George Elson (ca. 1875-ca. 1950)


  • James West Davidson
  • John Rugge



Biographies, Caribou, Elson, George, ca. 1875-ca. 1950, Expeditions, Explorers, History, Hunting, Innu, Starvation, Grand Lake, Labrador, Naskaupi River, Ungava, Baie d', region, Québec


... We know little of Elson's childhood. His father, a Scot, worked for the Hudson's Bay Company and, as was often the custom of the country, married a Cree. George grew up nurtured by both cultures, yet in some respects caught between them, like so many children of mixed parentage. In his mid-twenties, having worked for a survey crew of the Grand Trunk Railroad, he found himself in Missanabie, Ontario, when fate struck. A journalist from New York by the name of Leonidas Hubbard, Jr., had written the Hudson's Bay post, seeking a reliable outdoorsman for an expedition to Labrador on behalf of Outing magazine. When two other candidates did not pan out, Elson was chosen. Hubbard proved to be friendly and generous - full of an almost boyish enthusiasm. But he had never travelled the bush for an extended period, nor had his companion, Dillon Wallace, a New York attorney. Elson felt at home in the woods, but could not help wondering about the expedition's outfit. It included two rifles and pistols, but no shotgun, which would make winging birds much more difficult. Nor was Hubbard able to purchase a gill net in Labrador, as he had hoped. On July 15, 1903, the trio set off down Grand Lake from Northwest River Post, seeking to ascend the Naskapi River into central Labrador and witness the autumn caribou hunt of the Naskapi Indians. Anxious to make up for lost time, Hubbard missed the Naskapi River and instead headed up the tiny Susan Brook, which soon dwindled into a rock-filled obstacle course. As conditions worsened, Elson saw the threat of starvation looming. ... For the next month the men retraced their steps in raw weather. Elson, with remarkable skill, bagged an occasional goose, but with no shotgun and no gill net, the expedition's plight was desperate. Finally Hubbard collapsed, unable to proceed. Making him as comfortable as possible in a tent, Wallace and Elson continued down Susan Brook on October 18; three days later they parted in the midst of the season's first blizzard, Wallace to return to Hubbard with some moldy flour they had retrieved (left behind earlier in the expedition), Elson to go for help on Grand Lake. For five days, he stumbled through snowdrifts, his trousers in tatters, his feet wrapped in scraps of blanket. ... Reaching a trapper's cabin, he sped rescuers upstream, but Hubbard was beyond help. He had died the day of the parting. Wallace was only barely alive - a hardly recognizable skeleton. Over that winter he and Elson recovered at Northwest River Post and returned home in May 1904. ... Devastated by the loss of her husband, Mina Hubbard turned from grief to anger. Why had her husband perished, when the other men had not? ... When Wallace, still loyal to the memory of his friend, announced he was returning to Labrador to finish Hubbard's work, Mina secretly organized an expedition of her own. ... Thus when Wallace headed north in June 1905, he was surprised to find a female rival determined to upstage him - with an able woodsman in charge of the task. Under Elson's leadership, Mina Hubbard completed her expedition nearly flawlessly. The party visited the Naskapi, witnessed the caribou migration, and arrived at George River Post in Ungava Bay on August 29. Wallace, who became lost pioneering an alternate route, did not arrive until mid-October. But the most poignant aspect of the tale was that Elson, struck by Mina Hubbard's kindness and spirited humor, seems to have fallen in love. ... Little has been uncovered of Elson's later years. He married relatively late, to a Cree woman. Working for Revillon Fur Company, he settled at Moose Factory. Only once, in 1936, did he see Mina Hubbard again, when she visited him in her sixties. ...






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