1902 Encyclopedia > Labrador


LABRADOR, in the widest acceptation of the word, is the peninsular portion of North America bounded on three sides by the Gulf of St Lawrence, the North Atlantic, Hudson's Straits, and Hudson's Bay, and vaguely defined towards the south-west by Rupert's river, the Mistassini river, and the Bersiamits river. It extends from about 49° to 63° N. lat, and from the 55th to the 79th meridian. Its greatest length from the Straits of Belle Isle, which separate it from Newfoundland, to Cape Wolstenholme, its most northern extremity, is 1100 miles; its greatest breadth is about 700 miles. The area is approximately 420,000 square miles, equal to the united areas of the British Isles, France, and Prussia. As a permanent abode of civilized man, Labrador is on the whole one of the most uninviting regions on the face of the earth. The Atlantic coast is the edge of a vast solitude of rocky hills, split and blasted by frosts and beaten by the waves. A vast table-land, in one region 2240 feet above the sea-level, occupies much of the interior. This plateau, says Professor Hind, "is pre-eminently sterile, and, where the country is not burned, caribou moss covers the rocks, with stunted spruce, birch, and aspen in the hollows and deep ravines. The whole of the table-land is strewed with an infinite number of boulders, sometimes three and four deep ; these singular erratics are perched on the summit of every mountain and hill, ofteu on the edges of cliffs, and they vary in size from 1 foot to 20 feet in diameter. Language fails to paint the awful desolation of the table-land of the Labrador peninsula."

The interior of Labrador has been but very partially explored, and even the course of the main rivers is largely matter of conjecture. The largest is probably the Ashwauipi or Hamilton river, which rises in the rear of the Seven Islands, drains a portion of the vast table-land, and falls into Hamilton Inlet, on the Atlantic coast. At its mouth it is nearly a mile and a half in width. One hundred miles from its mouth are the great falls and rapids which extend over 20 miles, and involve fifteen portages. The valley of this river is well wooded, some of the trees, which are chiefly spruce, white birch, and poplar, being of considerable size, and tracts of loamy soil being found at intervals along its banks. The Kenamou and the Nasquapee or North-West river also fall into Hamilton Inlet. The Eagle river, the West and East rivers, all famous for salmon and trout, discharge their waters into Sandwich Bay. Of the rivers falling into Ungava Bay the largest is Koksoak or South river, which is 3 miles wide at its mouth, and has its source in Lake Kaniapuscaw, 70 miles long and 20 broad, which occupies the very centre of the peninsula, being equidistant from the St Lawrence, Ungava, and Hamilton Inlet, and 350 miles from each. George's river and Whale river also fall into LTngava Bay. The aspect of the country drained by these rivers is forbidding in the extreme, bleak and barren rocks, with a few stunted trees at the months of the rivers or around the lakes, being the most marked features. In a few sheltered spots, however, on the margins of the rivers, timber of fair size is to be found. The rivers discharging into Hud-son's Bay are Rupert's river, East Main, and Great and Little Whale rivers. The Moisie river, 250 miles in length, the Mingan, and the Ounaneme fall into the Gulf of St Lawrence. The St Augustine falls into a fine bay of the same name, and has its source in the lakes and marshes of the table-land. The country through which these rivers flow is rugged and mountainous, swamps and innumerable lakes occupying the lower grounds.

By far the most important portion of Labrador is the Atlantic seaboard. The coast itself is rugged, but is deeply indented with bays and inlets, and has many fine harbours. The scenery is grand and impressive. Dark and yellow headlands towering over the waters are ever in sight, some grim and naked, others clad in the pale green of mosses and dwai'f shrubbery. With miles on miles of rocky precipices alternate lengthened sea slopes, tame and monotonous, or fantastic and picturesque in form, with stony vales winding alway among the blue hills of the interior. Battle Harbour at the northern extremity of the straits of Belle Isle, is a busy fishing settlement with a narrow sheltered roadstead about half a mile in length between Battle Islands and Great Caribou Island. The water is of great depth in this neighbourhood, and is noted for its wonderful ground swell, which at times rolls in without wind from the eastward into St Lewis Sound, " bursting," as Admiral Bayfield describes it, " with fury over islets 30 feet high, or send-ing sheets of foam and spray sparkling in the sunbeams 50 feet up the sides of precipices." By far the greatest of the numerous inlets which indent the coast is Eskimo Bay or Ivuktoke or Hamilton Inlet, 250 miles north of the straits of Belle Isle. This inlet is 30 miles wide at the entrance, but at Port Rigolette, 50 miles from the sea, it narrows to a mile. On both sides of these narrows hills tower to the height of 1000 feet, wooded with spruce from base to summit. At the termination of this gorge the inlet again expands and forms Lake Melville, 30 miles in length and 20 in breadth. After narrowing again it forms another lake (Goose Bay) 7 miles wide and 20 long, and at its extremity the head of the great inlet is reached, 150 miles from the sea. The scenery along the shores of Hamilton Inlet is wild and rugged, and above Rigolette becomes very grand. Along the south shore of Melville lake are the volcanic peaks of the Mealy Mountains,. 1500 feet in height. This range commences 100 miles to the south of Hamilton Inlet, running nearly parallel to the coast; and after skirting Lake Melville it strikes westerly and is lost in the hilly regions of the interior.

Northern Labrador, from Cape Webeck to Cape Chudleigh, is the proper home of the Eskimo of this region, who are now about 1400 in number. By the labours of the Moravian Brethren, commenced in 1770, nearly the whole of them have been brought under Christian training. The Brethren have four stations—Hopedale, (55° 25' N. lat), Nain (56° 25'), Okkak (57° 33'), and Hebron, (58° 50'). Each station has a church, store, dwelling-house for the missionaries, and workshops for the native tradesmen. The mis-sionaries number about twenty.

The white inhabitants of the St Lawrence coast of Labrador are chiefly of Acadian or Canadian origin, with a few settled fishermen from France. On the Atlantic coast of Labrador many of the white inhabitants are British sailors and their descendants. Salmon and cod fishing are their main occupations ; and the products of their industries are exchanged with traders on the spot for such commodities as they require. The winter is passed in trapping fur-bearing animals. There are nine places of worship—four of the Church of England, three of the Church of Rome, and two Wesleyan. During the fishing season a steamer carrying mails and passengers plies fortnightly on the coast, connecting with the Newfoundland coastal steamer at Battle Harbour.

The Indians inhabiting the interior of Labrador are now greatly reduced in numbers. The returns of the Hudson's Bay Company show that about four thousand of these Indians frequent the company's posts throughout the whole of Labrador ; and this account probably includes nearly their whole strength. Nineteeii-twe.itieths of them are nominally Roman Catholics. The early Jesuit missions in Canada extended to Labrador ; and of late years Roman Catholic missions have been resumed and are now systematically carried on. Game of all kinds is every year becoming scarcer, and in many parts has almost disappeared. Fires have destroyed the forests, berry-bearing shrubs, mosses, and lichens, and converted whole dis-tricts into hopeless deserts. The savage tribes wander over a vast extent of country, and have established routes along certain rivers and lakes, by which periodically they make their way to the sea-coast, to exchange the products of the chase for firearms, clothing, and other necessaries.

It is only in the interior valleys of the rivers, at some distance from the coast, that any extent of forest appears ; but there suffi-cient timber for fuel and building purposes can almost always be found. The trees are chiefly larch, birch, aspen, silver fir, black, white, and red spruce, willow, cherry, and mountain ash. Among the wild animals may be enumerated reindeer, black and white bears, wolves, foxes, martens, lynxes, otters, minks, beavers, musk-rats, hares, rabbits, moles. The birds are represented by the hawk, falcon, eagle, owd, raven, ptarmigan, spruce partridge, curlew, grey plover, sandpipers and other waders, geese, ducks, gulls, divers, swallows, martins, snipe, pigeons. Berry-bearing plants abound in many regions—whortleberries, raspberries, cranberries, partridge berries, bake apploborries, wild currants, and wild gooseberries. In summer, where there are sheltered spots, mosses of every hue, wild flowers of the most delicate colours, ferns, and tall grasses diversify the scene.

Though Labrador is detached from Arctic lands, and though much of it lies between the same parallels of latitude as Great Britain, the climate is rigorous in the extreme, owing mainly to the ice-laden Arctic current which washes its shores. Snow lies from September or October till June. In winter the wdiole coast is blockaded by ice-fields drifting from Baffin's Bay and other outlets of the Arctic Ocean; while in summer icebergs, stranded or floating, impart a stern grandeur to the frowning shores. At Nain the mean annual temperature is 22'52° Fahr., at Okkak, 27'86°, and at Hopedale, 27'82°. In summer the thermometer sometimes reaches 75°; spirits freeze in the intense cold of winter, and 30° below zero is not uncommon ; but, owing to the dryness of the air and the absence of high winds, such a temperature is not felt as uncomfortable. The winter is one continued stretch of cold dry frosty weather, and is felt to be bracing by those accustomed to it. Travelling is performed by sledges drawn by dogs, sometimes at the rate of 100 miles a day, over the frozen snow.

The total permanent population of Labrador is about 12,500, and is distributed as follows :—

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Tourists in search of the picturesque, invalids, sportsmen, and anglers are finding their way, of late years, in increasing numbers to Labrador during its brief but lovely summer ; and in the fishing season from the end of June to the first or second week of October the migratory population from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Canada, and the United States numbers between 20,000 and 25,000.

But little is known of the geology of Labrador. It has been ascertained, however, that the Laurentian formation constitutes the great framework of the peninsula, and that Low-er Silurian beds, principally Potsdam, rest on the Laurentian at various points along the coast. On the north side of the Straits of Belle Isle there is a large development of Lower Silurian rocks, corresponding to those on the Newfoundland side opposite. The Potsdam rocks here are grey and reddish sandstones, 230 feet in thickness, overlaid by 140 feet of limestone, with some shale. These limestones and sandstones extend about 80 miles along the coast, and about 10 miles back from the shore. All over the country gneiss ranges of mountains and hills and gneiss boulders in count-less multitudes are everywhere met with. '' The rocks of this formation," says Sir William Logan, "are the most ancient known on the American continent, and correspond probably to the oldest gneiss of Finland and Scandinavia, and to some similar rocks in the north of Scotland." The system is made up of crystallized rocks, and may be considered as an alternation of crystalline schists, quartzites, limestones, and serpentines. Copper ore has been dis-covered at various points along the coast; also silver, lead, and mica, as well as gold.

The southern portion of the Labrador coast, as far north as Sandwich Bay, has been frequented as a fishing ground for more than a century. Since about 1850 large numbers of fishermen have extended their operations as far north as Cape Harrison or Webeck. From about 1870 Newfoundland cod-fishers have ventured as far north as Cape Mugford ; and the probability is that they will soon be attracted still farther, to Cape Chudleigh, at the entrance of Hudson's Straits, by the reports of the amazing quantity of fish. From Cape Harrison to Cape Mugford the coast, like that of Nor-way, is deeply serrated by a succession of narrow fiords stretching from 30 to 50 miles into the interior. As far as Freestone Point, 120 miles north of Cape Harrison, the heads of many of these fiords contain timber fit for the construction of fishing craft and all ordinary building purposes. The climate and soil of these sheltered spots also permit the cultivation of potatoes and garden vegetables. According to Professor Hind, "it is fringed with a vast multitude of islands forming a continuous archipelago from Cape Aillik to Cape Mugford, averaging 20 miles in depth seawards. Outside these islands, and about 15 miles seawards from them, are numerous banks and shoals which form the summer feeding ground of large cod, and a second range of banks, outside the shoals, which are probably their winter feeding grounds." This island-studded area, exclusive of the banks and shoals, from Cape Harrison to Cape Mugford, he estimates at 5200 square miles, furnishing a boat fishing ground for cod (which as yet has hardly been touched) nearly as large as the combined areas of the English and French boat fishing ground on the coasts of Newfoundland. The Arctic current wdiich washes the coast of Labrador exerts a most im-portant influence on the fish life of those regions, as well as on that of the seas around Newfoundland, Canada, and the United , States, forming, in many places, '' a living mass, a vast ocean of living slime;" and this slime "accumulates on the banks of northern Labrador, and renders the existence possible of all those forms of marine life which contribute to the support of the great shoals of cod wdiich also find their home there" (Hind). The same current which brings the slime and multitudes of minute crustaceans also carries on its bosom innumerable cod ova, and distributes them far and wide.

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The principal fisheries are those of cod, herrings, salmon, and seals. The following table is compiled from the Newfoundland customs returns for the year ending July 31, 1880 :—

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The estimated value of exports by traders being 19,950, this gives for the total exports $1,342,035, or £279,590 sterling.
To these direct exportations must be added the fish of various kinds taken at Labrador and sent to Newfoundland for shipment, amounting to about a third of the wholo ; also the quantities

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