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Administrative History

The International Grenfell Association (IGA), a non-profit organization, was established as the coordinating agency for four regional associations which supported the medical and social initiatives of the Grenfell Mission in northern Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as on the southern coast of the Canadian Labrador. The IGA was incorporated in 1914, but the association originated in the initiatives of Dr. Wilfred Thomson Grenfell (1865-1940), to secure adequate medical care and improved social conditions in the region.

In 1892 Grenfell, a medical missionary with the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen (RNMDSF) -a British evangelical Christian charity ministering to British offshore fishermen- visited northern Newfoundland and coastal Labrador to investigate reports of inadequate medical services for the thousands of migratory fishermen who went annually to the coast of Labrador from the island of Newfoundland, as well as the settlers (liveyers) in Labrador. Perceiving an urgent need to provide improved medical assistance, Grenfell returned in 1893 with two nurses and two doctors, under the auspices of the RNMDSF, determined to establish a system of medical care for northern Newfoundland and Labrador.

Grenfell established several small hospitals at Battle Harbour and Indian Hospital (1893), and secured a hospital ship which undertook summer visits along the Labrador coast. Grenfell and his associates (commonly termed the Grenfell Mission) also became involved in efforts to improve social welfare and to promote social and economic development. The mission built an orphanage, established boarding schools, and introduced industrial arts training (including rug hooking, weaving, carving, leather work and toy making) with the help of qualified volunteers (called "workers without pay" or "wops"). As early as 1893 Grenfell had toured Canada to raise monies for the mission, and associations were formed in Newfoundland, Canada and the United States to support his work.

The IGA was formally established in 1914 with four Supporting Associations (also called Supporting Agencies) listed as registered members : Grenfell Labrador Medical Mission, New England Grenfell Association, Grenfell Association of Newfoundland, and New England Grenfell Association. Two other supporting associations were added in subsequent years: Grenfell Association of Great Britain and Ireland (est. 1927) and the Grenfell Labrador Industries (incorporated 1934-35). The first official meeting of the International Grenfell Association convened in the Harvard Club (Boston) in 1914. In August of 1914, the first IGA business meeting was held at the King George V Institute, St. Johnís, Newfoundland.

The IGA hired staff, recruited volunteers and allocated funds for mission projects and operations. It relied on the other support bodies and Grenfell's own fundraising efforts (lectures and publications) for most of its finances. When Grenfell resigned from active direction (1936), retaining only the honorary title Superintendent, the IGA was restructured. By then the IGA owned two hospital ships, six hospitals, seven nursing ships and four boarding schools, and operated a seaman's centre in St. John's (King George V Seamen's Institute). At St. Anthony, the headquarters of the medical mission since 1899, the IGA operated farms, greenhouses, ship repair facilities and a machine shop as well as a hospital, an orphanage and a boarding school. The IGA also sustained industrial arts industries in many communities. The association had a permanent staff of over 50 paid employees, but much of the mission work was done by volunteers from Canada, the United States, Britain and Newfoundland.

Following the completion of a consultant's report (Tamblyn Brown, 1938) on its operations, the IGA was reorganized. Further changes were effected after the death of Grenfell (1940), and by health care developments during World War II and in Newfoundland both before and following confederation with Canada (1949). Most importantly, other agencies, especially government, became increasingly involved in providing medical and social services in the regions formerly served only by the association. In 1978 the business offices of the IGA were moved from Ottawa to St. Anthony.

The IGA continued to be the main agency responsible for health care in northern Newfoundland and Labrador and to operate the other projects initiated by Grenfell until 1981. That year the Grenfell Regional Health Services Board was created which effectively transferred the provision of medical services and its facilities from the IGA to a provincial authority under the Department of Health. The IGA ceased to be a governing body.

The IGA, now based in St. John's, has become a charitable foundation in support of various medical, educational and community projects in northern Newfoundland and Labrador. Its funding sources include endowment funds from the remaining regional Grenfell associations in New York, Boston and London.