archives art gallery museum
Intro Sir Wilfred Grenfell IGA Lantern Slides Timeline Glossary
Fonds Number
MG 327

Wilfred Thomason Grenfell fonds

Dates of creation
Microfilmed [before 1959] (originally created 1877-1940)

Physical description
4 microfilm reels

Biographical sketch
Wilfred Thomason Grenfell (1865-1940), physician and surgeon, missionary, social reformer, magistrate, cartographer, lecturer and writer, was born in Parkgate, England, on 28 February 1865, the son of Jane (Hutchinson) and Algernon Grenfell, an Anglican minister. He married Chicago heiress, Anne MacClanahan, on 18 November 1909. They had three children: Wilfred, Jr. (b. 1910), Pascoe (b. 1912) and Rosamund (b. 1917). Grenfell died at Charlotte, Vermont, on 9 October 1940, and his ashes were buried at St. Anthony, Newfoundland, on 25 July 1941.

Grenfell attended Mostyn House School, Parkgate, where his father served as headmaster, and studied briefly at Marlborough. In the 1880s, Grenfell’s life was affected by three events: the suicide of his father (1887), his studies at London Hospital Medical College (1883- 87), and his religious conversion (1886). As a medical student, Grenfell was deeply influenced by his teacher, Dr. Frederick Treves, medical advisor to the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen (RNMDSF), a British organization which provided medical and spiritual assistance to North Sea fishermen. In 1886, Grenfell underwent a conversion experience, following an encounter with American evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who emphasized religious salvation through service to the less fortunate. When his medical studies were completed, Grenfell joined the RNMDSF. In 1889, he was appointed superintendent.

In 1892, under the auspices of RNMDSF, Grenfell visited Newfoundland and Labrador aboard the medical ship, the Albert, to investigate reports of inadequate medical conditions among fishermen on the Labrador. Grenfell travelled as far north as Hopedale and treated 900 patients. The following year, he established the first mission hospital at Battle Harbour, Labrador. This was rapidly followed by the acquisition of medical steamers to serve both the settler ("livyers") and fishing ("floaters"and "stationers") populations, the establishment of hospitals on the Northern Peninsula and the Canadian Labrador, the construction of nursing stations, and the opening of an orphanage. The work of the Grenfell mission expanded to encompass social welfare and community development programmes, including the establishment of schools, the organization of cooperatives, the production and marketing of handicrafts (‘industrial works"), the development of vocational ("manual") training, the introduction of reindeer, the encouragement of agriculture, and the creation of alternate employment.

Grenfell’s ambitious plans exceeded the monies allotted by the RNMDSF and he raised funds through lecture tours, frequently illustrated with magic lantern slides, in Great Britain, the United States and Canada, as well as by his voluminous publications. Supporting associations were established, both to raise monies for Grenfell’s work and to recruit staff, many of whom were volunteers. In 1914, the International Grenfell Association (IGA) was incorporated, although the distinction between the jurisdiction of the IGA and the personal initiatives of Grenfell was frequently blurred.

Grenfell wrote extensively on northern Newfoundland and Labrador. An incident in 1908, in which Grenfell survived a night on drifting ice, was popularized in the international press and in his account, Adrift on an Ice Pan, enhancing his reputation. Other publications included stories, theological writings, travel accounts and autobiographies, including A Labrador Doctor (1920). Grenfell’s wife, Anne, actively collaborated with Grenfell in his writing, as she did in all aspects of his work.

During World War I, Grenfell volunteered with the Harvard Surgical Unit and accepted a voluntary commission with the Royal Army Medical Corps (1915-6). Following his return to Newfoundland, especially as his health deteriorated in the 1920s, Grenfell focused primarily on the promotion of the IGA, although he did not resign from active management of the IGA until 1935.

Grenfell was the recipient of many awards, including an Honourary Doctorate in Medicine from Oxford (1907), the Murchison Prize from the Royal Geographical Society (1911) for his cartographic work, and a knighthood (1927). Grenfell was named a person of Canadian national significance (1980), and his former home in St. Anthony is maintained as a museum by the Sir William Thomason Grenfell Historical Society.

Scope and content
The fonds consists of the personal and professional records of Wilfred T. Grenfell. The fonds includes manuscripts, family correspondence, incoming and outgoing correspondence, appointment books, diaries, speeches and addresses, notebooks and clippings, and scrapbooks. The fonds also includes several versions (manuscript and edited typescript) of Grenfell’s reports and books, including Labrador’s Fight for Economic Freedom, What Life has Taught Me, and Labrador.

The fonds includes records related to the Grenfell cooperative stores and the International Grenfell Association, as well as printed sources collected by Grenfell related to the work of the mission in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador.

Source of title
Title is based on the creator of the fonds

Finding Aid
Finding Aid # 327

Location of originals
The originals are located at Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut

Immediate Source of Acquisition
Acquired from Yale University Library in 1959

Grenfell, Wilfred Thomason, 1865-1940

Accession No.