Students continue their journey on the coast of Labrador
In 1891, the group of Bowdoin students and alumni under Professor Leslie A. Lee sailed up the eastern coast of Labrador toward the town of Rigolette. Johnathan Cilley '81 wrote that the Bowdoin scientific expedition to Labrador was the party "whom Bowdoin has thought worthy to bear her name into regions seldom vexed by a college yell, and to whom she has entrusted the high duties of scientific investigation, in which, since the days of Professor Cleaveland, she has kept a worthy place."
In Labrador the boys swam in the North West River, which had water that Cilley described as "far pleasanter and less arctic for bathing than the water off any point of the Maine coast." They saw an elderly man long slowed by rheumatism dance after Dr. John Parker '86 treated him.
They collected many one-of-a-kind ivory carvings and treated friends from shore to a concert of the Bowdoin Glee and Minstrel Club. They bargained with an interpreter who suddenly disappeared into his wigwam claiming he was "tired of talking." When Professor Lee asked him if he wanted more money, he was "no longer tired, was willing to talk all night."
Parker wrote to his parents that he had "gained about 10 lbs of flesh and lost all that tired look and feeling that I had in consequence of my three mos. of hard work in the [Maine] Medical School."
The boys sent up Grand River in search of Grand Falls had a very different experience, however, from those who stayed with the schooner-with food, friends, and civilization. Austin Cary called the Grand River a "standing challenge to sportsmen, scientists, and explorers," adding proudly that "that challenge had been taken up in the name of Bowdoin College."
The four-man Grand River Party left the Decker at the town of Rigolette to start their 300 mile journey upriver to find the Grand Falls, seen by only two non-natives but never mapped, measured, or photographed. Austin Cary '87, Dennis Cole '88, Warren Smith '90, and Ernest Young '92, were rushed in their endeavor-they had only a few weeks before the icebergs would be so numerous that passage back to Maine would be too dangerous.
Not wanting to winter in Labrador, Cary remembered, "our work began as an athletic contest, and the whole trip as it stands in my memory is one long struggle, calling out every stitch of strength and endurance."
On a foggy July day, the four men set out in two 15-foot cedar boats with provisions for five weeks and equipment for surveying and meteorology. The men learned quickly of the difficulties of traveling in Labrador, especially the "agonies" of a man "whom the flies becloud, competing for standing room on every exposed portion of his body." The black flies and mosquitoes also kept the men from getting the sleep they needed for the exhausting journey, and when traveling "for any length of time in the woods, the blood they draw is a very serious matter."
On July 31, Cary and Smith capsized. To save time, they had not tied their supplies down to the boat, so they lost a quarter of their provisions. Plus, in an effort to regain control over the boat, Young hurt his arm so badly that he had to turn back. Smith wrote reluctantly in his diary on August 8, "I must accompany him."
Meanwhile, Cary and Cole had gone almost 300 miles upriver from their starting point. The river became so swift that passage by boat was impossible, so the two explorers pushed forward on foot. They named Bowdoin Canyon and Mount Hyde after their college and its current president, respectively. On the morning of August 13, their food and supplies were half gone and time was running out before their schooner was scheduled to leave for Maine. After also factoring in fatigue and "persistent bleeding by black flies," the two reluctantly marked that day to be the last that they could continue forward. They realized that they must turn back the next day-whether or not they found Grand Falls.
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