I went to Newfoundland to learn more about my great, great-grandfather, Dr Arthur Wakefield, who was a medical missionary there over 100 years ago. Whilst there, I worked on a farm to get a feel for the rural environment, and hopefully understand some of the challenges that he may have faced.
The first thing that struck me when I planned my trip to Newfoundland was the size. Canada is big, I mean really big. What seemed like a tiny island off the east coast took me 9 hours to cross in a car, after a ferry journey that took me 11 hours and bus rides that totalled 48 hours. Simply getting from A to B can take days, one can only imagine how long it must have taken my great, great-grandfather to undertake such a voyage, and the subsequent trips he took whilst working there. His role on the mission was to travel to out-lying regions of Labrador and Newfoundland and give people treatment they would not otherwise get. A journey of 500 miles to Mud Lake took him 2 months on dog-sled and foot.
I was worried that the Newfoundland way of life would be very physically challenging. I had heard stories of the extreme conditions in this part of Canada- for instance a father left his daughter at home over night. The fire went out overnight and her legs froze from her knees down. Her father’s response was to cut off the frost bitten legs with an axe, put her in salt and wait for my great, great-grandfather to arrive. I was there in the summer so had no fear of freezing to death, but the story does demonstrate what I thought to be a tough mind-set of the people. I was happy to discover generosity of the people, and their warm hospitality- the ease with which I was able to hitchhike stands out as an example.
I learnt a great deal about my great, great-grandfather, his family, and the way of life in Newfoundland. Although it would be impossible to capture everything that I have learnt here, I feel that I have a better understanding of Arthur’s nature and his motivation. Labrador and Newfoundland is still an area of the world that faces many social and physical challenges. Arthur was a born adventurer and had been raised as a Quaker. It seems natural that Labrador and Newfoundland would be a place where he felt he could put his skills as a doctor to good use.
To have been able to glimpse into my family’s history and learn not just what they did, but understand why they did so has been immensely valuable to me. I am very grateful to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund for giving me the opportunity to do go to Newfoundland.