Near Natchvak, the Torngats are a particularly beautiful range. It means “the place where the spirits live”. For sure no one will disturb them there. Kaleigh will look at that picture for long periods and finally pick a place on the shoreline because she knows no one has ever penetrated the hidden valleys. And when she has the exact spot pinpointed, she’ll ask, “Grampa, were you ever right there? What is it exactly like?” I’ve been in Natchvak Fiord, and have felt that in its grandeur and absolute natural state, it is nature’s cathedral, because while men have been there now and again, they cannot stay, and their futile works soon disappear. I’ve been right there.
I can tell her what a beautiful place it is. The sun shines into the fiord from the easy for a few hours everyday, then it is blocked by the hills at certain times of the year. In spring and early summer, when the sun is at its highest, it can shine directly down the great chasm. The rest of the time there is little sun, but because of the great crags covered with snow, there is lots of light. All manner of animals congregate there: seals, whales, walrus, arctic fox and polar bear. Once I saw a lonely and puzzled looking black bear. The great brown bear, now extinct as far as anybody knows, that used to haunt the barrens inland from Natchvak, has been seen in the fiord by the early HBC and Moravian mission people. The natives, whose legends over the years are surprisingly accurate, say that he was larger than a polar bear, much stronger, and would attack men on sight when the polar bear has never been known to do that.
I have seen the surface of the fiord alive with huge flocks of eider ducks feeding on the millions of shrimp and beds and beds of mussels. Lesser ducks and gulls, terns, shearwaters, sea pigeons, puffins and murres are there in the millions. Arctic char, salmon and cod are there for the taking, and in the days of the sailing schooners, Natchvak was known as a good place to “bring up” for a season’s fishing, but so far away and lonely that only a few ever took advantage of the plenty there.
It was a place of security for a native culture, and so recognized by the HBC and Moravians who built there. They tried to entice the natives to settle also because there they would never go hungry. Neither trade nor religion would entice the natives to dare the spirits and all efforts to settle them there failed. There was another practical consideration; the shores of the fiord are so steep that land animals are necessarily restricted to the shoreline. How long the wildlife would survive if a number of hunters were to wander thee is doubtful. The sea life is also concentrate in the narrow fiord and greater activity from the fishing boats and hunters might well deter the animals from using the fiord. There is a route westward to the barren caribou birthing area inland. Greater pressure on the does and calves could have an adverse effect on the herd. So perhaps the natives knew that not only the spirits were against a large population there. Perhaps they recognized how fragile the environment there was. Anyway they restricted themselves to an occasional foray for seals, walrus and whales, and left the place in peace most of the time.
And what of the whites? Why didn’t they wait it out? Well the lack of sun in the winter got to them. The HBC was staffed by Labrador people who were able to handle the situation. Sam Ford had his wife there with him for several years. He told me that even for them, born and brought up on Labrador, it was a tough place in winter, but had the trade been there, he would have stayed.
- Letters of Leonard Budgell 1933-40.