- The Woman Who Mapped Labrador: The Life and Expedition Diary of Mina Hubbard
The tale of the ill-fated Hubbard-Wallace Expedition to explore interior Labrador in 1903 and the subsequent competing expeditions "to finish the work" by Hubbard's grieving widow, Mina Benson Hubbard, and Hubbard's surviving companion, Dillon Wallace, in 1905, has earned a prominent place in the literature of northern adventure and exploration. While all three expeditions produced published accounts, this is the first time that the diaries of one of the principle protagonists have been made available. Shortly after she embarked on the trip, leaving all the material vestiges of civilization behind at the Hudson's Bay Company post at Northwest River, Mina Benson Hubbard settled into the life of an explorer and her diaries recount, very favorably, her days in Labrador.
The Hubbard diaries are vigilantly annotated to expand every reference to individuals, places, and even cross-referencing other exploration journals. Bryan Greene's maps are extremely helpful in charting the expedition's progress through Labrador. Accompanying the diaries are several carefully researched essays that greatly expand our knowledge and appreciation of Mina Hubbard. Beyond biographical details of her life, the authors apply their expertise as naturalists, historians, and feminist scholars to the diaries. Their analysis is so thorough that it almost renders the diaries unnecessary, but complementary reading. The three additional perspectives embellish the most interesting features of her journey—not just that she was a woman traveler at a time when there were few, but that this was her first experience with wilderness travel, and how dramatically it was shaped by her native companions.
Since writing and travel were novel experiences for Hubbard, the diary entries are not marred down with the prospect of adventure writing. In fact they are quite dry at times, being catalogues of food and provisions, entries on the weather, and the daily black fly tally. When not dwelling on such prosaic matters, the diary entries are full of appreciation and wonder at the country she was traveling through, as well as the humor she shared with her companions, and excitement over delicious food. Some of the most sincere entries disclose the more unremarkable aspects of [End Page 658] the expedition, such as forgetting the camera at a spectacular moment, or her nervousness about her sextant readings.
Her honesty extends to the crew of four men that brought her safely to Ungava Bay. She spends a great deal of time describing her guides, as she was dependent and profoundly appreciative of them. As Greene points out, she learned about living in the wilderness from these extremely able woodsmen, their native perspective shaping hers. Their comfort and ability as well as their good humor and friendship were key in making this the joyful time it was. Keeping in mind that her beloved husband had perished miserably in the same country through which she passed so effortlessly, it is notable that she is consistently in awe of its beauty. Buchanan describes this as her "painterly eye" that is in such stark contrast to the common description of an inhospitable Labrador. Hart's biography extends this tale of a woman's transformative experience beyond the journey home. It is not surprising that the return is as marked a transition as was the departure. Having fulfilled her goals (and beaten the competition), she was left to figure out where she could fit comfortably in life as a very different woman. This section rich with interviews is an interesting contrast to her diaries, and further proves the outstanding amount of research that went into this book.
Though Mina Benson Hubbard is credited as the first white woman to travel this route, Labrador is hardly a moonscape. From Hudson's Bay Company posts to Innu portage trails, her diaries give us a surprising account of the unspoken habitants of the region. We are permitted an uninhibited look at the fears and interactions...