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Aug 4 Dr Grenfell in Labrador & the Seafarers Mission

Today we travel to Labrador in Canada where Dr. Wilfred T. Grenfell arrived on the remote Canadian Atlantic coast to work with colonists who had access to little medical attention and lived in poverty. His work transformed the scattered community and attracted worldwide interest


The Royal Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen had sent Grenfell to Newfoundland in 1892 to improve the plight of coastal inhabitants and fishermen. He began by recruiting two nurses and two doctors for hospitals at Indian Harbour, Newfoundland and later opened cottage hospitals along the coast of Labrador. Arriving as a 26-year-old young man he would dedicate forty-two years of his life to them, raising funds and recruiting many other doctors, nurses, and clergymen to join him.

Long settled by indigenous peoples of the Inuit, Newfoundland was visited by the Icelandic explorer Leif Eriksson in the 11th century, who is thought to have been the first European to have set foot on continental North America (excluding Greenland), approximately half a millennium before Christopher Columbus (see pod of Aug 3 ) Newfoundland had been claimed as a colony of England In 1583, by Sir Humphrey Gilbert on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, which makes it England’s first and oldest colony, The Treaty of Paris in 1748 had ended the French and Indian War and transferred New France to the British, which administered the area as the Province of Quebec until splitting it in two in 1791, with Labrador located in Lower Canada. However, in 1809 the British Imperial government detached Labrador from Lower Canada for transfer to the separate, self-governing Newfoundland Colony.

As a medical missionary , Dr Grenfel he would traverse the Labrador shores in his mission boat or ski to where he is needed. Sometimes this would be at great personal risk for instance he was on his way with his dogs to a Newfoundland village for a medical emergency when he got caught in "slob", slushy sea ice, from which he managed to get onto an ice-pan with the dogs. He was forced to sacrifice some of his dogs to make a warm, fur coat for himself. After drifting for several days without food or fresh water, he was rescued by some villagers in the area. Because of this experience he buried the dogs and put up a plaque saying, "Who gave their lives for me." The mission expanded greatly from its initial mandate to one of developing schools, an orphanage, cooperatives, industrial work projects, and social work. Although founded to serve the local area, the mission developed to include the aboriginal Inuit peoples and settlers along the coasts of Labrador and the eastern side of the Great Northern Peninsula of northern Newfoundland. One of the children Grenfell assisted was an Inuit girl, Kirkina, for whom he helped secure artificial limbs and later the Grenfell Mission educated her in nursing and midwifery. However the mission also had setbacks, Grenfell imported a group of 300 reindeer from Norway to provide food and serve as draft animals in Newfoundland. Unbeknownst to him, some of the animals carried a parasitic roundworm that then spread to native caribou herds. The reindeer herd eventually disappeared; however, the parasite took hold and spread (CSE) in caribou, a disease well known in reindeer in Scandinavia

The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen that sent Grenfell to are now known more widely as the Fishermen's Mission, run on Christian principles and provide financial, emotional and pastoral support to fishermen and their families in over 70 ports. The Mission Centres provide showers, washing machines, accommodation, food, companionship and recreational activities (such as snooker tables and internet access). They also ran mission ships, as well as being hospital ships, they were all equipped with fishing-gear and sent their fish to market with the rest of the fleet however the Mission ships did not fish on Sundays, whereas very many of the ordinary steam-trawlers did. They had a surgeon and surgeon's mate, along with a crew capable of turning their hands to nursing. A complete surgical outfit of instruments was available, including the ability to take X-rays. The Grenfell Mission was founded as a branch of the Fishermen's Mission as Grenfell’s work expanded. As roads between settlements did not exist during much of the time that the Grenfell Mission supplied services, so in summer, nurses and doctors travelled to patients by boat, and in the winter, by dog team or (in later years) airplane. Certain drugs and medical supplies were not available in the Mission's remote setting, so staff were obliged to use inventive procedures. Tuberculosis occurred at epidemic proportions in the 1940s in northern Newfoundland and Labrador but the role that the Grenfell Mission played in the near eradication of tuberculosis was one of its most outstanding achievements

As it attracted doctors and nurses from more countries it becamethe International Grenfell Association. The Mission was famous for its burlap rugs, which were sold to hospitals in the United States and Britain. Grenfell rugs remain highly prized by folk art collectors


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