The Search for Hubbard’s Last Camp


Rudy Mauro

“How would you like to go to Labrador, Dillon?  Hubbard’s rock is still out there at the forks of the Susan, and I’m sure we can find it.”

It was on a steamy evening in July 1972, that I popped the question to my friend, Dillon Wallace III, as we sat in the living room of his country home in old Fishkill, New York, across the Hudson River from the city of Beacon-Newburgh and sixty miles north of New York City.  Spread out before us on the floor were artifacts and relics of his father’s Labrador journeys of 1903, 1905 and 1913.  The relics were only a small part of a treasure trove, stored in Wallace’s basement, of exploring paraphernalia collected by his father over a lifetime.  These included a section of the tent in which Leonidas Hubbard Jr. perished on his ill-fated 1903 expedition, and Wallace Sr.’s own Labrador tents, fly rods, trail gear, notebooks, and Naskapi Indian caribou-skin garments and artifacts.

“Interesting thought,” Wallace replied, “but I hope your visit to Hubbard’s grave in Haverstraw to-day hasn’t caused sentiment to overcome reason.  The painted letters of the inscription my father carved in 1913 on the boulder at Hubbard’s last camp would have long since been worn away by the elements, don’t you think?  The stone would be pretty hard to spot in the bush.  Besides, it is hard to imagine that some professional hasn’t beaten us to it.  Come to think of it, if anyone has found the marked rock, you would think the discovery would have been reported somewhere. It would be pretty satisfying, all right, if we were fortunate enough to be the first ones to visit the site in sixty years.”

“Think of it Dillon”, I said, “The valleys of the Susan and Beaver are as wild and unspoiled to day as they’ve always been.  The very rapids and gorges that made traveling so difficult for Hubbard and your father have protected the rivers from human encroachment all through the years.  Paddlers aren’t interested in them because the going is too rough, and decent-sized trout hard to find.  But what a country to explore by helicopter!  A small machine could put us down anywhere we liked.”

 “Your enthusiasm is contagious,” replied Dillon.  “I’ve never thought of going into the Labrador country my father traveled, but you make it sound easy”.

“One more thing, Dillon; there is some unfinished business from the 1903 and 1913 expeditions that we could tackle on the trip.  All the big lakes named by Hubbard and your father, such as Hope and Disappointment, have been added to the official maps, but no one has ever pinpointed Elson and Mountaineer Lakes, or Goose Creek.  The features named by your father in 1913 are also missing from the map.   I have spoken to the Secretary of the Canadian Committee for Geographical Names, and he is anxious to see a few more names on the new topographical series.  Some of the 1:250,000 sheets don’t have a single named feature on them. If we could verify locations of the forgotten features of 1903, either on the ground or from the air, Ottawa will identify them on the map”.

“This is a pretty big undertaking for a couple of armchair travelers, but it certainly would be the experience of a lifetime if we could pull it off.  I’ll give some serious thought to it overnight,” said Wallace, as my wife and I said our goodbyes to him and his wife before departing for our hotel in Beacon.

Early next morning, after we had enjoyed a farewell breakfast with the Wallaces before leaving for our home in Canada, Dillon motioned me aside and said,  “I’ll go with you, Rudy.”

 The quest for Hubbard’s last camp in Labrador was on, but another year would pass before arrangements could be made for us to get away.

Wallace’s suggestion that the pilgrimage to Hubbard’s grave may have unduly influenced my judgement left me feeling a little uncomfortable.  But I knew that if we succeeded in pinpointing the long-forgotten stone marking the place where Leonidas Hubbard Jr. made the famous last entry in his diary, it was certain to spark a renewed interest in the Hubbard expeditions, and at the same time bring to the attention of the public the story of Wallace Sr.’s little-known 1913 expedition to the place where Hubbard died.  I had made a familiarization trip to North West River and the central Labrador country in 1971 with my wife, and studied the Susan and Beaver Rivers from the air.  Even if the attempt by Wallace and me to find Hubbard’s campsite failed, a more thorough aerial tour of one the last of the world’s truly wild places—undisturbed from Hubbard’s day except for the intrusion of its air space by low-flying warplanes from the Goose Bay air base--would be a worthwhile experience for me.  And Wallace would see for the first time the scene of his father’s great adventures.

On my 1971 trip to North West River, inquiries about the marked stone at Hubbard last campsite were met with skepticism and outright incredulity.  Yes, some said, they had heard about Hubbard, but none of the trappers working the Susan valley had ever mentioned Hubbard’s old campsite.  “There’s no fishing in the Susan area,” a district wildlife officer explained, “so it’s not of much interest to anyone.  As far as the boulder is concerned, it would be pretty hard to find it in that country.  The spring freshet   probably washed away what was left of the campsite, and any marks left on the stone sixty years ago would be gone by now.”

The discouraging responses to my queries in North West River squared with my concerns that outsiders with romantic notions about walking in the footsteps of Labrador explorers of a eighty years ago might be thought of by the locals as being slightly out of touch with the reality, and therefore not to be taken seriously.  The sentiment that lured Hubbard and Wallace to the country for which Wallace’s son and I were I bound, did indeed appear, in the words of Newfoundland historian Patrick O’Flaherty, to be “out of place in the Newfoundland and Labrador of to-day.”  But his acknowledgement of the enduring significance of Wallace’s tale left me convinced that locating the place in the wilderness where the story took root—the actual campsite where Hubbard died—might arouse a renewed interest by the people of North West River and Happy Valley-Goose Bay in an important part of their history.


In the decades following the First World War, as advances in aviation signaled the end of exploration’s heroic age, there were still plenty of adventurers around who were anxious to see for themselves, on the ground, the harsh, largely unexplored land where the famous Hubbard story was spawned.  Although none acknowledged it publicly or in print, it was Wallace’s books that first brought unknown Labrador to the attention of a new breed of explorers.  In 1929, Henry George “Gino” Watkins, the illustrious British kayaker and explorer, tested himself in Labrador before going on to achieve fame in Greenland and elsewhere.  Elliott Merrick, the teacher and disciple of Thoreau turned wilderness traveler and chronicler of Labrador life in the early thirties; filmmaker Varick Frissell, who was the first to film, in 1925, the Hamilton (Churchill) River and its great cataract; and the American polar explorer, Lincoln Ellsworth; all came under the spell of Wallace’s writings.  In the 1999 television film documenting Frissell’s life, White Thunder, a copy of The Lure of the Labrador Wild is seen to occupy a special place on the bookshelf in his study.  Elliott Merrick, in his essay on the Hubbard and Wallace expeditions, The Long Crossing, published in 1992, joins the list of Mrs. Hubbard’s admirers, but there is no concealing the influence of Wallace’s books.  A careful reading of Merrick reveals a hint of envy of Wallace’s well-earned reputation as an explorer and author. Buried in the pages of Lincoln Ellsworth’s autobiography, Beyond Horizons, is an account of an unpublicized journey, ostensibly in search of fossil algae, which he made through Labrador in 1930, following his 1926 transpolar triumph by dirigible with Amundsen.  The journey, by way of the Moisie River, Hamilton (Churchill) Falls and the Hamilton (Churchill) River, included a stop at North West River, where Ellsworth stood on the spot where Hubbard began his 1903 journey.   Not a word about Hubbard or Wallace in Beyond Horizons, but a quotation from Hubbard’s favorite poem, Kipling’s “The Explorer”, opens Ellsworth’s book, just as it does in The Lure of the Labrador Wild:

 “Something hidden.  Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges—Something lost behind the Ranges.  Lost and waiting for you. Go!”

 One hundred years after Hubbard’s death, the hardy paddlers of the 2003 Hubbard Memorial Centennial Expedition, succumbing to the pull of Labrador so eloquently set to words by Wallace a century ago, succeeded in retracing the exact routes, over their full length, of the 1903 and 1905 Hubbard expeditions—the first wilderness travelers ever to do so.


 My own interest in the exploring expedition of Leonidas Hubbard Jr. began at the age of twelve, in 1938, in a remote railway village in northwestern Ontario, where the traveling railway car library periodically delivered up a box of discarded books donated by the Toronto Public Library.  One day, a fire-damaged copy of The Lure of the Labrador Wild was discovered at the bottom of the box by one of my two close boyhood chums, and the lives of the three of us were changed forever.  On make-believe exploring trips in the surrounding forest, which we had all to ourselves except for the occasional Ojibwa encampment (complete with real teepees), every chapter of the book was played out.  My forte was “knocking over” spruce grouse with my air gun, in the manner of George Elson.  Killing partridge with a pellet gun, without a hunting licence, was against the law, of course, but there were no wildlife officers about, and the meat was a welcome addition to the icebox at home during those lean years.  After each trek through the bush, or on rainy days, my companions and I spent much time debating just what it was that Wallace and his companions had done in the fire-obliterated passages of our hallowed book.

It was against this background; after I grew up, that I began nurturing a burning ambition to some day visit the country of my boyhood dreams and adventures.  In order to place the proposed Labrador project of Dillon Wallace III and myself in better perspective, it is necessary to go back to the day of its inception in 1972, in Fishkill, New York, when I sat down with my friend over his father’s Labrador treasures. It was a moment I could not have dreamed would ever happen when I arrived in Beacon, New York, in 1971 to commence my search for surviving family members of Dillon Wallace.

With only the phone book to work with, I drew a blank when searching for the Wallace name. (I learned later that I had looked in the wrong place.) In desperation, I looked up the family name of Wallace’s law partner, Vincent D. Stearns. To my surprise, there in the book was the name of Stearns himself, who, it turned out, was still practicing law, fifty-three years after he and Wallace dissolved their partnership in 1918. With some trepidation, I rang up Stearns’ office from the nearest pay phone. To my amazement, I found myself talking to Stearns himself, who, upon learning of my interest in his old law partner’s literary career, invited me to come to his office right away.

I was not long in finding Stearns’ second-floor office in downtown Beacon, to be warmly received by an impeccably suited, grand old gentleman who immediately announced that he was marking his eighty-seventh birthday that very day. Over the next hour, Stearns reminisced about his partnership with Wallace, and how Wallace had left and turned to full-time writing and travel. Wallace’s only son, he said, lived in the Beacon area. It was this encounter with Stearns that led to my forty-year friendship with the son of Dillon Wallace, Dillon Wallace III.

  Early in the morning of the day I proposed to Dillon Wallace that he join me on my Labrador trip, I visited the Wallace family burial plot in Fishkill, as I had done before on holiday trips though the area.  Later, in Hubbard’s home town of Congers, thirty miles to the south, now a crowded suburb of New York and drastically different from Hubbard’s time, I failed to find the house where he lived.  In Haverstraw, five miles north of Congers, my attempts to find someone who could direct me to Mount Repose Cemetery were rewarded when the elderly owner of a small real estate office I was directed to smiled broadly at my mention of Hubbard’s name and said,” Leon Hubbard! The Father of Labrador!  He’s in Mount Repose all right, but the graveyard office is closed to-day and I’m afraid I can’t be of any help in telling you where to look.  Good luck with your search!”

Presently, under a sweltering sun, I began an arduous exploration of aptly named Mount Repose, whose seemingly endless rows of grave markers extended up the steep slopes of the Hudson Palisades, as far as the eye could see.  As the late afternoon shadows lengthened in the valley of the Hudson, I found myself standing in the far upper reaches of the cemetery, alone, before three bronze plaques, mounted on finely chiseled grey granite slabs, marking Hubbard’s grave.  Hubbard’s wife, Mina, I knew, had designed the memorial tablets and had them placed there in 1936.  A large eastern cedar, no doubt planted under the supervision of Mrs.Hubbard herself, dominated the site.

Here, then, was the last resting place of Dillon Wallace’s “intrepid explorer and practical Christian”--the central figure of one of the most enduring of Canadian wilderness adventure stories.  The place seemed as remote from my home in Ontario as Labrador itself.  The bronze plaques, positioned in the shape of an inverted triangle—side-by-side at the top and the third below—carried the following inscriptions:

1872 – 1903
To the Memory of Leonidas Hubbard, Jr.
Sportsman . Writer . Explorer . Christian
Who died in his tent in Labrador
Alone . But in Spirit Triumphant and Free
To record
Completion in 1905 of his undertaking
by Mina Benson Hubbard, his wife, who
explored and mapped the Nascaupee
and George Rivers, thereby obtaining
world recognition for his work and
for all time associating his name with
To the honour of George Elson
faithful guide, who recovered
Mr. Hubbard’s body and his records
from the interior of Labrador in the
depth of winter and whose devotion
made possible Mrs. Hubbard’s work
1903 – 1905

The glaring absence of the name of Dillon Wallace in Mrs.Hubbard’s handiwork came as no surprise to me.  I had read her book, A Woman’s Way Through Unknown Labrador, as well as newspaper stories of the time and various historical accounts, and was quite familiar with her monumental effort to get even with Wallace for, as she saw it, stealing the glory away from Hubbard, her “dearest Laddie”.  But the carefully crafted words of the memorial, composed more than thirty years after Hubbard’s death, and carrying not a hint of the existence of her husband’s trail companion and dear friend on the tragic 1903 journey, reflected an audacity that was beyond my comprehension.  What kind of woman was this?  No doubt some future biographer or trained psychologist would explain it all.


Letter From Leonidas Hubbard Sr. To Dillon Wallace

Rapid City Mich May 26, 1907

My ever to be remembered Friend,

I have no words, expressive enough, to tell of your renewed courtesy And kindness in sending me your new book “Long Labrador Trail”,!! Graphic beyond measure. I read it through last Sunday without a stop. We cherish to you, also a lasting gratitude for your persistent kindness to our lost boy, and your successful struggle and victory over opposing elements in bringing his body back to God’s country for burial. If we can, in any way, do you a kindness; to show our good will, it will be most cheerfully granted.
Mrs. Hubbard joins me in thanks.

Leonidas Hubbard


Wallace’s masterful telling of the story of Hubbard’s exploring expedition, in The Lure of the Labrador Wild, went into twenty-three editions and was acclaimed around the world.  The fact that Wallace was Hubbard’s only companion on the expedition, other than the half-breed guide, Elson, and that Wallace himself had nearly lost his own life on the journey, clearly was of no consequence to Mrs. Hubbard.  In her 1907 book documenting the “completion of her husband’s work”, she did not once mention Wallace by name.  Everyone knew, of course, who it was she was referring to when she made veiled hints that seemed to question the honorableness of her husband’s companion of 1903.

When Mina Hubbard’s book was released, reviewers and historians alike criticized it as being seriously marred by a lack of appreciation of Wallace’s services to her husband.  In 1936, Hubbard’s sister, a close friend of Wallace and his wife, expressed revulsion, as did Hubbard’s surviving friends and associates, at Mina Hubbard’s final act of malevolence towards Wallace, in placing the plaques with their revisionist inscriptions on Hubbard’s grave.  By 1936, Dillon Wallace’s second book, The Long Labrador Trail had gone into many editions, and Wallace deservedly received the public acclaim he had earned.  His reputation as a wilderness traveler, woodsman, explorer and author had long eclipsed the accomplishments of his great rival of 1905.  The belated casting of the three bronze plaques to mark Hubbard’s grave in Haverstraw was believed by many to be a final attempt by a vindictive Mina to discredit Wallace.


Letter From Hubbard’s Sister, Margaret Williams, To Leila
Wallace, on the Death of Her Husband, Dillon Wallace

Detroit, Sep.29.39

Dear Leila,-

What does one say that can help? I never know. The death of one we love is too personal a matter to share and no one can help—at least no one ever helped me by words of sympathy. I know what you and your children are going through for even tho we shared no blood ties with Dillon we all feel his going a personal loss.

I have never been able to express in words my debt to the Wallace Family. Annie was such a “peach” during that awful time in 1903-04— Writing me every scrap of news that seeped through from Labrador. Imagine me—on a farm miles from anywhere, no phone, no radio, no daily paper, no car, two babies and the suspense that is even worse than actualities! I think I would have died if Annie hadn’t written. Then, the things Dillon did! I couldn’t repay him and words fail to tell my appreciation.

No need to tell you how really fine he was—you know. When you and I got raving mad over those bronze tablets in Mount Repose he refused to even get stirred up. Every one of our relatives who met him said he was one of the finest men they ever met.

To me he was a super-man and the last link of that awful tragedy of 1903-04. George doesn’t’ count—he is only a “tool”. When my cousin Dr. M.C. Hubbard died last year I wrote George at Dr. Melvin’s wife’s request as Dr. Melvin had correspondence with George. No reply of course, but it only shows he is subjugated to Mina’s demands.

Write me once in awhile, will you Leila? I am so glad Dillon’s last years were so happy with a wife and children. I will remember him always— as he ran down the stairs to greet us in November 1933. The last time we saw  him.

The books Dillon autographed for Leon are among his most prized possessions. Goldie said only yesterday—she was reading the Hole Book to Peggy-Lee’s six year old daughter—and she was so glad it was autographed. We all mourn with you Leila, but what a memory you and the children will have of a great man for a husband and father!

Margaret Williams



In 1910, OUTING magazine, whose publisher, Casper Whitney, had sponsored Hubbard’s 1903 expedition, and for whom both Hubbard and Wallace worked for at various times, began a series of articles honouring “the voiceless band of heroes, not unhonoured but usually unsung, who have risked and often given their lives in the wilderness, on the water, or among remote mountains”.  Leonidas Hubbard was the first chosen to receive “due tribute for the flame of courage that burned through storm and suffering”.  The magazine had no difficulty in deciding that Dillon Wallace should be the one to write “A Comrade’s Tribute to the Man Who Gave His Life to Open the Labrador Wild.”

Wallace began his tribute with a description of his frequent visits to the “unmarked grave of a hero”, in the cemetery at Haverstraw-on-the-Hudson. His moving eulogy to Hubbard concluded with another reference to the unmarked grave: “He it is who lies in the unmarked grave and whose memory I love to honour.”  Wallace, not a spiteful man, could not resist exposing the irony of Mina Hubbard’s professed devotion to her “dearest Laddie”, while not even bothering to mark his grave.

Public interest in the Hubbard and Wallace saga waned in the years leading up to the Second World War.  Radio and motion pictures began supplanting the library book as sources of vicarious thrill and wilderness adventure.  Wallace died in 1939, but The Lure of the Labrador Wild remained on library bookshelves throughout the world, as did his second successful work, The Long Labrador Trail, the well-written account of his 1905 trans-Labrador expedition.  “The Lure”is still to be found in circulation in public libraries everywhere.  Mina Hubbard’s book had long become a collector’s item and reference work by the time of her 1953 death in England, under the wheels of a speeding train.

With the emergence in the decades following the Second World War of a new wave of Canadian authors and historians, anxious to bring a rapidly expanding population into closer touch with the country’s rich historical past, particularly that of the North, it was inevitable that the story of Dillon Wallace’s wilderness antagonist—a woman, of all people—should re-emerge.  She was truly the stuff from which legends are made.  Dartmouth archivist Alan Cooke, in a one-sided 1960 article in The Beaver, “Canada’s magazine of the North”, was the first to revive the story of her rivalry with Dillon Wallace, going to great lengths to lionize her at the expense of Wallace:  “No more fittingly ironic humiliation has ever been the misfortune of an inconsiderate man than that of Dillon Wallace, beaten at his own game…” he began.  The former journalist and popular historian, Pierre Berton, author of The Mysterious North and other tales of the Canadian frontier, was the next to take up the cause of Mrs. Hubbard.  In a Global Television documentary series, reworked in book form in 1977 as The Wild Frontier, the title of his segment on Mrs. Hubbard left no doubt about whose side he was on: The Revenge of Mina Hubbard.  For good measure, Berton reminded his readers that the Lure of the Labrador Wild was largely the work of a ghostwriter.  It was not Wallace, he said, but Frank Copley, who had devised the “purple passages” that made the book such an enormous success.  Berton’s implication was clear:  Wallace was not only a cad, but also something of a fraud. (In the original editions of The Lure of the Labrador Wild, Wallace did acknowledge the assistance of Frank Barkley Copley, a personal and literary friend of Hubbard, in preparing the book, but the credit did not appear in some subsequent reprints). 

It was at about this point that I began thinking seriously about doing whatever I could, not as professional historian or writer, which I obviously was not, but as a lifelong admirer of Wallace and reader of his books, to bring some balance to the historical record.  My friend Dillon Wallace III was a boy of fourteen when his father died.  My father died when I was the same age.  It was inevitable that we should form a bond of sorts.  But Dillon, displaying his father’s traits, made it clear that he would not be a party to any scheme to rehash the story of the famous rivalry. The subject of Mina Hubbard was not one he was anxious to discuss, but I managed to elicit from him a story he had heard that Mina had had Hubbard’s body exhumed from Mount Repose and taken it to England.  The tale didn’t seem to square with the existence of the memorial plaques, but I had heard it before.  The subject of Mina Hubbard was dropped then and there, and from that point forward, it was our proposed pilgrimage to Hubbard’s rock that took centre stage.

Our first priority was to obtain official government maps, if any existed, of the area traversed by the Hubbard and Wallace in 1903; in particular, the route of the explorers between the headwaters of the Susan River, and the Beaver. Central Labrador, we learned, was one of the last areas of Canada to be mapped from the air in the Canadian Government aerial photo surveys conducted by the Royal Canadian Air Force in the post-Second World War period.  In 1973, the only available topographical maps embracing the Susan River and middle Beaver River areas were those in the small-scale 1:250,000 series. Provisional 1:50,000 sheets of the area west of the headwaters of the Susan, showing features of the 1903 Hubbard journey named by Dillon Wallace, such as Ptarmigan Lake, Hope Lake and Disappointment Lake, had been compiled in 1962 by the Surveys and Mapping Branch of the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys from the aerial photographs taken in 1951 and field surveys done in 1959.  But detailed large-scale maps of the area of the Susan and upper Beaver Rivers we intended to inspect from the air--the country that had so sorely tried the explorers in the early stages of their journey, and where Hubbard eventually died--had not yet been published.  It would therefore be necessary to use government aerial survey photographs of 1951 to locate the features shown in Wallace’s rough sketches of 1903.

My excitement was difficult to contain when I spread out before me ten aerial photographs sent to me by the National Air Photo Library in Ottawa, and zoomed in with my stereoscopic viewer on a spruce-ringed caribou moss clearing close to what I had pinpointed as the junction of Susan River and Goose Creek. The small opening in the forest near the banks of the Susan, I speculated, might well be the actual place where Hubbard spent his last hours, and where stood the long-forgotten inscribed boulder marking the spot.  As it turned out, finding the site of Hubbard’s final camp, on the ground, would prove to be a different matter.  It was at about this time that I made my first disconcerting discovery about the great story of the exploring expedition of Leonidas Hubbard Jr. put together by Dillon Wallace and Frank Copley. Wallace clearly over-estimated distances, and the size of some lakes.  Hubbard himself, in his diary, estimated the forks of the Susan to be thirty-three miles from Grand Lake.  In fact, the distance was about twenty-five miles. These discrepancies would not be helpful in pinpointing Hubbard’s last camp, and retracing on the ground one of the most difficult legs of the 1903 journey—the Hubbard portage trail from the Susan River to the Beaver River by way of Goose Creek, Mountaineer Lake and Elson Lake.

As the Canadian half of the proposed expedition to search for Hubbard’s rock, the task fell to me to set things in motion. A hustler from childhood, and never one to shrink from looking for free help with my travel projects, my thoughts turned to the Goose Bay, Labrador, air base, only fifty air miles from the site of Hubbard’s last camp.

A Royal Canadian Air Force aircrew inductee of the Second World War with a long-standing Interest in flying and air force history, I grew up with the North American Air Defence Command basein North Bay, Ontario, (Canada’s counterpart of NORAD’s Colorado Springs) where I was born, and where my wife and I still reside in the summer months. It was on the tarmac of the North Bay Royal Air Force Ferry Command training base in 1942 that, with a group of fellow air cadets, I had the memorable experience of inspecting the inside of a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber and a Lockheed Hudson, one of the most advanced civil airliners of its day (Lockheed 14 Super Electra), now converted to a camouflaged weapon of war.

The Hudson experience inspired me, in later years, to write, for the Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, a three-part award-winning story on the making of Captains of the Clouds, the Technicolor Second World War RCAF air epic and propaganda tract starring James Cagney, whose climactic scene saw him ramming his Hudson into a Nazi fighter over the Atlantic. The Hudson ground sequences were filmed in Burbank, California, but all of Cagney’s bush plane flying scenes were done in North Bay, in August, 1941, a few miles from the air base. In 1992, I was involved in the recovery from the bush of the forty-year-old remains of the Norseman floatplane that Cagney “flew” at North Bay in Captains of the Clouds, and which crashed not far from North Bay in 1953.

I was instrumental in bringing to North Bay, for one of the air station’s annual air shows, a 1928 DeHavilland Cirrus Moth to commemorate the first landing of an aircraft (a Moth) at the North Bay Airport in 1938. Another project that helped establish a good relationship with the air force and local veterans groups was my publishing of a memorial book of biographical sketches of RCAF airmen from North Bay and the surrounding area who gave their lives in the Second World War.

The Commanding Officer’s office of Canadian Forces Station North Bay seemed to be the place for me to start in my search for backers of the search for the lost boulder. I knew the C.O. had served at the Mid-Canada (Pinetree) Warning Line radar station in northwestern Ontario, where I lived as a boy. During our conversation, I couldn’t resist telling him that the main dome of the radar station sat on top of the highest point of the height of land where with my boyhood friends and I played out chapters of The Lure of the Labrador Wild. We called the rock promontory “Mount Hubbard” because several lakes, the largest of which we christened, “Lake Michikamau,” could be seen from the wooden fire tower that sat atop the hill. I lost no time in getting to the point: Did the C.O. think Canadian Forces might be willing to put up me and Wallace at the barracks of Station Goose Bay for a few days? A quick call on the military communications network by the C.O. to his counterpart in Goose produced the desired result. Just tell them when you are coming, the C.O. said, and accommodations will be arranged.

Buoyed by my success with the Canadian Forces in arranging accommodations in Goose Bay, my thoughts turned to an alternate plan in the event misfortune befell Wallace and me when we reached Goose Bay, and the search for the boulder had to be called off. A stopover at the town of Churchill Falls on the way to Goose would almost guarantee a look at Lake Michikamau, the fabled lake of The Lure of the Labrador Wild. It was now largely swallowed up by the Churchill Falls power project’s Smallwood Reservoir, but still would be a sight worth seeing. If lucky, we might catch a glimpse of Dillon Wallace’s Mount Hubbard, whose summit we knew had survived the flooding of Windbound Lake.

The Churchill Falls generating station, 170 miles west of Goose Bay and 100 miles from Hubbard’s rock, offered possibilities as a jumping off place for getting to the rock. A letter to the head office of the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation produced an invitation to Wallace and me to be guests of the company at the Churchill Falls visitor centre. An aerial tour of the powerhouse, Bowdoin Canyon, and the surrounding country would be arranged.

Private rooms were provided in the guest relations building, and the field information officer, Dave McDonald, assigned to accord us VIP treatment. My diary records that Dillon found Churchill Falls a little too civilized for his liking. A walking tour of the cavernous powerhouse and stupendous underground tunnels left us slightly overwhelmed, but after a good night’s rest in air-conditioned rooms, we were both in good spirits on arrival at the helipad early next morning, in clear and sunny weather, for our aerial tour.

Our pilot, Neil Thompson, circled the falls site and Bowdoin Canyon several times before heading north from the Lobstick Control Dam over the unspoiled Labrador wilderness. Suddenly, Neil shouted, “caribou!” and instantly made a banking dive towards the ground. Dillon let out a gasp at our sudden loss of altitude, but quickly recovered at the sight of what turned out to be a cow moose and her calf heading for cover across the muskeg just below us. “I’ve never seen moose in this area,” Neil yelled.

As the chopper headed for Lake Michikamau, Thompson went to 5,000 feet to give us a better view for pictures. My diary entry noted that, although too late to see the great lake as it once was, it was still magnificent. The sight of millions of drowning trees slowly disappearing as the level of the Smallwood Reservoir continued to rise, seemed not to detract from the grandness of the view.

As expected, our host, Dave, was on hand to meet us after our flight. “I’ve booked the chopper for a jaunt to Lobstick tomorrow, where you’ll be able to get some good-sized trout,” he said. “I’ll drive you to the lodge now to pick up your rods and then drop you off at the tailrace for some practice.” Within an hour, Wallace was pulling in a two-pound speckled trout. I caught one within minutes, and both of us missed several. The atmosphere in the river canyon was very hot and humid and we longed for the cool, dry air we had expected to find in Labrador.

Our tour of the gorge and lower river was an unforgettable one. Bowdoin Canyon cast a spell on us, and we sensed we could feel the presence of Bowdoin Boys Cary and Cole, Frissell, Malone, and the other intrepid paddlers who came from afar to track the great river by canoe and observe the mighty cataract from the rim of the chasm hundreds of feet above the spot where we now stood.

Our Eastern Provincial jet was late arriving from Wabush. Before escorting us to the Churchill Falls airport, Dave presented us with Brinco’s (British-Newfoundland Corporation Limited) Churchill Fall bronze commemorative medallion as a souvenir of our visit and said he wanted us back for two or three days for the fishing fly-in we had missed, and to hear our account of the finding of Hubbard’s rock, which he would publish in the Churchill Falls News.

Bowdoin Canyon, Churchill Falls


We were determined to renew acquaintances in Goose Bay and North West River before leaving for the Susan. Looking up Gilbert (Bert) Blake was a must. I called Bert’s daughter, Mrs. John Crane, who said Bert and his wife, married sixty-six years and still living in Happy Valley (Goose Bay town site) would appreciate a visit from us.

Bert was about the same as I had found him in 1971, still referring occasionally to the “Wallace crowd” when talking about Mrs. Hubbard. Bert’s second youngest daughter, Mrs. Pritchard, and her husband joined us at the house. Mrs. Pritchard, very knowledgeable about Labrador history and a good conversationalist, related that, during Peary’s North Pole expedition of 1909, her father was a cook on Captain Bob Bartlett’s ship, the “Morrissey.” She had many pictures and souvenirs from her father and hoped we could come around to her house to see them.

A call on Flora Baikie (“Aunt Flo”) at Northwest River was mandatory. My wife and I had met her during our 1971 Labrador trip, and I later sent her copies of two Labrador history books she wanted. When Dillon and I drove through the Indian settlement (now the Innu village of Sheshatshiu) to the dock at the old French post to catch the cable car to North West River, we found the car temporarily out of service. We asked the operator if he knew whether Mrs. Baiki was at home. He didn’t know, but as soon as we reached the North West River side, he telephoned her and others, in the Labrador tradition, to announce our presence.

The temperature had dropped thirty degrees since the previous day, and the sky was heavily overcast. A strong wind had come up, and we could hear the sea running on Lake Melville. With darkness approaching, we made the quarter mile hike to Aunt Flo’s house at the end of the point and found her waiting for us with her three sons and her daughter-in-law. All sat around the living room reminiscing about trapping and life in the old days. Looking and sounding as chipper as ever, Aunt Flo informed us that her daughter, Millie, whom I had met in 1971, had died from cancer in 1972. She showed me one of the books I sent her. Dillon passed around 1903 pictures she had never seen of her father, Skipper Tom Blake, her stepmother, and grandfather, and then presented them to her as a gift.

The conversation got around to red berry jam and homemade bread. Flo and her daughter-in-law set the table, made tea, and we all sat down at the kitchen table and had lunch of delicious homemade bread and butter, partridge berry jam, and tea. When I commented on how good the jam was, Aunt Flo quickly prepared a small jar of it to take with us. It was an hour before Midnight when Dillon and I said our goodbyes and took the cable car back to the other side of the river for the twenty-mile gravel road drive to Goose.

Gilbert Blake 1973, Wallace III (r)
Daughter Mrs. J. Crane


On July 8, we decided to call Colonel Stewart, commander of Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay, who had offered us accommodations at the station before the start of our trip. He was aware of our presence in the area. The C.O. knew of our wish to “rough it” and use local help and transportation to search for Hubbard’s rock, and was as anxious as anyone to see us succeed with our project. The vision of Wallace and me being winched down to Hubbard’s rock from a military helicopter in the lap of a search and rescue airman (an unlikely scenario, but not out of the question) held little appeal for us, but we knew we had to keep all of our options open. Upon learning we had been forced to cancel our trip to the rock, the colonel said he would talk to one of the search and rescue helicopter captains about flying us to the site, and call us back. When he returned our call the next day to say a chopper flight could be arranged, our plans had changed again. We had decided to charter a floatplane to inspect the Susan and Beaver River areas from the air before attempting to reach the rock. The colonel took the news graciously and said the Canadian Forces  offer to help us get to Hubbard’s rock was still open.

I called the Newfoundland Air Transport office in Goose, and was told they were doubtful about the availability of an aircraft for a flight to the Susan River. Bully news arrived early next morning. A Cessna was available at 10:30 a.m., with Ralph Blake, a native Labradorean, as pilot. We arrived at the seaplane base at 11:30 in fine flying weather and were soon winging our way to North West River. Blake circled the town for pictures, and I pointed out to Wallace landmarks such as Mud Lake, where his father had recuperated in 1903. As we flew over Little Lake and The Rapids and entered Grand Lake, the water levels seemed lower than in 1971. I Speculated that the Churchill Falls power project might have had something to do with the reduced flow of the Nascaupee (now Naskaupi). The pilot decreased altitude to give us a closer look at towering Cape Corbeau (now Cape Caribou). We flew on past Watty’s Brook, Berry Head, and Cape Law (now Cape Blanc), and had a good look at the deltas of the Naskaupi, Crooked, Beaver, and Susan, before swinging past Porcupine Hill and heading up the Susan. On our way up Grand Lake, we were struck by the magnificence of the country on either side with no structures or clearings scarring the beauty of the vast, green wilderness—exactly as it must have been in 1903.

Dillon gingerly removed from a special pocket in his pack, his father’s 1903 diary containing the pencilled map of the old Hubbard portage trail we were about to try retracing. As we snapped pictures and scanned our surroundings with glasses, my attention turned to the map in my lap, and the three-quarter mile-long triangular lake half a mile north of the Susan and about two miles from the vicinity of Hubbard’s rock. I had often pondered over the lake as a possible landing site for finding the rock when studying the map at home. I spotted the lake, in a beautiful setting amid low, barren hills, just as the pilot did. He quickly confirmed that it was too small for our Cessna to land on, but said a lightly loaded Beaver might manage a landing and take-off from it.

A strange feeling came over Dillon and me as the pilot made his first pass over the area we knew was very close to Hubbard’s place of death. We circled lower each time and spotted what we were certain was the boulder marking the spot. After a final pass at 500 feet our pilot headed up Goose Creek, a winding stream looking exactly as Wallace had described it in 1903. Off in the distance, to our right, were the snow-patched slopes of Wallace’s Kipling Mountains. “Nobody comes into this country,” Blake shouted, and seemed to understand when we smiled at the news. There, just ahead, unmistakably, was Mountaineer Lake, and, somewhere below us, Goose Camp. Lake Elson soon came into view, and Blake circled three times for a thorough inspection before landing. As we began taxiing towards the far end of the lake, Blake shouted, “Look at the four geese!” He couldn’t have known that Hubbard, Wallace, and Elson had shot four geese not far from that spot in 1903; the unexpected sighting fascinated all three of us. As we continued taxiing, our four huge Canadas kept their distance from us, heading in the same direction. As we neared the outlet of the lake on the far shore, they left the water and began walking down the creek bed towards the place where we expected to find the location, if not signs or remains, of the campsite of 1903. The silent wilderness can play tricks with the mind, but it was as though the ghosts of 1903 were guiding us to the spot where the explorers camped and fished for two days before their trek to the “real river” (the Beaver) whose rapids Hubbard thought he heard the night he got lost, and whose existence George later confirmed on a scouting trip. Upon arriving at the rocky shore and securing the Cessna to shore with ropes, we began an immediate search of the area. The still lake surface was pockmarked everywhere by small trout jumping for flies. Dillon flushed a spruce grouse when he took his first step ashore. We heard Ralph shout, “Campsite!” from ahead, and in a few minutes we were examining an ancient,  moss-covered boiling pole, still upright. We stripped away four inches of moss from the ground beneath, revealing the charcoal remains of a campfire. The eerie silence of the place, broken only by the buzz of the black fly and deer fly hordes, held us in awe, and Blake seemed to share our disappointment at not being able to probe the area further. More than three hours had gone by and it was time to leave. Someone mentioned scooping up a charcoal sample for carbon dating later, but the idea was dropped. We had already convinced ourselves that this was the place where the explorers had camped in 1903.

Apparition of 1903.
Four Canada geese following the Cessna on Lake Elson

One float of the plane got hung up on an unseen boulder as we pushed off from shore. Blake started the engine, but then switched it off as more boulders threatened. After donning waders and freeing the Cessna again, the pilot was unable to restart the engine. He announced that the plane’s battery was dead. A new one was supposed to have been installed in Montreal for the start of the flying season, he said, but there was no log entry showing the change had been made. The pilot said he would try spinning the prop manually as we drifted out. I turned the ignition key as he spun the prop and told me what to do if he happened to fall off the float. It was hard work for me and I was breathing heavily, but there was no time for Dillon and me to switch places, so I continued to turn the ignition off and on as the prop failed to spin. The aircraft began drifting towards shore and was in  danger of grounding. Suddenly, the engine coughed and started. As the three of us scrambled to our places, the Cessna moved away from the rocks just in time. As we taxied downwind about a mile, Wallace and I were able to study Lake Elson from a new perspective. The setting was not quite as  Wallace Sr. described it, but we remained certain it was the lake shown in his journal sketch. The pilot scanned our take-off path for shoals as we taxied. With the water level obviously at its summer low,  there was a real danger of hitting submerged rocks. Nerves were taut as the Cessna began its takeoff run. “Airborne!” I scribbled, as I felt the plane leave the step and take off. “A mishap at this speed could have spelled the end of all of us”.

The pilot headed south over the Beaver and then followed the wide, rough river with its fearsome rapids in the direction of Grand Lake. Though tired and anxious to get home, I felt regretful that time did not permit us to inspect Wallace’s river of 1913 more thoroughly. We left the Beaver about ten miles from Grand Lake, and the pilot set a course for Goose Bay where we landed after an elapsed time of three and a half hours.

Arrival at Lake Elson. Wallace III (r)
Ralph Blake, Pilot


“The big day!” I wrote on July 18, 1973. “With the C.A.F. at our disposal, this can’t help being a successful day.” Major Baumann picked us up at 11:00 a.m. for our scheduled 1:30 p.m. departure. When we arrived at the hangar all appeared in readiness, but we noticed that Wilkinson and his crew seemed hurried. A second chopper, we were told, was on a search for a mysterious beacon signal near Schefferville, Quebec. Wilkinson’s co-pilot, Captain Foottit, cautioned us about the shortness of time. This should not be a hurried trip, I thought, but what can you say when everything is free and you aren’t calling the shots? We finally boarded at 1:45, and donned ear pads to kill the noise.  Dillon took everything in stride. Dr. Baumann sat across from me and we snapped each other’s pictures.  We taxied a short distance, lifted off, and headed over a wilderness that seemed more foreboding than before. Captain Wilkinson had said he would call me forward when we neared the forks of the Susan. Having already seen the area from the air, I was confident I could tell him where to go down. When the pilot motioned me forward and I plugged in the radio, he announced that we’d only have an hour to spend on the ground before they returned to pick us up. After I pointed out the river junction, the pilot said, “We’re going down on that rock in the middle of the river.” I hoped he would make another circuit to find a landing spot closer to the river forks, but I said nothing. Mindful of the rush we were in, I could only hope that we were within reasonable walking distance of the lost boulder. How different things appeared as we neared the ground: rapids, falls, high hills, and rough terrain on all sides. I couldn’t believe the huge machine could land in such a place. With the rotors going full tilt, water spraying everywhere, trees and brush flattening and Dillon and the Major looking petrified, the chopper came to rest on the large flat rock in the river. Crewmembers swung the rear ramp down and the three of us tumbled out. As we clung to the rock, I managed to snap a picture of the chopper as it slowly rose above our heads. With rapids rushing on all sides, the excitement was almost overwhelming. I wondered whether my companions were asking themselves what they were doing here. “On the Susan at last!” I noted in my diary later during a pause to apply fly dope. “Valley is as terrible as Wallace described it. Black flies awful. Temp. 80s and sun beating down. Too much gear, but tripod should be helpful at boulder.”

Our first job was to get across the rapids and reach the north bank of the stream. I tested the current and stepped into the fast moving water over my boots. Dillon waded across in water up to his thighs. Baumann, in his flying suit, was last, and I got a picture of Dillon helping him to cross. There was momentary elation when we grouped on the riverbank, but I knew the chopper had landed too far downstream for us to reach the area of the boulder in the time allotted. We floundered through the bush separately for a quarter of a mile before regrouping and exchanging thoughts on how far it was to the rock. With hope fading, I climbed a high prominence with a lone boulder on top for a better view. The rawness of the wilderness was awe-inspiring. Dillon and I paused by the riverbank and drank water from the cap of the canister containing our notes for the rock. We had been on the ground for only thirty minutes and were just getting our breath when we heard the chopper returning. There was no time to reload my camera, and I missed a  shot of the great bird coming to rest in the middle of the Susan. Major Baumann suggested we not keep  the crew waiting. My gut reaction was that we should disappear in the bush and take our time, but it was obvious any hope we had of finding the boulder that day had vanished. Dillon shouted to me that  he still had the canister. I yelled back that he could leave it on top of the high rock I had climbed. He scrambled up the promontory and held up the orange container to give us a final look. We had not planned for this, but we knew we were not far from the hallowed spot. I thought to myself it was really  the gesture that counted. If someone found the canister, it wouldn’t matter that it wasn’t at the exact site of Hubbard’s last camp.

My feeling of despair at our failure to find the rock mounted as the three of us waded through the rapids towards the chopper. A crewman held a pike pole towards me for support, but I didn’t need help. Nearly spent and sweating profusely, we scrambled up the loading ramp and were in the air in seconds. As we dried ourselves with paper towels provided by a crewman, I took a few looks out the window and recognized the deep, wide valley of the Beaver, looking more forbidding than ever. This is truly “The land that God gave Cain,” I noted in my journal as we headed for Goose Bay.

Only shot of the Labrador returning unexpectedly to landing on the Susan

It was now July 22 and our planned one-month stay in Labrador had less than a week to go. Hubbard’s rock seemed as elusive as ever. An all-day rain—the first bad weather in 20 days— seemed to signal that time had run out on us. Faint hope returned after a drive to the Goose seaplane base revealed a Viking Helicopters Hughes 500 sitting idle on the ramp. We found the pilot, Mac Forgie, after enquiring around and explained our situation to him. Our delight can be imagined when he announced that he would be glad to take us to the Susan, as soon the weather cleared, for $230, including gas. What’s more, he would wait for as long as it took to find the rock!

The bad weather persisted, but on July 27, Forgie gave us the news we were waiting for: “We’ll go this afternoon if the rain stops.” When the skies cleared in the afternoon, we boarded the chopper feeling more optimistic than at any time in the recent past.


It may be worth mentioning here that when planning for the installation of the bronze plaque at Hubbard’s last camp early in 1977, Wallace and I first turned to the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation for possible help in flying to the site. It happened that the president and chief executive officer of the company was Lorne Burlington, a former Ontario Hydro power distribution engineer stationed in North Bay with whom I had dealings when I was a Hydro supervisor at the Ontario uranium-mining town of Elliot Lake. Lorne designed and supervised construction of Elliot Lake’s electric distribution system. My letter to Lorne drew a prompt response: “Rudy, this sounds like a most interesting project. You are welcome to stay at the Churchill Falls guesthouse, and we may be able to arrange a sightseeing flight. However, if we drop you off at the rock, you’ll be on your own!” Shortly after, a letter arrived from Department of Tourism of Newfoundland and Labrador, promising all the help we needed. Their generous offer was too  good to pass up, and Dillon and I regretfully had to decline Lorne’s help.

I would never get to thank Lorne in person for his generous gesture. While on his way to Churchill Falls on December 9, 1977, in the company’s corporate jet, Lorne, his wife, and six others perished when the aircraft crashed one mile from the Churchill Falls airport during a night landing approach. Lorne had been invited to attend a ceremony at the Churchill Falls Town Centre marking the formal handover to the Labrador Heritage Society of the bottle of Churchill Falls, which had been kept in St. John’s since its recovery in 1960, and was now in Churchill Falls.


Below are facsimiles of rare and unpublished letters connected with Hubbard, Wallace and their 1903 expedition. They have been converted to portable document format (.pdf) to preserve formatting.

The letters from Hubbard to Wallace reveal the unusually close relationship between the two men that many believe was at the root of Mina Hubbard's animosity towards Wallace.

You can click the link titles below to view the letters in a pdf reader.

Letter from Hubbard’s Uncle to Dillon Wallace’s Sisters, Annie and Jessie Wallace

Letter Sir Wilfred Grenfell to Dillon Wallace

Letter to Dillon Wallace from Henry Blake, one of his 1913 Paddlers

Letter from Leonidas Hubbard to Dillon Wallace

Letter from Leonidas Hubbard to Dillon Wallace - Letter 2

Letter from Dillon Wallace to Sisters Annie and Jessie After Hubbard’s Death

Letter From Hubbard’s Sister, Margaret Williams, To Leila Wallace

Letter from Leonidas Hubbard Sr. to Dillon Wallace



For story and pictures of the discovery and marking of Hubbard's rock, click on: http://www.rudymauro.net (The Search for Hubbard’s Rock)

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