LABRADOR HISTORY

 

Tantalizing scraps of evidence show a fascinating sequence of occupation since the retreat of the Laurentide glacier from Labrador, about 10,000 years ago. The earliest records to date are that of an Indian boy buried at L'Anse Amour about 6095 BC and a site at Black Island Cove in the north, dated about 4045 BC. These early people were known as Maritime Archaic. They were overlapped by Early Paleao-Eskimo, followed by Dorset Eskimo and overlapped by the recent Indian and Thule/Labrador Eskimo.

Bjarni Herjolfssom, about 986 AD, was the first European to sight North America and in his travels he described the Labrador coast.

England has claimed Newfoundland and Labrador by virtue of their discovery by John Cabot in 1497.

On a map of 1529 it is written, Terra del Labrador; "This country was discovered by people of the town of Bristol, and because he who first sighted land was a labourer, from the island of the Azores, it was named after him." The Lavrador was Joao Fernandes and the year was 1501. [Lavrador meaning labourer]

Jacques Cartier deemed Labrador, "The land God gave to Cain," in 1534 but the sea attracted thousands of fishermen and whalers from England, Portugal, and the Basque regions of Spain and France. The elusive North West Passage attracted many explorers and adventurers along the Labrador coast.

An exciting discovery of documents were found in the Basque region of Spain which shed light on the activities of the Basque whalers in Labrador during the 1500s and established some of Canada's oldest written records.

In 1668 King Charles II of England granted the Hudson Bay Company all of Labrador and the land around Hudson Bay, comprising approximately one third of Canada. An overlapping grant was made to Courtemanche by the King of France in 1702. Courtemanche was given the land from the Gulf of St. Lawrence northward to the Churchill River and Hamilton Inlet. Although he was thought to be the first European settler, his journal reads: "The Eskimaux are becoming more sociable and are beginning to trade with the French, who are settled there (Hamilton Inlet) and who trade in their commodities." It appears that these Frenchman preceded Courtemanche by a few years. When Courtemanche died in 1717, his son-in-law, Brouage, took his place. Brouage learned the Inuit language and was probably the first to write down the stories and traditions of the Inuit.

The Moravian Mission has had a very strong influence on the history of northern Labrador.


Moravian Church & Mission House, Makkovik
Courtesy: Thorwald Perrault


The Moravian Missions in Labrador sprang out of the missions in Greenland and in 1752 they sent their first missionaries to Labrador.

The Moravians were not to return to Labrador again until 1770, by which time King George III granted them their choice of one hundred thousand acres of the Labrador coast. When they arrived they not only met a previous Inuit acquaintance, Segulliak, but also Mikak, who had been taken to England by Lieut. Lucas in 1767 and was one of the few Inuit who lived to return to Labrador. She and her husband, Tuglavina, played a large role in the establishment of the mission.

Attacks of whooping cough, small pox and unidentified epidemics have taken their toll of Labrador people over the years, as contact with the outside world increased. The event that probably most affected their lives was the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, which was brought to Labrador by supply ships. It caused the death of one third of the 1,200 Inuit population and affected, to a lesser degree, the other communities of Labrador.

Before and during the Moravian settlement on the north coast, the English and French were settling the south coast and Hamilton Inlet. The Inuit and Indian people were also along the south coast in fairly large numbers according to accounts by Courtemanche in 1702.

Louis Fornel established a trading post at Davis Inlet in 1743.

George Cartwright established Capt St. Charles/Lodge Bay in 1770, then founded the community of Cartwright in 1775.

During the 1800s the Methodist, Roman Catholic and Church of England visited Labrador and built missions. It was also a time of developing services; a Circuit Court of Justice, a steamship mail service, two hospitals and the first co-operative.

The development of Goose Air Base in 1941, and the radar Early Warning System along the coast in 1952, drew many coastal people into wage employment, changing their pattern of living and causing many of them to leave their communities. A further resettlement of population came with the closing of Nutak and Hebron Moravian missions, making Nain the northernmost community in Labrador. The iron ore development in Wabush and Labrador City in 1957-58 and Churchill Falls hydro development in 1967 brought a large influx of people into Labrador, while a substantial percentage of people from the coast of Labrador moved to work with the industries of the west....

The Labrador people traded furs and fish for the goods they could not provide for themselves: flour, sugar, tea and tobacco. The land and the sea provided everything else. By their hands they got wood, grew vegetables, gathered wild bird's eggs, picked berries, hunted their meat, fished, and collected plants and bark for medicine. As Douglas Jacque of Postville states in 'Our Footprints Are Everywhere': "We lived through it. Some died and some more survived through it, but we enjoyed the life just the same. The people all along the coast were much the same...there was no other way."

Labrador, forming the easternmost portion of the Canadian Shield, is roughly triangular and is approximately 112,000 square miles, almost three times the size of Newfoundland. The eastern coast is about 700 miles long and the 400 mile base lies along the fifty-second parallel. Labrador has changed hands many times. In 1763 it was confirmed as a possession of England but, for a number of years, it bounced back and forth between Newfoundland and Canada. In 1906, surveyors from Quebec precipated the Quebec/Labrador boundary dispute by claiming logs from the Mud Lake sawmill operation. The Judicial Committee of the privy council established the western boundary at the height of land, where the waters divide (1927). It is interesting to note that Newfoundland tried to sell Labrador to Canada in 1909 for nine million dollars and again in 1932 for one hundred and ten million dollars. On April 1, 1949, Labrador, with Newfoundland, joined Canada as the tenth province of Confederation.

The Labrador coast is a rugged variety of hills, headlands, cliffs and rivers. The coastal terrain is basically tundra in appearance and vegetation, while the protected deep-set bays are forested.

 

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