Oct. 21, 1940 - Wilfred Grenfell spent his boyhood on the Sands of Dee near Cheshire, England.
He used to filch biscuits and wine from his school larder to give to fishermen as they left at dawn to catch the early tide. One day the family doctor showed him a pickled brain, and young Wilfred, "thrilled," decided to become a physician.
After he graduated from the University of London, he set up an office in fashionable Mayfair, but he longed for the sea. So in June 1892 he set sail with a British hospital ship to spend a summer treating the natives of Labrador.
On his first evening in the harbor of Domino Run, a silent fisherman took him ashore to a sod-covered hut with a pebble floor. There the young doctor saw "a very sick man coughing his soul out in the darkness. . . while a pitiably covered woman gave him cold water to sip out of a spoon."
The people had no money. All they owned was fishing equipment. All they ate was cod, bread, tea, wild berries. They were plagued with tuberculosis, scurvy, anemia, beriberi. They had never seen a doctor, and they treated their sick with charms: sugar blown into babies' eyes to cure them of ophthalmia, haddock fin bones to ward off rheumatism, burned nail parings to drive away sea boils. A scratch with a fish hook often meant infection and the loss of a limb.
After his first year Dr. Grenfell built two small hospitals, got the help of two doctors and two nurses. In the winter he had to travel by dog team over wastes of "slob" ice and huge sheets of smooth "whelping ice." Once he drifted out to sea on a pan of ice, had to kill three of his dogs and use their skins for blankets, their leg bones as a staff for a makeshift flag.
For over 45 years, on his frequent trips to Canada, England and the U. S., he raised enough money to build six hospitals, outfit seven nursing stations, four ships. On one of his trips from England he met a "handsome girl in black," proposed to her before he knew her name, took her back to Labrador as his wife.
Early in his career, Dr. Grenfell saw that medical care was not enough. The people were so melancholy that suicides were not uncommon. One father killed his young family.
Dr. Grenfell had to teach them how to live. He set them to work planting turnips, cabbages, tomatoes for protection against scurvy, established cooperative stores, built trade schools, orphanages, imported sheep and goats. started home industries—mink breeding, rug-making, walrus-tusk carving.
The girls became nurses and teachers, some of the boys were even sent to British and U. S. colleges. Thirteen years ago one of Dr. Grenfell's boys who studied in Brooklyn planned and directed construction of a 70-bed concrete hospital at St. Anthony, complete with X-ray and radium equipment, rated A-1 by the American College of Surgeons.
In 1927 Dr. Grenfell was knighted by King George V.
In 1912 the International Grenfell Association was set up to help Sir Wilfred. The Association spends $150,000 to $160,000 a year, treats over 20,000 patients in Labrador and Newfoundland, employs some 60 nurses, doctors, teachers, and as many volunteer college students every summer.
In spite of his hard life. Dr. Grenfell found time to write 25 books, give countless lectures throughout the world on his beloved land.
Six years ago, when he was 69, Sir Wilfred's heart became so weak that he had to leave his fishermen. Said he: "I'm getting too old to drive dog teams and I'm afraid I must take it easy until the time comes to cash in my checks."
Last week, in the cold night of Labrador's winter, in Run-By-Chance and Port Disappointment, oldsters mourned. In his Vermont summer home, Sir Wilfred's time had come.
Sir Wilfred Grenfell (1865 - 1940)