The Torngat Mountains greeted us upon the Ocean Endeavour’s arrival to the northern Labrador coast. Living close to the Rockies, I feel at home amongst mountains, so I was excited to see these giants as we cruised into sprawling fjords carved by glacial movement over the ages. I thought of my graduate student friends at home studying geology in Montana, who would have reveled in the moment of encountering such ancient rock; I soon learned from the scientists onboard that, along with Northwest Canada and Australia, the Torngats contain some of the oldest rocks on the planet.
Our time in Torngat National Park also included a burst of wildlife sightings, including the one I had been waiting for the entire trip: polar bears. The first polar bear sighting of the cruise was a mother and her two cubs, traveling the coastline in search of food that must have been pretty abundant; they appeared content and undisturbed, and I wondered what they must have thought of our strange lone ship slipping through the eerie landscape. As we continued our cruising through the fjord, we also spotted a herd of caribou, also unconcerned with the presence of the Ocean Endeavour and its herd of curious humans.
On our many zodiac excursions through the park, we discovered evidence of Inuit occupation, as well as more ancient predecessors. The most striking encounter was a site dotted with stone cairns marking numerous Inuit burials. As we cruised into the site, framed above by towering rock, I became aware of the intense spirituality associated with the lands, Torngait literally meaning “a place of spirits.” Today’s Inuit in the area still maintain a strong connection with the spirits of the Torngat Mountains, in spite of European contact indicated in the remains of Moravian Mission sites in places such as Ramah Bay. In those sites, I could see signs of intersection—the evidence of a foreign far-reaching religion paralleling a belief system and culture that, like the monumental rock, had existed for thousands of years.
The people who inhabited these places are now gone, save the Inuit hunters and fishers who pass through year to year, but I knew as we left the Torngats that there was something special kept there that would remain for millennia more.