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  • Writer's pictureJan Redford

Isobel in Labrador June 15 - June 25, 1915

Updated: Feb 4, 2018

My grandmother's journey through Labrador in 1915: her photos and journal

My grandmother, Laura Isobel Millen, from Westmount, Quebec–always up for an adventure–found herself smitten with the idea of working in Labrador after hearing Sir Wilfred Grenfell at a fundraising event for the International Grenfell Association in Montreal. She spent the summer of 1915 working as a teacher in L'Anse au Loup, billeting with the Linstead family, and documented her experience in a detailed journal that I am currently transcribing. She was also an accomplished photographer and left albums of photos, which she developed and printed herself in Labrador. I'll be sharing excerpts from the journal as I go along. Below is a newspaper article about my grandmother's return to Labrador the following year, 1916. She stayed for a full year, right through the winter. She remained a staunch supporter and fundraiser for the Grenfell Association for the rest of her life, and a lifelong friend of Wilfred Grenfell's.

Sir Wilfred Grenfell was a British Missionary doctor who initially visited the local fishers in Labrador in 1892 and was so shocked by the living conditions that he established the Grenfell Mission (later the International Grenfell Association) and devoted the rest of his life to the people of Labrador and northern Newfoundland. He was an outgoing, charismatic man and managed to recruit an army of mission workers and fundraisers over the years who helped build schools, hospitals, community farms, lumber mills, co-operative stores, orphanages, and establish a handicraft industry. He travelled up and down the coast by medical vessel–the Strathcona– when the ocean was free of ice, and by dog sled in the winter–about 1,800 miles–to bring medical aid to the communities. Later, he devoted his time to fundraising, giving lectures and showing lantern slides of Labrador.

One of my grandmother's photos of Wilfred Grenfell on the Strathcona

Friday, June 16, 1916




Teaching Native Hand Crafts, Showing Children How To Play and Pulling Teeth Will Be Young Woman's Tasks

Montreal, Canada, June 16 – The widespread interest in Labrador aroused by Dr. Wilfred Grenfell's recent visit to Montreal has been increased by the news that Miss Isobel Millen, daughter of J. Ernest Millen, will become a member of the Labrador mission staff.

Miss Millen, who is widely known in the younger circles of Westmount and Montreal, was educated at the Montreal High School. There she displayed unusual ability and was one of the originators of the high school magazine, of which she was business manager. After leaving school Miss Millen took a prominent part in social service work in the city, being connected with both the University Settlement and the Griffintown Girls' club. Last summer Miss Millen spent three months as a volunteer worker at l’Anse au Loup, on the southern Labrador coast. During the last few months she has been taking an arts and crafts course in New York, with a view to teaching the Labrador women some simple forms of handwork.

Will Teach School

Miss Millen will sail from North Sydney, N. S., June 27 for Newfoundland, and after an 8-hour trip up the coast, she will embark for the three days' journey to her destination on the Labrador coast. L'Anse au Loup will be her headquarters for the summer months, where she will be the mission worker in charge. There Miss Millen will teach, the school being the English church chapel. Twenty-two children attend this school. There are no Eskimo scholars, but all belong to the native white type, called by themselves the "livyeres."

There are no trees in the locality, and the vegetation consists only of low shrubs and moss. Mosquitoes and a species of black fly called the "cousin” abound. Around the coast there is always ice, even on the hottest day. Last summer the hottest day was represented on the thermometer by 68 degrees. Sometimes for two or three weeks in the summer, the ice from the Arctic current blocks the coast, and there is no way of getting in or out.

Besides teaching school in the summer months, Miss Millen will hold sewing and cooking classes, playing classes (the children do not know how to play) and dental clinics. There is a great need for dentists, for the teeth of many of the inhabitants are in wretched condition. The speech of many of the older folk are difficult to understand owing to total absence of teeth. Miss Millen has attended dental clinics in Montreal, and has learned to pull teeth, and to fill cavities temporarily.

Doctor Grenfell, head of the mission, has a dentist on board the Strathcona, the vessel in which he makes his rounds, but it would be impossible for him to stay long enough at each place to attend to minor defects and prepare all cavities for filling. It will be one of Miss Millen’s duties to have the cavities prepared so all the dentist will have to do will be to fill them.

On Sunday she will hold church service. Miss Millen is taking a piano, which will be the first on the Labrador coast.

The winter months will be spent at Forteau, eleven miles from 1'Anse au Loup, where the mission has a hospital, with a furnace.

Make Artificial Flowers

Sister Bailey, who has been in charge for ten years, looks after seventy miles of coast, nursing and doctoring all within that area. Sister Bailey learned artificial flower making in Paris, and has been teaching this art to Labrador women. Many of the flowers made have been sold in Montreal and New York.

It will be Miss Millen’s duty to take charge of the industrial work in this section of the coast. The industrial department of the mission is very important. The winters are long, time is plentiful, and money is scarce with thes Labrador folk. The mission aims to teach useful handicrafts, provide materials, pay for the work done and find a market for the result.

At present the women make mats out of rags. They have to be trained to use good taste in the combination of colors. One of Miss Millen's plans is to develop a distinctive Labradorian basket made from a peculiar grass native to the coast. Another plan is to make use of native resources through the manufacture of dyes from common plants and animals.

Miss Millen has learned the principles of dye making and in the summer will experiment in making dyes from starfish, squids, seaweed, moss, old iron, bark. etc. These dyes will be used to color the various articles made by the women.

Homespun making and pattern weaving of different sorts is carried on by means of looms. Reed basket making, wood carving, making of Labradorite jewelry and spinning are other forms of hand work.

Miss Millen will spend about a week in each village in her district, teaching the women these arts in their own homes. She will pay several visits to each village during the winter to see how the work is progressing. In the spring the work will be collected and sold.

Mail is received once a week in the summer, but in the fall, winter and spring many months may pass without news from the outside world.

Miss Millen expects to stay at least a year on the Labrador coast.

My grandmother in Sidney, Nova Scotia, en route to Labrador, 1915.

Isobel's Adventure Begins

In June, 2015, my grandmother, Isobel Millen, travelled from her home in Westmount, Quebec by train to Quebec City where she had a week's lay-over with friends before she continued on to North Sydney, Nova Scotia with another Grenfell volunteer, Allie Baeuer, and chaperone, Mrs. Wakefield. Along the way she encountered a "good-looking sloppy Englishman, who walked passed them "using a tooth-pick!"; "a family quarrel between a horsey woman and a mulish man;" the "earnest" Salvation Army singing hymns with cymbals and drums – "'how I was saved', ‘the devil and hell’ and ‘glory hallelujah’. Oh backward men!" And "fresh young men making all sorts of remarks and making it impossible for us to survey the scenery on the land side." They were rescued by "a nice old ministerial looking man who gave them quite a lengthy lecture." My grandmother was 20 years old and so very innocent, sheltered, privileged, yet chomping at the bit for adventure, open-minded, extremely bright, tough and courageous, and as I'm slowly discovering, judgmental and superior, truly a woman of her class and generation.

Her journal:

Wednesday night. June 15, 1915. Just after tea

Being full and of a contented mind.

We left the Belmont Hotel (Sydney, N.S.) a little before ten and drove with our nine valises piled high to the wharf where the “Bruce” docks. To see the steel manufactury at Sydney across the harbor was a wonderful sight. The clustering chimneys poured forth smoke against a fiery background of flickering light it was truly impressive.

To tumble into our berths on the Bruce and be off in Dreamland was the work of but a few minutes. I woke at four and feeling the motion of the boat, wondered if I was going to be seasick. But no – I fell asleep again and did not get up till seven. I think I can understand people getting seasick though.

Port au Basque is a bleak place. The brown grass and bare rocks, stunted pines and leaden skies reminded me of a dreary November day at home. The funny little old train did not start till eight, so after getting through customs, we still had time to look around. No one lingered in Port aux Basques – I don’t blame them. Our eight hour journey was lots of fun. The old thing heaved along in jolts with many groans. She slowed up at lunch-time, or methinks there would have been many laps the worse for soup. As it was, to drink your coffee without spilling was a feat. But never mind, the scenery was wonderful. The first thing that caught my eye was a ridge of mountains, patches of snow still in the gullies, whose crests had been rubbed flat by prehistoric glaciers. As we travelled inland the country lost its bleak look – the tuckamore gave way to forests of spruce silver and white birch. Further inland still we saw great warm marigolds gleaming from marshy places and bushes of starry Labrador tea. Every now and then a tumbling stream would fly past in the distance – huge cliffs of red or white. I could go on for hours in this fascinating country.

At Humbermouth (Bay of Islands) our Captain was waiting for us. He is just like the captain of fiction even to blue serge and gold bands. He has the beard, the bronzed face and the kindly blue eyes. He is a dear. We loaded our nine valises and our three trunks onto the freight car that goes by a roundabout way to the wharf, and then clambered on ourselves for the novelty of it. Mrs. Wakefield talked to the Captain. We drank in the scenery and laughed at the foolish freight boys snatching off each other’s caps. We had barely jumped on board ship in the most tom-boyish manner when she started and scared us stiff for we had all expected to have the afternoon to write letters.

Everyone is so nice, we have a pretty young stewardess – we had a motherly old one last night. We had a darling bell-boy at North Sydney and a sweet hack driver. But what seems funny is that I haven’t seen one clean-cut or even decent looking man since I left Quebec. I guess they are all stunted – like their trees – down here. Oh! I didn’t tell about the fussy willow bush I saw just past the furry stage. Imagine that in June! Everything here is at a like stage. Oh the lure of strange places. I think I was born to be a traveller.

Isobel Journeys Through Newfoundland

In June, 1915, at Humbermouth, Newfoundland, after an eight hour train ride, my grandmother, Isobel Millen, boarded “The Meigle,” for L'Anse au Loup, Labrador. On the way, they visited Bonne Bay, Newfoundland and Flower’s Cove, and then at Bonne Esperance, Quebec, they anchored on account of the fog.

Here are some excerpts from her journal:

Thursday AM June 17, 1915    Expenses: 6 eggs 10¢

We are tied up at Bonne Bay. It is the biggest place on the West coast of Newfoundland. We took a walk around the place and saw no less than three stores and one being built. The mountains rise high on all sides of the bay and it really is a beautiful spot. Just now the fog is drifting in and a wind springing up. Mrs. Wakefield fears it will be too thick for us to go on our way. We saw quite a number of fish flakes, but they were too well-built to be interesting. This is really a prosperous place – there are any number of wharves and two school-houses.

It is so odd for we Montrealers to speak English to all classes. At first I unconsciously waited for their “Je ne parles pas Anglais. Allie has just resurrected some deck chairs and we are going out to sit in the mist.

Isobel in front

My first glimpse of whales. Three of them were sporting among little bits of ice. Floating around now. This afternoon we went ashore with Parson Richards. (Flower Cove) He wanted Mrs. Wakefield to see Mr. Williams who was ill and we jumped at the chance to go with her. I had been wanting to go down the ship’s ladder anyway. We jumped into a wet fishing boat with four fishermen who rowed us ashore. Allie and I went quite daft over the sea-weed, the shells, the darling flowers we found on the seashore. It took us quite a puffing fifteen minutes to catch up with Mrs. Wakefield and the Parson who were far ahead on the springy bog.

Reverend Richards on the right-Flower's Cove

Quite a picture the Meigle made, about thirty boats of all sorts, colours and sizes tied to her sides, while their picturesque owners loaded the freight. Such jabbering too! I loved the bustle of it. Just now we are steaming across the straits and will probably make Forteau to-morrow morning. I hope no earlier. It would be awkward to land in the middle of a foggy night.

The Meigle

The steward was funnier than usual to-day. The stewardess told me he has just one more trip to make, all on account of his drunkenness. So I suppose that with nothing to hold him back that is why he is so bad this trip. He certainly is funny, you can’t help but laugh when he leans amorously over your shoulder to whisperingly inquire if you will take tea. He staggers too, and wears his hat at a tipsy angle. I don’t know if I ought to like him but I do. Oo-ee there are heaps of whales – everywhere you can see them rising. Oh we are going through the most wonderful field of broken ice, blue and green and white pieces, worn by the waves into the most wonderful shapes. The colours! The shapes! It is gloriously wonderful.

Isobel on the right

We have just had such fun. A young and good-looking English church parson has gone. (We are anchored at Bonne Esperance on account of the fog) He had heard of Mrs. Wakefield so introduced himself to us as Hr. Hubbard. He was the first man we had set eyes on and was good fun so you can imagine, we rather enjoyed ourselves. A parson in Carrigans, breeches and leather coat with only the collar and vest of his calling is rather amusing. He may come up to L’Anse au Loup. That would be fun. Did you ever see a lone man deprived of women of his own kind. Did you ever see three girls who have not met a decent man for a week. Did you ever see such a combination meet. Well it met tonight and we have giggled ever since.

We went up on the Captain’s bridge to-night and watched the boat being guided through the fog and the mist. It was very interesting. Item Ship ‘o Log. The steward did not appear for supper, overcome at last. (He is being dismissed so he is quite incorrigible.)

This could be Mr. Hubbard but there's no caption

My granny arrives at Forteau!

Though Isobel Millen spent most of her first summer in L’Anse au Loup, she visited Sister Bailey regularly, and the following winter, when she returned to Labrador, she lived with Sister Bailey in Forteau. But in her journal excerpt here, she is meeting Sister Bailey for the first time.

A bit of background: Sister Bailey was the first nurse to work for the Grenfell Mission and also, the first nurse to be stationed at the Denison Cottage in Forteau. She arrived in 1907 when she was only eighteen years old and stayed for eighteen years. When my grandmother first met her in 1915, Sister Bailey’s district extended 70 miles along the coast, a full 100 miles from the closest hospital, and she was responsible for 1000 people, with no assistant, and with very rare visits from any doctor. She eventually returned to England due to poor health, and died in 1952.

By most accounts I’ve come across, Sister Bailey was deeply loved by the Labrador people, but a thesis written by Jill Samfya Perry and submitted to Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1997, paints a different picture of the women who worked for the Grenfell Mission. Perry writes of the distinct class differences between locals and those from ‘away’, who could be maternalistic, moralizing, elitist, severe and condescending, and generally showed a lack of respect for the culture and traditions of the Labrador people they had come to help. (paraphrased)

I’ve noticed this attitude at times in my grandmother’s journal, including in the following excerpt, but I’m hoping her snobbishness and feelings of superiority (which she retained for the rest of her life, and passed along to my mother!) were overshadowed by her deep love of the people of Labrador, her openness and genuine desire to learn as much from them as they learned from her.

You can check out the whole thesis here:

Isobel's 1915 Journal (Continued)

Saturday night. June 19, 1915

I never in all my life saw anything so deeply gloriously blue as Forteau Bay. Blue that was made all the bluer by glistening white ice-bergs in the offing. And the cliffs at sunset when their battlemented sides faintly green from the covering moss, were tinged a rosy red. Why nothing could be more wonderful. I love the sound of the waves braking on the beach and dashing hollowly against the “growlers”. Everything is getting nicer all the time. I think I shall fairly love my summer.

Forteau in 1915

We left the “Meigle” about eleven to-day and had lunch shortly after. The lunch was served daintily and in a fresh airy room. How good it tasted. We have been all through the Mission house and it is most nice. There are no patients at present so we have three beds in a big airy room. They are soft too, for we had a sleep after lunch.

Dennison Cottage Hospital

Sister Bailey is a dear. We are to live in closer with her a week, visiting the surrounding settlements and getting acquainted with the ways of the people. We certainly have heard a lot of life here to-day. Sister tells hundreds of stories, pathetic and humorous. She has a great streak of fun. It is a good thing, otherwise I don’t think she could stand the solitary life. I’ll just confine myself to one story of stupidity. I guess I shall have heaps of my own to relate soon. This was too funny though. She had called down for a hot water bottle, giving instructions that it shouldn’t be too warm, and when it failed to appear, asked what was the matter. “The water got too warm, Sister, and we are waiting for it to cool.” This, with heaps of cold water right beside them!

Sister Bailey has flowers – lovely ones. One perfect rose-bud, faintly dawn-tinted and wonderful in its folded crispness, I could wonder at all day long she has an outside garden too, with all sorts of vegetables and flowers just beginning to grow. She is a most marvelous person. It will be the biggest of treats to visit her this summer. Some of the industrial work the women and children have been doing the winter is remarkably good – especially the artificial flowers. They are wonderfully dyed. Sister attends to that herself. She obtained the materials from France and learned the art there. I was so glad to find her a cultured English woman. Point Amour Lighthouse, whose keepers are going to be nice friends for me, is winking across the bay, the young moon is up and everything is quiet but the sound of the breaking waves. I want to wake quickly to another glorious day, so I’m off to bed.

Sunday, June 20, 1915

To-day was a grey day but nice all the same. It passed in reading and writing. To-night we went to church – the Methodist one. Henry, a funny looking but dear and Christian old man takes the service except when there is a travelling preacher. He reads a sermon utterly beyond the comprehension of himself and his listeners in such a quick voice and with such peculiar pronunciation that no one can make him out. But he makes short dissertations on the readings and the prayers and hymns that are really worth listening to. The prayers are funny, said in a rapid, breathless, monotonous up and down voice accompanied by a moaning chorus of quavering “amens.” One man shouted so that our ears were deafened, every now and then his voice would crack. It was all we could do to control our mirth. But they were very earnest and Sister Bailey says that they were really good, those who took the leading part. (Mrs. Wakefield is playing hymns on the quavery old organ and singing) After the service to-night we had an open air song-service on the verandah. It reminded me of Woodlands. The Sunday-go-to meeting garb of the people is very funny. I saw all sorts of hats, hilarious hockey caps, little boys’ sailors, white straw, all perched in the fashion of years ago on the top of the head. Some of the little kiddies are very attractive but it struck me how quickly the girls age. Not one scarcely of the older girls was pretty. I should just love to do their hair for them and fix them up. Perhaps I can do it a bit at L’Anse au Loup.

Monday, June 21, 1915

There is something fascinating about the sound of a fog horn. It is dreadfully foggy and raining heavily. We could not go to L’Anse au Claire but we spent the morning – Mrs. Wakefield and I – pulling teeth. I pulled five and filled one temporarily. We worked in the summer kitchen with a big table for our instruments and two rocking chairs for our patients. Allie did our sterilizing, held the patients hands and other little jobs of a like character. She was really splendid. We each took turns in examining the patients in the dispensary. It was very slow work because our instruments weren’t so beautifully at hand as they are in a dentist’s office. The first two teeth I had were rather hard and I felt a wee bit faint after I had got the tooth out. But I think I am over that now. I am glad to have this practice with Mrs. Wakefield before I start in on my own, though it really makes no difference. I have already two patients for to-morrow. One little boy for whom I pulled three teeth – Grenfell Cribb – is coming. I have some filling to do for him and some more pulling. He is a brave little beggar. We had one man who was an awful coward – the rest were quite plucky.

We had puffins for dinner. They resemble duck and taste very good.

Tuesday, June 22, 1915

Another foggy day, but nice all the same. Mrs. Wakefield and I were busy dentists to-day, earning about three dollars as Forteau pay goes. One thing I know, it is much more pleasant to pull teeth than to fill them, especially when they belong to an Art Hancocky sort of a man. Grenfell was as much of a brick as ever, but Maud Salter was a great baby.

This afternoon I helped sister pack flowers. I loved handing the beautiful, realistic things. All the perfumes of Araby seemed wafted about the room borne by the wings of beautiful colours and the wonderful creature – Imagination. Sister is an artist, as the delicate colouring and natural form of those flowers prove.

We have just been singing rounds and swapping funny stories. (I did not have any, so only listened). So uproarious was our mirth that we had to stop. The others are now engaged in the serious task of renovating an old magic lantern and then we are going to have some pictures.

Isobel's Christmas in Forteau, 1916

This is a wee detour from my grandmother's journey to L'Anse au Loup in 1915, in honour of the Christmas season. I'll continue with her journal very soon.

After my grandmother's initial summer in Labrador in 1915, she returned home to Westmount, Quebec, and then spent the winter in New York City to train in arts and crafts. The next year she took her new skills back to Labrador to teach the women handicrafts they could sell for additional income. She spent another full year in Labrador–the summer in L'Anse au Loup again, and the winter in Forteau with Sister Bailey at the nursing station where there was a "furnace." Apparently, a luxury. Not sure how the folk in L'Anse au Loup got through the winter, but it seems it wasn't quite up to snuff for my granny.

This is a letter Isobel wrote that was published in the International Grenfell Association magazine–Among the Deep Sea Fishers-Vol-15-1-p14, and also in the book, Grenfell and Christmas in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador by D.W.S. Ryan. Unfortunately, the only section I was interested in–this letter by my grandmother–the publisher screwed up big time–they are two blank pages in the book, followed by the last three paragraphs of her letter. What's that all about?? Very disappointing after ordering the damned book from a special book seller. But here it is from the Among the Deep Sea Fishers. Which I found free on internet.

Christmas at Forteau in 1916    by Isobel Millen

Dear Miss Demarest:  (Miss Demarest, from New York City, was one of the Mission's teachers.

Is it not fortunate that we are having such mild weather and expect another mail-boat? Now I can tell you about our Christmas. For I know you want to hear about it and Sister is still too busy.

I will be discreetly silent about our own frivolous doings in the morning. But how you would have laughed had you seen us emptying our stockings and the sheepish look on Sister’s face at being discovered in such childishness.

The actual preparations for the feast began a week beforehand with the killing of the bull. They continued through six busy days in the doing up of boxes of candy, the careful sorting out of gifts, and the mixing of puddings and pastries. In all the corners one came across basins of raisins and currants and suet and bowls of chopped nuts and candied peel. Up in the ward were piled the toys, dolls, games, books, and other lovely things. The house was filled with the indescribable bustle of Christmas-tide.

On Friday I came home to find Sister mixing the puddings. What do you think she was mixing them in? Our discarded bathtub. And what do you think she was mixing with? A crutch. You see, there were twenty-two puddings and no other receptacle was large enough. No assurances of repeated scourings will stop me teasing Sister about her sanitary ideas. Would you not tease her too?

Everything else being done, we went down on Saturday night to prepare the schoolhouse. The little schoolmaster and several of the men helped us. When it was finished it looked awfully nice. The tree, that one of the men had hauled from the woods far inland, stood a-glitter in one corner. It was far more heavily laden with gifts than ever it had been with snow.

Tuckermore boughs were wreathed round the windows; paper festoons, hug with Christmas bells, hid the beams; flags and pennants covered the pine walls. The men gaped at the transformation. Then the rude tables, hastily constructed of planks, were nailed into place, the lights were put out and we departed for home and bed secure in the knowledge of fourteen huge roasts of beef, and pork and onions to go with them, a barrel and a half of potatoes – and another one of potatoes and the puddings, already distributed and waiting in the various houses for Christmas day and the moment of cooking.

Now comes the part that was really such fun. Every married person in Forteau and L’Anse-au-Claire was invited. All day, echoes of barking dogs floated from Forteau Hill and komatiks dashed by at a “stretch gallop.” One began to wonder whether our tables would seat them all. However, we were prepared for eighty, and we found there was plenty of room when at six o’clock the doors were opened and our guests filed in.

When grace was sung and all were seated I look around with a good deal of interest, and, in between moments of serving, stopped to wonder at the change in some faces. Have you ever observed what a difference a clean shave, a good scrubbing, and a white celluloid collar make in the appearance of a man usually too busy for such amenities?

The dinner was a princely feast to men and women who mostly had never tasted fresh beef and some of whom have not even enough salt beef to see them half-way through the winter. But I think everyone enjoyed the games and fun afterwards, even more. We played games, ancient and time-worn at home, but new and exciting here. How we laughed at Uncle Joe with black streaks on his bald head. He had not known the mesmerizing game. Uncle Rube afforded us inexpressible delight as he clumsily side-stepped books that were not there. And when Abe, blind-folded and bewildered, singed his hands in his effort to blow out the candle, we exploded – rather, should I say with Aunt Mary Ann, “explored” with laughter. A riotous game of musical chairs did not calm us down. I loved to listen to the rhythmic shuffle-shuffle of feet clad in skin-boots and watch the changing expressions on faces pathetically unaccustomed to fun and relaxation.

We had had the organ brought down on a komatik and they hushed, for Sister was going to sing. The L’Anse-au-Claire people had never heard anything like it and even the more favoured Forteau people, in awed silence, drank in the Christmas songs and carols. Then we stood for “God Save the King.” Lingeringly the men and women, each with an apple and a box of candy, said “good-bye” and “thank you.” Christmas Day was over. I think Sister felt repaid for the money, the thought, the energy she had spent in planning a happy time.

It would but weary you to tell about the children’s tea the next day. Such affairs are the same the world over, do you not think? They loved their supper and ate, and ate, and ate. They stared in awe at the tree and in half-frightened curiosity at Santa. They hugged their generous presents to them and departed in a state of repletion almost unknown on the Labrador.

Well, Christmas comes but once a year. I am getting almost old enough to be thankful. All the same I can wish you no better, though tardy wish, than that you spent as happy a day as I.

Sister and I join in sending you love and all good wishes for a cheerful and a happy New Year.


Isobel Millen

P.S. The bathroom is great. I had hoped to have a picture of it for you. I will send it by winter mail.

The Lighthouse, L’Anse Amour, Labrador

Isobel's journal:

Thursday, June 24, 1915

I was disappointed not to write in this old book last night. But it was twelve o’clock before I got to bed and I was far too sleepy. You see we were at the Lighthouse, and the Wyatts, striving for something to break the monotony, kept us going till twelve, playing the organ, talking and gossiping. Of course we were glad to amuse them, but oh I was so tired. It was quite a full day.

The Lighthouse from the water

We had meant to start for L’Anse au Loup in the morning, but it did not calm down sufficiently for us to cross Forteau Bay until the afternoon. I have always loved sailing, but never in my life did I have such a sail as yesterday. Out on the grey waters, the fog all around us, the salt spray flying in our faces! The colour, the motion of it! Six fishermen in oilskins were the crew of the trap-boat. She was home-built and fourteen years old but staunch still. Her sails were a red-brown from the tanning and her sides a bright red. The men were just boys out for play and kept us roaring all the way. I balanced on the edge of the boat, and weren’t not for my “oilies,” had been drenched to the skin. The men had to keep bailing all the time and once we shipped the whole crest of a wave. Everyone was wet, our hair in streaks, but being warmly clad we were happy. I did love it – careening over the grey water; in the distance a silver sheen where the poor wan sun was endeavouring to shine through. We passed a fleet of boats, dancing on the waves, and shouted joyfully to them, but we heard no answering shout in the sound of the wind and waves.

Bob Wyatt and the "only" horse

Geoff Wyatt met us at Mrs. Davis’ [at] L’Anse Amour in a tippy buckboard and we had an exciting drive to the Lighthouse. The one horse had made the road – on one side were the cliffs on the other the ocean. I noticed quite a few flowers as we passed. The strata all around here are perfectly horizontal and lead to some queer formations.

The Tower - 109 feet high

After tea last night we were taken to see the light – a hundred and nine feet high. It was most interesting. We also saw the fog-horn machinery, the flag-house, the Marconi and the telegraph office. And many, many talks we heard of ship-wreck and famous people. Nearly all the people of note who come to this coast have stopped at the Wyatt’s. Mrs. Hubbard was here on her way North – “a nice little woman” Mrs. Wyatt says. Admiral Jellicoe spent a day with them. His niece still writes to little Christine, now thirteen years old, and they got books and toys from the Admiral. Those are only two of the people whom they have seen. Tiny is very pretty and very clever. Jack, a boy of ten, is the one I like best. He reminds me of Philip Boileau’s pictures. He is exactly the type. There are two older girls and two older boys also – nice but not extremely interesting. I shall be nice to them though, although I’d rather play with the little ones because I pity their isolation. It is a lonely life.

The barrens and the Lighthouse road

Mrs. Wakefield has been fixing their teeth all morning while I have been playing the organ and talking. I am keen to get on to L’Anse au Loup to get well settle before the night. I am dreadfully afraid of an ice block with this eat wind. Already at Battle they are shut in, as we heard by telegraph. It would be too dreadful not to get my mail.

Friday, June 25, 1915

Here we are still at the Lighthouse. Mrs. Wakefield was nearly all day yesterday fixing the Wyatt’s teeth and by the time she had finished it was so stormy that we decided not to go. We went for a walk instead in the rain and the wind. It was good fun. I found lots of fossils in the rocks but nothing at all uncommon. Where little streams came down from the lakes above, were any amount of flowers. They grew close to the moss hardly daring, I suppose, to raise their frail heads to the rude winds. Of five or six different varieties there were only two I knew – some stunted, lopsided dandy-lions sadly lacking in the spruceness of the dandy, and some tiny violets, their leaves were not as big as a five cent piece and they cowered so low in the sheltering moss, that they had no stems at all. There is quite a lot of grass around Point Amour because it is not yet on the “outside.” I wonder if L’Anse au Loup will have any. L’Anse au Loup, you see is not really on the “outside” either.

Never in all my life have I seen music give such pleasure as it does here. Last night we were all crowded into the tiny office where the tinier organ is kept. I didn’t enjoy the music as much as the faces. Turned to the flickering lamp light and the organ they drank in the music as if never had they heard such glorious sounds. Mr. Ross, the Marconi operator and a Scotchman, sat as if rapt. When Mrs. Wakefield played a one step to rest her voice I had to get into the kitchen and dance for them. I must have looked funny, my feet in huge low shoes, my sailor suit swirling around my ankles and my air nearly on my shoulders. Dancing to an audience of fascinated faces crowded in the kitchen doorway is a novel experience. I must try and get them over their diffidence, for dancing would be good fun in the long winter evenings.

The "tiny office" and the kitchen today (taken on my Sept 2017 trip to Labrador)

Jeff is uncannily like Ritchie Donald, he has the same mouth, the same way of talking and he looks as old, though only twenty. I am sorry for him. He wears such a discontented face and he had great stuff in him that will only go to seed down here. He is like his father in some respects yet he lacks that love of his work that alone would make him happy.

Mr. Wyatt is a splendid looking man, tall, with silvered hair and the kindliest face ever I have seen. Mrs. Wyatt is nice but she reminds me of a wasp, so tall and bent every which way, so very narrow at the waist-line. She wears the look of the chronic dyspeptic. Always talks as if it hurt her to speak loudly and as if to raise her eyes would give her an excruciating head-ache. Her eye-brows have a funny way of working up and down and she ends her sentences on the upward inflection. She is good and kind and a splendid mother but as for me I couldn’t tell her my troubles ‘cause she isn’t fat enough.

The Wyatt Family: back: Winifred, Bob, Mrs. Emma Wyatt, Jeff, Mr. Thomas Wyatt middle: Ruby.  front: Jack,  Christine (Tiny) 

Jack Wyatt's pet

The oldest daughter is bent to the same end, her twin Bob is a good kid – he went with her to Montreal for school. He is very fond of reading, is good at mathematics and wants to be a sailor. Winnie the fifteen year old one has her father’s disposition. She has nice eyes and a pasty face. It is such a common combination. It can’t be candy or pastry that makes her so, down here. It is unfortunate. The odd thing is that they all look so old. It was quite a shock to learn that Ruby was only eighteen for I had felt quite a kid beside her. Now I can uphold my dignity quite easily. I call them all by their first names and give them sisterly advice. I also sport my ring on the third finger of the left hand, and very ostentatiously. They are very susceptible down here and a school-teacher would make a fine lighthouse keeper’s wife. It won’t be my fault if anything happens. I guess my weight of years will be sufficiently awing.

It is clearing up, the sky and the ocean are getting blue and the fog is clearing off. Hurrah, hurrah. It will be nice to see the sun again after nearly a week of rain. There goes Geoff whistling past my window. He is singing a queer song and leading our noble stud. Now I am off to another new place. I do feel a much travelled lady. Oh, I nearly forgot to say that I had porridge for breakfast and I chewed it too. I felt so heroic.

Something my grandmother couldn't do back in 1915 – a selfie in the Lighthouse tower!

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