Transcribed by George White
My first sight of Labrador was through thick fog. For an hour or more, we were warned of our approach to the coast, by a powerful fog whistle at Forteau. After passing Forteau, the fog lifted, and we ran up to Salmon River in clear weather.
Imagination is often misleading, as we found when the place of which we heard so often, and read so little about, was really seen. Barren, and lonely enough looking to fulfil all we heard about it, but not nearly so wild, in its appearance, as imagination pictured it from report. First impressions are lasting; my first were not nearly so bad as I anticipated. Frowning mountains with perpendicular and overhanging cliffs, the thunder pealing, and lightening leaping from peak to peak, attracted by the iron rock, with the sea dashing in, seething foam at the base, were things we saw not, at least the first day of our sail up the coast. Indeed, we thought the land had quite a finished look, as it slopes gradually to the water's edge.
North of the Straits of Belle Isle, the land is higher near the water, some of the head lands and capes coming out in the sea, with a bold high front, yet for hundreds of miles, there are fine harbors as close together as they could be placed. The only part of the shore without harbors, is near Red Bay, where about twenty miles of straight coast is found. From Chateau to Cape Mugford, several hundred miles of coast, there are fine bays and some rivers of considerable size. Numerous islands, large and small, lie along the coast, North of Cape Charles. Vessels can sail many miles among these islands, over passages as smooth as rivers.
From Cape Harrigan to Cape Mugford, the distance, being one hundred miles or more, can be made through Islands without once coming to the open sea. Some charming scenery is passed on this sail. Sandwich and Gros Water Bays are the two finest, the latter, taking the Grand River, can be navigated in small craft, two hundred miles or more. On the Grand River, there is a fall of great height; the spray can be seen many miles away. The roar of the falling water is heard, when the wind is favorable, days before the traveler on foot reaches it.
The whole coast from Salmon River to Cape Mugford, and even farther North, which is 500 or 600 miles, may be said to be almost over crowded with fishermen, Newfoundlanders and Nova Scotians. What a vast amount of wealth is expended to prosecute the fisheries! What a vast return to warrant such an outlay! What a wealthy country, or rather, what wealth is taken from the sea on its coast! Yet, there is but little sign of wealth on the land. Many miserable huts as summer shelters, a few fine business establishments, occupied in the summer, and in Sandwich Bay and Gros Water Bay the Hudson Bay Company has Posts.
Religion is kept up in a few places by resident Ministers during winter and summer. At Salmon River, a Congregational Minister lives all the year. At Red Bay, a Methodist Minister; At Battle Harbor, an Episcopal Minister.
Then, we have hundreds of miles to Hopedale, before we reach another mission station. The Moravians have been there for the last 120 years, among the Esquimaux. They have done a noble work, Christianizing and educating these people of the North. At Nain, we saw them in holiday dress, as the Saturday afternoon we were there, was a festival day among the Moravians. Some of the women were tidily dressed in our style of female attire, others in the old native style. These were mostly old women, seal skin pants and cossack, differing from the men only in having a long tail or trail from the waist to the ground, like a bird’s tail, narrow at the top, and widening until near the end, then rounded off tastefully. We heard them sing some Hymns in their own language with great spirit.
Leaving Nain, we steamed toward Zoar, far inland, among thousands of islands. The sun set August 11, 8: 20; there the days were even much shorter than five weeks before. Father ROE and J.J. ROGERSON, Esq., were much delighted with the sunset, pronouncing it the grandest they ever looked upon! In that far Northern latitude, hours after many on the same longitude were in darkness, we were gazing with admiration and wonder, at the change from glory to glory, as the colors change and intermingled over the hills of Zoar. If not in the Holy Land, we knew we were on the border of Heavenly Land, and if earth has such lovely pictures, what must there be in store for those who shall be permitted to enter the Heavenly country!
Zoar is a small mission station. Here we saw the Kyse, so often described, yet so imperfectly understood until the moment we set eyes on it; yet, even that sight was imperfect, as the thing was tied up to the side of a large boat. Afterwards, in Gros Water Bay, we saw one on the water, driven with the double paddle, and carried with the current at a great speed. It is a long, low, narrow thing made of seal skin, in which one man goes; not a short turned up think at each end, with sharp points, as so often pictured. The Esquimaux would have hard work to make out what these pictures mean if they saw them.
From Zoar, we ran up to Cape Harrigan and had prayers on a schooner at 11 am. Sunday morning. In the afternoon, late, we reached Hopedale. Here we enjoyed a singing service. Punctual to the moment, the congregation assembled, and spent half an hour singing. A fine organ was played well by an Esquimaux, two others played a violin each, and one played a bass viol. “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”, in the Esquimaux went well, as all the pieces they sang. By every one in the little church, the greatest attention was paid to the services, which seemed to be most profound to them; no one gazing about or laughing; no filthy tobacco chewing and the juice staining the floor and seats. What a contrast to our services! How much ahead of us in civilization! My heart was filled with joy as I looked upon those happy faces and contrasted the present with the past.
After this service, we had the Holy Communion, in which we were glad to join. Fifty-one Esquimaux were at the service, and the blessed Lord made it a time of great comfort; my heart was filled with great peace. A very pleasant evening was afterwards spent with the Missionaries and their families. Daniel, a native Lay Missionary, came in and gave us a graphic description of work done for Jesus, hundreds of miles to the North of Hopedale, as far as Cape Chidley. Even now, there are heathen Esquimaux down there, and it as the risk of life that the converted Esquimaux can go among them. We were asked to read a portion of God’s Word and have prayer; such a sweet blessed season, as the Lord talked with us, and made our hearts beam, we can never forget. What a oneness there is, though denominations may differ in name, when the heart is right with God!
We called at Windsor Islands, the next day. Here Father ROE left us to see his people. These are the most Northern shore crews on the Labrador. Next we came to Turnavic, where Mr. Abraham BARTLETT has a fine establishment, and a real missionary work can be done, and plenty of it, all the summer season, and in the bays winter and summer, as there are scattered settlers in many places. From Turnavic to Indian Harbor in Gros Water Bay, there are many fishermen of all denominations. Methodists are found from all the Northern bays of Newfoundland, on shore or in craft. A long summer without a visit from a Minister must be much against vital Godliness. Yet we found some who were doing a noble part to supply the want. One young woman, a Miss SMITH from Cupids, had a Sabbath School at Mannock Island. Some places, no one is found to hold services, hence a long season without a public service.
Gros Water Bay was the place of greatest interest to me. Here I traveled in the best way to do real Mission work, from place to place, living among the people, and found them to be kind and intelligent. The time spent among these people was most profitable, as here there were found many who loved the Lord, and some with a joyful hope of eternal glory. I was surprised to find it an old mission station; Methodist Ministers having labored there, winter and summer, many years ago. There are those who were then children, living in happy remembrance of these days, eager to tell me they were baptized by such a Minister. Our services were well attended, and one of the hardest things I had to do in all my life, was to tell them I could not stay all winter with them. At last, I reached the last family I could visit in this fine bay, which was about sixty miles inland from the summer fishermen on the outside.
All this distance was traveled in short stages, and mostly in small boats, and some of it over several times. The Lord helped me wonderfully. I could move about just as fast as necessary, and was greatly aided in preaching, and in personal teaching. If anyone wishes to try his strength, it is a fine place to do so. From early morning to late in the evening traveling, visiting, reading, and praying with the families, then preaching in the evening, and the hardest part: bidding farewell to those seen for the first time that day, yet to whom you get wonderfully drawn, when you see them weeping as they feel the power of the truth and hear of the love of God.
These are an educated people, as far as reading and writing, which is a great wonder, when they have no schools! There is no doubt but in this respect they are far ahead of us. They are well read in the Scripture and have a good understanding of its truths. Some years ago, a Canadian Methodist named BROWNSON did much good by teaching and leading prayers. Not satisfied with what he could do himself, he got an educated Esquimaux and his wife to come from Hopedale and teach the Esquimaux in Gros Water Bay to read, write and sing; now every family of them can do so, and many of them are converted and have services among themselves. This good man has been dead about twenty years. He was an old man when he died. I saw his grave. No prettier spot could be found on the Coast, and it would be hard to find a much more delightful place anywhere, than where he is buried.
The wild winter winds may sweep through the bare limbs of the trees, but in summer, when everything is in leaf that bears leaf, it certainly was a charming spot, as on a quiet lovely evening, I was rowed up to the little graveyard over a smooth sheet of water, like mirror, surrounded on every side by land covered with wood, clothed in summer dress. Nature has beauties everywhere. Gros Water Bay, when it is known, will be looked upon as a very fine place! There are trees that will make spars seventy feet long, at its head, growing close to the water’s edge.
My work done, I turned homeward, and where possible, preached and worked for the Lord and the good of man. By the blessings of God, I reached home in good health, after many hardships, yet feeling that if possible to do good, I would gladly spend life in such work. It matters little where we are if the Lord uses us for His work.
Signed: J. EMBREE.