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Happy Birthday, Sir Wilfred Grenfell


February 28, 1865

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. IGA 13-62 Wilfred Grenfell Painting.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. IGA 13-62 Wilfred Grenfell Painting.

Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, was born February 28, 1865. He was an English physician and missionary, famous for his work among Labrador fishermen. Dr. Grenfell came to Labrador in 1892.

During more than 40 years of service in Labrador and in Newfoundland, he built hospitals and nursing stations, established cooperative stores, agricultural centers, schools, libraries, and orphanages, and opened the King George V Seamen’s Institute in St. John’s, in 1912. Grenfell cruised annually in the hospital steamer Strathcona II, keeping in touch with his centers of missionary work.

Over the years Grenfell received many awards from universities and other institutions. In 1907 he was appointed a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George; in that year Oxford University awarded him the first Honorary Doctorate of Medicine ever granted by that University and in 1928 he was chosen as Fifth Honorary Knight for Life of the Loyal Knights of the Round Table.

Grenfell’s health failed during the 1920’s and he suffered a heart attack in 1926 and again in 1929. He retired in Vermont, U.S.A.  in 1935 at the age of 70. He made his last trip to Labrador in 1939 after his wife died from cancer. He brought her ashes to be interred on Fox Farm Hill overlooking St. Anthony. Grenfell died two years later at his home in Vermont and his ashes were brought to Labrador and placed next to his wife’s.

Recommended Archival Collection: The records of the International Grenfell Association (IGA) were donated to the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL) by IGA representatives in June 1985.   More at The Rooms: http://www.exhibits.therooms.ca/panl/exhibits/

Recommended Reading: Grenfell of Labrador: A Biography. Ronald Rompkey. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.