This Week in History


Sketches from the Life of a Labrador Woman

For the week of Monday December 2, 2013

On December 3, 1894, Lydia Campbell’s first delivery of “Sketches of Labrador Life by a Labrador Woman,” was published in the Evening Herald. Known as “Aunt Lydia,” she was a beloved matriarch born from the mix of British and Inuit parentage, representing the earliest generation of mixed unions that came to characterize Labrador.

Lydia was 75 and still lived in her birthplace, the Groswater Bay area, when she started to pen her “Sketches.” She never attended school, but learned how to read and write from her father, Ambrose Brooks, a British man who settled in Labrador around 1800 to trap and fish. She inherited her Aboriginal know-how from her Inuit mother, Susan. Lydia spoke English and Inuktitut, and served as an interpreter between the new settlers and the Aboriginal people from the bay.

Lydia Campbell with her husband, Daniel Campbell
© Flora Baikie Collection / Them Days /
In 1894, Reverend Arthur Charles Waghorne sent Lydia a blank notebook and asked her to write her memoirs. She agreed and wrote 13 short stories on life in Labrador. Rev. Waghorne sent her stories to the Evening Herald, where they were published between December 3, 1894, and May 17, 1895.

In the stories, she introduced her family and described her life during the winter of 1893, trapping rabbits, taking care of her grandchildren and travelling between the family’s summer home and winter abode.

Lydia Campbell’s vivid descriptions provide a rare glimpse of Labradorian life in the 19th century, both through her scenes of family life and the legends that are part of the region’s folklore. She described her memories of her father telling her about a time when there were very few settlers, but the water and the earth were abuzz with the activities of the First Nations of Labrador. “I have seen them paddling along, I have, men steering, the women paddling and the children singing or chatting … where are they now?” Another story told a tale about the spirit world.

One of Labrador’s most well-known and loved historical figures, Lydia Campbell was designated as a Person of National Historic Significance in 2009 for the historical value of her memoirs and her contribution to the Labrador community through her role as an intermediary between the various peoples.

For more information on Canada’s cultural figures, see The Birth of a Pioneer in Canadian Poetry, The Alpine Path, “The Father of Canadian Literature” and A Great Inuit Artist and Photographer in the archives of This Week in History.

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