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The Wood Cottage and the Complicated Legacy of The Grenfell Mission

August 4, 2023


Chris Knap, AVC 2024, traveled to Sheshatshiu in 2023 as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project. As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of writing.


“Wood Cottage built in 1928, donated by Mr. George Wood of U.S.A., as a dormitory for 12

school children from coastal communities. In later years, was used as a teacher’s and a doctor’s residence, before being handed over to the N.W. River Senior Citizens in 1983.”


A plaque bearing the inscription above is mounted beside the front door of the Wood Cottage in North West River. Similarly, above the mantel in the living room are the bronzed faces of three men involved with The Grenfell Mission, an organization instrumental in delivering some of the early permanent healthcare services to the settled communities of Labrador. By these accounts, the Wood Cottage appeared to have a legacy tied to health care and community service work in the Sheshatshiu and North West River area. At first thought, it seemed fitting for a group of vet students to call this place “home” for the week while operating a temporary clinic across the river in Sheshatshiu.


However, it is important to recognize that The Grenfell Mission had other mandates associated with the colonization of this area, including the development of industrial, agricultural and educational infrastructure. This included the construction of a hospital in North West River, which served the entire coast of Labrador and was directed by one of the men whose bronzed face is displayed in the living room of the Wood Cottage. Furthermore, The Grenfell Mission was also responsible for the construction and operation of Yale School, a residential school that operated in North West River between 1928-1980. The Yale School was the last residential school to close in Labrador, and its remains still stand directly across the street from Wood Cottage. After researching and reflecting on the history of Sheshatshiu and North West River, I realized that I had completely overlooked the significance of the word dormitory written on the Wood Cottage plaque, and the fact this building, and the adjacent abandoned Yale School, still stand as a dark reminder of the community’s past.





In general, this little plaque on the outside of the cottage served as a reminder of the

responsibility that we as veterinarians have - to think critically about information that is

presented to us, to consider the various perspectives or interpretations of the same reality, and to integrate that knowledge to best work with the clients and patients that cross our paths. Without consideration of these broader histories and perspectives, we risk myopic or narrow views of the communities, people and animals that we’re aiming to serve. Especially in the context of temporary clinics like ours in Sheshatshiu, taking the time to be informed, inquisitive and considerate will help to build trusting, honest and collaborative relationships with our clients in the short time that we are present in their pets’ lives.








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