“Good bye and may God be with you.”
Ten years had passed since Hubbard
bade me that last farewell. I stood again beside the big
rock, deep in the Labrador wilderness, against which his campfire
burned that stormy October morning. There at my feet lay the
charred wood, where rain and snow had beaten out the fire, undisturbed
during ten years. There, too, was the bed of spruce boughs,
withered and dry, upon which my dying comrade reclined when we said
that farewell and we parted, and where death found and conquered him a
few hours later. There, just below the campground, was the
spot where I stopped to look back, before the thick forest closed in
upon the Indian and me, for a last glimpse of the rock and fire and
little white tent.
The world was shocked when the
first news came out of Labrador of the death, through starvation and
exposure, on October 18, 1903, of the young explorer, Leonidas Hubbard,
Jr. I was Hubbard’s only white companion on that
ill-fated expedition. Together we sat by a hundred campfires,
together we toiled and suffered in the wilderness, and together we
recognized the shadow of impending tragedy cast upon our
trail. Hubbard and I were drawn very close to each other in
those days, as only mutual hopes, mutual disappointments and mutual
sufferings can draw one man to another.
As I stood there on our old camp
ground this July day in 1913, time echoed back to me Hubbard’s farewell
words, spoken a decade before—Good bye, and may God be with you”--, and
I experienced again the awful depression of those tragic days—days that
will ever remain with me a vivid and sad memory—when the gaunt spectre
Starvation stalked by our side and leered at us, and grim Death reached
out his hand to claim his prey; and I recalled, as one recalls a weird
and horrid nightmare, days of wandering alone in the snow, vainly
seeking this spot in the white-clad wilderness, and Hubbard.
The object of my return to Labrador
in 1913 was to permanently mark the place where Hubbard met his tragic
and heroic death. It was indeed a journey of
sentiment. A portion of the route which our expedition of
1913 followed, however, was quite different from that followed by
Hubbard in 1903. It carried us through a wild region hitherto
unexplored, and involved us in many adventures.
In order that the story of our
experiences and what we accomplished may be fully understood, it will
be necessary to summarize briefly pertinent incidents of Hubbard’s
expedition, and to describe in outline the chief geographical features
of the region in which we are interested.
you turn to the map of North America you will find the peninsula of
Labrador in the northeastern corner of the continent. A
little north of 54 degrees north latitude Hamilton Inlet will be seen
penetrating eastern Labrador in a southwesterly direction. This arm of
the sea extends inland one hundred and fifty miles.
Fifty miles from its mouth Hamilton
Inlet contracts into what is known as “The Narrows”. Here is
situated Rigolet post of the Hudson’s Bay Company. A few
miles to the westward of Rigolet the inlet expands into a wide bay
generally known as Groswater Bay, though on some maps designated as
Lake Melville. At the extreme head of the inlet is Goose Bay,
into which flows the Grand River—sometimes called the Hamilton
River—and Goose Bay River, the latter to this day a wholly unexplored
Ninety miles inland from Rigolet
the Northwest River flows into Groswater Bay from the
northwest. This river is but three miles in length—little
more than a strait—connecting Grand Lake, a deep fresh water lake fifty
miles in length, with Groswater Bay.
The Nascaupee and Crooked Rivers
empty into a deep bay on the north side of Grand Lake, some six miles
from its head. The Beaver and Susan Rivers enter the lake at
its extreme head.
It will readily be seen that
Hamilton Inlet, with the numerous rivers flowing into it from the
central plateau, forms a natural gateway to the interior. It
was this route that the Hubbard expedition and my own subsequent
expeditions entered the country.
The Grand River is the largest
river in western Labrador, and it was the only river of the eastern
watershed that had been explored at the time Hubbard and I went into
the country in 1903. The territory lying north of the Grand
River was at that time a veritable incognito.
This river is easily navigable for canoes, and many years previously
had been thoroughly explored and well charted, though no explorer had
passed beyond the confines of its narrow
valley. It has since become a
well-traveled highway for trappers seeking the rich fur country at its
But, as stated, the wide region
lying to the northward of Grand River was wholly unknown in
1903. All charts of this territory had been compiled from
descriptions gleaned from Indians, and were totally wrong and
misleading. This virgin wilderness was chosen by Hubbard as
the scene of his explorations.
and Mountaineer Indians, in passing between the interior plateau and
the trading post at Northwest River, had followed the Nascaupee and the
lakes of its basin. For many years previous to 1903, however,
this trail had been unused, for the Indians had ceased their trading
excursions to this post. It was this route that Hubbard
proposed to follow, mapping as a pioneer the ancient Indian trail and
the country through which it passed.
Donald Blake’s cabin at the head
of Grand Lake
(©Canadian Heritage Information Network)
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