Help support the WCHA Forums by making a tax-deductible donation!

Minas Benson Hubbard

Discussion in 'Research and History' started by dboles, Nov 29, 2004.

  1. dboles

    dboles LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Im adding a little text from a Womans way through unknown Labrador.This part deals with her guide poling a canoe upstream.
    I wondered why, and concluded it must be because the water was so
    swift at the point. I still wondered why George did not stay to
    help Job; for as all their conversations were carried on in Indian,
    I was in darkness as to what was to happen. In silence I waited
    for developments. A little distance above the point, near where
    the water was deeper and not so swift, I looked back, and to my
    astonishment I saw Job poling the canoe through the swift water
    alone. But this was mild surprise compared with what was awaiting
    We were soon in the canoe, and for nearly half a mile they poled up
    the swift current. The water was deep, and sometimes they bent
    over the poles till their hands dipped into the water. It seemed
    as if they must certainly fall overboard. I expected every minute
    to find myself perforce taking a header into the deep water.
    Sometimes we brushed the edge of a big ice-bank. The moment the
    poles were lifted the canoe stopped its forward movement, and if
    they were not quickly set again it began to slip back with the
    current. At last the water became too shallow and rough and we
    went ashore. Here the portaging began, and I climbed up over the
    ice-banks and walked along the shore. Even while ice and snow
    lingered, the flowers were beginning to bloom, and I found two tiny
    blue violets. On reaching the deepest part of the bay I turned to
    look back. Job was bringing one of the canoes up the rapid with
    two full portage loads in it. I could scarcely believe what I saw,
    and ran eagerly down to secure a photograph of this wonderful feat.
    But my powers of astonishment reached their limit when later I saw
    him calmly bringing the canoe round the bend at the foot of Mount
    Sawyer and up into the narrower part of the river. Now I was not
    alone in my wonder. Both George and Joe watched with interest
    equal to mine, for even they had never seen a canoeman pole in
    water so rough.

    Job looked as if in his element. The wilder the rapid the more he
    seemed to enjoy it. He would stand in the stern of the canoe,
    right foot back, left forward with leg against the thwart, with set
    pole holding it steady in the rushing, roaring water while he
    looked the way over, choosing out his course. Then he would move
    the canoe forward again, twisting its nose now this way, now that,
    in the most marvellous fashion, and when he drove it into the rush
    of water pouring round a big rock the pole would bend and tremble
    with the weight and strain he put upon it. Sometimes I could
    hardly breathe while watching him. After taking one canoe some
    distance above the bend he went back for the second, and all the
    remainder of the afternoon Job climbed hills of water in the
    Wish that I could find a picture that is in the book to post.
    Minas husband starved to death canoeing in Labrador.In the book (Lure of the Labrador Wild) wrote about this trip they mention that they took on this trip an 18 foot Oldtown Guide.Minas completed her husbands trip 2 years later in 1905.Interesting book Lots of pictures.
    So my question is: Does anyone know the maker of the canoes that they took on this trip.She mentions that they are wood canvas and 19 feet long.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2004
  2. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    I read that book over the summmer. I thought they were Old Town Guide models. I guess I don't recall them being specified, but I would have probably remarked if they were stated as anything different.

    Great stories!... Great Heart as well as Dillon Wallace's book. Also read a biography of George Elson recently. Seems that he had a crush on Mrs. Hubbard and visa versa. Steamy!!
  3. OP

    dboles LOVES Wooden Canoes

    The ends of the canoes seem pretty swept up She does state that they were 19 footers Oldtown made them? Do not recall ever seeing anyone ask for a build record of a canoe of that length.Too bad I cant find a picture to post .A google resulted in nothing.There was a link I found once that had photos of the Leonidas trip but cant even locate that either.The George Elson bio do you remember the name of the book?
  4. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

  5. paddlinpaul

    paddlinpaul Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Ok, maybe a bit off the posted topic, sorry.
    The first picture is taken on the same rapid as described in the original post. Mount Sawyer is in the background. My SO and myself going upstream on the Naskaupi River, 2003. Ugh!! I imagine quite a difference in the canoes and gear!
    Both the expeditions used Old Towns, I can't remember what model. The other picture is Wallace and Elson going up a small swift just above Grand Lake.

    Attached Files:

  6. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    Photo 48 in Fitz's link to the virtual museum shows what is almost certainly an Old Town deck profile. Old Town did offer a 19' version of the guide through 1910.

  7. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    George Elson Book

    The book is called "Challenge the Wilderness: The legend of George Elson"
    By Clayton Klein....c.1988
  8. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Lorne Hollett and Bryan Greene have both written articles about these canoes. Their research has uncovered a copy of the original invoice from Old Town, "for the sale of 2 x 19 foot canvas canoes and 4 x paddles, for a total of $70.00, which was shipped to Halifax, to the Dickey Lumber Co., who carried them on to Labrador on one of their ships in the summer of 1905." They were the nineteen foot Guide's Special model as others have mentioned. This was one of the first models introduced by the company and remained in the catalogs until 1910. It appears that the original build records for these two canoes no longer exist. The story is amazing.

  9. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Wear and Tear

    I always wonder a lot about wear and tear on canoes used in these old expeditions. Picture 25 from the museum link shows one of the canoes without much bottom paint left!
  10. Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    Re discussion of what kind of canoes: the pics around 44, 45, 48 do look like Old Town, but these pics do NOT seem to show the same canoe as in pics around #s 3,4. Notice in photo 44 that the wales do not run past the stem, and the bow seat (though gone) was mounted with spacer dowels as Old Town.

    In photo 3, though, the wales run past the stem, and the seat is mounted flush. Several other photos show same kinds of distinctions. I'm wondering if some of these canoes may be E.M. Whites. Hmmm...
  11. Dan Miller

    Dan Miller cranky canoeist Staff Member

    Hi Michael,

    Good eye! However, the early Old Town canoes did have gunwales that carried past the stems, so this does not rule out Old Town as the builder of the canoes in the photos.

  12. Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    That's true, Dan- wales running past does not exclude Old Town, but the differences between photos suggest that different canoes are shown in different photos. No matter what, this is an amazing photographic history! Thanks four the link, Fitz!
  13. OP

    dboles LOVES Wooden Canoes

    There were 3 trips taken to Labrador.Dilon Wallace was on 2 of them.The original trip where Hubbard starved to death 1903 (book :Lure of the Labrador Wild) and another the same year 1905 (do not know if this trip was published ) that Minas Benson Hubbard was on the river ( book A Womans Way Through Uknown Labrador).George Elson was on 2 trips also acting as a guide for the original trip and the one with Mrs Hubbard
    The pictures that Fitz posted deal with Dilon Wallace s 2 trips.Im wondering if the reasearch that Benson mentions are for the canoes for Wallaces second trip to Labrador.In his diary Leonadis mentions Oldtown as the canoe they took on the trip. We havent seem any photos yet of Minas canoes.
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2004
  14. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Lorne Hollett is the editor of "THEM DAYS" magazine in Labrador, Canada. Their Spring Special Edition will be dedicated to the 100th anniversary Hubbard’s trip. She contacted me in November looking for more information about these canoes.

    Bryan Greene was preparing the 1905 diaries of Minas Hibbard and George Elson for publication in April, 2000. I don't know the current status of this project.

  15. Giiwedin

    Giiwedin Gouvernail

    The saga of Hubbard and Dillon, and then Hubbard's widow, is certainly one of the most interesting tales of early 20th century "recreational adventures". It's clear from Dillon's account of the ill-fated trip, that these two guys had practically no idea what they were doing and foolishly selected much too difficult a route for their modest skills. Dillon's book captured a wide audience at the time, but also enraged Hubbard's widow. These two fought a protracted and very public battle about that first trip and whether Dillon had done the right thing in leaving Hubbard behind. Eventually both Dillon and Minas Hubbard returned to the river in separate "expeditions" (the same year, if I remember correctly). They each wrote a book about their respective trips, neither of which mentioned the other!

    When I first read the three Hubbard books (The Lure of Labrador Wild, The Long Labrador Trail, and Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador) back in the early 1960s, I was unaware of the firestorm that had raged between the parties. There were some asides that broadly hinted something more was going on, but it wasn't until about ten years later that I happened upon some contemporaneous newspaper articles and letters to the editor that revealed the real battle and explained it all for me. This was long before the public fascination with adventure stories kicked off by Into Thin Air, so nobody paid any attention to the complicated Hubbard tale except those with a special interest in Canadian canoe explorations. At some point in the 1990s, however, Davidson and Rugge picked up the scent and wrote Great Heart, which does a good job of telling the whole lurid story.

    Long story short, it would be worth checking the Davidson/Rugge book to see if they offer any learning on the canoe makes/models. Since there were three separate trips, and since Hubbard et al. were pretty rough on their boats, I'd be very surprised if different canoes weren't used on each of the trips. For what it's worth, the canoe pictured in Fitz's post sure looks like a White.
  16. OP

    dboles LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Robert yes they both travelled the same year. Thanks for the info on Wallaces book, have never ran across a mention of it before now. ( have to put it on the find list) I suspected of one. Wallace wrote other works on Labrador. I have a story novel wrote by him called Ungava Bob .
    Minas and Dilon had words about the return of Leonadis Hubbards diary,something that Wallace held onto after bringing out his remains and writing Lure and Long trail.Bringing out the body to New York is also quite a tale.
    I asked about the canoes on Minas trip as the ones pictured in this book seem from a different maker than pictures in Lure.Like I mentioned more swept ends than the Oldtowns almost Mullins like( but having said that Ive never seen any Mullins,only pictures and know they are America built).I do believe Minas planned her trip from Ontario and thought the canoes maybe from Canadian origin.
    Whoever the canoe maker turns out to be , trips pictures and tales like these should remind us all how durable and tough wood canvas canoes realy are ,the anmount of abuse they can withstand even with exremely experieced paddlers on extended trips.
    Robert I do not think thier choice of route was wrong its just that they took a wrong turn and headed up a river that wasnt on the itinerary ,made the best of a situation that unfortunately had dire consequences. Remember this area wasnt mapped and they were travelling to the river by word of mouth instructions
    I differ in the opinion that they were able wilderness travellers and had a very suitable guide G Elson with them.Heading up the right river to begin with they likely would have succeeded.All debatable and open to conjeture and argument when all is said right
    Benson you only mention Hubbard but being this coming year will be the Centenial of Minas 1905 trip I take it you mean her canoes were Oldtowns according to L Hollett research.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2004
  17. Giiwedin

    Giiwedin Gouvernail

    Wilderness skills

    I suppose almost anything is debatable these days. I spent my formative years on trips much longer and tougher than Hubbard's, and I'm firmly of the opinion these guys hadn't the experience, knowledge or judgment to tackle a trip of this sort. They were enthusiasts carried away by the spirit of adventure so strong in TR's era. Hubbard and Dillon Wallace didn't know their bounds and bit off too much. The simple truth is that a competent tripper doesn't die because he heads up the wrong stream. I've done that more than once and somehow I'm still around to make this post. You die because you haven't enough sense to recognize you've made a mistake and have to backtrack, or you are so pigheaded (in today's parlance, "goal-oriented") that you push on in spite of it. The psychology of wilderness exploration is very complex and beyond the scope of these posts. But by almost any measure these guys were - not to put too fine a point on it - rank amateurs.

    As for Elson, Hubbard's guide, I'd say the results of the 1903 trip demonstrate pretty conclusively that he was not "suitable". What kind of guide allows one "sport" to die of hunger and another barely to escape with his life? As it turns out, Elson was more adept at self-preservation than he was at wilderness guiding - he was able to dodge the bullet for his execrable performance on the 1903 trip (probably because Minas Hubbard's rage was focused on Wallace, who in the meantime had made quite a name for himself on the lecture circuit and with books sales of Lure of the Labrador Wild). Elson was there to egg Minas on against Wallace, and actually turned his disaster into an asset by guiding Minas on her follow-on trip in 1905. In my view he's always been the true culprit in this tale.

    One thing's certain in all this: it wasn't the canoe's fault. Although rarely used for this purpose any more, wooden canoes are well suited for almost any serious wilderness expeditions - even in Quebec, where the rivers can be shallow and full of unforgiving rock gardens. If you have doubt in this day of ubiquitous composite and tupperware boats, consider that J.B. Tyrrell of the Canadian Geological Survey, one of the most accomplished canoe explorers of any era, put the better part of 6,000 miles on wood/canvas canoes exploring the remote Dubawnt-Kazan River watersheds in the NWT in 1893-95. In more recent times I have thousands of miles in Old Towns, Chestnuts and E. M Whites on wilderness trips in the NWT, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, and even to this day wouldn't trade them for a plastic boat on any kind of trip. Apart from practical considerations (repair, etc.) there is a certain kind of "feeling" you have paddling a wooden canoe in the wilds that can never be matched by synthetics, and the longer the trip the more compelling it becomes. Aesthetics play an important part of any canoe trip and, IMHO, there's no better boat to paddle than a wood/canvas canoe.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2004
  18. OP

    dboles LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Hello Robert,been pretty busy with winter activities here, I have thought long and hard on your words
    Instead of typing I would rather have this disscussion with you around a campfire with a splash of something in a coffee mug.I think it would be a long and wonderful talk with the fire burning to embers and a bottle doing its miracluous evaporation trick.Likely end in a stalemate or a mutual agreement to agree to disagree.I also thimk we would be friends at the end of it.
    So here are my thoughts.That TR was a trend setter is true.I had relatives that headed out to join him.They supposedly went up that hill with him.Could be possible as rural boys knew their way around horses and most could shoot very well.How they ever heard about such doings and headed out with enough time to join up always amazes me.Long ways from the upper Ottawa Valley.I have seen the family pictures with them fellas in uniform.(Funny how the young slide back and forth cross our borders to join up with whats going on.Then thier efforts/sacrifice for the other country are never mentioned in the history books )
    If ever you read African Game trails. TR and his son Kermit sure tipped over the animals and ranching Life had Teddy heading out with not much in the way of supplies.TRs adventures were copied and repeated during those times.Wonder what would of happened to American history if they ever ran out of food like Hubbard et al.
    I feel that your looking at the 3 men with modern eyes.Meaning you are comparing what happened to them with our ideas and methods of todays trippng.
    In reading Wallace it sems they all could canoe,knew how to fish,shoot ,cook over a campfire what they harvested and make themselves comfortable in camp.This doesnt sound like rank ametuers .
    I do not know much about Elson except that he was from the north -James Bay area if I remember correctly.So he would be familiar with the way people did and do travel.What we would call travelling light.I have and I imagine you have on your northern trips ran into local hunting parties far from home with little more than boat, rifle and clothes that they have on.
    Hubbard and company werent overly concerned with the food supplies until they did turn around.All trip they never missed an opportunity to augment the food supply with fish ,ptarmigan geese and even a caribou.That the food source failed them happened as it has happened to countless travellers and hunter societies across the north.This trip ended in starvation and death something that happens when you travel the way trippers did then.Do you think this would be such a disscussable topic if they had shot that last caribou they saw,or just another book on canoeing.
  19. Giiwedin

    Giiwedin Gouvernail

    Agreed, best place for this discussion would be around a campfire. Maybe this June in Ely?

    Short reply: No, it wouldn't be of any interest to us now if Hubbard hadn't starved. Expeditions that end in disaster are fascinating - consider John Franklin, Robert Scott, the Donner party and, more recently, Krakauer's Into the Wild and Into Thin Air. Most people travelling in the Canadian woods in 1903 lived off the land to some extent and didn't die (including my grandfather, who made comparable trips from 1898-1914) - so why did Hubbard? If it wasn't a lack of skills, what caused his death? Not the route, because it wasn't all that difficult. Perhaps it was just very very poor judgment. Or some combination of both. Maybe foul play - who knows?
  20. OP

    dboles LOVES Wooden Canoes

    You know a trip in the BCWA would tickle my funny bone right now.I will seriously think on it.My tripping plans have been put on hold for the last couple years on account of a legal battle.Heading out the door this very minute for S.Ontario.Thanks for the invite.

Share This Page