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Bowdoin College Scientific Expedition to Labrador

Text by Hillary Hooke

Images from Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center and Farnsworth Art Museum

In 1891 Goldthwaite’s Geographical Magazine issued a challenge to be the first to "discover" the Grand Falls (now Churchill Falls), a magnificent water fall on the Grand River deep in the interior of Labrador.

Twenty current and former Bowdoin students, along with Leslie A. Lee, professor of Geology and Biology, and N.P. Spear, captain of the schooner Julia A. Decker, set out to meet this challenge in the summer of that year.

Most of the "Bowdoin Boys," as they were known, spent their time in Labrador collecting biological and geological specimens, engaging in turn-of-the-century anthropology and archaeology, and practicing their sailing skills.

The four members of the expedition chosen to find the Grand Falls faced injury, fire and starvation in their efforts to reach the fabled waterfall.

The expedition had a profound effect on the Bowdoin Boys.

Two members of the expedition, Jonathan Prince Cilley, of Rockland, and Rupert Baxter, of Portland, were moved to record their experiences in writing – Cilley in his travel account, Bowdoin Boys in Labrador, and Baxter in a newspaper column for the Portland Weekly Advertiser.

Austin Cary, from Machias, translated his experiences in Labrador into a lifelong vocation. He went on to become a pioneer conservationist, and is responsible for the planting of the famous Bowdoin Pines.