In 1892, after receiving complaints about working conditions in
the Labrador fishery, the London-based Mission to Deep Sea
Fishermen sent an expedition led by Wilfred Grenfell to
distribute food and clothing to residents of the Labrador coast
and to treat sick and disabled fishermen. This expedition
unofficially marked the beginning of what would become known as
the Grenfell Mission. Eliot Curwen, a young medical doctor,
joined Grenfell on the second Labrador voyage. His journal and
photographs provide a unique record of the expedition and of
social conditions in Newfoundland and Labrador a century ago.
A religious, well-educated Victorian, Curwen takes us into the
heart of the colonial society he encountered. He reveals the
pervasive sectarianism, the tawdry political world of St John's,
the rudimentary conditions aboard the fishing schooners, and the
poverty of the Labrador "livyers," the permanent white settlers
who had intermarried with the Inuit. He provides fresh details of
the lives of the Moravian Brethren, the first missionaries to the
Native population, and comments on the wildlife, the natural
environment, and the general disposition of the countryside.
Curwen's candid remarks about Grenfell reveal facets of the young
missionary and social reformer not found elsewhere.
The introduction and annotations by Ronald Rompkey, Grenfell's
biographer, establish the historical, political, and social
contexts of the journal. Rompkey has supplemented Curwen's
private account with official letters and reports from Grenfell
and other members of the expedition as well as numerous
photographs taken by both Curwen and Grenfell to publicize their
"Labrador Odyssey provides an appealing portrait of the
idealistic and energetic young men who pioneered the
establishment of the Grenfell Mission and offers rare insights
into the mission's early days."
Dorothy Harley Eber, author of When the Whalers Were Up North.
"The journal throws some very interesting light on what was
happening in Labrador and Newfoundland in 1893, and the
magnificent photographs represent a treasure of information.
Labrador Odyssey constitutes a valuable contribution to the
rather scanty literature on this sector of northern Canada. I
strongly recommend it."
Philip Smith, Département d'anthropologie, Université de Montréal.
Ronald Rompkey is professor of English and director of the J.R.
Smallwood Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial University.
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