IN the Newfoundland
outports, especially those of the northern bays — Conception, Trinity,
Bonavista and Notre Dame conversation with any old-timer is sure to turn
sooner or later to experiences on "The Labrador".
Soon these stories
accumulate into a magnetizing force, drawing you to explore that
wonderful Northern shore of which these old-timers relate such wonderful
Our first trip to the
Labrador was decided by an old fellow with a scythe, mowing a
pocket-handkerchief of hay at Exploits. He wore at the time a pair of
sabots. Upon our remarking on them as unusual footwear in these parts,
he looked down with a smile— that pleasant smile that always flits
across aged faces at the recollection of an adventure—and said, "Oh,
aye, them's my Denmarks. I bought them from a man on a square-rigger, on
Two days after that we
were haunting the telegraph office at Twillingate for news of "The
Invermore" or "The Kyle" out of Saint John's to the Labrador. The
Invermore blew out her tubes somewhere down the coast, and had to put
back to Saint John's, and we had to wait several days for her
substitute, who finally arrived at Twillingate in the middle of the
night, so that we went up the ladder over her side with the bags of mail
at two o'clock in the morning, carrying with us a feeling that perhaps
we ought not to be going, as two old fellows encountered on the pier the
night before, had said, in the face of a rather threatening sky, that it
was "too late to go down on the Labrador."
However, we made that
voyage safely and have since made another, proving that wiseacres are
not always true prophets or their sayings to be heeded.
From Newfoundland to
Labrador is but a step across the Straits of Belle Isle. In winter these
waters are the hunting grounds of some of the sealers out of Saint
John's. In summer they are the hunting ground of some of the "growlers"
out of Labrador.
Navigators here in the
first instance are happy at the cry of "seals!" from the crow's nest,
but the skipper of the mailboat on tins route runs away as fast as may
be from the beautiful but treacherous iceberg so like in figure to giant
Portuguese Men-o--War "fishing with paralyzing underseas
tentacles seeking whom they may devour." Then comes out on deck the
figure least expected, the Moving Picture man, reeling off, like one
possessed, the bergs that navigation fears. And so we land at Battle
Harbour, first of the thirty or more ports of call made by these fine
mail-and-passenger boats out of Saint John's.
The charm of the
Labrador is hard to define. That it is there all will agree. Some say
that it lies in the fact that the slightest miscalculation on the part
of those adventuring in these parts may lead to an accident—accident
that on so exposed a coast is instantly metamorphosed into irremediable
disaster, as in the case of H.M.S. Raleigh. In other words, danger is
its charm, the danger that lies so near, around the corner of every bay
and tickle; danger of hidden rocks, of sudden gale, of fog, of bergs,
washed by some fanciful twist of ocean current out of the beaten track.
Romance follows danger as a twin sister. So, on the Labrador, many
"figures" strut across the little stage.
There is the little
Eskimo that paddles off to the steamer in his kyak, to dance on deck,
while the ship rides at anchor off some port. That he ever reaches the
ship or the shore again in the little scallop-shell he calls "boat" is a
miracle. But he dances away or sings "gospel hymns" learned from
missionaries, as free from worry as any child. The words are in Eskimo,
but the old tune, sung out here on deck by the flare of the ship's
lantern, carries with it a gripping power, the while the faces of strong
men—fishermen coming or going, traders, missionaries, even Syrian
fur-dealers— are intermittently lighted by the flare of the lantern.
Two old acquaintances,
the "fishnet drying from the masthead" and the "pot-a-tilt" among stones
of the ice-age, greet one on stepping ashore at a Labrador tickle.
Spruce beer is also here to be had, if one has the good fortune to fall
in with Liveyer's family up from Newfoundland for the summer-fishing and
living in a hut with sodded roof, wherein the blooms of fircplant and
live-for-ever make a splash of color against the gray background of sea
These little liveyer
homes bear a striking resemblance to the pioneer homes of foreigners on
the Prairie, with sodded roofs abloom.
Two new characters
peculiar to the zone emerge along this northern edge of the 'Longshore
road—Eskimos, men, women and children, and Eskimo dogs; both of which
Newfoundlanders invariably speak of as "Huskies".
The Eskimo as hunter is
the angle from which hunters, trappers, and fur merchants, view these
children of the Northland. The missionary sees in them children to be
taught; the ordinary voyager merely a new and interesting facet of life
— men and women, masters of the secret of living under conditions under
which the probabilities are the voyager himself would come a cropper.
They fire the imagination for the same reasons as do the children of the
Desert—an interesting peculiar people wholly masters of interesting
Some of the features of
Eskimo coastal life are portrayed in the pelts brought in to swell the
large collections at the several Hudson's Bay Company's posts, and in
the evidences of "native art" as shown in ivory and wood carvings
brought down to sell to the ship.
These latter articles
are of interest from two points of view. They were taken from life and
so, have pictorial and story value— little ivory komatiks or sledges
drawn by dogs in harness and little wooden dolls with typical Eskimo
features of old man or woman dressed in sealskin, cut in the same model
always in vogue with these people; the men with trousers and short
middy, the women in trousers and middy, short in front but often with a
sort of longer rounded effect at the back. These vendors to the ship
display in addition seal-skin port-monies for women and tobacco-pouches
for men, but these are less interesting because the idea is imitative,
caught from things of similar intent in the hand of voyagers from the
south and civilization.
Eskimo dogs are not
seen to advantage in summer. Only a few appear at each outport, more at
some than at others. But under the boardwalk, climbing to the post
office, a half dozen roly-poly puppies will snarl and snap under your
feet like little wolves. And these "miniatures" of the pack—away at this
season on some island out of harm's way and busy foraging for a scant
support to life among fishheads cast up by the incoming fishboat—are
merely little point-fingers of the road of the great untamed that
stretches from here to Hudson's Bay.
Except in the
neighbourhood of the Hudson's Bay Posts and the Moravian Missionary
settlements, evidences of the native are comparatively few. The many
outports of this rugged coast are posts held firmly in the strong
capable hand of Newfoundland. It is said that thirty thousand
Newfoundlanders yearly fish "The Labrador". And romance lies in the wake
of this yearly pilgrimage to the Northern Shrine of Cod.
As the landing mailboat
rounds the barren headlands, vistas of schooners and fishboats stretch
before, lying at anchor in the harbour or "tickle". And if it be Sunday,
as it is sure to be if the schooners are in port, a group of men and
women are at the water's edge to pick up news that the boat brings, or
eagerly await at the Post Office the letter from home.
The coming of the
steamer from Saint John's and the ports of the Northern Bays of
Newfoundland, once every ten days or so, is an event in these little
settlements of summer-homes, clinging like so many crabs to the rugged
shores of this outpost of Newfoundland, lying across Canada's great
Northeast and shutting it off from an Atlantic harbour north of Cape
Missionary work among
the Eskimos has been maintained here for several centuries by the
Moravians. Trading posts have been maintained for as long by the
world-famous Hudson's Bay Company. Sometimes the mission station and the
H.B.C. Post occur at the same outoort, as if in this northern land the
desire for company had drawn them irresistibly together. But of course
the mission must have decided that a fur-purchasing centre would
concentrate the natives and they could be more easily reached, since the
one sled-journey would answer all needs.
At Hopedale Mission
there is a pathetic little greenhouse with a few flowers; and out in a
corner of a garden, which is almost comical as gardens go, are seen a
few struggling lettuce-plants though last year's snow lies thick on the
rising ground scarcely twenty yards away. If the tide of Canadian trade
ever sets "full" out of Hudson Bay, who knows but a century from now
many gardens will flourish here, descendants of this little pioneer
straggler, hardily holding its own, to give the missionary-table
To the Moravian
Missionaries of early days belongs the credit of reducing the Eskimo
tongue to a language. The large, well-bound grammar which the Missionary
shows you becomes indeed a character in itself, as it is shown that this
is not merely a key to a language but the humble means upon mastery of
which hangs the missionary's ability to interpret the "Old, Old Story"
to these Nimrods of the North at home in Igloo, Komatik and Kyak.
Herein is the key to
the hymn-singing, dancing figure that strikes such a colourful note on
deck when the ship first makes this land of the Labrador.
At Hopedale, beside the
Mission and the H. B. C. Store, with its simple stock of groceries and
its pelt-rooms, sometimes packed and sometimes almost empty, according
to the season, there are a few Eskimo wooden houses and a big community
kitchen with a score of these short, round men and women gathered in the
steam about the pot a-stew.
Here and there an old
grandmother attends to coarse socks a-drying and knocks the kinks out of
skin boots and komatik harness on a sloping roof concentrating the weak
sun from the South, the while she minds the children and keeps a wary
eye on the few old dogs that pace wolfishly and unceasingly up and down.
Newfoundland, has an interesting list of place-names. A harbour with two
openings, usually made by an island lying close to the mainland or to
another island, is called a "tickle". Not the least romantic feature of
voyaging along the Labrador coast are these odd and appropriate
place-names. Think of sailing by "The White Cockade Islands'',
"Run-by-Guess", or "Tumbledown-Dick"! Or of seeing the surf bursting
over "Mad Moll's Reef"! Or of steering past "Lord's Arm", "Lady's Arm",
and "Caribou Castle!"