The Labrador Boundary

Privy Council Documents

Volume VI

[25 April, 1837.]


[28 Jany., 1845]

p. 2794

No. 1116.


25th April, 1837.
. . . . “ Mingan & Esquimaux Bay. These two districts have heretofore been under distinct managements but on account of their proximity to each other, likewise with a view to guarding against internal opposition in Trade and in order to facilitate the management of both it is determined that they shall now be united under the direction of Chief Factor Bewley who after visiting Esquimaux Bay in the course of this summer will make Mingan his headquarters, relieving Mr. Cumming who is allowed leave of absence on the ground of ill-health and leaving Mr. McGillivray in charge of Esquimaux Bay. The principal object of establishing Esquimaux Bay was to check the encroachments of opposition in the trade of the King's Posts, Mingan, the Company's Territories and Ungava.”

No. 1117.                                      C

BY  W. H. A. DAVIES, ESQ. 1842.



Davis, in his Second Voyage of Discovery in 1586, is the first that appears to have noticed this extensive bay ; for there can be but little doubt, that the large opening which he saw in Lat. 54º 30´, “Entering in between two lands, the lower all islands,” was the mouth of this bay, answering as it

p. 2795

does, both in appearance and situation to it. The French however, were the first who gave the bay its present name, and resorted to it for trade, which they appear to have done at an early period, for the bay appears under its present name, in maps published by them very early in the last century ; and in some of them, the form of the Bay is laid down pretty correctly. After the loss of their possessions in Canada, they abandoned the trade to Esquimaux Bay, and some time elapsed before the English took it up, for it was only in 1777, that the first Englishman wintered in the Bay—his son was still living there a year ago—he found the remains of the old French establishments in many parts. In 1785 a Canadian from Quebec, wintered there, since that date, establishments have always been kept up in the Bay, by merchants and others of Quebec; after undergoing numerous changes, these establishments fell in 1837, into the hands of the Hudson's Bay Company, in whose possession they still remain. In the meantime, the knowledge of the Bay, possessed by the French geographers seems to have been gradually lost, as well as the name given to the inlet—instead of which the native name of Invucktoke appears to have been appropriated to it, and the entrance only marked in the map, until the last edition of Arrowsmith's Map of British North America, where the Bay once more resumes its form, with the name of Hamilton's Inlet tacked to the native designation. It is not however, very accurately laid down, the distance from the entrance to the head of the inlet being made much shorter than it really is.
The residents of Esquimaux Bay may be classed as follows, viz.: Persons in the employ of the trading companies, Planters or freemen, Esquimaux and Mountaineer Indians.
The first class are now confined to the servants of the Hudson's Bay Company, who are now the only Company that have permanent establishments in the Bay—they amount to fifteen or twenty individuals.
The Planters or freemen, are composed of persons who have come out in the service of the different mercantile establishments, and at the expiration of their engagements have remained in the country, hunting and fishing, on their own account, receiving the necessary supplies from the nearest establishment, and giving in the produce of their hunt, &c., in return ; a great portion of this class is now composed of the offspring of former planters with the Esquimaux women. The mode of living of these two classes is in some degree similar—the following is a short sketch of the annual routine pursued by the first class.
Immediately after the business of the summer season is closed, by the departure of the vessel, generally about the middle of September, the men are sent into winter quarters; that is, they are sent in parties of two each, up the different rivers, to pass the winter in trapping martens and other animals; they live in small huts, warmed by a stove; their work consists in visiting their traps, keeping them free from snow, and in hunting for a part of their subsistence. Their traps are either steel ones, or made of wood, technically called “dead falls”—these latter traps are constructed in such a manner, that the animal on taking the bait, pulls down a heavy piece of

p. 2796

wood that crushes him. The traps for martens are placed along a blazed path (called a “cat path”) leading into the interior, and varying in length from one to three days' walk, according to the address and activity of the hunter—the traps for foxes are placed along the borders of the rivers or bays. The men, on leaving the main Post, are furnished with a certain quantity of pork, flour, and ammunition, which is expected to last them until they return in the spring, generally about the first or second week in June. On the breaking up of the ice, they return to the post, when preparations are immediately commenced for the salmon-fishery, and when that is over the cod fishery is pursued until the end of the summer season. Such is the general routine followed in Esquimaux Bay—but, in places where the seal-fishery is pursued, the men do not go into winter quarters before that fishery is finished, which it seldom is before December—other local variations take place, but such is the general routine of the year. The life the planters lead is one very similar to the above, with the exception, that having generally large families, they most commonly winter on the immediate shores of the Bay if possible, for the convenience of hunting ducks in the spring, for the subsistence of their families. Their number may be on an average, about forty-five souls, of these eight are white men, the remainder half-breed Esquimaux. They are very uncertain in their movements, often; wintering in places widely remote from their former habitations, for as they invariably carry all their property with them, in their annual migrations to and from their summer residence, they are not at all under the necessity of returning to the winter-house they last occupied, unless the situation should happen to be a favourable one ; their migrations are performed in open whale boats, in which they will often make voyages of a month's duration, the women managing the boats as well as the men, and pulling an equally good oar. Even in summer, some of them are continually changing their quarters; passing the first part of the summer in fishing salmon, in the neighbourhood of Rigolet, and then going to the entrance of the Bay, to pursue the cod fishery, until it is time to return to winter quarters. The life these people lead is one of great hardship and fatigue, from their constant exposure to the weather, and the necessity of using the most strenuous exertions, to subsist their families, for the provisions they are enabled to purchase from the traders are never sufficient to support them during the long winter; the constant decrease of the hunt and fisheries of late years has also greatly augmented their misery.
The Bay was formerly the principal residence of the Esquimaux, from the facilities that it offered for living, the seals frequenting it in great numbers, and remaining in the Bay during the whole winter. But the number of seals has been greatly diminishing of late years, this has caused many of the tribe to leave the place; we must however look to the combined effects of the rum and the vices, imported by the Europeans, for the great diminution that has taken place within the last sixty years in the number of the Esquimaux belonging to the Bay; even as late as the beginning of the present century, they numbered upwards of 300—they are now reduced

p. 2797

to eight families, consisting of thirty-four individuals, viz: nineteen males and fifteen females The Mountaineers, whose hunting-grounds are in the vicinity of the Bay, are a branch of the Cree Nation, a dialect of whose language they speak. They are very much reduced in number; of the thirty-two families that frequented the Bay in 1840, only nine belonged to it, that is, whose hunting-grounds were in the neighbourhood, the remainder were from the Posts on the St. Lawrence, from whence they had been attracted by the great number of Reindeer in the vicinity of the Bay. These nine families comprised of 48 individuals, in which however are included several orphans and widows. They resemble in every respect the Indians of the King's Posts. From the great abundance of Reindeer throughout the whole of this country, they might, if they would keep from rum, make themselves perfectly independent of the whites; but allured by that pernicious liquor, they are sunk into a state of abject slavery; and their intercourse with the whites has but served to degrade them even more than it has done the Esquimaux. As they stand greatly in awe of the latter people they rarely descend the Bay; passing the summer in the vicinity of the Post of North West River, at the head of the Bay, where the Mountaineer trade is carried on. In winter, their time is chiefly spent in the chase of the Reindeer—in summer, when the deer retire to the north or to the tops of the high mountains, out of the way of the flies, they generally subsist on fish, wild-fowl and seals. Resembling as they do, the Indians of the King's Posts in every respect little need be said on the subject of their manners and customs.

No. 1118                                      C

28th January, 1845.
. . . . “If the Indians persist in a desire to visit Mingan in order to meet a Roman Catholic Priest, you may state that, if they defer it for another year, we will endeavour to send a Priest to their own lands, without putting them to the trouble or inconvenience of so long a journey. This can be done hereafter without inconvenience when the vessel winters in the St. Lawrence; but, if the Priest were to go this season by the second trip of the “Marten” his stay would necessarily be so short, that he could only see a few of the Indians immediately round Rigolet. . . .”


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