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  • A Woman's Way through Unknown Labrador
  • Judith Fingard (bio)
Mina Benson Hubbard . A Woman's Way through Unknown Labrador. Edited by Sherrill GraceMcGill-Queen's University Press. lxxxvi, 272. $39.95

This is a scholarly edition of Mina Hubbard's classic account published in 1908 and again in 1981. Well known to paddling and northern adventure enthusiasts, it has only recently been rediscovered by feminists. This reprint and other publications relating to the journey are appearing in time to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of Hubbard's undertaking in 1905. What could be more compelling than a six-hundred-mile trek by canoe and foot from Hamilton Inlet on Labrador's east coast to Ungava on Hudson Strait by way of the Naskaupi and George Rivers by a respectable young Canadian-born widow accompanied by four gentlemanly northern Canadian guides? For feminists, Mina Benson Hubbard the adventurer represents a Canadian heroine of Mary Kingsley proportions.

This beautifully presented reprint of the 1908 London edition includes Mina Hubbard's account of her journey, a tribute to her husband Leonidas, an edition of the diary of his ill-fated attempt at the same crossing of Labrador in 1903, and George Elson's description of the last days of that expedition. Elson was the guide for both the expeditions, a man of Cree and Scottish extraction from James Bay who was not, unfortunately, acquainted with Labrador in 1903. The introduction to Mina Hubbard's original book, written by the contemporary 'expert' on Labrador, William B. Cabot, and tellingly omitted in the American edition, added greater legitimacy to Mina Hubbard's narrative. It also helped to buttress her avowed purpose, which was to finish the work of mapping that her husband had begun and not, as others would have it, further her dispute with the third member of Leonidas Hubbard's expedition, American Dillon Wallace, who had reputedly impugned the leader's reputation. Further substantiation of her motivation, included here, are two exclusive newspaper interviews given before and after her journey. For the reader, the contrast between the accounts of the 1903 expedition and Mina Hubbard's in 1905 is like night and day. The former exudes cold, hunger, loneliness, and despair; the latter is filled with warmth, rhapsody, and confidence.

Northern literary expert Sherrill Grace provides an intelligent, meticulously researched, and comfortably predictable introduction of sixty pages. She explores at length the decision to make the 1905 expedition and the disparagement of Mina Hubbard's achievement in contrast to the praise [End Page 324] heaped on Wallace's successful attempt, also in 1905. With respect to the more recent attempt to downplay Mina Hubbard's accomplishment by giving credit to her guides, Grace reminds us that 'really sensible whites listened to their guides, and Mina followed this tradition and completed her expedition in record time, with complete success and without serious mishap.' As part of her interpretation, Grace draws a distinction between the author's experience of the journey and her experience of talking and writing about it. The publication of the book marked a climax by which time Mina Hubbard had discovered herself through the exercise of narrating her story. Within the context of other expedition narratives, Grace emphasizes the differences of A Woman's Way, especially its 'hybrid' components. Interestingly, in the mix of voices of Mina, her husband, Elson, and Cabot, that of Leonidas appears far less resilient than his doting widow apparently intended. As for her own contribution, unlike many authors of travel accounts, Mina Hubbard does not demean the Native people she encountered in the North. Moreover her photography, an integral part of the narrative, minimizes the dehumanized wilderness in favour of celebrating the work of her Indian guides and her own various activities, as well as giving an unusually sensitive portrayal of Labrador's First Nations people. Grace suggests two literary influences which may have been at work in this production. One was the impact of Romanticism on Mina Hubbard's description of the landscape and, more speculatively, the other was acquaintance with women's travel writing of the period. She also discusses briefly some current perspectives on A Woman's Way, including the...


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pp. 324-325
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