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By W. T. Grenfell m.d.

Dr. Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, Hon. '09, born near Chester, England, was educated at the University of London, and later attended Queen's College at Oxford. He began his career as a medical missionary in England in 1887 and from there worked into his present unique position of the "Labrador Doctor".


With regard to the proposition of introducing reindeer into Labrador as a commercial prospect, I consider that a careful study of past experience would convince any man that the proposition should without fail be a very remunerative one if the experiment is properly managed.

My own experiment was founded on the Alaskan one at the advice of its originator, the Rev. Dr. Sheldon Jockson. He began work in the early eighty's. I had no idea that what he was introducing could be anything more than a philanthropy. Altogether 1280 reindeer were imported into Alaska in twenty years. There are now considerably over 200,000 animals in a hundred herds. The meat is now selling at a higher price than beef, having worked its own way up as a desirable article of diet. The valuation of the skins cannot help increasing. The Chief of the United States Biological Survey in his evidence before a Congressional Committee, states that within twenty years the annual output of Alaska would be one and a quarter million carcasses. A reindeer weighs more than two sheep. This year the reindeer ready for exportation for meat purposes gathered together at Nome in Alaska are estimated to be worth $600,00 when they get to Chicago; and $370,000 at Nome.

One reason why it doesn't pay as used to do to raise cattle in Idaho today is because cattle there have to housed for several months in the year and food raised to feed them. The land has apparently become more valuable as cereal-growing areas. Reindeer need no housing and no artificial feeding.

No Idea as to Possibilities

The whole history of the vision of those who began the reindeer industry in Alaska shows that they only erred in having no idea as to its possibilities. Labrador is the nearest port of America to Europe. It is 1600 miles distant from Ireland. Its coast is easy of approach in the summer, there being no sand banks, and all its innumerable harbors having deep water. Sir William MacGreggor and I collected speciments of its flora and sent them to Kew, England, for a report on their ability to support reindeer; the report was absolutely favorable. Everyone who knows Labrador, knows that from Cape Chidley itself, even on the Island, to the most southern boundary of Labrador on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, caribou, which are the same as reindeer, not only have been able to support themselves in immense numbers but even in spite of man and his modern equipment of destruction, there are still large numbers of them in the country. The question as to whether large herds of deer domesticated and protected, could be supported in Labrador needs no answer. The increasing need of Europe for meat foods also is without question.

Own Experiment Marred

Our own experiment with the reindeer was unfortunately marred by the deer being landed in Newfoundland instead of Labrador, and my not having the money to carry them across when the ice broke up. They multiplied there so regularly that my original three hundred, though I sold a good number and killed a good number for food, mounted up to fifteen hundred in a few years. The sole cause of failure was the refusal of the New-foundland government of that day to give me the protection that I had to have from poachers, many poor people needing food living all around the little peninsular on which I had them, and irresponsible schooner men in summer being able to land and shoot the deer, from whom the number of herders I was able to afford could not protect them. The herd is now growing again under the protection of the Canadian Government.

Tried in Baffins Bay Land

The experiment being tried in Baffins Bay Land by the Hudson Bay Company, though so far it has met with considerable difficulties, has not discouraged them. Mr. Sale told me in London in October that they were intending to invest more money in the proposition. I cannot but feel, however, from what my friends who have been missionaries in Baffins Land have told me of that country, that it is a much more difficult proposition there than it would be in Labrador. The shipping certainly would be much more difficult, because the country is north of the dangerous Straits of Hudson Bay which are apt to contain ice any time in the year.

Labrador is an ideal country, so everyone says who has seen it, with its infinite number of square miles covered with food which has through the ages supported immense numbers of these very animals,--for a successful venture in breeding not only the caribou and the musk-ox, and I should think the yak also, another very valuable meat and skin animal. Now the Newfoundland and Canadian governments are both willing to facilitate in every way, by protection and by grant, the development of such an enterprise.

It is no good supposing that dividends would be paid during the first ten or fifteen years, though the Alaskan experiment showed that the return is much larger and much quicker than any of its first investors dreamed of. Mr. Gilbert Grosvenor, of the National Geographic Magazine, should be referred to in this matter as an authority. He was ridiculed as a false prophet even for the modest support he gave the problem in 1902 in the National Geographic Magazine.

Measurement of Responsibility

In these days when men are considering that their responsibility to the world can be measured not only in terms of the religious theories that they propagate, but in the material help they render to their fellowmen, I am convinced it is not too much to say that the problem of making Labrador a meat-feeeding country for the world has a very strong claim on the attention of philanthropists who are spending enormous sums in hospitals and efforts to combat the results of poverty and want in less fortunate parts of the world. I am convinced that Dr. Sheldon Jackson of Alaska will be remembered through the ages not only for the theology that he taught in Alaska, but unquestionably for his establishment of the reindeer industry of Alaska. The efforts of the Rockefeller Foundations to repair the diseases through hospitals and to prevent diseases like hookworm have not one fota of justification to be rated as bigger service to mankind than the enabling of the grazing lands of Labrador to become a new source of blessing to mankind.

But beyond philanthropy, the experience of others has clearly demonstrated that with patience, good management and business precautions, in a reasonable time a full return may be expected through treating the problem as a commercial enterprise. Vilhjalmur Stefansson is considering now locating a her of musk oxen in Labrador.

The best information of details, exact results and prospects can be obtained by writing to the Superintendent of the Reindeer Department, Bureau of Education for Alaska, Washington, D. C.

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