Carl’s Library: Mina Benson Hubbard

This autumn’s long road trip gave me my first look at Quebec and The Maritimes; I made it as far east as Port Morien, Nova Scotia. I was asked by a few people if I would be continuing on to explore Newfoundland & Labrador. No, my first visit to that province will be a monster of a trip all its own. At some point in the next few years, I’ll embark on what will likely be the Pontiac’s greatest challenge: driving the Trans-Labrador Highway—probably the most remote and loneliest highway in all of North America. Should I reach the Labrador coast, I’ll be far closer to Greenland than to New York City.

To this day, Labrador remains a vast boreal wilderness with very few inhabitants; only 27,000 or so live there, mainly along the coast. It is a land of rugged terrain, dense brush, fierce weather and legions of biting insects. Life is hard there, even for the Indigenous Peoples of the region. Few visitors see Labrador’s interior.

Imagine traversing this daunting landscape in 1905, with no map to guide you…

Warning: This report contains spoilers…

Leonidas Hubbard, Junior set out in 1903 to chart a course through the harsh interior of Labrador—said to be the least-explored region of North America at that time. His party became lost in a labyrinth of lakes and swamps, and the cold air and snow arrived early that summer. They were unable to secure sufficient game to feed themselves as their supplies dwindled. Too weak to travel, Leonidas died from starvation, alone in his tent, after his two companions had raced off separately to bring back food and a rescue party.

Mina Hubbard, now a 33-year-old widow, grew determined to complete her husband’s journey. She was an absolute novice regarding this type of travel, and most people were shocked at the idea of a woman participating in an exploratory expedition, let alone leading one. But she planned it well, teaching herself navigation and mapping skills, researching equipment and provisions, talking with trappers and sportsmen who knew the territory, and assembling a reliable crew: Joseph, Job, and Gilbert; the fourth man, and the greatest asset to the team, was George Elson, a survivor of her husband’s expedition.

In late June of ’05, they loaded two 19′ canoes with their gear, which included plenty of flour, rice, coffee and other staples; meat, fish and berries would be procured as they traveled. Leaving the Northwest River trading post, the expedition began its long slog up the Nascaupee River, struggling against the swift current and making several portages along the way.

They finally came to the sprawling Lake Michikamau, and shortly thereafter, to the river’s source, which Mina named Lake Adelaide (zooming out from this aerial view will give you an appreciation for the ruggedness and isolation that this wilderness offers). Crossing over the height of land (the present-day boundary between Labrador and Quebec), the team descended the George River. They soon found themselves in the midst of the largest caribou herd in the world—hundreds of thousands of beasts in migration mode. Farther on, the expedition passed through the great Barren Ground of northern Labrador, and in late August, arrived at the Ungava Bay trading post, where they waited for the final southbound ship of the season—Hudson’s Bay Company’s steamer, Pelican—to return them to Rigolette.

All told, they canoed and portaged 576 miles from post to post during those 62 days in the summer of 1905, and gave us the first accurate mapping of the Nascaupee and George Rivers.

Mrs. Hubbard’s book is not a cold play-by-play of each day’s progress, but is written in a storytelling fashion that allows her to expand upon many aspects of the adventure. She writes of their successes and discoveries, their worries and critical decisions, their near disasters. She describes their friendly encounters with the Montagnais and Nascaupee tribes of the interior. She writes of animal behavior, thoughts of home, thoughts of her late husband, the personalities of her companions, their moments of joy along the way, and her appreciation for the beauty of her surroundings.

The men were very protective of Mina and constantly worried for her safety; to their dismay, she had an adventurous streak and loved wandering off alone to hike up hills and mountains, smiling and happy as she walked along. In addition to her revolver and hunting knife, Mina armed herself with one Panoram Kodak Camera and one 3.25″ x 4.25″ Folding Pocket Kodak Camera…

I discovered A Woman’s Way Through Unknown Labrador by a reference in another book on northern exploration (although the title of that book escapes me). I learned enough about Mina Hubbard’s expedition to know that I definitely wanted to acquire a copy of her book, and I was lucky to find this 1908 first Canadian edition. This particular book was the obvious choice for a cartophile like me, as it came complete with its original color copy of Mina’s map, detailing the routes of the two expeditions. The map is stored in a pocket within the back board, and is in remarkably good condition for its age…

Mrs. Hubbard’s map became the benchmark for this region, as recognized by American and European geographical authorities. Several of the lakes and land features along the route still bear the names that Mina affixed to them in 1905.

Included in this book is the diary that Leonidas Hubbard kept during his expedition, along with George Elson’s account of those final days, his harrowing solo journey to find help, and his return the following spring to retrieve Mr. Hubbard’s body.

I don’t purchase books as investments; I buy them to read, and I look for sensibly-priced copies. Yet, for whatever reason, I felt that I needed a premium edition of this title, and it is indeed the most money I’ve ever spent on a single book. Even so, no regrets here…it is a beautiful book and a great reading experience.

Photographs, map and text: Copyright 1908 by Mrs. Leonidas Hubbard, Jr. (Mina Benson Hubbard).

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Freshwater Pools of the Canadian Shield

When I left my tent for a morning hike, little did I know that I would find myself in a wilderness rock garden, featuring colorful plants and beautiful pools of cool, clear water. Such was my luck when I chose to camp on the shore of James Bay at Longue Pointe, north of Chisasibi, Quebec.

Just before the hike, I listened to the birds and watched the sunrise from my seaside campsite

Hear the birds and the waves for yourself by watching this brief video, recorded at the above location:    YouTube     Vimeo

Leaving the shore and walking uphill through the trees and brush, I arrived on the high ground of Longue Pointe—the exposed gneissic granite of the Canadian Shield

The pools are perennial fixtures of the terrain, fed only by rain and snow…

Here’s another short video, which will give you a 360° tour of this area:    YouTube    Vimeo

Fascinating microecosystems…

Algae? Pollen? Ribbons of orange floating on the still water…

I never thought it was such a bad little tree: Below, a ragged little evergreen makes its home on the hard stone…

I left the trees behind as I walked westward toward the end of the point…

Above and below, dikes of pegmatite run for long distances across the great slabs of granite…

Terminus: The western tip of Longue Pointe, where the rock dives below the calm, blue waters of James Bay…

A short but extremely satisfying hike…one that I’d like to take morning after morning. Perhaps I’ll be able to stay for several nights on my next visit.

Riding with Carl Gallery: 25% Discount on Prints

Now through December 15, I’m offering a 25% discount on all prints and merchandise at gallery.ridingwithcarl.com. Use the coupon code GNDSNR.

Prints are available in a variety of sizes and paper finishes. Images can also be printed on canvas, acrylic, metal and wood. Optional matting and framing choices are available as well. Photos can even be ordered on other merchandise, such as posters, cards, shirts, coffee mugs, phone cases, etc. Just browse through the albums and click on any single photo to get started. (Print selection is found under the “Wall Art” heading.)

The gallery is operated by Fine Art America, and they handle the entire transaction—ordering, payment, printing, optional materials, shipping. Please note that the 25% discount only applies to my portion of the sale, not to the FAA charges. Should you have any questions during the ordering process, the FAA customer service number is 877-807-5901.

My gallery has over 400 photos to choose from, and I’ll be uploading more each week. If you like a particular image that you’ve seen online, but can’t find it in the gallery, just let me know and I’ll upload it ASAP.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need help navigating through the available product options.

Thank you!

 

Places

I have just completed a major update to my road trip photo album, viewable at places.ridingwithcarl.com. The album now contains 63 photos of the states, provinces and other points of interest that the Pontiac and I have visited over the past 29 years.

This most recent journey—covering more than 6400 miles—added 17 new photos to the collection, including five provinces that I experienced for the very first time. Also in the album are shots of my US and Canada wall maps, updated to include last month’s route.

There are only three jurisdictions remaining on the Pontiac’s to-do list: Newfoundland & Labrador, Yukon and Alaska. Note that there are 13 states/provinces currently omitted from this album; I plan to revisit those places in order to get new photos with the convertible top down, replacing the old, inferior top-up images captured on rainy days.

Stay tuned for more uploads after next year’s adventures!

places.ridingwithcarl.com

The Highlands

Greetings from the northern tip of Nova Scotia, home to the hamlet of Meat Cove, which sits at the end of a 13 km gravel road that hugs the steep coastline; a short but very rough road, featuring hills, switchbacks, big muddy holes and washboard ruts. This is Nova Scotia’s northern driving limit.

Actually, I captured the above photo a short distance back down the road from the settlement, just to get a little privacy and a better background view. On my arrival in Meat Cove, I was dismayed to find no available scenic parking space, due to a large gathering of RVs, SUVs and vans…

No Soup for You: The Chowder Hut was closed on the day of my visit…

This was my first visit—and the Pontiac’s first visit—to The Maritimes. I’d say that Cape Breton Island is my favorite part of the area; lots of rugged beauty there and plenty of hiking opportunities, which I hope to experience on a future journey.

After leaving Meat Cove, I made my way down the western shore of the island. I was quite happy to find a campsite perched above the pounding surf, with a nice view of the setting sun…

Below, the campsite view just before sunrise. The constant hum of the crashing waves made for a good night’s sleep…

A nomad’s life must have great charm. And though we rate the nomad low in the scale of social progress, his life, for all we know, may be the richest in contentment. His moving is at once the reflex and the cure of discontent. Home being always where he has chosen it to be, he’ll always love his home.

~ Rockwell Kent, from the book Salamina

End of the Road

Stone of the Canadian Shield, visible above and below the cool, clear waters of James Bay. This is the view from the end of Longue Pointe Road, north of Chisasibi. Here, the Pontiac sits at 53.974089° N 79.078265° W—the northernmost drivable point* in Quebec—parked among the boats of local residents and outfitters…

Moment of Zen: Enjoy the softly-lapping waters of James Bay in a brief video recorded on the rocks of the nearby shore…      YouTube      Vimeo

Asterisk

Actually, it is possible to drive farther north in Quebec, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so in a vintage Pontiac.

As I’ve stated in prior posts about trips to the northern limit of a provincial road system, my use of the phrase “northernmost drivable point” pertains to roads that (1) are connected to the rest of the North American highway system, (2) are open to the public, (3) can be used in all seasons, and (4) are suitable for passenger cars with low ground clearance.

Less than an hour south of the town of Radisson, a gravel road leads northeasterly off of the James Bay Road and takes you 414 miles (666 km) deep into the heart of Quebec’s vast boreal wilderness. This is the Trans-Taiga Road, and at it’s terminus you would be 59 miles closer to the North Pole than the spot where I am parked in the photo above.

This extremely remote road is open to the public, but it was constructed to service the area’s massive hydroelectric industry. It is mainly used by trucks, usually moving at high speed. There are no towns along the Trans-Taiga; access to fuel and food is very limited. Also, this road has a reputation for eating tires and windshields. Learn more about the hazards of driving the Trans-Taiga Road through this link.

(Below, a look at the first kilometer of the Trans-Taiga Road. This is as far as went went…just wanted a taste. Farther on, the road becomes narrower and rougher.)

I couldn’t justify the risk of damage to the Pontiac simply to get that extra 59 miles of latitude, so I passed on the Trans-Taiga. Additionally, I suspected that using the end of that road as a northern benchmark would have been anticlimactic; the thought of making that very long and difficult drive, only to arrive at a gated industrial complex in the middle of the forest, just didn’t thrill me. But conquering the full length of the James Bay Road and reaching the boat landing on Longue Pointe, overlooking the crystal-blue waters of James Bay…that felt right. To me, that spot does a great job of capturing that “end of the road” flavor.

I may drive the Trans-Taiga Road someday, but only in a 4WD vehicle that is outfitted for camping. Driving up Route de la Baie-James in the Pontiac was a great experience; I enjoyed the scenery and the friendly people I met along the way. If you’re interested in traveling either of these roads, I encourage you to make it happen. But take the time to research the trip before leaving home, and make sure your vehicle is thoroughly ready for the journey.

Overland to Nunavut

I’m not that keen on being hauled to a destination by plane or by boat; I prefer to get there on my own, either by driving or by walking. As for visiting the territory of Nunavut, boats and planes are, very nearly, the only options.

Nunavut is Canada’s newest and largest territory, created April 1, 1999 from the eastern and northern portions of the Northwest Territories. It is a gigantic and sparsely populated wilderness, and there are no roads leading to Nunavut from the rest of North America.

The boundaries of Canada’s provinces and territories have undergone many changes since 1867; don’t be surprised if these adjustments continue. For reasons unclear (as noted in this article), Quebec’s territory stops at the shoreline. All of the islands in James Bay and Hudson Bay—even those within throwing distance—belong to Nunavut.

However, there are several spots along these northern shores where Nunavut and Quebec share short land borders. These exist in certain places where land sits below the high tide line…even though that land may appear to be dry and verdant. Edward Bearskin, the Tourism Coordinator in Chisasibi, informed me that there is one such area west of town, just north of the end of the James Bay Road…

I was quite happy to learn about this location, as I would no longer need to charter a boat to one of the nearby islands in order to visit Nunavut. Edward told me that there are no trails leading into this acreage, no signage marking the boundary…just raw coastal wilderness. Fine with me; it would add a little pioneering spirit to the hike as I forged my own trail.

Of course, the car would have to stay behind in Quebec. After coming so close, it seemed only fair to carry a photo of the Pontiac into Nunavut, just to complete its journey.

(Ocean in View: Below, the Pontiac’s first look at northern seawater. We reached the shore of James Bay after driving all 434 miles (699 km) of Route de la Baie-James. This is as near to Nunavut as the Pontiac will ever be, parked just above the territorial boundary of the high tide line.)

Stepping off the road and into the wild, I worked my way northward. Though not a long hike in terms of distance, it was no easy stroll; the brush was often tall, tangled and quite dense, sometimes hiding deep holes. I made several detours, and occasionally had to crawl under some of these thick shrubs. Other areas consisted of soft, wet muskeg. By the time I had reached the open air again, I had a few cuts and scrapes, and two very soggy boots.

After walking across a low, marshy area, I was standing on broad slabs of granite surrounded by shorter brush, and I could see the waters of James Bay. It appeared that I had reached my destination…

The GPS locator on my phone told me that I had indeed crossed the “border.” Welcome to Nunavut…

(Phone screenshot, captured 1309 EDT, September 16, 2019.)

From there, I continued walking northward to the shore, where I spent some time playing on the large, colorful rocks awash in the calm sea. I also enjoyed a sip of Nunavut’s cool, clear water (yeah, yeah…it was fine; so many rivers empty into James Bay that its salinity is very low).

(Give a Hoot: This card was not left on the stone; it’s back in my wallet.)

Not exactly a proper visit to Nunavut, but it will do for now. I expect to return someday, as there’s enough wild beauty up there to get me on an airplane; Baffin Island and Ellesmere Island are on my list.