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Prized possessions of Sir Wilfred Grenfell return to St. Anthony

Granddaughter donates items to town museum

ST. ANTHONY, N.L. – Some historic items that were among the possessions of Sir Wilfred Grenfell have found their way back to St. Anthony.

And it’s all thanks to the generosity of his granddaughter, Jillian Grenfell-Hayes.

Grenfell-Hayes donated several of the possessions of the late Dr. Grenfell, from the family’s collection to the Grenfell Historic Society in St. Anthony.

Grenfell-Hayes travelled 2,500 miles with her husband, Oswald Hayes, from Virginia to St. Anthony to present the items in person at the Grenfell Interpretation Centre on Sunday, June 24.

The items included an Innu village carved out of ivory; a loving cup Dr. Grenfell won in a rowing competition, a clock/barometer/thermometer that Grenfell-Hayes believes was on the mission ship; and an item that may have saved many lives on the Great Northern Peninsula and Labrador — a tuberculosis syringe.

The donation also includes some of Grenfell’s letters, his silverware and what Grenfell-Hayes believes was her grandfather’s baby cup.

“It’s very much a part of all of our lives as children and it’s hard to leave it behind, but I’m sure it’ll find a good home here,” said Grenfell-Hayes, speaking at the presentation.

On behalf of the Grenfell Historical Society, John McGonigle thanked the family for their generosity.

“This certainly is something that enhances what we do, which is to further the Grenfell legacy and to promote,” McGonigle told Grenfell-Hayes. “And having these firsthand items certainly does that.”

About Dr. Wilfred Grenfell

Dr. Wilfred Grenfell was originally from Parkgate, England.

In 1892, he arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador to investigate the state of the fishery.

But his mission expanded and along the coast of Labrador and on the Great Northern Peninsula, he practiced medicine, built hospitals, established schools and orphanages.

In 1928, he was knighted into the Order of St. Michael and St. George by King George V. He died in Vermont on Oct. 9, 1940. His ashes were brought back to St. Anthony and are buried on Tea House Hill behind the Grenfell House.

Per Grenfell Historic Properties

Rebuilding the Innu Village

The Innu Village, incased in glass, is the most immediately noticeable of the collection of items donated by the family of Sir Wilfred Grenfell.

Jillian Grenfell-Hayes, granddaughter to Grenfell, said t had been in the family’s possession for many years, but they are uncertain who initially carved it.

At some point, it was broken. 

The Innu Village donated by the family to the Grenfell Historical Society. - Stephen Roberts
The Innu Village donated by the family to the Grenfell Historical Society. - Stephen Roberts

Grenfell-Hayes says when her brother Tom took possession of it, all that remained was 300 pieces of ivory.

But he set to work on it with an attitude Grenfell-Hayes compares to their grandfather.

“He was as determined as his grandfather,” she said.

It was a long process just figuring out what each part was originally.

“It took him four and a half months to figure out what was a leg, a spear, an antler,” she said.

According to Grenfell-Hayes, her brother used India ink and an airbrush to re-highlight the figures.

The final product tells a story of Innu hunters travelling back from the sea or caribou hunting, with their bounty to share with their family.

“He didn’t remember where all the people were, so he made a story,” Grenfell-Hayes told The Northern Pen. “One of the sleds is leaving to go out and hunt, another sled is coming back in, the women and children are watching the caribou herd in the back.”

The setting includes dog teams, canoes, as well as wildlife like polar bears, seals and arctic foxes.

The only thing he added that wasn’t in the original was an Inukshuk made out of alabaster.

Grenfell-Hayes says her brother spent about 300 hours restoring this piece of art.

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