This morning we continue in a southerly direction towards Hebron. The light on the landscape takes my breath away. The water is reflected on the underside of the clouds making them very dark. The light is magical and I’m told that in photographic terms there is only one F stop difference between noon and midnight at this time of the year.
We pass the automated Dew Line station at the entrance to Saglek Fiord as Jerry Koblenko, an adventurer, writer, film maker and motivational speaker regales us with stories of kayaking this rugged coastline. My adventure genes are working overtime as I try to take it all in.
One has to attend to things differently here. The currents bring the ice down this coast from the calving fields in Greenland. The bergs travel north from places like Disko Bay and move with the currents across Davis Strait and down its western side before they start a journey along the Labrador Coast that eventually returns them to the sea somewhere towards St John’s or beyond. On shore, rock acts like a heat sink and the plants that flourish there differ from those growing over ancient bones. Here the soil is rich because the nitrogen has been replenished. Would I ever think of that at home? Probably not. Travel heightens my awareness. I attend to the world in a different way. It makes me feel alive.
As we weigh anchor off Hebron, I wonder if the first Moravian missionaries who came here in 1831 were enlivened by their arrival at this shore. They would have endured dangerous crossings from Germany or England and I can only think that they knew little of this new land they were to call home. Although Nain, a town I will visit tomorrow, had been the site of their first settlement in 1770, their goal was to bring Christianity to the Inuit throughout the region. The beliefs of the Inuit were not the same as these German immigrants and the missionaries found it difficult to replace aspects of the aboriginal culture with Moravian Christian values. Drum dancing, traditional singing and practices like polygamy were soon prohibited.
Here at Hebron a school was established to teach reading, writing and arithmetic as well as providing religious education. Instruction was in Inuktitut. Gradually trading furs with the Inuit, placed religion in competition with commerce and placed the missionaries in competition with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Up until 1905, new missions continued to spring up along the coast. The final one was at Killinek, in northern Labrador. According to Bill Romkey in his book The Story of Labrador, Saglek and Nachvak had been chosen too, but the HBC got there first.
After lunch I board a zodiac for the short trip to shore. It is windy, sunny and exceptional as I wander the land, passing the Hudson Bay Company buildings and the large residential structure that also contained the school. All the buildings on this site are in a sad state of repair. The main building is undergoing renovations to protect it from further decay but time is winning at this point. Funding to protect and maintain this part of my heritage is only procured a year at a time from the Federal Government. At least for this year, hammers ring out and things are on the move.
I follow a path through yellow willow and low-lying blueberry bushes to a small creek that is fed by the melt from the hills. I cross using the boards that have been laid to form a bridge and climb towards the old cemetery.
As if life in this remote place would not have been hard enough, in 1918, Hebron was hit by a severe influenza epidemic. A hundred and fifty of the two hundred and twenty citizens died. As I stand by the dilapidated picket fence, amidst tombstones marked by time, I cannot help but think that this astounding place is not a bad one in which to spend eternity.
Turning back towards the landing, I feel my obligation to fill my plastic bag with blueberries. Instructions were given as we left the ship. “If you want blueberry pancakes or muffins, you had better bring back your share.” I do my duty in the spirit of the life of the missionaries and Inuit. Sharing was a necessity, not just a courtesy.