In 1906 an American couple began a canoe trip across the Northern Labrador Peninsula that would cover 4,000 miles—about seven times the length of St. John’s to Port-aux-Basques.
The expedition began with a pencil-drawn route on an expansive North American map, starting from Florence and Stephen Tasker’s Philadelphia, Pa., home. It would take five months of paddling an 18-foot-long canoe, portaging miles at a time through the Canadian wilderness and battling mosquitoes so plentiful they felt like rain before the Taskers would step ashore in St. John’s, N.L., and into the hot water of a bathtub.
Call of the wild
The Taskers were likely inspired to embark on such a journey by Dillon Wallace’s bestseller Lure of the Labrador Wild, which was published the year before. It describes a similar type of canoeing expedition during which Wallace’s friend Leonidas Hubbard dies from starvation and exhaustion after a series of mistakes takes them off their planned route.
After her successful return from the North, Florence described her adventure in an article titled A Woman Through Husky-Land, published in Field and Stream magazine in 1908.
“As we crossed the suspension bridge at Niagara Falls,” wrote Florence, “and I felt that I was again on my native soil, I swore a mighty oath to never cross those boundaries again.”
While Florence shares her thoughts and observations about her travels in the magazine article, a collection of photographs taken by the couple—now a leather-bound album held by Memorial University Libraries and recently digitized by the Labrador Institute—provides a remarkable and unique visual record.
Previously, the Tasker Collection was only available for viewing through in-person visits to the Queen Elizabeth II Library on the St. John’s campus.
Morgon Mills, program co-ordinator, Labrador Institute, and Linda White, archivist, Archives and Special Collections at Memorial University Libraries, discuss the Tasker Collection in the video below.
The photographs are stunning additions to the people and scenes Florence describes in her article, including First Nations and Inuit communities, camps, canoeing scenes, encampments, rivers, rapids and lakes. The collection also depicts the complex relationship between the naïve explorers and the gruelling landscape that never stops challenging them.
“Often, as I slid off some unsubstantial foothold and picked myself up, the only consolation I could gather was that I had been wooed and won, for had I not been, I am sure I should have gone through my life unsought and undesired,” Florence wrote.
1/ Tasker Collection
2/ Tasker Collection
3/ Tasker Collection
4/ Tasker Collection
5/ Tasker Collection
Importance of digitizing
“This photo album is over 100-years-old and we keep it in special conditions in the archives with controlled heat, light and air quality so there is less wear and tear on the album if we have it digitized,” said Ms. White. “And also when it is on the web everyone can view the images from anywhere.”
“The story is a lot less interesting when you don’t have the pictures,” said Mr. Mills. “Partly for the pictures themselves, but also for the quips that are written on slips of paper inside the album.”
Librarians, archivists, museum curators and community stakeholders are recognizing the strength of working together to cultivate research potential. Archives have greater impact when local collaborators and communities contribute their valuable expertise and knowledge about their own histories, says Colleen Quigley, acting division head, Archives and Special collections.
“The Labrador Institute was essential in making this collection digitally available and we hope it will inspire others to begin research on the Tasker Collection,” said Ms. Quigley. “There is much more here to be discovered.”
“Digitization is not the only outcome here,” said Mr. Mills. “Researchers often consult with the Labrador Institute on their projects. We can now add the Tasker Collection to that conversation.”
For more about Aboriginal Peoples Week: Truth and Reconciliation, please visit here.