XII. A STRANGE FUNERAL PROCESSION
The young medical student was George Albert Hardy, of Prince Edward
Island. Everybody called him "Doctor," and for all practical purposes
he was a regular physician and surgeon; for if he had been able to do
two or three months' more hospital work he would have received his
degree. The reason he had hastily abandoned his studies and sought
professional service with the lumber company that maintains camps at
the western end of the Hamilton Inlet was that he had fallen a victim
to consumption. He arrived at Northwest River Post on November 8th on
a small schooner that brought supplies from Rigolet for Mackenzie and
the Muddy Lake lumber camp at the mouth of the Grand River.
The schooner remained only an hour at Northwest River, and Dr. Hardy
had to continue on to Muddy Lake with her, but he found time to operate
on my left foot, which was badly affected, and advise me how to
continue its treatment myself. The doctor said that the mail boat, the
Virginia Lake, which had carried him to Rigolet, would return there
within three weeks for her last trip to Newfoundland of the season, and
he urged me to take advantage of that opportunity to go home, and get
proper treatment for my feet. The temptation was great, but I felt it
was my duty not to leave Labrador without Hubbard's body.
It was my plan to engage dog teams and start with the body for the
coast so soon as it could be brought to the post. Everybody agreed
that it could not be recovered before January, and Mackenzie argued
strongly against the practicability of transporting it with dogs,
suggesting that we place it in the old post mission chapel until
navigation opened in the spring, when it could be sent home on the mail
steamer. But I knew I must get home as soon as possible, and my mind
was made up to take the body with me, if I had to haul it all the way
The great toe on my left foot growing steadily worse, it became
necessary for me again to see the doctor. Groswater Bay and Goose Bay
by this time were frozen solid, and on December 4th I travelled to
Muddy Lake, where Dr. Hardy was stationed, by dog team and komatik,
Willie Ikey, an Eskimo employed by Monsieur Duclos, the manager of the
French trading post across the Northwest River, acting as my driver.
Upon my arrival I was cordially welcomed by Mr. Sidney Cruikshanks, the
lumber "boss"; Mr. James McLean, the storekeeper, and Dr. Hardy. It
was arranged that I should stop and sleep with the doctor at McLean's
house. The doctor did some more cutting, and under his careful
treatment my foot so improved that it was thought I could with safety
return to the post on December 15th, to prepare letters and telegrams
for the winter mail, which was scheduled to leave there by dog team for
Quebec on the 18th. It was the 20th before the mail got away, and with
it went the first news of Hubbard's death to reach his relatives and
My dispatches, forwarded from Chateau Bay, the outpost of the Canadian
coast telegraph service, were received in New York on January 22d, the
letters two months later.
Immediately upon my return to Northwest River, my feet began to trouble
me again. Word was sent to Dr. Hardy, who, regarding it as a call of
duty, arrived on December 31st. I very much regret to say, that in
responding to the call, Dr. Hardy received a chill that hastened, if it
did not cause, his death. After examining my feet upon his arrival, he
advised me to return with him to Muddy Lake. So it was arranged that
George, with Mackenzie's dogs and komatik, should drive Dr. Hardy and
me to the Kenemish lumber camp, twelve miles across Groswater Bay,
where there was a patient that required attention, and that from there
Hardy and I should go on to Muddy Lake with other dogs. Alas! the
doctor never saw Muddy Lake again.
Before starting, I learned from Allen Goudie and Duncan MacLean, who
came from the interior to spend New Year's Day, that Grand Lake was
frozen hard and an attempt might be made to bring out Hubbard's body.
Accordingly, I engaged Duncan MacLean and Tom Blake, also a breed, to
undertake the task with George, and to recover, so far as possible, the
photographic films and other articles we had abandoned at Goose Camp
and Lake Elson. Blake was the father of Mackenzie's housekeeper, and
lived at the rapid at the eastern end of Grand Lake. As he had, at the
request of friends, frequently prepared bodies for burial, it was
arranged that he should head the expedition, while George acted as
guide, and the agreement was that, weather permitting, the party should
start inland on January 6th. A coffin, made by the carpenter at
Kenemish was all ready to receive the body when it should arrive at the
George was to have driven Dr. Hardy and me to Kenemish on January 3d,
but as there was a stiff wind blowing and the thermometer registered 40
degrees below zero, we postponed our departure until the following day.
The morning was clear, and the temperature was 34 below. The dogs,
with a great howling and jumping, had hardly settled down to the slow
trot which with only fair travelling is their habitual gait, when we
observed that the sky was clouding, and in an incredibly short time the
first snowflakes of the gathering storm began to fall. Soon the snow
was so thick that it shut us in as with a curtain, and eventually even
old Aillik, our leader, was lost to view.
"Bear well t' th' east'ard, an' keep free o' th' bad ice; the's sure t'
be bad ice handy t' th' Kenemish," had been Mark Blake's parting
injunction. So George kept well to the eastward as, hour after hour,
we forged our way on through the bending, drifting snow. At length we
came upon land, but what land we did not know. The storm had abated by
this time, and a fresh komatik track was visible, which we proceeded to
follow. On all sides of us ice was piled in heaps as high as a house.
We had been travelling altogether about six hours, and the storm had
ceased, when we came upon a tilt on the shore of a deep bay, and, close
by it, a man making passes with a stick at a large wolf, which,
apparently emboldened by hunger, was jumping and snarling about waiting
for a chance to spring in upon him.
The noise of our approaching komatik caused the wolf to slink off, and
then the man hurried to the tilt, reappeared with a rifle and shot the
beast as it still prowled among the ice hills. He proved to be Uriah
White, a trapper. Not at all excited by his adventure, he welcomed us
to his tilt. In throwing off his mittens to fire his rifle at the
wolf, he had exposed his naked hands to the bitter cold, and they had
been frost-bitten. While thawing out his hands at a safe distance from
the stove, he informed us that he had been "handy 'nuf to he [meaning
the wolf] to see that he were a she."
The condition of my feet had not permitted me to leave the komatik
during our long journey, and I suffered severely from the cold. George
and, alas! Hardy, were also thoroughly chilled, though they had
occasionally exercised themselves by running behind. Uriah prepared
for us some hot tea and hardtack, and gave us our bearings. We were
about four miles east of Kenemish, and an hour later we arrived there.
The lumber camp at the mouth of the Kenemish River is composed of a saw
mill, a storehouse in which also live the native helpers, a cookhouse,
a part of which is given over to lodgings for the Nova Scotian
lumbermen, and a log stable for the horses that do the general work
about the camp and in the woods. Hugh Dunbar, the engineer, extended a
warm welcome to the doctor and me, and his wife, who did the camp
cooking, made us comfortable in the cookhouse. I was destined to
remain at the camp for many weeks, and I cannot help testifying to the
gratitude I feel to those lumber folk, especially Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar,
Wells Bently, the storekeeper; Tom Fig, the machinist, and Archie
McKennan, Leigh Stanton and James Greenan.
The chill he had received during the trip from Northwest River so
affected Dr. Hardy that he was unable to proceed to Muddy Lake. Two
days after our arrival he had a severe hemorrhage, and the following
day another. They forced him to take to his bed, and thereafter he
rose only occasionally for half an hour's rest in a chair. He was a
deeply religious nature, and, realising that he was doomed, he awaited
the slow approach of death with calm resignation.
And my feet steadily grew worse. Three days after our arrival at
Kenemish I could not touch them to the floor. The doctor and I lay on
couches side by side. I could not even bear the weight of the
bed-clothes on my feet, and Dunbar built a rack from the hoops of an
old flour barrel to protect them. Under the doctor's direction, Mrs.
Dunbar every day removed the bandages from my feet, cleansed them with
carbolic acid water and rebandaged them. Dunbar and the other men
carried me in their arms when it was necessary for me to be taken from
my couch. My temperature ran up until it reached 103 1/2. The doctor
then said there was only one way to save my life—to cut off my legs.
"And," he added, "I'm the only one here that knows how to do it, and
I'm too weak to undertake it. So were both going to die, Wallace.
There's nothing to fear in that, though, if you trust in God."
The doctor was an accomplished player of the violin, but he had left
his own instrument at Muddy Lake, and the only one he could obtain at
Kenemish was a miserable affair that gave him little satisfaction. So
while he lay dying by the side of his patient who he thought was also
dying, he, for the most part, gratified his love of music and sought to
comfort us both by softly singing in his sympathetic tenor voice the
grand old hymns of the church. "Lead Kindly Light" and "Nearer My God
to Thee" were his favourites, and every syllable was enunciated clearly
But he was mistaken in thinking that I, too, was to die. Soon there
was an improvement noticeable in the condition of both of my feet, and
gradually they grew better.
"It's truly a miracle that the Lord is working," said the doctor. "You
were beyond human aid. I've prayed from the bottom of my heart that
you'd get well. I've prayed a dozen times a day, and now the prayer is
answered. It's the only one of my prayers," he added sadly, "that has
been answered since I have been in Labrador."
During January and February the cold was terrific. The spirit
thermometer at the camp was scaled down to 64 degrees below zero, and
on several days the spirit disappeared below the scale mark before 8
o'clock in the evening. For a week the temperature never, even at
midday, rose above 40 below. The old natives of the bay said there
never had been such a winter before. Not a man in the camp escaped
without a frozen nose and the cheeks and chins of all of them were
black from being nipped by the frost. Bently declared that he froze
his nose in bed, and Mrs. Bently bore witness to the truth of the
statement. But Bently's nose was frosted on an average of once a day.
Nearly all of this time I lay at the lumber camp worrying about
Hubbard's body. One day late in January, when I had been hoping that
the body had been safely brought out, Mackenzie and George arrived from
Northwest River with the news that the storms had been so continuous it
had not been deemed wise to attempt the journey inland. I wished to be
removed at once to the post, thinking that my presence there might
hasten matters, but Dr. Hardy said there would be no use of having two
dead men, and I was forced to be content with promises that the
expedition would get under way as soon as possible.
Early in February the doctor said I might try my feet on the floor.
The result was the discovery that my knees would not bear me, and that
I should have to learn to walk all over again. Recovering the use of my
legs was a tedious job, and it was not until February 29th that I was
able to return to Northwest River. After leaving Kenemish I never saw
the unfortunate young doctor again; for he died on March 22d.
Back at Northwest River, I was able to stir things up a bit, and bright
and early on Tuesday morning, March 8th, George, Tom Blake, and Duncan
MacLean, composing the expedition that was to recover Hubbard's body,
at last left the post, prepared for their difficult journey into the
interior. I regretted much that my physical condition made it
impossible for me to accompany them. Their provisions were packed on an
Indian flat sled or toboggan, and their tent and other camp equipment
on a sled with broad flat runners that I had obtained especially for
the transportation of the body from some Indians that visited the post.
At the rapid they were to get Tom Blake's dogs to haul their loads to
Donald Blake's at the other end of Grand Lake. After that, the hauling
was all to be done by hand, as it is quite impossible to use dogs in
cross-country travelling in Labrador.
In the course of the afternoon snow squalls developed, and all day
Wednesday and Thursday the snow fell heavily. I knew the storm would
interfere with the progress of the men, but I hoped they had succeeded
in reaching Donald's, and were at that point holding themselves in
readiness to proceed. What was my disappointment, then, when towards
noon on Sunday Douglas and Henry Blake, Tom's two young sons, came to
the post to announce that their father was at home! He had made a
start up Grand Lake, they said, but the storms had not permitted the
party to advance any farther than the Cape Corbeau tilt.
Douglas had accompanied the men to Cape Corbeau, which point it had
taken an entire day to reach, as the dogs, even with the men on their
snowshoes tramping a path ahead, sank so deeply in the snow that they
could hardly flounder along, to say nothing of hauling a load. It was
evident, therefore, that the dogs would retard rather than accelerate
the progress of the party on Grand Lake, and when the Cape Corbeau tilt
was reached on Tuesday night it was decided that Douglas should take
them back to the rapid. On Wednesday morning the storm was raging so
fiercely that it was considered unsafe to go ahead for the present.
George, moreover, complained of a lame ankle, and said he required a
rest. So Tom came to the conclusion that if he remained at the tilt he
would be eating the "stock of grub" to no purpose, and when Douglas
turned homeward with the dogs he went with him. George and Duncan were
to stay at the tilt until the travelling became better, Douglas said,
and then push on to Donald's and wait for Tom there.
Douglas's story made it plain that the weather conditions on Grand Lake
had been fierce enough to appal any man, but as there had been no snow
since Friday night I could not understand what Tom was doing at the
rapid on Sunday, and with Mackenzie's consent I had Mark immediately
harness the post dogs and drive me up to his house. I arrived there
considerably incensed by his inactivity, but I must say that his
explanation was adequate. He asked me if I had been able to see
anything of Grand Lake, and made me realise what it meant to be out
there with a high west wind of Arctic bitterness drifting the snow in
great clouds down its thirty-seven miles of unbroken expanse. There
was no doubt that the men had done the best they could, and after
instructing Tom that, if more provisions were needed, to obtain them at
Donald's at my expense, and receiving from him an assurance that he
would again start for Hubbard's body as soon as the weather would
permit, I returned, mollified, to the post.
It was on this day (Sunday, March 13th) that I received my first news
from home and the outside world, Monsieur Duclos, who had been on a
trip north, bringing me two telegrams from New York. They conveyed to
me the comforting assurance that all was well at home, being replies to
the dispatches I had sent in December. Received at Chateau Bay, they
had been forwarded to me three hundred and fifty miles by dog teams and
Tom Blake started on Monday morning, the 14th, and Tuesday at noon
joined George and Duncan at Donald's. On Wednesday the three men began
their march up the Susan. The weather continuing fair, they made good
progress and had no difficulty in finding the site of our last camp.
Hubbard's body, with the tent lying flat on top of it, was under eight
feet of snow. Near the spot a wolverine had been prowling, but the
body was too deeply buried for any animal to scent it, and in its quiet
resting place it lay undisturbed. It was fortunate that it had not been
placed on a stage, as I had suggested; for in that event it would
undoubtedly have been destroyed.
Continuing on inland, the men recovered the photographic films, the
sextant, my fishing rod, and other odds and ends we had dropped on the
trail as far back as Lake Elson. Tom and Duncan praised George
unstintingly for the unvarying accuracy with which he located the
things. With the country and smaller trees buried under a great depth
of snow, and no landmarks to guide him, George would lead the other men
on, and, with no searching about or hesitancy, stop and say, "We'll dig
here." And not once did his remarkable instinct play him false.
"'Tis sure wonderful," said Tom, in telling me about it. "I ne'er
could ha' done it, an' no man on Th' Labrador could ha' done it, sir.
Not even th' Mountaineers could ha' done it." And Duncan seconded
On Sunday, March 27th, I was sitting in the cosey post house wondering
where George and the others were, when suddenly George appeared from
out the snow that the howling gale was whirling about. My long
suspense was ended. The body had been recovered in good condition,
George said. Wrapped in the blankets that Hubbard had round him when
died—the blankets he had so gaily presented me with that June morning
on the Silvia—and our old tarpaulin, which George had recovered
farther back on the trail, it had been dragged on the Indian sled forty
miles down over the sleeping Susan River, and thence out over Grand
Lake to the Cape Corbeau tilt, where the men had been compelled to
leave it the day before owing to the heavy snowstorm that then
prevailed. From the tilt the men had gone on to Tom's house at the
rapid to spend the night, and George had now come down to the post to
relieve my mind with the news that the body was safe.
It was arranged that the next morning George and Duncan should take the
post dogs and komatik, drive up to Cape Corbeau and bring the body
down. The morning was calm and fine, and they started early. It was
a strange funeral procession that returned. The sun was setting when,
on their way back, with the body lashed to the komatik, they passed
over the rapid where Hubbard that beautiful July morning had sprung
vigorously into the water to track the canoe into Grand Lake. How full
of hope and pleasurable anticipation he had been when we paddled
through the Little Lake! Over the snow and ice that now hid the lake
the seven dogs that were hauling his corpse strained and tugged, ever
and anon breaking into a trot as George and Duncan, running on their
snowshoes on either side of the komatik, urged them forward with Eskimo
exclamations or cracked their long whip over a laggard. No need to
urge any one of them on, however, when they came in sight of the post.
Darkness was falling. Knowing that their daily meal was near at hand,
the dogs broke into a run, and with much howling and jumping swung
around the point and up to the buildings.