At the turn of the last century, much of Northern Canada was still considered Terra incognita, and there are countless books detailing the travails of many so called “adventurers,” who headed off into the wilds, faced extreme hardships, and in a number of cases were never seen or heard from again.
Often times, they had little or no idea where they were headed, and were otherwise ill equipped to handle the many challenges and dangers they ultimately faced.
Unfortunately, the gentlemen featured in this story fall into this particular category.
So why did anyone take on, what in some cases proved to be an impossible task?
Having read many of these books, I discovered that the reasons are as unique and varied as the individuals who undertook these arduous journeys.
Many did it in an attempt to find fame and fortune, some for “God, King and country,” and others simply because it was there – or at least they THOUGHT it was.
Another possible explanation, as articulated in this book is:
“…he belongs, however slight may be his actual contribution to knowledge, however great his success or complete his failure, to that minority which has from the first kept the world moving on, while the vast majority have peacefully travelled on with it in its course.”
The Lure of the Labrador Wild, chronicles the attempt by Leonidas Hubbard, a New York writer for Outing magazine, Dillon Wallace, a New York attorney, and George Elson, a native guide, to explore the completely unmapped Lake Michikamau region within the interior of Labrador, in the spring of 1903.
While this book follows a familiar pattern or style for narratives of this kind– head off into the unknown, paddle and portage ridiculous distances while carrying back breaking loads, get lost, be tormented by bugs, starve and die – unlike many of the others, that are most often written in a somewhat dry, matter of fact manner that often masks the incredible hardships they endured on a daily basis, The Lure of the Labrador Wild takes the genera to a different level.
Where in my view this narrative differs in a significant way, is that Wallace writes in detail about the character of, and the relationship between the three very different individuals who undertook this journey.
He introduces some poignantly emotional elements to the story, such as in Chapter 17 – The Parting – where they come to the sad realization, that because he was no longer physically capable of travelling, they had little choice but to leave Hubbard behind in order to push on in the hope of finding help,
It was not hard to tell that both men clearly felt they would never see their friend alive again.
Once the decision had been made, at page 151 he writes:
“Thus I began a night of weary vigil and foreboding. My heart was heavy with a presentiment of something dreadful. In the forest beyond the fire the darkness was intense. There was a restless stir among the fir tops; then a weary, weary sighing.”
Wallace also goes to great lengths to describe the conversations and personal interactions between the three companions, and does not shy away from sharing some of their inner most thoughts, fears, dreams and aspirations – as well as what can perhaps best be described as their spiritual awakening.
Despite their dire circumstances, he even manages to include a lighter moment, where having been without tobacco for their pipes for some time, George reached into his pocket, and carefully removed a small amount of plug tobacco.
He recounts that special moment at page 136:
“George,” said I, “however in the world could you keep it so long?”
“Well,” said George - puff, puff- “well, when we were getting’ so short of grub” – puff – “thinks I” – puff – “the times comin’” – puff, puff – “when we’ll need cheerin’ up” – puff – “and, says I” – puff – “I’ll just sneak this away until that time comes.”
What an outstanding passage.
The warmth, kindness and courage demonstrated by the people of the Labrador are also on full display throughout the later part of the book.
Time and time again people, who had very little themselves, opened their doors and hearts - even risked their own lives - and by doing so, saved Dillon and George from certain death.
Wallace speaks to this in part at page 194:
“It is impossible for me to express the gratitude I feel towards those good friends. They nursed me with the tenderest care. Mackenzie’s big Scotch heart and the woman’s sympathetic instinct of the little housekeeper anticipated my every want, and he and she could never seem to satisfy themselves in doing things for my comfort.”
Back in the day, when someone passed away deep in the wilderness, given the extraordinary difficulties in burying, never mind attempting to transport the body back “outside,” they often times secured/buried the body as best they could, and would then leave it “in country” for posterity.
Undaunted by these challenges, Wallace nevertheless goes to great lengths to recover his friend’s body from their last camp, and bring it back to New York City, where:
“We laid him to rest in a beautiful spot in the little cemetery at Haverstraw, at the very foot of the mountains he used to roam, and overlooking the grand old Hudson that he loved so well.”
I found this to be an enjoyable and compelling read, and if you have an interest in this particular genera, and are tired of the “same old same old”, then my guess is that you will find this to be a refreshing change.
Paperbacks are available for as little as $9.95, and the Kindle edition can be purchased for $3.99 through Amazon and other online booksellers.
There is an interesting postscript to this story that concerns an irreconcilable rift that developed between Wallace and Hubbard’s widow Mina, following the publishing of this book.
For reasons that are not apparent to me, she felt he, unfairly, placed the failure of the expedition on her husband's shoulders and had sullied his name.
This “rift” then gave rise to "the great race of 1905."
Wallace announced plans to complete the aborted expedition, and to counter this move Mina decided to make a similar trip, in hopes of clearing her husband's name.
I guess, among other things, she was not terribly impressed with all of the efforts Wallace undertook in order to bring her husbands body home.
For more information regarding the “great race”, please click on the following link: