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NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
AN INCURSION INTO LABRADOR.*
To a man like Mr. Hind, of whom we last heard when on his return from sundry exploring expeditions in the Winnipeg district, the Red River settlement, and the wilds of the two Bow Rivers and the Rocky Mountains; the requisites for an exploration of the even less known interior of Labrador were few and simple. Small, light, and strong canoes, a plentiful supply of the best provisions, portable tents, two or three changes of flannel clothing, a few good instruments, practised voyageurs, and skilful guides, are, we are told, all that are absolutely necessary. mountainous character of the country does not admit of canoes longer than three fathoms being used, and this condition places a limit to the number of men that can be employed, and the amount of provisions that can be transported. A good three-fathom canoe will carry three men and five hundred-weight of provisions conveniently, without being too low in the water, in a large and rapid river; neither is it more than one man, accustomed to the work, can carry over the portages, which in the wilds of Eastern Canada and Labrador are generally long, “rough," and only capable of admitting the passage of the small canoes used by the Montagnais Indians.
Travel, in fact, in Labrador, as in Eastern and Western Canada, consists in paddling up mountain streams against all kinds of difficulties, with the ever-recurring change of having to get over rapids and falls by landing and carrying boats and stores over rocks and woods, down ravines, and up hills and mountains, with, in Labrador and other unexplored regions, no traffic pathway, but dense forest and bog, through which the voyageur has to cut his way foot by foot; and these tremendous obstacles to progress vary from one to sometimes many miles in length.
Mr. Hind's exploratory party consisted of himself, his brother, an artist, Messrs. Gaudet and Cally, surveyors, five French-Canadian voyageurs, one Abenakis, and one Montagnais Indian. For such a party, four birch canoes, 500 lbs. bacon, 800 lbs. flour, 200 lbs. biscuit, 2000 rations pressed vegetables, 50 lbs. tea, and 25 lbs. tobacco, were provided. None of the Nasquapees, the only other tribe, who, with the so-called Montagnais, inhabit the neighbourhood of the Moisie Riverthe river up which the exploration was to be carried, and of which little or nothing was previously known-could be induced to accompany the expedition.
Explorations in the Interior of the Labrador Peninsula. By Henry Youle Hind, M.A., F.R.G.S. Two Vols. Longmans. Jan.-VOL. CXXX. NO. DXVII.
Yet has this Moisie River-the "great river" of the Montagnais Indians, which enters the Gulf of St. Lawrence in longitude 66 deg. 10 min., about eighteen miles east of the bay of the Seven Islandsbeen for centuries one of the leading lines of communication from the interior to the coast, and travelled by the Montagnais during the time when they were a numerous and powerful people, capable of assembling upwards of "a thousand warriors" to repel the invasion of the Esquimaux; for even arctic and sub-arctic nations can no more be restrained from the perilous pastime of war than those dwelling in temperate or intertropical climates-than those who are supposed to be so much more humane and enlightened. Indians and Esquimaux are, like other savage races, gradually disappearing from contact with civilised man; but not in this case under the ordinary circumstances of fire-water, new diseases, and perpetual pushing of the more energetic race-but from quite peculiar circumstances. The Indian Montagnais and Nasquapee alike deteriorate on the coast, and rapidly lose the energy and bodily strength which characterise them when living in the interior, and which constitutional powers are there absolutely necessary in order that they may maintain themselves in a mountainous country thinly stocked with game. Once on the coast, their habits soon change they live on seals and fish, become very susceptible of changes in the weather, and are liable during the spring of the year to prolonged attacks of influenza; the young people become consumptive, the middle-aged rheumatic, and death rapidly thins the ranks of these once numerous and singularly interesting races. But if in the interior the mountaineer Indian preserves his pristine spirit, vigour, and enduring qualities, where is he to be found? Reading Mr. Hind's journal carefully through, we are only impressed with the idea of his meeting one Montagnais chief (he might well be a chief, for he seems to have been by himself alone), who had, with his wife and family, wintered in the interior; and even he had adopted a young Nasquapee Indian to help him in providing for the wants of his family, and this during the whole extent of the exploration! The chief cause of the decline of the Labrador Indians lies, however, in the greater destruction of animals brought about by the introduction of fire-arms. Before the Indians had guns they could not kill many caribou-the reindeer of Labrador: it was very hard work to shoot them with arrows and follow them for miles, so many remained. Since the white men have provided the Indians with guns and ammunition in their cupidity for skins, the caribou has become quite rare. So it is with all other useful animals, and those that preyed upon them being likewise deprived of resources, they have also perished away. All that remains to the Indian are salmon, and trout, and wild geese, but these are only to be obtained for a season, and in winter-time he is left to starve, and so it is that his race is becoming extinct even before the remote influence of the white
In such a country a man is esteemed solely for his prowess in hunting, shooting, and fishing. We have a primeval condition of society, and man's power of rearing a family must depend upon his bodily activity and endurance, and his skill in procuring daily subsistence. An incident that occurred before the starting of the expedition from the coast is highly characteristic of this feature in Indian life. One of the Indians
engaged, Louis by name (for most of the Indians living on the coast are converted and baptised by the Roman Catholic missionaries), was a good-tempered man, a bit of a character, not fond of work or very sure with his gun, but thoroughly capable of managing a canoe. Mr. Hind relates the following domestic incident in connexion with him :
"Do you see that handsome squaw there?" said a Nova Scotia fisherman to me the morning before we started from the mouth of the Moisie.
"Yes," I replied, "I see her what of her ?"
That's Louis's wife, the Indian you engaged."
"Louis's wife. Why, she doesn't live in his lodge."
"No," said the fisherman, with a smile, "she don't, and, what's more, she won't she won't have anything to say to her husband, and, what's more, she's ashamed of him."
"What has he done to offend her ?" I asked, both surprised and curious. Well, the fact is, he can't hunt."
Can't hunt? Do you mean to say that that handsome woman married Louis knowing he could not hunt ?"
"That's where it is; she didn't know he could not hunt-you've just hit the other side of it," said my facetious informant, with a smile. "Now, I'll tell you," he continued. "These Indians on the coast are strange people. I was here fishing last summer when she came with her father, the old man in the tent yonder, near those squaws skinning the seal; the priest was here baptising, marrying, and I don't know what. Louis saw the girl, and asked her to marry him: they had no time to lose; the priest was going away in a couple of days, not to come again for a twelvemonth, so the girl consented, they spoke to the priest, and were made man and wife in a jiffey. Well, two days after this wedding, Louis went out with his wife to hunt seals: she steered and he took the gun-the way these Indians do. Louis fired at the seals one after the other, and missed them. His wife then turned the canoe in disgust to shore, and stepped straight to her father's lodge. After much bother, Louis prevailed upon her to come with him again to hunt, and give him a chance. So she agreed to go again, and on the following day she steered him close to a seal: he fired, and missed. She brought him up to another: he fired again, and missed a second time. She looked-so Louis told his people-just looked, said nothing; but that look made Louis nervous. She brought him to a third sealclose to it-he missed again. She said nothing, but paddled to shore, and then ran to her father's lodge. She says she'll never live with him again. Up to this time she's kept her word; but they say the priest will make her when she goes to Seven Islands next month-we shall see."
I turned to look at Louis's wife. She stood near to the place where we were talking;-a handsome, determined woman; lips full, but tightly closed; a dark, intelligent eye, which, when it met yours, rested upon you with a tranquil, selfpossessed gaze. Her arms were folded beneath a shawl she drew tightly round her waist. Her hair was neatly bunched up, Montagnais fashion, on each side of her face; she wore the picturesque Montagnais cap of crimson and black, ornamented with braid round the edges; neat moccasins and mistassins peeped from beneath her dress as she stood motionless, watching her sisters cutting up a seal, and apparently paying no attention to their jeers and scoffs, which the interpreter near at hand said they were "throwing at Louis." Altogether, she seemed to be a very unfit life companion for the indolent and careless Louis, who always wore a look of happy or stupid indifference to all the chances and changes of this world.
It was the 10th of June when the expedition started up the Moisie, yet at that period of the year in this wild, desert, sub-arctic region, frozen snow capped the distant mountains in brilliant masses, and although the sky was cloudless and the sun hot, the water was cold and turbid, and
patches of ice still lay in every sheltered nook on the banks of the river, where snow had drifted deep during the long winter months. A few Brent geese flying to the north, salmon here and there rising high at June flies, a solitary kingfisher, and a flock of golden-legged plover, were all the signs of life that were seen during the first five miles. On the borders of the spruce forest, which came down almost to the water's edge, the birch was just putting forth its delicate green leaves, but the larch scarcely showed any indications of returning vigour. In damp and shady nooks the ferns were cautiously unfolding their earliest fronds, and on the willows, half bathed in the flood, hung the catkins of spring. Although the Brent geese were on their way to the lakes in the central Labrador upland, which they would find still full of ice, the temperature, kept down by the winds from the sea, improved as they ascended the river, and vege
tation was found to be more forward.
A start is always a ticklish affair. The means of transport, the men, tackle and gear, are all put for the first time upon their trial, and there are generally many mishaps ere all gets into working order. With Mr. Hind it was a canoe that went wrong first, the sides where the bark is fastened with watap or sinew to the frame gave way; it also leaked where the bark was sewn together, and they had to stop, and not only to "gum" the canoe, but also to readjust the baggage, before they could proceed on their voyage. Master Louis took advantage of this contretemps to make an attempt at escape. He does not appear, although so unhappily wedded, to have relished the idea of an excursion to rocky, barren, and yet damp and icy uplands. Mr. Hind had taken advantage of the delay to send back for some provisions, to take the place of those that had been spoiled by the leaky canoe:
Just as the canoe was about to start back (he relates) to the station to fetch the flour, which I was anxious to obtain to replace the wetted biscuit, Louis came to me with a desponding look, and said he had forgotten his blanket"Would I let him go in the canoe and fetch it ?" But Louis was not to be trusted so near home. He might repent having come, as Indians often do during the first day or two; I therefore told the other men, whom I could trust, to bring Louis's blanket with them. Louis gave them very indefinite and confused directions where to find his blanket, and I am still under the impression that the article in question was more imaginary than real, for we never heard of it afterwards and Louis, when seen enveloping himself in a capacious but rather dirty rug before choosing his ground for the night underneath a canoe, replied to the questions,
Why, Louis, what did you want two blankets for ?"
"Don't want two blankets-one enough."
"Then why did you want to go and fetch the other blanket ?"
"Like it best," answered Louis.
"Do Indians ever have more than two blankets ?"
No; one blanket enough for Indian."
"Do you think the men will find yours at the fishing station ?"
"Tink not; tink they will have very hard work to find other blanket," said Louis, with a comical laugh.
"Perhaps the blanket around you is the one you thought you had left behind ?"
"May be," said Louis, brightening up, and turning his head to survey the rug. May be; it looks very much like it."
"Then you have not got another blanket, Louis?"