The Land Beyond: A Memoir

The Land Beyond: A Memoir

by Jack Ives

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Geographer Jack Ives moved to Canada in 1954, and soon after he played an instrumental role in the establishment of the McGill Sub-Arctic Research Laboratory in central Labrador-Ungava. This fascinating account of his fifty-plus years living and working in the arctic is simultaneously a light-hearted, winning memoir and a call to action on the issues of

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Geographer Jack Ives moved to Canada in 1954, and soon after he played an instrumental role in the establishment of the McGill Sub-Arctic Research Laboratory in central Labrador-Ungava. This fascinating account of his fifty-plus years living and working in the arctic is simultaneously a light-hearted, winning memoir and a call to action on the issues of environmental awareness and conservation that are inextricably intertwined with life in the north. Mixing personal impressions of key figures of the postwar scientific boom with the intellectual drama of field research, The Land Beyond is a memorable depiction of a life in science.

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The Land Beyond

A Memoir
By Jack D. Ives

University of Alaska Press

Copyright © 2010 University of Alaska Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60223-077-4

Chapter One

History of Labrador-Ungava: An Introduction

The great peninsula of eastern Canada that lies between Hudson Bay and the Atlantic Ocean had held various names throughout the thousand years or so since its discovery by Europeans. The Greenland Vikings referred to Helluland (more probably southeastern Baffin Island, although it could have included the Torngat Mountains of northern Labrador) and Markland (certainly the south-central Labrador coast). Labrador Peninsula is a very old name, although the word Labrador is of uncertain origin and is possibly Portuguese. Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait derive from some of the earliest explorations seeking a route to the Far East through the Northwest Passage. They are a memorial to Henry Hudson, whose life was lost in 1611 in pursuit of that heroic quest. Ungava (meaning "the land beyond"), between present-day Ungava Bay and Hudson Bay, is an Inuit derivative used by the Hudson's Bay Company for the northwestern extension of the great peninsula. In combination it provides the name Labrador-Ungava (hare 1950; Ives 1959a).

In 1869 the Hudson's Bay Company transferred its authority over the world's largest tract of land under the control of a private company to the Dominion of Canada. Following the enlargements of the original provinces, and the creation of new ones between 1867 and 1912, the Province of Québec attached the name Nouveau-Québec to its newly acquired northern territories. It also laid claim to most of the Labrador-Ungava peninsula, arguing that an old name, Coast of Labrador, should be interpreted to mean a narrow coastal strip facing the Atlantic Ocean. Newfoundland contested this definition, and the issue was resolved in its favor by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Westminster (London), in 1927. The land settlement was based on the concept of the "height-of-land" for most of the boundary between the Province of Québec (Dominion of Canada) and the Dominion of Newfoundland. The southern boundary was defined as a straight line running due west from a point some 120 mi (193 km) inland of Blanc-Sablon on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. From there westward it coincided with latitude 52? N as far as the Romaine River, then again adhering to the height-of-land into the interior to the vicinity of Knob Lake. The Westminster ruling notwithstanding, the actual height-of-land was virtually unknown in 1927, and this led to many later disputes. On Québec provincial maps published as late as 1958 there was an explanation that the border with Newfoundland was not shown "pour cause." It clearly indicated lack of acceptance by Québec of the 1927 decision, even following Newfoundland's amalgamation with Canada in 1949.

Even after the World War II years, the vast interior was regarded in many quarters as a worthless wilderness of myriad lakes, swamps, stunted conifer forests, tundra, and swarms of mosquitoes. This was a reflection of its much earlier designation as "The Land God Gave to Cain," deriving from Jacques Cartier's original sixteenth-century dismissal of the region that lay to the north of his westward thrust. In the 1890s Dr. A.P. Low, the Canadian federal government geologist, detected iron ore in the central and most inaccessible region. The stage was set for a major reevaluation as the commercial market for iron ore escalated in the late 1940s.

The history of the McGill Sub-Arctic Research Laboratory begins in 1954 after completion of the 320-mile (515 km) railway line between Sept-Îles, on the Gulf of St. Lawrence North Shore, and Knob Lake (to become Schefferville in 1958). The extensive reserves of high-grade ore provided the foundation for one of the world's major extractive industrial developments of the mid-twentieth century. This was closely followed by harnessing the hydroelectric potential of Grand Falls on the Hamilton River (to become Churchill Falls on the Churchill River). The colossal scale of these activities transformed much of the wilderness. In light of this, Professor F. Kenneth hare grasped the opportunity to establish a McGill University presence at its center. Some notion of the contemporary geography is needed to provide a proper setting to the scale and boldness of Hare's enterprise.

Labrador-Ungava or Nouveau Québec-Labrador, while situated in relatively low latitudes (approximately 50? N to 62? N), had been largely ignored by Europeans throughout the previous three and a half centuries. Most of the thrust of exploration was for discovery of the Northwest Passage and the race to the North Pole. Labrador-Ungava is vast: about 1,000 mi (1,609 km) from east to west and 800 mi (1,287 km) from north to south. The shortest north-south transect from Sept-Îles to Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Ungava Bay, is about 500 mi (805 km), and the length of the Labrador coast from Belle Isle to Cape Chidley is about 700 mi (1,126 km). Apart from Hamilton Inlet, which penetrates the southern third of the Labrador coast, the waterways are navigable only by canoe and frequent portages are necessary. The interior is largely a morass of lakes, swamps, muskeg, trackless boreal forest, tundra, and rocky plateaus. The relief, except near the Labrador coast, is scenically uninspiring. Winters are long and very cold; temperatures regularly fall to -40?F (-40?C) and below.

These basic elements of physical geography impressed me. As a new immigrant and McGill graduate student in 1954, my previous field research experience had been restricted to a mountainous and ice-capped area of southeast Iceland about 25 mi square (40 km by 40 km). Labrador-Ungava appeared to me as a major piece of earth's terrestrial estate, nearly the size of Western Europe: a single railway line, seemingly to nowhere; coastal access for a small part of the year to tiny Hudson's Bay Company trading posts, Moravian and Grenfell Mission outposts; and rare temporary indigenous camps. The Naskaupi and Montagnais peoples were believed to consist of a few groups living off the land in the interior, although most of them were beginning to shift toward permanent settlements close to Knob Lake, Fort Chimo, Sept-Îles, Goose Bay, and the Labrador coast.

The great interior wilderness was just that. Topographic maps at scales of 1:500,000 and 1:250,000 often contained a warning to aircraft pilots: "highest point unknown." Some parts of the coastline, eastern Ungava Bay, for example, were indicated by dotted line only (this designated them as unsurveyed). In contrast, a section of the interior, prompted by iron ore exploration and developments at Knob Lake, was covered by a block of high-quality 1:50,000 map sheets.

In the early 1950s Professor hare and Professor J.T. Wilson initiated two separate large-scale air-photo research projects, involving systematic interpretation of the only available air photographs-trimetrogon. The photographs provided vertical coverage for a very small percentage of the total area with oblique coverage of the 30 or so miles (48 km) between the flight lines of the photographing aircraft. Hare's team of graduate students had begun mapping the great peninsula's vegetation and general physiography. Using the same minimal photography, Wilson led a group to map the tectonic lineaments and the glacial geology, not only of Labrador-Ungava but the whole of northern Canada. However, Hare's Photo-reconnaissance Survey of Labrador-Ungava (Hare 1959), while providing an excellent generalized picture of the cover types (principally vegetation) and topography, was of limited use to those struggling on foot or with canoe to define a doctoral or master's degree study.

Given the general geographical position of Labrador-Ungava, together with its trackless interior, it is hardly surprising that little was known about it until well into the twentieth century. The Atlantic coast had been traversed by the Viking Greenlanders in the tenth and eleventh centuries, but it was 1960 before archeological proof was found that they had attempted permanent settlement at the northern tip of Newfoundland. The Grand Banks and Newfoundland's numerous harbors and coves had become known to Basque and Portuguese fishermen by the fifteenth century and to other European fishing fleets shortly thereafter. The government and merchants of Elizabethan England, intent on outflanking the Spanish empire in the struggle to reach the Spice Islands and the east Indies, directed voyages of exploration northward into Hudson Bay or further north through Baffin Bay to Lancaster Sound. French adventurers penetrated the westward-leading and seemingly endless St. Lawrence estuary and river system eventually to the Great Lakes and beyond. These thrusts effectively bypassed Labrador.

It was the fisherfolk, the livyers-those who live here all year round-as distinguished from the summer schooner fishing population, who were the first of European descent to settle the southern third of the Labrador coast. The Hudson's Bay Company, in turn, set up a series of small trading posts along the coast, along Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay, and on the shores of Hudson Bay. They had been preceded on the Labrador coast by the Moravian Mission, which sought to bring the Gospel, medicine, and education to the coast Eskimo (Inuit). This resulted in the establishment of a series of small settlements beginning with Nain in 1771. Thereafter, mission posts were built at Hopedale, Makkovik, Okak, and Hebron and as far north as Ramah and Nachvak Fiord in the southern Torngat Mountains. As early as 1811 the Moravians Gottleib Kohlmeister and George Kmoch, with Inuit guides, had rounded Cape Chidley and penetrated deep into Ungava Bay, naming the George River for King George III and ascending the Koksoak River to the present site of Fort Chimo. However, the Moravians were not able to obtain a permanent presence in Ungava Bay and did not establish a mission at Cape Chidley (Killinek) until 1905. The Hudson's Bay Company added trading posts to Moravian settlements, thus causing competition, both spiritual and commercial. After 1949, the year Newfoundland became part of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) used the same small settlements for police posts. The Grenfell Mission, founded by Sir Wilfred Grenfell, was initially established to provide medical support for the desperately poor fishing population of the southern coast. Permanent hospitals were set up at St. Anthony, on the island, and North West River, on the mainland. The mission's ship, MV Strathcona, a floating hospital, carried assistance far up the coast. The Grenfell Mission became a vital presence toward the end of the nineteenth century and continues to provide essential services today.

The first crossings of the forbidding inland wilderness from Ungava Bay to north West River achieved by Europeans occurred in the nineteenth century. The Hudson's Bay Company established a trading post at Fort Chimo in 1830. Using this as a base, Bay traders John McLean and Erland Erlandson, with Naskaupi and Inuit guides, undertook a series of impressive overland journeys between Ungava Bay and North West River in the second half of the 1830s and the early 1840s. They canoed the George, Whale, Naskaupi, and Koksoak rivers and were the first Europeans to visit Grand Falls on the Hamilton. These exploratory journeys led to the establishment of trading posts in the interior, such as Fort Nascopie and the two posts on the George River system, both on its estuary and at the southern end of Indian House Lake. Excepting the George River estuary post, these survived for only a few years because of extreme difficulty of communication, accompanied by the apparent indifference of the Naskaupi to trading.

In 1891 Bowdoin College, Maine, organized a scientific expedition to the southeast interior. Two student members made a grueling journey up the lower Hamilton River as far as Grand Falls and left the name of their college on the map as Bowdoin Canyon, the tortuous canyon below the falls.

In the late 1890s, A. P. Low traveled great distances throughout the interior and produced an outline map of the entire Labrador-Ungava peninsula that provided an overview of its geography in the broadest possible terms. Nevertheless, his map, dependent in part on hearsay information from his Naskaupi guides, contained significant flaws. The inaccurate representation of the "Nascapi" River, for instance, contributed to Hubbard's fatal decision in selecting a route to Lake Michikamau in 1903 (see below). In the 1920s Gino Watkins, the famous University of Cambridge student, led a winter venture into the southeastern Labrador interior to provide members with experience in extreme cold and isolation in preparation for the trans-Greenland expedition that cost him his life.

Another component of exploration was introduced early in the twentieth century: that of gentleman adventurer. Names such as William Cabot, Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard, G. M. Gathorne-Hardy, and especially Leonidas Hubbard and Dillon Wallace, became widely known through their books and travel accounts. They were essentially elitist travelers propelled by the "lure of the Labrador wild" (to borrow the title of Wallace's first book [1905]): fishing, hunting, and adventure exploration, frequently to augment journalistic ambition. Hubbard's death by starvation and hypothermia in 1903 prompted the remarkable journey of his young widow, Mina, in 1905. Her book, A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador, not only added significantly to the cartography of the north West River-George River sector but also created a legend (Hubbard 1908). For its time, the journey of a high-society lady in long skirt, with elegant headdress draped in mosquito netting, and carrying a hot-water bottle, supported by Native and half-breed companions, as they were known then, was not only high drama in itself but created a fascination that has outlived a century. A dozen books, including her diaries and republication of her original 1908 edition, have appeared in the last twenty years. Canoeists have attempted to repeat the "woman's way," or that of her ill-fated husband; and feminist writers have provided intriguing reinterpretations of her journey that, for such a woman to travel "alone" through the wilderness with male half-breeds and Natives, had shocked many of her contemporaries.

By about 1900 another form of travel into the Labrador-Ungava wilderness was introduced: that in the interests of scientific research. The U.S. Navy had launched an expedition to Eclipse Harbour in 1861 to undertake astronomical measurements. The Bowdoin College expedition of 1891 preceded university and Canadian government expeditions with northern Labrador as a primary focus. The research of Bell (1884), Daly (1902), and Coleman (1921) led to the earliest predictions about the history of the Ice Ages in Labrador-Ungava. In 1931, Alexander Forbes, a wealthy American under the flag of the American Geographical Society (AGS), took a schooner and two seaplanes to the Torngat Mountains (Forbes 1938). In that same year an oxford University student expedition reached Akpatok Island in Ungava Bay.

Forbes added a geological and botanical component to his 1931 expedition, although the main challenge was experimental topographical mapping from oblique air photographs taken from his two seaplanes. Thus, after two subsequent journeys north, Forbes and the AGS published a series of four accurate topographical maps, scale 1:100,000, of the Torngat Mountains, together with some of the finest black-and-white low-level oblique air photographs of glacial landforms ever acquired (Forbes 1938). Independently E. P. (Pep) Wheeler II, a geologist based at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, undertook extensive coastal and inland journeys from the mid-1920s until shortly before his death in 1974. He single-handedly made the best available topographical maps of a large section of the Labrador coast north of Nain (Wheeler 1935). He also traveled overland from Nain by dogsled and snowshoe to Indian House Lake in the spring of 1935. From the lake he proceeded westward to the Whale River and followed it all the way to Ungava Bay. He then entered the estuary of the Koroksoak River and traveled eastward through the southern Torngat Mountains to Saglek Fiord and thence down the coast to Nain (Wheeler 1938).


Excerpted from The Land Beyond by Jack D. Ives Copyright © 2010 by University of Alaska Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Jack Ives has lived and worked in the north for more than fifty years, writing several books and receiving numerous awards—including a Guggenheim fellowship. He currently lives in Ottawa with his family.

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