Caribou Drive

In his 1969 book Newfoundland, Harold Horwood recounts the story of a caribou drive in western Newfoundland in the late 1800s. He heard it in the Codroy Valley, from “an aged man named Placide White back in the 1950s.”Newfoundland_Caribou_Milwaukee_Public_Museum

Placide White: 19th Century Caribou Drive

Mr. White, a hunter and woodsman as well as a farmer, took part in the great caribou drive of the last century – the only attempt that I know of to round up caribou and treat them like Lapland reindeer. It began when a European company hired a crew of Newfoundlanders to go to the southern end of Grand Lake at the time of the autumnal caribou migration, to round up a herd of the animals for export. The plan was to drive them into a crude corral, as the Algonkian Indians used to do when they wished to slaughter a herd of white-tailed deer, then to tame them, as far as possible, and finally drive them to the coast. The camp was built on the central plateau just east of the Long Range Mountains within sight of the lake, and the caribou came past by thousands.

‘You should see them – oh! my dear man! stretching off, you know, over the barren ground, as far as you could see, covering a whole hill at a time, thousands of animals on the move. And we cut out small sections of them, you know, like cowboys cutting out cattle from a herd. We rode horses wherever the ground was open enough. We had built a great enclosure of logs with an opening like a funnel in one side, and we’d drive the caribou in.

detail of map showing caribou drive area, from Horwood Newfoundland
Detail of map in Horwood’s Newfoundland, showing Grand Lake near top (tap to enlarge)

Kill themselves from panic

‘It didn’t work too well, though. They used to kill themselves from panic – break their legs, even their necks. And we couldn’t get enough feed for them. But finally we got the survivors quieted down and drove them out, in small herds, to the coast. We lost some of them on the way, and we lost others trying to load them on a ship, but the ones that survived were stowed, at last, in the hold of a vessel, and taken to Europe to stock game parks, you know…’ [pp 20-21]

Poor caribou! It’s kind of the reverse of another misguided and ill-fated tampering with fauna: introducing reindeer to Newfoundland. I’ve never heard of this caribou drive for export. And I couldn’t find anything more about it by googling.

Little-Codroy-Valley Newfoundland_at_the_beginning_of_the_20th_century 1902_M-HarveyPlacide White was born “in the Codroy Valley almost a hundred years ago,” so likely in the 1860s. “He was a member of the widespread family named LeBlanc,” Horwood says.

Cover of Newfoundland by Harold HorwoodThere’s more from Mr. White and others about the history and peoples of the west coast. The book includes Horwood’s travels across the island and Labrador. Some copies of Newfoundland are available on Amazon, and maybe elsewhere in used bookshops. Horwood is not shy about sharing his opinions! It’s a good book, descriptive of place and history. And, at 50 years old, its ‘present’ is now itself history. Also see his 1986 Corner Brook: A social history, below.

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7 thoughts on “Caribou Drive”

  1. That would be amazing! I’m at a dead end with peter oliver (1845-1876). He moved to burgeo and married florence Benoit (1863-1947). They had one son, john (1878-1946). Peter was lost at sea, so Florence took john, age 2, and walked from burgeo to st George’s. John is my great grandfather. Florences second marriage is well documented too, but i really cant find anything on where the Oliver’s originated. I have a census dated 1871 showing peter living in red island, nova scotia and married to nancy oliver. They are listed as living in a shantee and as indian. There is a occupation listed but I cant make it out… ?oopp??….. that’s all I have. I dont even know if there was anything erected to mark his death or the story behind him being lost at sea. Seems like all branches of my family are documented and traceable except peter. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Peter’s death date is supposed to read 1880. Typo on my part. I should of proof read before I posted. Sorry I’m just noticing now

  2. I have placide’s family tree going back to the 1600’s if you’re interested 🙂 I’d love to share info with you to expand my tree. My grandfather was a white (leblanc) from st George’s and my grandmother an oliver from st George’s.

  3. I am a direct descendant of placide leblanc. My records show he was born in 1837 in Inverness nova scotia to etienne leblanc and anne marie cormier and died 1921 in stephenville

    1. Hi Lesley, thanks for writing. I’d hoped to hear from someone in the family. The problem with the man you mention is that he died in 1921. Horwood says he talked to Mr. Leblanc in the 1950s. Do you know if he had a son named Placide? I have him as married first to Lucy Hache Gallant and second to Elizabeth Benoit. Several children, but none named Placide. No nephews either that I can find. Do you know if there’s a connection to the Codroy with Etienne’s family? Thanks again for your help.

      1. Thank you for the reply! You are absolutely correct, I was mistaken. I have placide as married to Lucy Hache Gallant as well, and as extensive as my tree is, he is the only placide I have in my tree so far. I’m not sure if there are connections to codroy, I havent seen any documents to support it yet but I’m still fairly new at this. I am using ancestry.ca for the bulk of my research. Most of my family tree seems to be well documented, but I’m having a very hard time finding information on my oliver side. Do you know much about the Oliver’s? Do you know anything about the leblanc’s being exiled? They were exiled for treason aparently, etienne shows up in the documents. If true, it’s a pretty neat fact to add. Thanks again for your response and time, I really appreciate it!

        1. Hi Lesley, he’s the only Placide I have too. Maybe someone will fill us in on the man in Codroy. I don’t remember hearing about an exile, other of course than the deportation. I’ll keep an eye out. What are some Oliver names you’re looking for? Maybe readers or I can help.

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