Monday, December 12, 2011

Great Heart is Five Stars

Illus. Credit: All About Canoes

Great Heart-The History of a Labrador Adventureby James West Davidson and John Rugge (359pp., pub. 1988 by Viking Penguin, Inc., New York)

There are two chapter titles that really describe this book’s story. The prologue is “The Last Blank Spot on the Map of North America,” and Chapter 11 is “Up Against It For Sure.”

It was 1903, and while a few trappers and Native Americans had tried to trap bits of the interior, Labrador’s interior was mostly unknown. If you could find an Indian to draw you a map, what was available just represented dotted lines giving vague ideas of a couple lakes and rivers. Leonidas Hubbard, Dillon Wallace, and George Elson endeavored to make a trip through Northeastern Labrador from Rigolet to George River Post at Ungava Bay. “Up Against It For Sure” is the best way to describe the entire trip. Their first real goal was Michikamau Lake, but they were suffering from starvation by the time they reached the lake, and the decision was made to turn back as heavy snow and temperatures fell. Before it was over they had eaten some unimaginable stuff to stay alive. They put one spoonful of flour in a pan of water to make soup for three. They found a caribou skeleton and boiled the maggot covered hooves in water to make soup and cut the desiccated hide into strips and boiled it until they could chew it. They staggered and fell while trying to portage, forded streams in ice water as chunks of ice tried to knock them off their feet. If you want to know how far the human body can go, here’s a story that’s hard to put down. It’s probably one of the most human stories I’ve ever read. Hubbard didn’t make it back. Wallace later returned to bring his body out by sled and transport it to Haverstraw, NY, where he was laid to rest on the west bank of the Hudson River.

Photo by Cindy (?)  Click to enlarge.

Mina, his wife, returned to Labrador and made the trip Leon had planned, later writing a book and going on the lecture tour. She later moved to England and married, but had Leon disinterred and moved to England to be near her, while placing a bronze plaque at his grave site. Wallace also returned to make the trip that had failed. He later became involved with youth, wrote 26 adventure books aimed at young readers, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Boy Scouts of America. You really need to read this book if you like to canoe and camp in the wilderness.

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