Diaries Over the Years

The diary has long been one of the most popular forms of writing in Labrador.  It’s such a rich form, capable of everything from fact to fiction, and comedy to tragedy.  On an international scale, just think of two of the most famous twentieth-century diarists—Bridget Jones and Anne Frank—and you’ll immediately get a sense of how wide a range diaries can cover.

Labrador has its own diverse history of diary-keepers, of all kinds.  Just to highlight a few examples, here is one diary from each of the past three centuries—though two of them weren’t actually published until this one!

1700s

  • George Cartwright’s famous account of trading, fishing, and trapping on Labrador’s south coast spans the years 1770-1786, and was first published in 1792.  I can hardly overstate its influence on the way Labrador has been thought about and represented by writers ever since. There have been various editions, but the first can be read online at HathiTrust.
Cartwright’s entry for June 1, 1775, exactly 245 years ago today. Notice the long S (it looks like an F) in “shalloway,” “sent,” etc., wherever the S is not at the end of the word. Shalloways and shallops are boats.

1800s

  • In 1880, a Hebron man named Abraham travelled to Europe with seven other Labrador Inuit, including his wife Ulrike and their young daughters, Sara and Maria.  Abraham’s chilling, deeply moving diary and letters relate the group’s experiences being exhibited in zoos, touring Europe, and finally contracting smallpox.  Ultimately all eight, including Abraham himself, died of the disease.  Abraham’s original diary is lost, but a missionary’s translation into German survives in Moravian archives, and an English translation of that version was published by the University of Ottawa Press in 2005, alongside Abraham’s letters and other contemporary documents.  An e-book version is posted on JStor, and a contemporary diary kept by the Inuit’s recruiter, Johan Adrian Jacobsen, is also available as an e-book from NLPL.
A succinct entry in Abraham’s diary.

1900s

  • Just two years ago, in 2018, Newfoundland writer Tom Drodge published a book on the crash of a B-26 bomber at Saglek in 1942, during the Second World War.  The book includes a diary kept by the pilot, Grover Cleveland Hodge, for nearly two months while the survivors of the crash awaited rescue before succumbing to starvation and the elements. You can borrow an e-book version of Drodge’s book, entitled The Diary of One Now Dead, from NLPL. The diary itself is also transcribed online on Larry Wilson’s web site, which is devoted to the history of the Distant Early-Warning (DEW) radar line.
From Hodge’s diary.

There are countless other Labrador diaries—far too many to list.  Still, just to give some sense how many there are, it might help for me to briefly note a few more of them. To begin with, it is impossible not to mention the famous Sketches of Labrador Life by Lydia Campbell (1894-95).  Sketches is actually something between a diary, a series of letters, and an autobiography, but anyway it is easily one of Labrador’s most important and influential literary works ever.  Add to the list of published Labrador diaries those by Campbell’s son Thomas Blake (1883-90), Reverend Henry Gordon (1915-5) and his wife, the teacher Clara Gordon (1919-25), and such expedition writers as Leonidas Hubbard (1903) or Mina Hubbard (1905), as well as tourists like Eliot Curwen (1883)—whom I have mentioned before.

That is just the tip of the iceberg of published Labrador diaries, and even that says nothing of the vast wealth of unpublished ones out there.  Being so personal and often even private, many diaries are never even intended to be read by anyone but the person who wrote them.  But many are valuable archival resources, and treasures to family and friends, even if they are never published as books on their own. Just to point out a sampling of Labrador’s largely unpublished diaries—several are held by the Them Days Archive, including those of Mary Ford (1945-1949), John Broomfield (1953-57), Ira Best (1937-43), Gordon Morris (1942-48), and others, and you might also want to check out the December 2019 issue of Them Days for an article by William Fowler on W.H. Ellworthy of Salmon Point (1890s-1930s).

The list goes on (and on and on). And hey—if you get writing, or if you’ve started already, then some day your diary will be added to our collective heritage too!

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