XXIII. OVER THE ICE
With the body at the post, it was my intention to hire dog teams, and,
accompanied by George, start with it at once for home, travelling up
Hamilton Inlet to the ocean, and then down along the coast to Battle
Harbour, or some port farther south, where we might happen on a ship
that would take us away from the land where we had suffered so much.
More than three weeks elapsed, however, before we could get away from
the Northwest River. It was about 325 miles over the ice to Battle
Harbour, and Mackenzie and the others continued to argue against the
feasibility of my plan. For a time it did seem as if it would be
impossible to carry it out. First of all, I had trouble with Hubbard's
coffin. When we received the body, the plain spruce box that had been
made for it was found not to be deep enough. I sent over a request to
James Greenan, the carpenter at Kenemish, that another one be made as
speedily as possible. He replied that the last board they had on hand
had been used in making a coffin for poor Dr. Hardy, but said that if I
would return to him the coffin we had, he believed he could raise the
sides to the requisite height. Mackenzie immediately despatched Mark
with the dogs and komatik to carry the coffin to Kenemish, and on April
4th it was returned with the necessary alterations. The body meanwhile
had lain wrapped in the blankets and tarpaulin in a storehouse where
the temperature practically was as low as it was out of doors. Now we
placed it in the box with salt as a preservative, and everything was
ready for our long journey.
Then arose the question as to where I could get dogs. Two teams were
needed, one for the body and one for our baggage. Not a dog owner
could I find who would undertake the task. I sent imploring messages
for twenty-five miles around, but all to no purpose. They would not
even undertake the ninety-mile journey to Rigolet. Some, I knew, did
not like the idea of travelling with a corpse, and others, like Tom
Blake, did not have enough dogs to haul our loads. In despair I went
to Monsieur Duclos on April 19th and urged him to lend me his team to
take us as far as Rigolet, telling him that Mackenzie was willing to
let us have his team for the trip to Rigolet, but that another was
needed. The French post dogs had just returned from a long journey,
and Monsieur Duclos said they were not fit for travel, but finally, to
my great joy, he very kindly consented to let me have them, with
Belfleur, a French-Indian, as driver, after they had a couple of days'
It was Mackenzie's custom to make an annual trip to Rigolet on post
business, and this usually took place in May; but he expedited his
arrangements so as to be able to leave with us and thus save his dogs
an additional journey. Belfleur arrived with his dogs early on the
morning of April 21st. Unfortunately Fred Blake, Mackenzie's driver,
was not on hand, but it was decided that Belfleur should go ahead with
George and the coffin, and that Mackenzie and I should follow with the
baggage the next morning. It was nine o'clock when the eight dogs that
were to haul the two men and the coffin got under way. All the natives
were sorry to see George go, his genial manners and cheerful grin
having made him a prime favourite. Mackenzie's little housekeeper and
Mark Blake's wife, who had been George's hostess, wept copiously.
Mackenzie, Fred Blake, and I got off at six o'clock the next morning.
Our seven big dogs were howling and straining on the long traces as I
said good-bye to all the good friends that had been so kind to me and
had gathered to see me leave. It took us until evening of the
following day to reach Rigolet. The Eskimo dogs almost invariably
leave a house and arrive at one with a great flourish, but between
times they settle down to a gentle pace and have to be urged on with
exclamations and much snapping of the whip. Ours were much better
travellers than those belonging to the French post, and, despite the
fact that they had a heavier load to haul and were one less in number,
we overtook George and Belfleur on the afternoon of the second day. A
part of the time Mackenzie and Fred ran beside the komatik on their
snowshoes to get warm, but my knees were still so weak that I had to
stick to the komatik all the way. We spent the night at the log cabin
of a breed, and before noon the next day came to the cabin of one Bell
Shepard, where we learned George and Belfleur had spent their second
It is considered a gross beach of etiquette on The Labrador to pass a
man's house without stopping for bread and tea, and so we had to turn
in to see Bell. As he served us with refreshment, he gave us a
startling bit of news, to wit: that there was a great war raging in the
outside world, with Great Britain, the United States, and Japan on one
side, and Russia, France, and Germany on the other.
"I's sure 'tis true, sir," he insisted, upon observing that Mackenzie
and I appeared incredulous. "I's just come frum Rigolet, an' Scott,
th' trader, had th' word by th' telegraph to Chateau. So 'tis sure
true, sir, an' 'tis bad word for us poor folk on Th' Labrador, with th'
prices to go up, as they tells me they sure will, on flour an' pork."
We found out later that such a report had really spread up the coast
from dog driver to dog driver until it had reached Rigolet, and it was
not until I got to Battle Harbour that I learned that its basis was the
beginning of the conflict between Russia and Japan.
At Rigolet we were again hospitably received by Fraser, the factor.
The news of Hubbard's death had preceded us; in fact it had been
carried up and down the coast all the way from Cape Charles to Cape
Chidley. Awaiting me was a letter from Dr. Cluny Macpherson, of the
Deep Sea Mission at Battle Harbour, who, I was informed, had recently
been to Rigolet and had hoped to see me. The letter proved to contain
much valuable information as to stopping places and the probabilities
of getting dogs between Rigolet and Battle Harbour, as well as the good
news that a steamer was expected at Battle Harbour early in May.
I also learned from Fraser that Mr. Whitney, editor of Outing magazine,
of which Hubbard had been the associate editor, had sent a message to
the telegraph operator at Chateau Bay requesting him to lend me every
assistance possible and "to spare no expense." Well-meant though the
message was, it had the effect of increasing my difficulties. Duly
exaggerated and embellished, it had spread up the coast until every dog
owner gained the impression that a little gold mine was about to pass
through his country. I found this out when I tried to get dog teams to
carry me to Cartwright Post, the next stage on my journey. A haughty
person named Jerry Flowers, it appeared, had a monopoly just then of
the dog-team business in the vicinity of Rigolet, and when we arrived
at the post he proceeded to deal with me in the high-handed manner
common to trust magnates. The regular rate paid by traders for
transportation over the eighty odd miles between Rigolet and Cartwright
was from ten to twelve dollars a team, but for the two teams I needed
Jerry expected me to pay him sixty dollars.
While I was still arguing with the immovable Jerry, John Williams, an
old livyere, fortunately arrived from West Bay, which is half way to
Cartwright, and Fraser used his influence with John to such good
purpose that he consented to take us with his dog team at least as far
as his home at the regular rate. John had only six dogs, but he told
us we should be able to get an additional team at William Mugford's two
miles beyond Rigolet.
The strait at Rigolet was open, and when, late in the afternoon of
Monday, April 25th, we bade Mackenzie and Fraser farewell, George and
I, with our baggage and Hubbard's body, were taken across through the
cakes of floating ice in one of the Company's big boats, manned by a
crew of brawny post servants.
On the other shore we loaded the baggage and coffin on John's komatik,
and with him driving the dogs and George and I walking behind on
snowshoes, we reached Mugford's at dusk. There we stopped for the
night, being served with the meals that the people all down the coast
usually eat at that time of the year—bread and molasses and tea. With
one or two exceptions we had to sleep on the floor at the places where
we stopped; for the houses generally contained only one room divided by
a partition. Almost all of the houses had low extensions used as a
storage place, and there Hubbard's body would rest over night. Never
did we pay anything for our entertainment; poor as the people are, they
would be greatly offended if a traveller they took in offered them
Generally speaking, we had good weather for our long journey to Battle
Harbour and pretty fair going. Day after day we followed the coast
line south, crossing from neck of land to neck of land over the frozen
bays and inlets. Sometimes we encountered ridges on the necks of land,
and then we would have to help the dogs haul the loads to the top.
Resuming our places on the komatiks, we would coast down the slopes,
with the dogs racing madly ahead to keep from being run over. If the
descent was very steep, a drag in the form of a hoop of braided walrus
hide would be thrown over the front of one of the komatik runners, but
even then the dogs would have to run their hardest to preserve a safe
distance between them and us, and out on the smooth ice of the bays we
would shoot, to skim along with exhilarating swiftness. As we
proceeded south we were interested in observing signs of spring.
Towards the end of our journey we encountered much soft snow and
Mugford agreed to help us out with his four dogs as far as West Bay.
Arriving there, we found that only one team was procurable for the rest
of the trip to Cartwright, so John Williams continued on with us all
the way. Forty or fifty miles a day is about all that dogs can be
expected to accomplish with average going, and we spent two days
between Rigolet and Cartwright, reaching the Hudson's Bay Company Post
at Sandwich Bay on the evening of Wednesday, April 27th, to receive
kindly welcome from the agent, Mr. Swaffield. Again at Cartwright we
had some difficulty in getting dogs, and it was not until Friday
morning that we could push on. These delays were exasperating, for I
was bent on catching the steamer that Dr. Macpherson informed me in his
letter was due at Battle Harbour early in May.
Our journey resumed, it was a case of fighting dog owners all the way.
Seal Islands, about ninety miles farther down the coast, we reached on
Saturday night, April 30th. There we had the good fortune to be
entertained by a quaint character in the person of Skipper George
Morris, a native trader. He had been expecting us, and he greeted me
as if I had been his long-lost brother.
"Dear eyes!" he exclaimed, wringing my hand in his bluff, cordial way;
"Dear eyes! but I'se glad to see you—wonderful glad!"
The skipper's house was far above the average of those on the coast.
It had two floors with two rooms each, and his good wife kept
everything clean and bright. Soon after our arrival the skipper got
out for our edification two shotguns—one single, and the other
double-barrelled—each of which was fully six feet long from butt to
muzzle and had a bore of one and one-half inches.
"Th' Boers ha' been fightin' England," said he, "an' I got un [the gun]
t' fight, sir. Dear eyes! if th' Boers ha' come handy t' us, I thinks
I could ha' kept un off, sir. I knows I could wi' them guns. I'd sure
ha' shot through their schooners, sir, if un was big as th' mail boat
an' steamers like th' mail boat. I'd ha' shot through un, sir, an' th'
mail boat's a big un, sir, as you knows."
The next day was May Day. I knew that at home the birds and the
flowers had returned, and that in dear old New York gay parties of
children were probably marching to the parks. What a May Day it was on
The Labrador! The morning ushered in a heavy snow storm, with a
tremendous gale. Thinking of the steamer due at Battle Harbour, I
suggested that, despite the storm, we might make a start. But the
"Dear eyes! an' start in this gale! No, no, th' dogs could ne'er face
And as George and our drivers thought likewise, we spent the day
resting with the old skipper and his wife, warmly housed and faring
sumptuously on wild duck, while the storm outside seemed to shake the
world to its very foundations.
On May 2d the snow had almost ceased falling and the wind had somewhat
subsided, when at eleven o'clock we parted from the quaint old skipper
whose "Dear eyes!" continued to lend emphasis to his remarks up to the
last that we saw of him. Rounding a point of land soon after leaving
Seal Islands, we came suddenly upon two runaway dogs from a team that
had been stormbound at Seal Islands like ourselves. The runaways were
thoroughly startled by our sudden appearance, and took to their heels,
with our teams, composed respectively of ten dogs and twelve dogs,
after them. The ice we were on had been swept clear of snow by the
wind, the hauling was easy, and our dogs almost flattened themselves
out in their effort to get at the strangers and chew them up. The pace
became terrific, but there was nothing to do but hold on tight and
trust to luck. For perhaps five miles our wild ride lasted, and then,
the strange dogs turning to the snow-covered land, our teams abandoned
the race and condescended to pay some heed to their masters' excited
observations. Fortunately the chase had carried us in the direction
for which we were bound.
Early in the afternoon we reached a cache of cod heads, and stopped
while the dogs were fed one each. Poor brutes! they had had nothing to
eat since Friday night—this was Monday—and I imagine a rather scant
meal even then; for at this time of the year the stock of salt seal
meat and fat and dried cod heads and caplin that the natives put up in
the summer and fall for dog food is nearly exhausted, and what remains
is used very economically. Often the dogs receive only one scanty meal
every other day. Our drivers had intended to feed their teams at Seal
Islands, but on account of the scarcity of dog food none could be
At four o'clock in the afternoon we reached Norman Bay, where we found
a miserable hut unoccupied save by an abundance of filth, two cats, and
one hen. As there were no tracks visible in the snow, the people
evidently had been away since the storm began on Saturday night. We
built a fire in the stove, made tea and fed ourselves, the cats, and
the hen from our grub bag. I invariably insisted that our drivers
travel as long as there was light, which at this season lasted until
after eight o'clock, and we pushed on until we came to Corbett's Bite,
a place that also rejoices in the name of New York, the same having
been facetiously bestowed upon it by some fisherman wag, because four
small huts had been collected there to make a "city."
The inhabitants of New York had all moved to their fishing quarters
farther out on the coast when we arrived, and we took possession for
the night of the best of the huts. Filth and slush lay an inch deep on
the floor of the single room. A hole in the roof provided a means of
escape for the smoke from the fire we built in an improvised fireplace,
and, at the same time, a constant source of fear on our part lest some
of the dogs which roamed at will over the roof, fall through it and
into our fire. An old bench and loose boards taken from a
semi-partition in the room served as beds for our party, and we passed
a fairly comfortable night.
We were off at daylight, and at half-past eight that morning (May 3d)
reached Williams Harbour, where I had hoped to engage the teams of John
and James Russell and proceed immediately to Battle Harbour, which
place was now only a few miles off. But the Russells were away and did
not return until night, so that we were unable to proceed until the
following morning. With their teams of eight and six dogs the Russells
got us away early, however, and at half-past eleven that morning (May
4th) we arrived at Fox Harbour, eight miles across the bay from Battle
Harbour. Now a new problem presented itself, which was all the more
exasperating for the reason that we were in sight of our goal. The ice
pack was in the bay, and it was quite impossible to cross it until the
wind might shift and blow the pack out. It is true that by a tortuous
trail some thirty miles around we could with dogs reach Cape Charles,
just below Battle Harbour; but none of the few drivers that knew the
trail was anxious to undertake the journey, and as the probabilities
were that even if we did succeed in reaching Cape Charles we should be
in the same fix there as where we were, our only course seemed to be to
remain at Fox Harbour and wait. No vessel, they told us, had yet
arrived either at Battle Harbour or Cape Charles.
George Wakeham, an old English fisherman from Devonshire, who had spent
forty years of his life on The Labrador and had an Eskimo wife,
welcomed us to his house. Near it was an eminence called Watch Hill,
from which the general situation of the ice pack could be observed.
Day after day I climbed Watch Hill, and for hours at a time with a
telescope viewed the ice and gazed longingly at Battle Harbour in the
distance. On the morning of the ninth day the pack appeared to be
spreading, and I decided to run the risk of getting fast in the ice,
and make at least an attempt to start. So George and I and the five
natives that were to row us over got the boat afloat, prepared for a
start immediately after luncheon.
Meanwhile George and I ascended Watch Hill for another look at the ice
pack. Upon scanning the distant shore line through the telescope we
discovered a speck moving in the bay away over near Battle Harbour. A
little later we were assured that it was a big row-boat laboriously
making its way through the ice. It came nearer and nearer, obviously
headed for Fox Harbour. At noon it arrived, and its brawny crew of
fishermen said they had come for us. Dr. Macpherson had sent them.
The steamer that the doctor had written me was expected had arrived at
Cape Charles with a cargo for a new whale factory, and probably would
sail for Newfoundland the next day. Having heard we were on our way
down the coast, and divining that we were held at Fox Harbour by the
ice, Dr. Macpherson had sent the boat so that we might be sure to get
the steamer. I marvelled greatly at these evidences of the doctor's
thoughtfulness for us who were absolute strangers to him, and was
We placed the coffin in the boat, together with our baggage, and
started at once. The men had instructions to take us directly to the
ship as she lay off Cape Charles, and after a row of about thirteen
miles we reached her at five o'clock in the afternoon. She was the
Aurora, one of the Newfoundland sealing fleet. It was like reaching
home to be on shipboard again, and I felt that my troubles were ended.
The mate, Patrick Dumphry, informed me, however, that her commander,
Captain Abraham Kean, was at Battle Harbour, and that the steamer would
not sail before the following night. So, wishing to have Hubbard's
coffin prepared for the voyage, and to meet and thank Dr. Macpherson, I
had the men row me back the five miles to Battle Harbour.
There I learned that, upon receiving the first news of my proposed
attempt to bring out Hubbard's body, Dr. Macpherson had made a special
trip of twenty-five miles to Chateau Bay, to telegraph to New York
suggesting that arrangements be made with Bowering & Co., the owners of
the Aurora, to have that steamer pick us up at Battle Harbour. Perhaps
I should say here that the kindness of the doctor to us was only what
might have been expected from a gentleman by birth and breeding who,
with his charming wife, buries himself on the desolate coast of
Labrador, in order to do his Master's work. Pitiable indeed would be
the condition of the poor folk on The Labrador were it not for Dr.
Grenfell and his brave co-workers of the Deep Sea Mission. For
hundreds of miles along the coast they travel on their errands of
mercy, braving the violent storms of the bitter Arctic winter, sleeping
in the meanest of huts, and frequently risking their lives in open
boats on the raging sea. Many is the needy one for whom they have
found work, many is the stricken soul that they have comforted, and
many is the life that their medical skill has saved.
At the doctor's house I received my first letters from home, and the
first accurate news of what had been transpiring in the outside world.
While there I also met Captain Kean. Unfortunately the people in New
York had not made the arrangement Dr. Macpherson had suggested, but the
captain assumed the responsibility of carrying us to Newfoundland,
saying that we should go as his guests. He is a former member of the
Newfoundland parliament, and a man of influence as well as initiative,
and it was lucky for us that he commanded the Aurora, else we, in all
probability, should have had to push farther down the coast with dogs,
or waited at Battle Harbour for the first appearance of the mail boat.
The next day (Friday, May 13th) a firm of traders at Battle Harbour,
under Dr. Macpherson's supervision, lined Hubbard's coffin with sheet
lead and sealed it hermetically. The body was still frozen and in good
condition. In the afternoon we were taken to the Aurora by Dr.
Macpherson and a crew of his men, and established in the cabin, while
Hubbard's coffin was carefully stowed away in the hold, there to remain
until it was transferred at St. Johns to the Silvia, the steamer on
which my old friend, so full of life and ambition, had sailed from New
York, and which now was to carry him back a corpse.
Because of a delay in getting her unloaded, the Aurora did not sail
until Saturday evening. The sky was all aglow with a gorgeous sunset
when we weighed anchor and steamed out of Cape Charles Harbour down
across the straits of Belle Isle. The night was equally glorious. As
darkness fell, the sky and sea were illuminated by the northern lights.
There was no wind and the sea was calm. Close to our port side an
iceberg with two great spires towered high above us; another large
iceberg was on our starboard. Before us Belle Isle and the French shore
were dimly visible. Behind us the rocky coast of Labrador gradually