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History of Labrador

Thursday, July 12, 2001

There is, perhaps, no place in North America that has changed as fast, as drastically as Labrador. In less than a generation, it has gone from a dog sled economy to the information age, and many of the old ways are disappearing for good. And as the old ways are forgotten, so to are the stories and adventures of a generation whose numbers dwindle year by year. Doris Saunders, however, is driven to make sure that these stories are preserved for the future.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay -- Doris Saunders, founding editor of Them Days magazine which tells the stories of Labrador's trappers and pioneers in their own words. She is pictured in front of paintings of her forebears. (Michael Peake photo)
Doris is the editor of Them Days, a small historical journal published quarterly from a small office in Happy Valley. It's a mighty task to produce each edition now that funding is erratic and subscribers are few. Despite the shoestring budget, she has a staff of three (all willing to accept minimum wage to help get the work done) and a respectable archive of photographs, news clippings that date back to the 1870s.

She also has a priceless collection of letters and taped interviews with Labrador elders who describe life as far back as 1900. Some accounts tell of life on the land, and others describe dreadful human tragedies. One such event was the Spanish Flu that wiped out most of the population along the coast in 1919. The tale, told by Josiah Obed, is a first-hand description of how quickly the influenza devastated his village of Okak when he was a boy of 6 years.

Year after year, Doris continues to publish with the same determination and passion that she had when she took over Them Days in 1976. Back then, everything had to be typed and set by hand. Today, Some of the workload has been lifted by technology; there are computers to do the job, and scanners, CD burners, and tape drives to help preserve the voices and words of the past. There is also an Internet site (www.hvgb.net/~themdays) to help get the stories of Labrador out to the world. But the work of researching, cataloguing, and filing is a labour intensive task that can only be done by hand.

That she is so driven is no surprise. She was born on the land 60 years ago in the small coastal settlement of Cartwright and is the great-great grand daughter of Lydia Campbell, considered by many here to be one of two "Mothers of Labrador." She is also the daughter of a life-long trapper.

"My father was a trapper through and through, says Doris, "He always said that a trapper should never end his days indoors but that he should be able to die under the stars. She says on the day he died he had wandered off from home, headed into the bush. "When they found him about four miles from home," she recalls, "he was lying in the snow, his fox-trimmed parka hood pulled back behind his head and his arms crossed on his chest... he looked at peace." She adds, "I always thought he'd come to me and tell me when he was going but he never did. When I see him again I'll tell him that I was not happy that he left without saying goodbye."
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