Labrador History - 8.2 THOSE WHO WENT BEFORE

How did this work on the Labrador coast start? The history of Dr. Grenfell’s work has been well documented elsewhere, so I will not repeat that, but God started His work on the “coast” a long time before I came, both through Dr. Grenfell himself and others in Forteau. The old Methodist preachers had brought the gospel and God had saved souls, as was mentioned above in the story of Uncle Allen Moores in Red Bay, and many of the nurses in those early days had trusted Christ. There were many colourful characters who testified to faith in Christ.
Dr. Grenfell had come from England, seen the desperate need of the people along the Labrador coast, and recruited doctors and nurses to come and work. He first came in 1892 when he was with the Mission to Deep Sea Fishers, and the first nurse in Forteau, Nurse Bailey, came in the fall of 1908. A Christian who obeyed the call of the Lord to this work, as I had many years later, she spent three years in Battle Harbour before coming to Forteau.
The people of Forteau had sent a petition asking for a small hospital, and promised to clear land, which had been donated by a Forteau couple, Mr. and Mrs. William James. Details of this are given in the following quotation from, “Among the Deep Sea Fishers” January 1908:
Dr Grenfell writes, “We have decided to put a nurse at this place as the people desire and we shall build a house in which a nurse can even take two or three cases if necessary.”

Copy of Petition
We the undersigned, who live in Forteau, want to have a small hospital and a nurse at our village. We are ready to help the Deep Sea Mission to put one there, and to keep it going by promising to give one week’s work or its equivalent each year either in spring or fall, when we are not busy with our fishing, also by at once getting the ground and site all ready for the building, and clearing the land for fencing.
H. J. Cashman
Joseph H. James
Wm. Wilcox James
Joseph A. James
A. Hart
William Barrett
William Flinn
Charles Davis
Charles Harris
Joseph Hancock
Arthur L. Bell
Francis .1. Buckle
John Anly James
George Flinn
Edward Flinn
William James
John Davis

When Florence Bailey arrived she stayed with Mr. and Mrs. James, because the little cottage hospital was not ready. To add to her problems, furniture shipped on the schooner had not arrived on time. The following quote from a letter written by Sister Bailey (as she came to be known) to the editor of “Among the Deep Sea Fishers” on February 1st. 1909, reveals what living conditions were like for her at that time.
“You would be rather amused to see my little hut, with blankets on the floor for floor cloth, home-made wooden bedsteads, one mattress filled with shavings with two others I managed to secure from Battle Harbour by the last boat. Meat tins and lard pails have come in very useful for cooking purposes; the lids of biscuit tins have also made excellent baking tins and dustpans. Despite this inconvenience, we are happy, for 1 believe it does one good and teaches ingenuity, as well as helps us to sympathize with those who suffer poverty for a lifetime.
“Just as I was in the midst of Christmas preparations, I received a call to drive 36 miles to see a sick woman. My driver tried to persuade me not to go, as it was not fit for a woman to travel that time of year. There was not enough snow to cover the hills, and it would be necessary for them to put a rope round my waist to lower me down over the battery. All the same I decided to put off the children’s entertainment and started for Red Bay with the glass registering 24 degrees below zero. Before I reached L’Anse-au-Loup, the wind blew a gale and icicles were hanging in all directions. I was fearfully cold; also disappointed that I could not get any further that day.
“1 was scarcely awake the next morning (Christmas Day) when the “woman of the house” came to tell me that the men were willing to take me if I was determined to go. But as they could scarcely see their dogs at a distance they thought I had better not risk it. Fortunately, a man had come from Red Bay and 1 was able to send medicine with all directions, and a promise to go as soon as weather permitted.
“The people here are very hospitable. When within haifa mile of the house, some people and dogs came to meet us. They were glad I had come, they said, and hoped I would stay some time; they would give me the best they had to eat.
“I arrived in Forteau just in time for the Christmas tea, which was held in the hail close by. The Christmas tree, with its many pretty decorations and the numerous small presents was joyously welcomed by the little ones when in the evening Santa Claus duly appeared and presented the children with his gifts.
“On New Year’s Eve I was invited to take the watchnight service. At first I was nonplussed at the suggestion, as I had not even a note with me (for I went to listen). lam often called upon to take the Sunday evening services, therefore 1 thought it was necessary to prepare a suitable address. The message that was given went home to one soul, who decided to serve God that night.
“The longer I stay here, the more I realise that we are here not only for the purpose of affecting the bodies of men and women, but also with the object of making that a door of approach to get to the souls of these people. Sorrow and joy, active days and peaceful nights with Christ as our pilot is our reward. Life on the Labrador is not always easy, neither does one feel like sleeping on a bed of roses, when there are so many lives slipping away through poverty, ignorance and neglect. To help people I have found it necessary to come in close contact with them, that they may feel the warmth of sympathy.”
A little further in the same letter Miss Bailey wrote:
“I received a note from a poor woman whose husband had been sick all summer asking for a few articles of clothing for her children, who were half naked. When she tried a coat on her little girl her maternal pride awakened. “Well, now, it’s real stylish you’re looking,” she said. “I don’t know what to say to you for it, sister I can but love and thank you. It’s hard times we’ve had, since the fish only fetched two dollars a quintal.”
“A little later I was called to see a sick woman. Such a dull, stuffy room she was in and scarcely enough cloths to cover her thin form. “How long have you felt sick?” I asked. “Couple of weeks maybe,” answered the poor woman. “I’m chilled through and through; I never saw such weather as this; I suppose I’ve got a cold.” My heart went out in sympathy for her for I knew that her days were but few in this world. She had a tired, worn look on her face, and it was my privilege to point her to that Great Physician and give her afresh vision of what He could be to her in her dull monotonous life. She had lived in this cheerless house for many years, yet her fortitude had been equal to the loneliness of her lfe.
“The next day I was called to see a little boy. It was very cold, with a wind that seemed to pierce through one in spite offurs and wraps. The child’s mother was very anxious about him. “He’s been awful sick, sister “ she said; and nourishment is hard to get.” The child’s face was white and pinched, and told the tale of poverty only too plainly.
“Our needs are great. We need patience and grace, tact and love; we need the prayers of God’s people; we need clothing, especially boots and stockings for the little ones. I am giving lectures to the mothers on how to feed their babies, for many are fed on bread and tea at a very early age. Milk and infant’s food would be made good use of
“Asking your prayers on behalf of the Mission, believe me, Yours sincerely,

Shortly after arriving in Forteau, the new nurse had to cope with a scarlet fever epidemic. Then she received a telegram asking her to go to the lighthouse at Point Amour, where a young Marconi operator had dropped dead on his way to catch the mail boat! Florence Bailey had to walk the seven miles through deep snow to get there, as it was impossible to go by boat or dog team.
Not long after this, she received a call to go to L’Anse-auLoup where a boy had shot his arm. He was in a sad state. Nurse Bailey brought him to the nursing station to care for him and, after nine days, got him to Battle Harbour, more than 80 miles north, where there was a small hospital and a doctor. Unfortunately, the poor boy lost his arm.
The nurses’ home was called Dennison cottage, after an American ex-soldier who had been marooned on the Labrador coast forty years previously, and had been shown much kindness by the people there at that time. Dr. Grenfell, on one of his fund raising trips to the United States, stayed at the home of a college professor, and discovered this was the man who had been marooned on the Labrador some years before! Professor Dennison asked Dr. Grenfell what he could do to repay the kindness shown to him by the people of southern Labrador.
“Provide the material for a cottage for a nurse, right in the centre of the district through which you travelled.”
The professor did so by donating a thousand dollars.
After spending a year in the little cottage, Sister Bailey found that the little house was inadequate for the number of patients she was called upon to care for, so improvements were made. A cellar was added, the house and grounds were fenced in and (three years later) the house was enlarged, the roof was raised and four rooms added. That gave her a ward large enough to hold five beds.
In the fall of 1913, Sister Bailey went home to England on furlough. Just before she left, a porch and balcony were added to the house. The balcony was built presumably to allow patients who were suffering from tuberculosis to get more fresh air, rest and fresh air being the treatment at that time.
While Sister Bailey was away that winter, Dr. and Mrs. Wakefield came in her place and a Miss cannon was the nurse. Dr. Wakefield performed some surgery while he was here, which must have been difficult in such a small building. Mrs. Wakefield had a baby boy that winter, and on fine days from the age of just five days, the new baby was out on the new balcony in the fresh air, setting an example for others. I guess the air was fresh in more ways than one!
The year after she returned from England, Sister Bailey had another urgent call from L’Anse-au-Loup - another gunshot accident. This man had a severe injury involving his upper arm and chest, both bones in his upper arm being broken. After dressing the wounds as best she could, the nurse decided to take her patient to the nursing station but by then it was too late in the day. She had to wait until morning.
It was early in December and they had to travel by dog team and by boat, with a gale blowing against them. They arrived safely and the patient was at the nursing station for twelve days before he could be transferred to the hospital in Battle Harbour and, in the meantime, Sister Bailey (somehow) removed a lot of the shot. She must have had a very worrying time, wondering if she would be able to save the man’s life. That was in wartime (1915) so travelling may have been more difficult than usual.
The following month a number of people developed diphtheria, including several of the children of the man with the gun shot injury. Two of them died (one from diphtheria.) As the man was in St. John’s at the time (probably getting treatment) he knew nothing of this tragedy; it must have been an awful shock for him when he did get the news - possibly when he got home.
Conditions were tough, and in 1918 Sister Bailey was ill herself during the winter, and the people were afraid they were going to lose her. There was no other medical help, so she had to care for herself, but she pulled through. Afterwards she went home on furlough and recovered sufficiently to return for a few more years.
In 1922 a British naval vessel H.M.S. “Raleigh”, with about 800 men on board, went ashore off Point Amour. Most of the crew were rescued, but many of them suffered cuts and bruises while getting ashore, and were cared for at the nursing station. As a token of their appreciation for her work, the captain gave Sister Bailey the boat that had been used for the rescue. She was delighted to have this boat for the use of the Mission, as she had been longing for one, and soon set about requesting an engine for it!
Sister Bailey left Forteau sometime within the next couple of years, due to ill health.
There were others of those days who left a record of their faith, none more colourful than those that shone in times of crisis.
In 1933, during the “Great Depression”, conditions were bad everywhere but especially along the Labrador coast. Many times the people were near starvation, but man’s need is God’s opportunity, and examples survive of God working on the coast at that time. Miss Murdock was the nurse in Forteau at that time, and her writings leave a record of one incident demonstrating a knowledge of God.
The preceding fall, after fish were sold and debts paid, there was little money left for food supplies for the winter. The Government had issued flour, tea and molasses, but in April there was very little flour left, and the food shortage was desperate. Those who could shared with their neighbours, but that made them short too. Some men from Pinware went to St. Paul’s River by dog team, about sixty miles, and got eight sacks of flour, but the people in Forteau and district were short also.
The following story is quoted from a letter written by Miss Murdock (to “Among the Deep Sea Fishers”) and illustrates the faith and courage of some of the men at that time.
“Uncle Charlie, aged seventy-six, tall, straight and agile, blind in one eye and almost blind in the other, an ardent Christian, prays each Sunday morning in church that all may have faith in the power of our Heavenly Father to help in the hour of need.
“Again flour is needed. This time it must be brought from Flower’s Cove, nine miles away across the straits, where the slob ice is jammed solid as far as the eye can see. Outside the church the men and boys gather in groups and look out over the ice for signs of an opening. Uncle Charlie calls, ‘I’m going to Flower’s Cove tomorrow! Who’ll go wid me?’ ‘If the ice clears, I’ll go wid ye,’ says Henry, aged twenty. ‘The ice is cleaning now,’ says Uncle Charlie. They all know that the old man is practically blind, and laugh and murmur ‘The ice is a solid jam and we’re going to starve.’
“Was it because of his implicit faith in the power of Almighty God, or was it just the natural course of events that the ice began to break away from the shore and to move slowly out of the bay? Henry’s boat was launched, four gallons of gasoline was collected (all that could be spared), and Uncle Charlie took the helm and steered south. It is difficult for a man with good eyesight to take a boat through ice; how much more so for Uncle Charlie!
“Three miles from Flower’s Cove they meet a solid barrier of ice. ‘Can’t go no farder Sir,” cries Henry, and makes up his mind to go back. ‘We’ll go on,’ cries the old man, and steers along by the edge of the ice until they have gone twenty miles south of Flower’s Cove. Opposite Black Duck Cove an opening appears in the ice, and they find that there is just room for the boat to make her way through, and just enough gasoline in the tank. There they meet an old friend, who hears their story and gives them all the flour he possesses and enough gasoline to get home.
“They must hurry, or they may be nipped by the ice as they pass through. Full speed ahead for the north shore! The opening in the ice closes completely a few minutes after they get clear. Now they are being pursued by this great barrier. If the engine fails they will be crushed by the ice and lost.
“Anxious friends scan the horizon from the hill at Forteau for signs of the returning boat. Hour passes after hour and they see the white line of ice advancing. What has become of Uncle Charlie and Henry? They are lost! Uncle Charlie will be all right but Henry didn’t live such a good life. Anxiety in the faces of all. But a cry comes from the hill. A boat comes into sight, nearer and nearer and just behind it, pursuing slowly and surely, the menacing ice. They land safely; and those who cried loudest “the old fool” were the first on the way to meet them. The flour is divided amongst all who need- not all to Forteau; much to the people of isolated coves along the shore. On the following day the ice was jammed to the land, and did not move out for six weeks.
“What kin’ o’ time did ye have, Henry?’ Oh I had the best kin’ o’ time. Would do the same tomorrow.’ ‘Did you ever think of turning back, Uncle Charlie?’ ‘The Lord was wid us all the way. We set out to win, and we did.”
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Henry mentioned in this story was none other than my first dog team driver! He is now an old man but he remembered the incident. He told me that a third man, Victor Buckle was also with them, and they brought back fourteen sacks of flour.
This story confirms that the good seed of the gospel was being sown many years before I came to the coast of Labrador; by doctors and nurses, teachers and preachers bringing forth fruit in the lives of people who came to know Christ as their Saviour. Doubtless these people prayed for their children and grandchildren. Uncle Charlie’s prayers were answered in his family as his nephew was saved in 1957, and his nephew’s wife and most of his children were saved later. His daughter Olive was saved when she was working with me at the nursing station the previous fall.
There is much more that could be told but this is the story of my early years in Forteau and the work of the Lord at that time. Since then the Christian work has grown and is still growing in a wonderful way. There have been many ups and downs but the Lord has never failed us. All I can say is, “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes.” [Psalm 118:23]