Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure

Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure by James West Davidson and John Rugge is a well-written, well-researched account of Leonidas Hubbard, Jr.'s expedition to explore a portion of Labrador from the Northwest River Post to the George River Post.

Together with his friend Dillon Wallace and George Elson, a guide, Hubbard started his trip in July 1903. Winter sets in very early that far north in Canada, so they didn't have much time to travel the 550 miles to their goal. Hubbard had promised his editor at Outing magazine that he would gather material on caribou migration and the Naskapi Indians - and that he would travel by canoe, using a rifle and fishing net to hunt game and fish to eke out his food supplies. It should have made a great story or book for the readership of the magazine.

But Hubbard was a novice, as was Wallace. He didn't bring enough food; he brought no shotgun, only rifles and pistols; he had no fishing net, only fishing line; he had no reliable map. Elson, who was the son of a Scotch trader and a Cree woman, was a good woodsman and guide, but he did as he was bidden by Mr. Hubbard, the leader of the expedition.

The snows began and the men were nowhere near the George River Post. Hubbard made the decision to turn back. They were starving. Hubbard decided to leave the river (and canoe) and continue back on foot. The party split up - Hubbard stayed in camp, by now very close to death. Wallace and Elson, not much stronger, continued on to where the party had cached some flour on the trip in. The flour was black with mold when they found it, but Elson cooked some for the two of them, took a tiny portion for himself, and sent Wallace with the rest of it back to Hubbard while Elson hiked on to get help. Wallace hiked back, but a terrible snow storm blew for several days and he never found Hubbard. By the time Elson stumbled onto a trapper's cabin and got several healthy men to go find Wallace and Hubbard, Wallace was nearly dead, and Hubbard's body in his tent was buried under snow.

And that's only half of the story.

After Wallace and Elson made it back to New York, and Wallace wrote up the account of the expedition, Hubbard's widow, Mina, was displeased. She decided to re-trace the route her husband took, with approximately the same supplies in order to prove that he had not been fool-hardy and rash, and write her own account to clear her husband's good name. At the same time Wallace decided to make his own expedition to do what Hubbard had planned to do, but hadn't been able to accomplish. Mina hired George Elson and three other Indian guides to be her team, while Wallace hired four men to go with him. The race was on to see who would make it to the George River Post first - and in time to catch the company ship out before winter arrived.

Davidson and Rugge used diaries, letters, and interviews with the descendants of those involved to write this riveting exploration adventure. It reads like fiction, but the authors took care to explain why they wrote what they did, what they surmised, and what made them think the people involved were thinking or feeling whatever was not actually spelled out in the diaries or letters.

I checked this out of the library, but it's definitely a keeper for us. I've ordered a copy so my children can enjoy it, too.



Blogger Wool Winder said...

That sounds like a great book to give someone on my Christmas list. Thanks for the review.

8:16 AM  
Blogger Dana said...

This does sound good....esp for my Candadian-born DH. Also, remniscient of Mrs. Mike, a book both my mother and I enjoyed.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Dy said...

OH! Oh my goodness. Degrees of separation, small world - something. I just finished "Arctic Stowaways" by Dillon Wallace, and passed it along to James with a wink and a whispered, "I think you'll really enjoy this one."

Oh, fun!

10:38 PM  
Blogger Meg said...

That sounds great Laura.

5:44 AM  

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