So what happened to the Newfoundland reindeer? The ones Mattie Mitchell helped herd down the Northern Peninsula to Millertown, who Dr. Grenfell took such great pains to bring from Norway? Everything seemed to be going well for them, but then they disappeared.
Arthur Johnson tells the rest of the story in the Book of Newfoundland 3:419-422. Below is the conclusion of his article, from when they arrived in Millertown. Hugh Cole, of the title, worked for the AND Company.
Hugh Cole’s 400-mile Trek with Reindeer
Thanks to great devotion the herd was without mortality. One doe had joined the caribou, one had broken her leg at Millertown after arrival, and the stag bitten on March 13 was to recover completely: a remarkable record in reindeer driving and herding.
The aftermaths are also exceptionally interesting. First is that the A.N.D. Company reindeer were never worked but merely kept on exhibition, and they were visited by everyone from miles around, including people from Grand Falls and even St. John’s, including Governor MacGregor and party who made a trip for the sole purpose. The site was three and one-half miles above Millertown. The does had twenty-five fawns in May, which added to the interest. The animals were highly intelligent and very friendly, and in the later months roamed almost at large.
No forage in Millertown
However, there was discovered to be still another blunder: it was found that there was no reindeer-food of any consequence in the whole area. Actually the reindeer were fed on hay and grass during all the time they were at Millertown. No survey for food had been made because of the presumption that, if the herd could find its own food at St. Anthony, it would do so anywhere in Newfoundland. Suitable moss or lichens must really exist in the area, or the local caribou herds could not have lived there. One suspects that there was little support for the idea of reindeer-herding by the woodsmen and that even in the upper echelons of the A.N.D. Company that initial enthusiasm and novelty wore thin. It was another case of a good thing gone wrong for want of a fair trial.
Reindeer re-gifted to Grenfell
Be that as it may, the reindeer were offered back to Grenfell as a gift. Since the fifty animals had now become seventy-three this was an excellent offer which was promptly accepted. So, late in the year, after the breeding season, the herd was put on the move again, this time to South West Brook, Halls Bay, near Springdale. Hugh Cole went in charge again. In addition a number of A.N.D. Company men went along, such as the noted L. R. Cooper. The reindeer and all the equipment belonging to them went at leisurely pace to South Brook, where they were loaded on local schooners for delivery to St. Anthony.
True to their roaming practice and tradition, however, three of the reindeer wandered off from the herd and missed the boat. They were recovered and they finished the journey in state by the next coastal boat out of Springdale, the Clyde. Grenfell remarked that the reindeer were far from being in prime condition after having been fed mostly on hay all summer.
The Lap herder family, the Sombies, may have gone briefly to Lewisporte (definitely not to St. Anthony). The next record we have of them is their creating quite a sensation in St. John’s for a week as they arrived by the train to catch the R.M.S. Siberian December 18, 1908, en route to Liverpool and Lapland. As we can imagine: “They attracted much attention from the small boys and girls owing to their peculiar dress and high peaked caps. A large crowd assembled and followed them from the station.
Newfoundland Reindeer rise and demise
What happened to Grenfell’s herd? Briefly, the 300 became 481 that same year. They rose to 1,000 in 1911; 1,200 in 1912; 1,500 in 1913. Then came the War. The Laps went home, Grenfell went to France with the Harvard Surgical Unit. Then the widespread poaching of the reindeer stepped up and was engaged in, not only by the people of St. Anthony, but by most of the settlements in the north of the Northern Peninsula, and including fishermen going and coming from the Labrador fishery. These were rough and ready times fifty years ago, and the breed of empire frontiersmen traditionally lived by killing everything that moved in the water, on the land, and in the air. To them, reindeer fell into that category.
When Grenfell got back there were only 230 reindeer left. The dogs got some, and the fishermen the rest.
In disgust Grenfell packed the remainder off to the Canadian Government, who put the 125 survivors on Anticosti Island where they gradually died out. And so ended a noble experiment.
But the Newfoundland reindeer didn’t go directly to Anticosti Island. The government first sent them to the Innu of Quebec’s North Shore. When that didn’t work out, they were sent to Anticosti Island and left to fend for themselves.
The Reindeer Years
From The Reindeer Years: Contribution of A. Erling Posild to the Continental Northwest 1926-1935 (pdf), Patricia Wendy Dathan 1988 MA Thesis, Geography, McGill University, pp ix-x:
In 1917, the International Grenfell Association, short of funds and lacking encouragement from the Newfoundland Government to continue the operation, requested help from the Department of Indian Affairs. The surviving 126 deer were transferred to the north shore of the St. Lawrence near St. Augustin. The Indians who tended them had had no experience with herding and allowed a great deal of interference by people and dogs. In 1923, when wolves menaced the deer seriously and the problems of protecting and handling the animals mounted, the herd was moved to Anticosti Island and allowed to run wild. Although protected from further interference, they did not succeed, possibly due to lack of suitable forage, and by 1939, only 7 reindeer could be counted and were soon believed to be extinct.