Philip Schubert is the author of Letters to the Granddaughter - The Story of Dillon Wallace of the Labrador Wild, the first biography of Dillon Wallace, the man who accompanied Leonidas Hubbard on the disastrous 1903 expedition and in 1905, became Mina’s hated rival. Over the past decade he has pieced together sections of both the 1903 and 1905 Hubbard expeditions – solo. Click here to go to his page and read more about his adventures. As Philip seems to know everyone who has paddled some or all of Hubbard's route, I asked him to contribute some thoughts on his experience of traveling in this region.
Those of us who have been retracing the Hubbard and Wallace saga in the modern era know the size of the challenge that awaits Peter and Andrew in 2014.
The aluminum box at the Hubbard Rock, where Leonidas Hubbard passed away in October 1903 at the edge of the Susan Brook, is filled with notes left by modern day adventurers who, like myself, have been lured to both the history and the beauty of Labrador.
In 2003, I hiked to the rock and found the following notes:
- 10-Sep-80: James West Davidson (Boston, Mass and New Haven Conn), Sam Kaufmann (Boston, Mass), John Rugge (Dumond Point, NY), Ron Turboyne (New Haven, Conn). Statement: ""After Hubbard", Hiked from Red Wine River."
- 14-Jul-85: Jerry Kobalenko and Marc Desjardins (both from Montreal). Statement: "Arrived after 8 days by canoe, portaging and on foot from North West River. Proceeding to the Beaver River with the hope of finding Hubbard's canoe. Will be returning via the Susan River to North West River."
James West Davidson, John Rugge and Jerry Kobalenko need no introduction. The first two are the authors of "Great Heart", published in 1988, and that for the first time told both sides of the rival canoe trips in 1905 by Mina Hubbard and Dillon Wallace. The canoe trip in 1985 was Jerry Kobalenko's first in trackless wilderness and he has gone on to become one of Canada's foremost adventurers and writers, specializing in the Arctic.
The box also contained this note:
- 04-Jul-03: The Hubbard Memorial Centennial Expedition: Troy Michael Gipps (Grafton, Mass), Jim Niedbalski, Brad Bassi (Adams, Massachusetts) (Statement: "Group of 3 arrived here from North West River by canoe in 11 days. Plan to continue up Goose Creek to the Beaver River and from there to Ungava Bay.")
Later that year, I learned that Wayne Halley and some friends had just cleared the front end of the Innu Portage. This is the portage bypassing the rapids on the lower Naskaupi River and emerging at Seal Lake, taken by Dillon Wallace and his team in 1905. This set the stage for 2004, when Wayne and Carl McLean became the first to redo a combination of the routes taken by Mina Hubbard and Dillon Wallace in one go.
Darned if I didn't learn about the most recent of the great "saga" teams in the modern era, in another visit to the Hubbard Rock, this time in 2012. There was the flag of Labrador tied to a tree and the names of Rod Cole, Ken Holloway and Jason McIvor in the aluminium box. They had started their canoe trip down the Long Portage taken by Leonidas Hubbard, Dillon Wallace and their voyageur George Elson in 1903 and made it all the way back to North West River. This is the portage taken by Hubbard, Wallace and Elson from Lake Disappointment to Windbound Lake, and then back again after they abandoned their attempt to reach Ungava Bay.
The Long Portage is 40 backbreaking miles in length and the team in 2003 of Gipps, Niedbalski and Bassi wisely chose to go down the Metchin River, an easier route. Ken Holloway is putting together a canoe team for 2014 to start where he started in 2012, but go the last few miles up the Long Portage to Windbound Lake (now partially flooded by the Smallwood Reservoir) and from there down the George River to Ungava Bay.
In my case, I became fascinated with Labrador and Northern Quebec late in life after reading Dillon Wallace's "The Lure of the Labrador Wild". I started exploring the routes from the 1903 and 1905 trips in 1999 when I was 53 and did my biggest trip in 2008, covering 500 miles from the edge of the road near Churchill Falls to Ungava Bay. With this latter trip, which took me 37 days, I had little by little, done all of the 1905 route, a combination of the routes taken by Mina Hubbard and Dillon Wallace. At my age, there are only a minority of people who are crazy enough, still physically strong enough and whose schedules can be freed up enough, to take on the Hubbard and Wallace saga, thus I did most of it solo. Since 2008, I have mostly concentrated on doing more of the 1903 route.
As one retraces the 1905 route, it is easy to imagine the thoughts of those from 1905. Mina was very conscious that she was doing something unheard of for that period, but was determined to avenge a perceived slight to her deceased "Laddie" by Dillon. She also sensed, with full justification, that George Elson was a true gentleman and that she would be perfectly safe with him, but assuredly, could see that he had fallen in love with her.
Dillon Wallace began his trip still suffering from the shock of learning in Halifax that he was in a race to Ungava Bay. He then learned from the reporters waiting for him in St. John's that Mina had accused him of being responsible for Leonidas' death. It would only be a year later that he would learn that Leonidas' sister had come to his defense with a scathing press release denouncing Mina's accusations and praising Dillon as a hero for having turned around at the disastrous end of the 1903 trip and attempting to return through the snow to Leonidas in the tent at the Hubbard Rock with flour abandoned on the way in. This was the same location where decades later, so many travelers would leave their notes for others to read.
In spite of the strong team assembled by George Elson, the most skilled member of his team, Job Chapies, nearly drowned in a canoeing accident in ascending the first rapids one comes to on the Naskaupi River. They had the great good fortune that team member, Gilbert Blake, knew where, higher up the Naskaupi, they could replace the vital gear lost in the accident.
Dillon knew he had the weaker team, and he and Clifford Easton came close to losing their lives half way down the George River. However, no one was more impressed than George Elson, his 1903 traveling companion, when Dillon and Easton arrived at Ungava Bay, having prevailed over the worst rivers that Elson, a highly experienced voyageur, had ever travelled over. However, we know from Mina's trip journal, that no one was more disappointed than Mina when Dillon arrived.
Redoing the 1905 trip is like entering a time machine, and this is part of its charm. However, the Naskaupi and George Rivers are as remote as ever and they are still just as dangerous as described by George Elson. Extreme care is vital at all times. So I'll be keeping my fingers crossed in 2014.
Peter and Andrew clearly have the skills needed to add their names to those of the other great saga teams. Redoing the 1905 trip with a canoe and other gear typical of 1905, and not being re-supplied along the way, will allow them to truly walk in the footsteps of the teams from 1905.
In an interview given when arriving, with Leonidas' body, at the port of Brooklyn in 1904, Dillon suggested that had they had a shotgun and a gill net, they might have all survived. This and having failed to make Leonidas into a larger than life figure in his book, The Lure of the Labrador Wild, turned Mina into a life long enemy.
I look forward to a fascinating documentary, post 2014, and wish Peter and Andrew the very best of luck.