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  • The Forgotten Labrador: Kegashka to Blanc-Sablon
  • Roger Marsters
Cleophas Belvin The Forgotten Labrador: Kegashka to Blanc-Sablon. McGill-Queen's University Press. xi, 198. $39.95

Quebec's Labrador coast, running along the north shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence roughly opposite the east end of Anticosti Island to the Strait of Belle Isle, is, if not forgotten, then little represented in recent Canadian historiography. It is appropriate then that Cleophas Belvin remembers this land and its peoples in a concise, wide-ranging history that reviews the social and economic development of the region from its prehistory to the 1990s. In nine chronologically contiguous chapters ('The First Inhabitants,' 'The Arrival of the Europeans' . . .) Belvin sketches patterns of land use and economic activity and examines the forms of social organization that shaped by them. As the region's relatively scant resource endowment was until very recently dominated by the fishery, the changing methods of its exploitation form the backbone of the book's historical narrative.

Belvin's examination of the successive Aboriginal cultures inhabiting the region presents a synthesis of existing historical and archaeological literature, and does so with special attention to the material cultures shaped to exploit specific resources: the tools, buildings, and ritual objects associated with the pursuit of caribou, marine mammals, seabirds, and fresh- and saltwater fishes. Later chapters, supported by his own archival research in Canada, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador, sustain and elaborate on this approach. The sedentary seal fishery carried out under the pre-1763 seigniorial regime is described in extensive detail, as is the seasonal round of subsistence activity on which its practitioners depended. The incompatibility of this form of locally adapted exploitation with the exclusively migratory fishery mandated by Newfoundland governor Captain Hugh Palliser is explained not simply in legislative terms but in technological and cultural ones. Similarly, Belvin is attentive to the persistence of customary forms of land tenure and of vernacular practices (in health care and [End Page 205] housing, for example) in a maturing nineteenth-century society that was nonetheless largely devoid of formal state institutions and physically isolated from the world for seven months of the year. Post–Second World War government investment in modernized fisheries and social infrastructure is examined in relation to the persistence of older, chiefly denominational forms of identification and to shifts in the patterns of economic sustenance and everyday living.

Just as recent scholarship could take greater account of this historiographically obscure region, Belvin's book could in turn benefit from a fuller engagement with contemporary Canadian histories that overlap thematically with his material. While attentive to social and economic change over time, the book is in many ways a chronicle, tracking these shifts through family and business histories and micro-biographies. While making for vivid narrative, this approach limits the depth of Belvin's historical reconstructions. His examination of the region's eighteenth-century society under Newfoundland jurisdiction, for example, would be strengthened by an appreciation of Jerry Bannister's work on naval government; his treatment of Hudson's Bay Company rule of the Mingan seigneurie in the nineteenth century by Tina Loo's study of its system of 'paternal authority' on contemporary Vancouver Island; his analysis of the social and environmental consequences of twentieth-century state modernization of the fisheries by Miriam Wright's recent work. It is unfair, however, to expect Belvin to bring this region's complex history from mnemonic darkness to the full light of contemporary historical analysis in a single brief volume; he does well here to present it clearly in broad outline.

Roger Marsters
Department of History, Dalhousie University


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pp. 205-206
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