Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum
Down the Labrador: MacMillan in the Big Land
November 1, 1999 - February 1, 2001
Arctic Museum main galleries
Labrador has fascinated Europeans and North Americans for centuries. Explorers, researchers, and missionaries have been drawn by its people, geology, natural history, and geography. To the indigenous peoples, the Inuit and the Innu, who have learned to live off the bounty of a difficult land, this northern place is home. Since the 1860s, many of Labrador's explorers and researchers have been associated with Bowdoin College. Among them, Donald B. MacMillan has a special place. His work in Labrador spanned nearly fifty years and was an important link between early exploration, natural history studies, and modern scientific research.

Down the Labrador explores the people and places of Labrador as explored by MacMillan and his colleagues.

Pictured above: Schooner Bowdoin and Airplane in Labrador, 1931. Photograph by Donald Baxter MacMillan.
In 1891 Bowdoin Professor Leslie Lee chartered the schooner <em>Julia Decker</em> for an expedition to Labrador. The expedition had two goals, to explore the Grand River, and to sail up the coast, collecting natural history specimens. Ernest Young, one of the Bowdoin students on the expedition, commemorated his trip with this studio portrait of him wearing clothing and displaying tools he acquired on the trip.   <br> <br>  Ernest Young wearing sealskin clothing and holding a harpoon, Brunswick, 1891. Photograph by Reed Studio.
In the 18th or early 19th century Labrador Inuit women learned to make fine coiled grass baskets that they sold or traded for fabric and clothing. Both Moravian missionaries and the Grenfell Missions recognized the value of Inuit-made grass baskets, trading them for cloth and other imported goods. They marketed the baskets abroad as part of their fundraising efforts. Inuit women made traditional basket shapes, but also developed new forms, such as placemats, in response to requests from Grenfell employees.   <br> <br>  Oval grass basketry mat, Inuit, Labrador, ca. 1940. Grass. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<em>The Bowdoin </em>was MacMillan's research vessel for most of his career. MacMillan was also one of the first people to recognize the advantages of flight for northern work. He took airplanes north for the first time in 1925. In 1931 he used this Viking airplane to do an aerial survey of the coast around Nain. Labrador was not completely mapped until the 1960s. Rocks and shoals remain uncharted today.   <br> <br>  Schooner <em>Bowdoin</em> and Airplane in Labrador, 1931. Photograph by Donald Baxter MacMillan.
During the 1920s Inuit in Labrador wore a variety of clothing styles, made from both traditional and imported materials. Here the older woman wears a fur parka, with cloth skirt and shawl. The younger woman wears imported clothes, and carries a locally made cloth parka to wear on the sled journey.  <br> <br>  Miriam and an Eskimo woman dressed for dog team trip, Nain, 1927. Photograph by Donald Baxter MacMillan

Beginning the 18th century, European men settled in Labrador, often marrying Inuit women. Together such couples carved out a life for themselves with links to the Inuit community, but independent of it. Like other groups in Labrador, Settler families exploited a wide variety of resources in order to survive. Settler communities were usually too small and dispersed to support local schools, so children attended boarding schools run by missions in larger centers. MacMillan sometimes transported children to and from school as he traveled along the coast. Here the girls are carrying dolls that he has given to them.   <br> <br>  Eskimo children with dolls, Labrador, 1929. Photograph by Donald Baxter MacMillan.
The Innu, formerly known as the Naskapi, live in the interior of Labrador. In the first half of the 20th century they were still living a nomadic life, much as they had done for centuries. Duncan Strong, an anthropologist with MacMillan in 1927-28 worked with the Innu, who told him of at least nine different types of snowshoes. He wrote: 'During the winter all the Indians live on snowshoes and even the smallest children are so skillful as to appear to have been born with them…To learn to cut wood, make camp, handle a sledge in brush and soft snow with a 3-foot-wide snowshoe on each foot takes much time and practice.'    <br> <br>  Nascopie Indian- Nap-a-o with snow shoes, Anetalak Bay, Labrador, 1927-1928. Photograph by Donald Baxter MacMillan.

Beginning in 1892, Sir Wilfred Grenfell established medical missions and schools in remote communities of Newfoundland and Labrador. His goal was to improve the well-being of the people through health care and education. To raise money for his work he established the International Grenfell Association. One of the activities of the IGA was to sell crafts produced in Labrador. Hooked rag rugs such as this were particularly popular, so much so that the IGA collected work silk stockings to send to Labrador craftswomen to dye and fashion into rugs.  <br> <br>  Grenfell rug, two polar bears on ice, Inuit , ca. 1930. Silk and burlap. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery Gilman.
By the time MacMillan began working in Labrador, Inuit life had been strongly influenced by over a century of contact with Moravian missionaries as well as Euro-American traders, trappers, fishermen, and whalers. Many aspects of Inuit life had changed over that time, but essential elements remained in place. As early as the 17th century Inuit began trading with European fishermen for wooden boats, which replaced the traditional skin boat or umiak. Inuit families traveled in large open boats of both types during the summer. Men used them to hunt whales, and later, to fish for cod.  <br> <br>  Carved boat with pegged bottom, figure, and oars, Ephraim Merkorataufe, Nain, ca. 1950. Ivory, wood, cloth. Gift of Miriam MacMillan.