Burton K. Janes column, ‘Just Wondering,’ can be found on
On Dec. 23, 1947, a woman in Labrador writes in a letter to family and friends: “As I walked thru’ the woods today I could hardly believe that I was here. It’s so peaceful, quiet and unbelievably beautiful. Trees just laden with snow and no one ... near. So far I’ve not minded being alone …”
The writer, Barbara Mundy Groves (1910-94), had travelled to North West River, Labrador, in 1944, to volunteer with the Grenfell Mission. In the Labrador wilds, she made several discoveries, including a love for hunting, canoeing and camping, and for Russell Groves, a fur trapper.
Now, Anne Budgell, who worked more than 30 years in CBC radio and television newsrooms, uses Barbara’s letters and diaries to craft a truly captivating story, the journey of a socialite from Park Avenue, New York, to a Labrador trapline.
By 1946, Barbara had fallen in love with Russell Groves and, a year later, married him. They then spent two full winters on his trapline near Fig River, in the interior.
During her first two years in North West River, Barbara wrote letters addressed to “Everybody.” She also kept a diary during the two winters she spent on the trapline with her husband.
“I think,” Barbara wrote, “I am more content and happier than I’ve ever been in my life or ever will be again. I wish this winter here would never, never end.”
In 2003, when Anne Budgell read what Barbara Mundy Groves had written about Labrador, she was spellbound, “not just because it was an inside peek at a time and place that figured so prominently in my own family history but because she did things most women, even Labrador women, did not do.”
When Anne was six years old, her mother, Ruby McLean Budgell, who had grown up in North West River as the daughter of a fur trapper, took her to the Groves home.
“The small house was like everyone else’s,” Anne recalls, “with a wood-burning stove, hand pump for water, and kerosene lamps, but also with fine things not common in the community: mahogany furniture, Persian rugs, and pictures on the wall. The chicken noodle soup was served in pretty china bowls, set on a linen tablecloth .... No trouble to tell she was from ‘away.’”
It’s been said a good writer takes her readers on a journey. Readers of Anne’s book, “Dear Everybody: A Woman’s Journey from Park Avenue to a Labrador Trapline,” vicariously travel with Barbara and Russell.
Two maps — Lake Melville in 1945 and Grand (Churchill) River in 1946 — are indispensable to the reader unfamiliar with the lay of the land. Twenty photographs show, among other events, the first time Russell took Barbara duck hunting and a fox he presented to her. The Groves’ house, nestled in The Bight, North West River, evokes a simpler and, perhaps on many levels, a more peaceful time. Massive documentation, including more than 300 endnotes, ties the story Anne Budgell tells to its historical roots. On a personal note: it warms the cockles of this columnist’s heart to see in the endnotes and bibliography a book he wrote with the late John Parsons in 1996.
Russell made it home from his trapline for Christmas 1947. Barbara wrote on Christmas Day: “It started at 12: 30 when R woke and we opened presents and sampled cake … R gave me a new pair of snow- shoes. About six we had breakfast of deersmeat and a bit of hoarded bacon and good butter. Back to bed again ’till about 9:30 — delightfully lazy … Another mug- up then — every time we eat anything we end up with cake! R is now sawing wood and I’m getting dinner ready — ’twill be bearsmeat and deersmeat, peaspudding, red berries and cake and coffee. Really going to town today! We did alright! Dinner at 4 and just barely recovering now at 6:30! We were full. Beautiful cold, moonlight night, trees lovely in it. Wish I could get a picture of our little home with lamp, icicles, cones, etc. I love it.”
Anne writes about Barbara, “Years after her death, she was remembered as ‘Aunt Barb’ and stories of her generosity, kindness, and strong opinions were recalled with smiles.”
Perhaps Christmas is the best time to sit before a fireplace, with one’s favourite libation in hand, and read all about Barbara and Russell Grove and the time they spent on the trapline.
“Dear Everybody: A Woman’s Journey from Park Avenue to a Labrador Trapline” is published by Boulder Publications of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s.