EXTRACTS FROM “EXPLORATIONS IN LABRADOR,”
BY HENRY YOULE HIND. VOL. I. (LONDON,1863.)
The vast peninsula which commonly bears the name of Labrador—a term more correctly applied to the north-eastern portion—occupies an area between the Atlantic and Hudson's Bay, lying within the 49th and 63rd parallels, and between the 55th and 79th meridians. The Gulf of St. Lawrence, the North Atlantic, Hudson's Straits and Hudson's Bay are its boundaries on three sides; Rupert's River, the Mistassini, and the Bersamits River may be considered as forming the approximate limits to the south-west. From the mouth of Rupert's River on Hudson's Bay, to the mouth of the Bersamits on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the distance is about 470 miles; and from Cape Wolstenholme—the most northern point of the country, to the Straits of Belle Isle, it is 1,110 miles. Travelling northwards, from the Hudson's Bay Company's post at Bersamits, in a direct line to Ungava Bay, the distance would be about 650 miles; while to Cape Wolstenholme, to the west, it is not less than 1,000. The area of the Labrador Peninsula is approximately 420,000 square miles, or equal to the British Isles, France, and Prussia combined, and the greater portion of it lies between the same parallels of latitude as Great Britain.
The whole of this immense country is uninhabited by civilised man, with the exception of a few settlements on the St. Lawrence and North Atlantic coasts, and some widely separated posts of the Hudson's Bay Company. It is thinly peopled by nomadic bands of Montagnais, Nasquapee, Mistassini, and Swampy Creek Indians, and by wandering Esquimaux on the northern coasts. Taken as a whole, it is a region unfit for the permanent abode of civilised man; and although once rich in fur-bearing animals, and in caribou or reindeer, it is now in many parts almost a desert. It derives great importance however, from the remarkable richness of the fisheries on its coasts; hence the establishment and maintenance of permanent fishing villages on the main land becomes a subject of great importance to Canada and Britain. The condition, character, customs, and traditions of the aboriginal inhabitants of so large a portion of the earth's surface, many of whom have never visited the coast, are full of interest; and the geography and geology of so vast an extent of country form proper subjects of enquiry at the present day.
In the absence of any definite boundaries, the entire peninsula is divided
into three parts, supposed to be separate watersheds, to which special name have been given. The area draining into the river and gulf of St. Lawrence belongs to Canada, whose eastern boundary is at Blanc Sablon, near the mouth of the North-West River. The country, supposed to be drained by rivers which flow into the Atlantic, is called Labrador, and is under the jurisdiction of Newfoundland. The remaining part of the peninsula, which drained by rivers flowing into Hudson's Bay, has received the designation the East Main. The names and position of the mouths only of the many rivers which flow into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, from the Bay of Seven` Islands to the Straits of Belle Isle, are correctly given in published maps of the country ; and nearly the whole of our present knowledge of the east side of the Labrador Peninsula is derived from Captain Bayfield's surveys, which, are limited to the coast. No map to which I have been able to obtain access exhibits a correct geographical picture of the interior of the country.
The mouth of the Moisie or Mis-te-shipu River—the 'Great River' of the Montagnais Indians—enters the Gulf of St. Lawrence in longitude 66º 10´, about eighteen miles east of the Bay of Seven Islands, and has its source in some of the lakes and swamps of high table land of Eastern Canada. For centuries it has been one of the leading lines of communication from the interior of the coast, travelled by the Montagnais during the time when they were a numerous and powerful people, capable of assembling upwards of “a thousand warriors” to repel the invasion of the Esquimaux, who were accustomed to hunt for a few weeks during the summer months, a short distance up the rivers east of the Moisie, as they do now on the Coppermine Anderson's, and Mackenzie's Rivers, in the country of the Hare Indians and the Loucheux. 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.
My attention was first drawn to the Moisie by the Abbe Ferland, of Laval University, Quebec, who showed me a chart constructed by seven Montagnais Indians at the request of Pere Arnaud, a zealous missionary among the aborigines of this part of British America. The chart exhibited the route followed by these Indians from Hamilton Inlet on the Atlantic coast up Esquimaux River, a continuation of the Ashwanipi, to a great lake in the interior called Petshikupau—thence by an unbroken water communication through the Ashwanipi River and a lake of the same name to near the head waters of the east branch of the Moisie, which they reached by crossing a low water parting, and descended to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. According to the Indian chart, the Ashwanipi must flow through five degrees of longitude, traversing the elevated table land of the Labrador Peninsula in a direction roughly parallel to the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The chart is a curious and instructive illustration of the remarkable capabilities possessed by Indians to delineate the general features of a country through which they have passed; and as far as we were able to compare it with our own surveys, it is singularly exact and accurate.