Forgotten fires? A people’s history of fire in Labrador

Date and Time: 
Thursday, 11 May, 2017 - 11:00
, Erica - Labrador Institute

Forestry literature describes past and present fires in Labrador forests as part of a natural and cyclical disturbance regime, with lighting the primary ignition source.  However, historical writings show that earlier observers attributed a much larger role to humans in the fire history of the region. According to historical accounts, Indigenous peoples and visitors deliberately used fire to (variously) create berry habitat, alter caribou routes, create dry firewood, clear land, improve soil fertility, and signal one another. Labradorians today use localised fires in springtime to encourage new grass growth, and build small fires throughout the year at “boil-ups” on the land. Wood stoves are a primary heat source for many residents, and smoke from burning sod preserves fish. It is important to consider these many relationships with fire—historical and contemporary, direct and indirect, widespread and localised—and their cumulative effects to better understand how cultural practices shape northern landscapes.