This Week in History


Mattie Mitchell: Prospector, Hunter and Guide

For the week of Monday February 25, 2008

On March 2, 1908, Mattie Mitchell led a group of men and women in what is now known as the 'Reindeer Trek.' The group drove 50 reindeer down the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland from St. Anthony to Millertown, a distance of approximately 640 km.

Route of the 'Reindeer Trek' between St. Anthony and Millertown
© Joseph R. Smallwood Estate, from The Book of Newfoundland, Volume Three, Newfoundland Book Publishers (1967) Limited.
Of Mi’kmaq and Innu descent, Mitchell (also known as Mathieu or Mattieu Michel) was well known for his navigation skills along the lands and waterways of Newfoundland. Due to these skills the Anglo Newfoundland Development (A.N.D.) Company charged Mitchell with the task of leading the path across the wintry plateaus of Newfoundland from St. Anthony to Millertown.

The A.N.D. Company, a pulp and paper company, had purchased 50 reindeer as a possible mode of hauling logs in the interior. The reindeer were to be brought to the port at Lewisporte, but due to ice blockages in the harbour the reindeer were unloaded near St. Anthony at Cremaillere Bay in 1908. This change in destination made it necessary to find another means of transporting the reindeer to Millertown. Mattie Mitchell and Hugh Cole were recruited to lead the reindeer and a small contingent of people from St. Anthony to Millertown. The original plan was to drive the reindeer down the Long Peninsula to White Bay and then on to Millertown.  Due to the lingering winter weather this route proved to be too difficult. However, Mitchell and Cole abandoned the coastal route for the windswept plateaus of the Northern Peninsula.

Mattie Mitchell
© Eric Swanson
Not only was Mitchell an accomplished hunter and guide, he was also known for his prospecting skills. He, along with William F. Canning, is credited with the discovery of the minerals at Buchans in 1905. The A.N.D. Company had previously hired Mitchell to investigate the Red Indian Lake area and he had discovered rich mineral deposits.

Mitchell’s discovery on the banks of the Buchans River led to the emergence of a booming mining town, where there had been previously only wilderness. Buchans River is of great economic significance to Newfoundland and Labrador.  Sadly Mitchell died in 1922 and was unable to witness the great success of the mine in which he played an extremely integral part in discovering.

Mattie Mitchell has been designated a National Historic Person for his exceptional contribution to the exploration and mapping of Newfoundland.

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