WOODY POINT, NL – Woody Point resident Dwight Bilodeau has transcribed the diaries of a man once described as “the oldest friend in the United States of Dr. (Wilfred) Grenfell.”
The journals detail Charles Carpenter’s life along the Quebec and Labrador coasts from 1856-1909.
Carpenter kept a daily diary of life on the Quebec Lower North Shore community of Kegaska and his travels to Chateau, Labrador.
Bilodeau not only transcribed the missionary’s diaries but has self-published the work.
Bilodeau has been interested in the diaries for many years. Knowing they had been put on microfilm, he obtained the microfilm and a microfilm reader and began transcribing Carpenter’s diaries.
“It’s been three years of dedication. Once I got used to (Carpenter’s) handwriting and understood what he was all about, it got easier,” Bilodeau said during a recent phone interview.
According to Bilodeau, Carpenter left Newburyport, U.S.A. in June of 1856 aboard a fishing schooner bound for Salmon Bay (Canada). He kept a daily journal of his experiences during his years of visits and travels.
Carpenter’s hand-written journals tell the story of his encounters with many locals who were some of the earliest settlers to the region.
Two years after his arrival in Canada, Carpenter made his way down the Labrador coast as far as Chateau Bay (Henley Harbour).
Bilodeau said Carpenter stopped at almost all the fishing establishments in between, including L’ance au Clair, Forteau, Point Amour, L’Anse au Loup, Capstan Island, Piednoir, East St. Modest and Red Bay.
“He went from house to house. He writes about the people that he met and about all the chaos that was going on about religion back then. There were a lot of feuds in the communities between the different religions,” Bilodeau said.
Glimpse into past
Reading the journals makes it clear how much of present-day coastal culture is derived from that of the early settlers, Bilodeau said.
“I always lived on the Quebec coastline near Blanc Sablon. I learned about my great-great grandparents and how tough it was for them to come over from England and settle on our coast,” he said.
“Their hardships were many back then. They had no medical (help), they just had to depend on themselves.”
Merchant traders would come by in the summer but once fall kicked in, “if they didn’t have enough food, that’s too bad for them, they just had to learn to survive,” he said.
During the fishing season, many fishermen spent time offshore near St. Paul’s River on Quebec’s north shore.
“(Carpenter) saw the need for education, for medical – there was none of that there. He went home (to the United States) and within two years he was ordained, came back and started a school (near St. Paul’s River).”
Grenfell’s oldest friend
An International Grenfell Association story published in October 1918 (firstname.lastname@example.org) noted that members of the Grenfell Association will always remember Carpenter as “the oldest friend in the United States of Dr. Grenfell and the Labrador children – the introducer of Dr. Grenfell and his wonderful work to America.”
The story also noted that, while he studied for the ministry, Carpenter also studied for two years at Harvard Medical School.
Carpenter loved the children of Labrador, the story noted.
Bilodeau said Carpenter wrote about the last remaining Inuit living on the Quebec coastline.
“It’s just nice to see how (Carpenter) can explain what they looked like and their culture, because all that disappeared,” he said.
From stories of shipwrecks, to treasure hunters looking for gold, to pirate ships guarding the harbour of L’Anse au Clair, Bilodeau feels those with a passion for history will enjoy reading the book.
Proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards another project Bilodeau has been working on for years.
“I want to put a monument back to all the unmarked graves of the early explorers who came to my part of the coast... I want to take the stones from the shoreline, cement them in and put a plaque on the stones and mark all the graves that we know exit and the names of the people.”
Anyone interested in buying Bilodeau’s book can contact Lorraine Griffin of St. Paul’s River at email@example.com or call 418-379-2304 or visit Charles Carroll Carpenter on Facebook.