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Hopedale and Hebron: Missions Accomplished!

For the week of Monday August 5, 2002

On August 9, 1771, 14 Moravian missionaries arrived in Unity Harbour on the northern coast of Labrador to convert the Inuit. In the years that followed, the clerics founded several missions along the coast, including Hopedale and Hebron. Until 1948, these brothers were solely responsible for educating the Inuit and providing health care in northern Labrador.

A Moravian missionary speaking to the Inuit

A Moravian missionary speaking to the Inuit
© By Maria Spilsbury, 1819 / LAC / 1986-35-1

The Moravian Church was created in 1457 in Bohemia and Moravia - regions now forming the present Czech Republic. After persecutions in the 17th century, the Church experienced a revival (especially in Germany) that allowed them to begin a major mission of Protestant conversion. After converting many Inuit in Greenland, missionaries launched their first expedition to Labrador in 1752. They established a mission called Hoffnungsthal (Hopedale) near Makkovik. A few months later, the group leader and six other missionaries disappeared while exploring the coast. The remaining brethren were obligated to abandon their station since their help was needed to navigate the ship to London.

It was not until 1771 that 14 Moravian missionaries returned to the Labrador coast. They founded a mission in Nain, after the English government granted them 100 000 acres of land and the Newfoundland governor, Sir Hugh Palliser, guaranteed them his support. With financial assistance from the British, the brethren founded a second mission in Okkak. Then, in 1782, the Danish couple Jens and Maria Haven, who had participated in previous expeditions, founded a mission south of Nain called Hopedale, in honour of the first expedition. Also wishing to reach the Inuit in remote regions, the Moravian brethren founded several other missions in the 19th and 20th centuries, including Hebron, built between 1829 and 1831 in Kangershutsoak Bay, in northern Nain.

Hebron mission in the 20th century

Hebron mission in the 20th century
© Courtesy of Brian Bursey

In addition to introducing the Inuit to the gospel, the Moravian missionaries provided people with health care as best they could. They even built a hospital in Okkak in 1903. The missionaries considered education to be very important, and so founded several schools and translated numerous works into the Inuit language, Inuktitut.

Of the eight Moravian missions established on the coast of Labrador between 1771 and 1904, only Hopedale and Hebron, both national historic sites of Canada, have been preserved.

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