Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Story of Labrador

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Story of Labrador

Article excerpt

Bill Rompkey, The Story of Labrador (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2003), xxxiv + 195pp. Cloth. $29.95. ISBN 0-7735-2574-2.

On 6 December 2001 the province of Newfoundland, with the approval of the Canadian Parliament, changed its name to 'Newfoundland and Labrador'. Whilst the new name is something of a mouthful, it was the island's way of stating that its vast mainland territory was, in perpetuity, part of the province as the Privy Council had ruled in 1927. However, the relationship between the two, as Bill Rompkey argues in his new history of Labrador, has never been a simple one. As he writes, 'For decades, if not centuries, Labrador and Newfoundland have been uneasy step-sisters occupying the same semi-detached neo-British house.' A Newfoundlander who moved to Labrador in 1963 and the region's representative in Parliament since 1972, as MP and, from 1995, as Senator, Rompkey is well qualified to examine and explain its history and its relationship with the neighbouring island.

Labrador is a vast land, twice the size of Newfoundland, and one that does not easily accommodate human settlement. Jacques Cartier famously dismissed it as the 'land God gave to Cain' and even today it is home to only 30,000 people. It is, though, a land rich in natural resources and has been inhabited for thousands of years by many different peoples. Thus his early chapters are the story of Labrador's inhabitants, from the first Maritime Archaic people of around 6500 BC by way of the antecedents of today's Innu and Inuit to the first Europeans. Each nationality's involvement with Labrador and its indigenous peoples is described, beginning with the Vikings and then the Basques, Dutch, and Portuguese. It is, inevitably, the French and the English who receive the most attention for it was their rivalry that helped create modern Labrador. After 1763 the region came under British control because of its proximity to Newfoundland and, as the island gradually assumed responsibility for its own affairs, Labrador fell within its jurisdiction. …

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