Grenfell Labrador Medical Mission

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Type of entity

Corporate body

Authorized form of name

Grenfell Labrador Medical Mission

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Other form(s) of name

  • International Grenfell Association

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Description area

Dates of existence

1892-1981

History

The Grenfell Labrador Medical Mission was a medical mission led by Wilfred T. Grenfell with the support of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen (the Fishermen’s Mission). In its beginnings in 1892, the mission consisted of a single hospital boat, the Albert, which travelled along the Labrador coast during the summer. Grenfell immediately felt that a more robust program was needed to address the poverty he saw in Labrador and began fundraising in order to offer services that were beyond the scope of the Fishermen’s Mission. Grenfell delivered services to hundreds of fishermen of British descent, as well as some Inuit, Innu, and Southern Inuit people. The next summer, in 1893, Grenfell and his colleagues built the mission’s first hospital in Battle Harbour, Labrador, acquired a second medical vessel, and began work on a second hospital in Indian Harbour. Early supporters of the mission included Sir Donald A. Smith (the first Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal) and Thomas G. Roddick, both of whom donated medical ships.

As the mission grew, its mandate expanded from providing medical services to developing infrastructure and industry that would offer Labrador residents greater autonomy and quality of life. The Fishermen’s Mission withdrew support from the mission in 1912, leading Grenfell to incorporate it as the International Grenfell Association in 1914. Eventually, the headquarters of the mission moved from Battle Harbour to St. Anthony, Newfoundland. In the late 1930s, the mission employed over 60 permanent staff and roughly 100 summer volunteers to run six hospitals, seven nursing stations, and four hospital ships, as well as boarding schools, an orphanage, industrial centres, community farms, and a co-operative sawmill. Grenfell also helped to establish a seamen’s institute in St. John’s Newfoundland, as well as summer schools and co-operative stores that were developed but not run by the mission. The Grenfell Mission’s textile industry had a particularly wide reach; its hooked rugs made with repurposed silk stockings are still considered collector’s items.

Though Grenfell began his fundraising efforts in Canada, he later found greater success in the United States, including recurring speaking engagements at Yale University. Though Grenfell initially highlighted stories about Labrador’s Indigenous peoples, he later shifted his emphasis to the mission’s work with Labrador’s settlers of Anglo-Saxon descent, hoping that their shared heritage would appeal more to potential American donors. The International Grenfell Association continued to provide medical care to Labrador and parts of Newfoundland long after Grenfell retired in 1932, and eventually transferred all its facilities and equipment to the provincial government in 1981. The government health service for Labrador and northern Newfoundland still bears the mission’s name as the Labrador-Grenfell Regional Health Authority.

At least three of the boarding schools run by the mission were part of Canada’s residential school system: Lockwood School in Cartwright, Labrador; St. Anthony Orphanage and Boarding School in St. Anthony, Newfoundland; and Yale School in Northwest River, Labrador. Inuit, Innu, and NunatuKavut survivors of the schools took legal action in 2007 and 2008 to obtain reparations for the abuse, neglect, and erasure of their cultures and languages that they suffered as children enrolled in the schools.

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Authority record identifier

n 89222370

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