustine river, which, if classed on geographical lines would have been dependent on the Gulf posts. It was attached to Esquimaux Bay.2 These were the only divisions, which were recognised in the territories of the Labrador peninsula.
Nowhere does the practice, whether on the part of the Hudson's Bay Company or of the Indians, of treating the entire Labrador as one indivisible whole, receive such signal illustrations, as in the case of the Indians, attached to the posts on the Gulf of the St. Lawrence.3
The peninsula of Labrador is described by Low as a comparatively level, rolling plateau, over which travel is easy in all directions. This is an accurate description only as far to the southward as the ranges which form the head-lands of the rivers flowing south to the St. Lawrence. The rocky and precipitous character of the country through which these rivers run, and the difficulties encountered in the ascent from the Gulf coast to the plateau to the north is the subject of observation by all travellers in those regions4 but there is no evidence that the route presented unusual difficulties to the Indians. From the earliest periods of which we have record, the main

p. 2664

objective of their migrations has been the posts on the Gulf and River St. Lawrence. The routes which would have led the Indians of the interior to the sea at Esquimaux Bay (Hamilton Inlet) offered few difficulties, in comparison with those followed on the way to the St. Lawrence. Cugnet, the lessee of the King's Posts, was well aware of this fact, and when he learned in 1744 that Fornel a merchant of Quebec, had explored Esquimaux Bay, and set up the flag of France in the territory, he was full of apprehension, that his Indians in the Esquimaux Bay country would abandon his posts, and take his furs by the easier routes.l
But his apprehensions were groundless. How far fear of the Esquimaux who dwelt on the outer shore of Esquimaux Bay may have acted as a deterrent, and how far the influence of old habit, which turned their steps southward instead of eastward, may have prevailed, there is no means of telling, but the fact remains that the movement of the Indians towards the south, instead of towards the east,2 or north, is one of the best established in the history of these Indians.
The two chief motives, which determine mankind to make a change in its environment, operated powerfully with the Indians in leading them to the Gulf and the River St. Lawrence. Traders to whom they might sell the products of their industry could be found on these shores, and could not be found on the shores of the Atlantic ; and priests, to minister to the spiritual needs which had been awakened, also had their centres on the coasts of the river and gulf.
The ancient routes, by which the Indians passed to and from the interior are well known. Hind in his “ Explorations in the Interior of the Labrador Peninsula,” says of the Moisie, one of the rivers entering the Gulf, about 18 miles below Seven Islands : “ For centuries it has been one of the leading lines of communication from the interior to the coast,—The old and well-worn portage paths, round falls and rapids and over precipitous mountains on the upper Moisie, testify to the antiquity of the route independently of the traditions of the Indians who now hunt on this river and on the table land to which it is the highway.”
Hind was shown a map constructed by seven Montagnais, which exhibited the route followed by these Indians from Hamilton Inlet on the Atlantic coast to lake Petitsikapau at the head waters of the same system ; thence by unbroken water communication through the Ashwanipi river and the lake of the same name to a point near the headquarters of the east branch of the Moisie.3
Hind, also, mentions two other routes by which regular passage is made between the Gulf and the interior. “ The couriers of the Hudson's Bay Company traverse the country between Musquarro (on the Gulf) and Hamilton Inlet two or three times every year. The journey can be made in fifteen days in canoes, and this route has long been a means of communication between Hamilton Inlet and the Gulf.”
“ The St. Augustine, falling into a fine bay of the same name, has its source in the lakes and marshes of the tableland, which also gives rise

[1927lab]




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