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Exhibitions
Northern Mission: Sir Wilfred Grenfell in Labrador
May 1, 2005 - May 31, 2005

Wilfred Grenfell went to work in northern Newfoundland and Labrador as a medical doctor, but he envisioned his mission much more broadly. He knew that to help people in the remote communities he served he had to address not only their physical health, but also their spiritual, social, and economic circumstances. Undaunted by the task he had set for himself, he created a network of medical stations, schools, and a craft organization. He received many honors for this work, including a knighthood in 1927. The Canadian government now provides medical care and education in the communities Grenfell served, but his legacy lives on in the International Grenfell Association, which provides grants to local community organizations and scholarships to students from the region. Grenfell’s house at St. Anthony, Newfoundland is now a historic site, and the Grenfell Historical Society continues to oversee a cottage industry producing hooked rugs and clothing. 

This exhibit is made possible through the generous support of the Friends of Bowdoin College.


Pictured above: The Grenfell Association, London, ca. 1930. The Hospital Steamer Strathcona. Postcard. Museum purchase.
<p><b>Grenfell of Labrador</b> </p>   Sir Wilfred Grenfell (right) was a British doctor who became a world-famous advocate for the people of northern Newfoundland and Labrador. Spurred by an 1892 visit to the Labrador coast on behalf of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen (RNMDSF), he dedicated the rest of his life to providing medical and social assistance to the remote communities of this region.   <br> <br>  Photographer unknown, Battle Harbour, Labrador, 1925.Donald MacMillan, Gilbert Grosvenor and Wilfred Grenfell on the <em>Bowdoin.</em> Hand-tinted glass lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>People of Labrador</b> </p>   On his first visit to southern Labrador in 1892, Grenfell met 'Liveyeres,' families descended from the marriage of British or European men and Inuit women. They made a living by fishing in summer and trapping for furs in winter and were often permanently indebted to unscrupulous traders. There were no doctors or nurses, few schools, and no opportunities for escaping poverty.   <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Labrador, ca. 1920. Summer home of Newfoundland fishermen. Hand-tinted glass lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>People of Labrador</b> </p>   On his first visit to southern Labrador in 1892, Grenfell met 'Liveyeres,' families descended from the marriage of British or European men and Inuit women. They made a living by fishing in summer and trapping for furs in winter and were often permanently indebted to unscrupulous traders. There were no doctors or nurses, few schools, and no opportunities for escaping poverty.   <br> <br>  Edith M. Howes, Labrador, 1914. Family in front of their house. Hand-tinted glass lantern slide. Gift of Donald R. Kurtz '52, nephew of Edith Howes.
<p><b>Beginning the Mission</b> </p>   Grenfell was still working for the RNMDSF when he returned to Labrador in 1893 to establish seasonal hospitals in Battle Harbour and Indian Harbour. Soon, however, he began raising money specifically for his Labrador work. In 1894, as a result of his efforts, the Battle Harbour hospital was kept open year-round and soon after additional hospitals and nursing stations were built.   <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Indian Harbour, Labrador, 1930. Indian Harbour. Hand-tinted glass lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>A Floating Hospital</b> </p>   To serve the scattered small settlements along the coast, and the seasonal fishermen who flocked to Labrador in the summers, Grenfell raised money to outfit a hospital ship, named the <em>Strathcona</em>. Grenfell himself spent many summers traveling the Labrador coast treating patients, providing supplies, and purchasing crafts to resell in Europe and North America.   <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Hawkes Harbour, Labrador, 1910. The <em>Strathcona</em>, Dr. Grenfell’s Mission Steamer, Hawkes Harbour. Hand-tinted glass lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Dedicated Recruits</b> </p>   The doctors and nurses who staffed the Grenfell hospitals were a dedicated group, many of whom left comfortable lives in England, Canada, and the United States to make Labrador their home. English doctor Harry Paddon married a nurse at the mission and together they raised a family in Labrador. Their son, Anthony, went on to become a doctor for the mission as well.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Labrador, 1938. Dr. Paddon at Grenfell’s Mission. Hand-tinted glass lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Dedicated Recruits</b> </p>   The doctors and nurses who staffed the Grenfell hospitals were a dedicated group, many of whom left comfortable lives in England, Canada, and the United States to make Labrador their home. English doctor Harry Paddon married a nurse at the mission and together they raised a family in Labrador. Their son, Anthony, went on to become a doctor for the mission as well.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Labrador, 1927. Nurses at Battle Harbour (detail). Photographic print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Care for the Body and Soul</b> </p>   Grenfell had strong opinions on medical matters, including the virtues of fresh air and fresh vegetables. Patients at his hospitals got plenty of both. He was also a devout Christian, although with little regard for any particular denomination. His approach was to cater to the whole person, mind and body, and to use any avenue open to him to better a person’s or family’s circumstances, physically, spiritually, even economically.   <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Battle Harbour, Labrador, 1927. Two views of the Grenfell Hospital. Hand-tinted glass lantern slides. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Expanding Mission</b> </p>   Grenfell’s concern for the inhabitants of the Labrador coast extended to the children. In 1905 he established an orphanage at St. Anthony, Newfoundland and soon after started schools in other communities. The children learned not only reading and arithmetic, but domestic skills and crafts as well.  <br> <br>  Edith M. Howes, Labrador, 1914. School children with hand-made objects. Hand-tinted glass lantern slide. Gift of Donald R. Kurtz '52, nephew of Edith Howes.
<p><b>Occupational Therapy and Economic Development</b> </p>   The woman holding a colorful hooked mat in this image probably plans to sell it to Grenfell Industries to earn much-needed cash for her family. In 1906 Grenfell recruited pioneering occupational therapist and artist Jessie Luther to develop a craft industry. Among other crafts, she transformed the traditional coarse hooked rugs into the fine mats still in demand today.  <br> <br>  Edith M. Howes, Labrador, 1914. Women and children with mat. Hand-tinted glass lantern slide. Gift of Donald R. Kurtz '52, nephew of Edith Howes.

<p><b>Fundraising</b> </p>   As the mission expanded, funding became an over-riding concern for Grenfell. The International Grenfell Association raised money in a wide variety of ways, including selling sets of postcards. Grenfell himself gave countless illustrated lectures to bring attention and money to the mission. <br> <br>  The Grenfell Association, London, ca. 1930. The Hospital Steamer <em>Strathcona</em>. Postcard. Museum purchase.
<p><b>Leaving Labrador</b> </p>   Grenfell worked tirelessly on behalf of the Mission, both in Labrador and abroad. Finally, at the age of 67, declining health forced him to restrict his activities. Although he made one last visit to Labrador in 1939 he had not been active in Labrador since the early 1930s. He continued to lecture on behalf of the mission until his death in 1940.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Labrador, ca. 1925. Wilfred Grenfell. Hand-tinted glass lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.