Tag Archives: Early 20th century missions

Review: Dr. Grenfell’s Parish

Rating: ★★★

Who: Sir Wilfred Grenfell was an Oxford-trained physician who founded a medical mission to help the deep-sea fishermen of Newfoundland and Labrador. He established hospitals and rural medical stations, later gaining international status because of his pioneer work. He wrote many books about his work, and was knighted in 1927.

The author, Norman Duncan, was a famed novelist. Most of his books involve pioneer preachers in Canada and the northern United States.

When: Grenfell was active in his mission from 1892 to 1936. This pamphlet was published in 1905.

Where: Newfoundland and Labrador, the frigid northeastern coast of Canada.

Overview: Norman Duncan gives a brief but useful overlook of the setting of Wilfred Grenfell’s famous pioneer medical mission. Duncan is a novelist and writes with all the flare of a novelist of the period. He describes the danger and abject poverty of the fishermen of eastern Canada, as well as their spunk, optimism, and hardihood. Duncan peppers these pages with many strange and hilarious anecdotes of the place.

Meat: Grenfell’s work was innovative, charitable, and fraught with danger. (For danger, see Adrift on a Ice-pan.) He met the medical needs of many thousands of fishermen and their families, navigating treacherous waters in the summer—without radar or GPS of course—and reaching remote villages by dogsled in the winter. Duncan points out that his work was neither ignorant of his patients’ souls, nor neglectful of their bodies. Grenfell is a great example of medical work and evangelical work done at the same time and for the same purpose: to do the will of the Father in whatever we put our hands to. As the Salvation Army motto says, “with heart to God and hand to man.”

Bones: Readers seeking a missionary biography will have to look further, since this little book doesn’t tell much about Grenfell himself. It only gives a brief look at who he is and what he does, focusing rather on the scene of his work. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating introduction to Grenfell’s work, which is no longer well known.

(For further reference, Grenfell published an autobiography (A Labrador Doctor) in 1919, with the help of his wife Anne. Genevieve Fox also published a biography (Sir Wilfred Grenfell) after his passing.)

Quotes: “He is of that type, then extraordinary but now familiar, which finds no delight where there is no difficulty.” (ch. 5)

“In the spring of 1892 he set sail from Great Yarmouth Harbour for Labrador in a ninety-ton schooner. Since then, in the face of hardship, peril, and prejudice, he has, with a light heart and strong purpose, healed the sick, preached the Word, clothed the naked, fed the starving, given shelter to them that had no roof, championed the wronged—in all, devotedly fought evil, poverty, oppression, and disease; for he is bitterly intolerant of those things. And—’It’s been jolly good fun!’ says he.” (ch. 5)

Related: Vikings of Today, The Harvest of the Sea, A Labrador Doctor: The Autobiography of Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, Forty Years for Labrador, The Romance of Labrador

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