Labrador, a peninsula of British North America, on the Atlantic coast, between lat. 49° and 63° N., and lon. 56° and 79° W., comprising in its fullest sense all that territory bounded N. E. and E. by Hudson strait and the Atlantic ocean, S. E. and S. by the strait of Belle Isle (separating it from Newfoundland), the gulf of St. Lawrence, and the river St. Lawrence, S. W. by the Betsiamites or Bersimis river, Lake Mistassini, and Rupert's river, and W. by Hudson bay; extreme length E. and W. from the E. entrance of the strait of Belle Isle, 950 m.; extreme breadth on the 75th meridian, 750 m.; area, about 450,-000 sq. m. The E. portion (area about 125,-000 sq. m.), from Cape Chudleigh (lat. 60° 37', Ion. 65°) at the E. entrance of Hudson strait to the harbor of Blanc Sablon (lat. 51° 25', lon. 57° 9') at the W. entrance of the strait of Belle Isle, embracing the region draining into the Atlantic, belongs to Newfoundland; the remainder forms part of the Dominion of Canada. The portion (area 53,500 sq. m.) immediately W. of a line drawn N. and S. from Blanc Sablon to the 52d parallel, embracing the region draining into the river and gulf of St. Lawrence, forms part of Saguenay co., Quebec; the residue (much the larger part of the peninsula), comprising the N. and W. portions, which drain into Hudson bay and strait, is included in the Northwest territories.
In a restricted sense, Labrador includes only the coast washed by the Atlantic. The settled population of the portion belonging to Newfoundland in 1869 was 2,479, of whom 1,803 belonged to the church of England, 483 were Roman Catholics, 165 Wesleyans, and 28 belonged to the Kirk of Scotland. The Quebec portion in 1871 had 3,597 permanent residents, of whom 1,779 were of French origin or descent, and 1,309 Indians (Montagnais). The settlements are scattered along the shore of the St. Lawrence E. through the strait of Belle Isle to Cape Webuck, just N. of Hamilton inlet. W. of the St. Augustine river French is commonly spoken; E. of that point, including the Newfoundland settlements, English is the ordinary language. The chief occupations are fishing in summer, and hunting and trapping fur-bearing animals in winter. There are a few widely separated posts of the Hudson bay company, chiefly near the shores of Hudson bay and strait. In the interior are wandering bands of Nasquapee, Mistassini, and Montagnais Indians, numbering 4,000 or 5,000. The coast N. of Hamilton inlet is occupied by Esquimaux to the number of about 1,500, of whom 1,200 are under the control of the Moravian missionaries, who have four stations here, viz.: Nain (about lat. 56° 30'), founded in 1771; Okkak (lat. 57° 30'), 1776; Hopedale (lat. 55° 40'), 1782; and Hebron (lat. 58°), 1830. Each has a church, store, dwelling for the missionaries, and workshops for the natives.
A vessel annually visits Nain from Europe, to bring supplies and carry back the furs and other products collected by the natives. The English church has missions in the settlements subject to Newfoundland, and in 1853 a church was consecrated at St. Francis harbor. Roman Catholic missions have long existed W. of the strait of Belle Isle. - The coasts of Labrador are rugged and forbidding. The chief indentation on the Atlantic is Esquimaux bay or Hamilton inlet (about lat. 54°), into the head of which falls the Ashwanipi or Hamilton, the largest river of Labrador, and the outlet of a lake of the same name. The principal streams emptying into Hudson bay, commencing at the south, are Rupert's river, the outlet of Lake Mistassini, the East Main or Slude river, and the Great and Little Whale. Into Ungava bay, an inlet of Hudson strait, flow the Koksoak or Koniapuscaw and Whale rivers, while the Nasquapee or Northwest river and the Kenamou fall into Hamilton inlet on either side of the Ashwanipi, the former from the north and the latter from the south. Proceeding up the St. Lawrence, the chief rivers that empty into the gulf and river are the St. Augustine, Natashquan, Mingan, St. John, Magpie, Trout, Moisie, and Betsiamites. There are many lakes, formed chiefly by expansions of the rivers.
The interior of the country, according to Prof. Hind, is a lofty table land, in many parts thickly strewn with bowlders, and everywhere bleak and sterile. Where the surface is not burned, caribou moss covers the rocks, and stunted spruces, birches, and aspens grow in the hollows. The highest mountains extend along the E. coast from lat. 54° to 59°. Mount Thoresby near the coast is 2,730 ft. high. The prevailing geological formation on the seaboard is granite, gneiss, or mica slate, above which in some places are beds of old red sandstone about 200 ft. thick, and a stratum of secondary limestone. Toward the interior the secondary rocks disappear. At Cape Chateau a series of basaltic columns presents a remarkable resemblance to an ancient castle. Very little is known of the mineral resources, but iron ore, limestone, granite, hornblende, lapis olaris, hematite, and the beautiful shining spar called labradorite are found, the last being collected by the Esquimaux on the seacoast and the shores of the lakes. In the south a stunted growth of poplars, pines, birch, and willow is found, and grass clothes the valleys for a few weeks in summer. Little vegetation exists in the north excepting mosses and lichens, though in some few favored spots the aspect is better.
No kind of grain will ripen, but potatoes, Dutch turnips, cabbages, and other hardy vegetables come to perfection. Much rain falls in summer near the sea. Sometimes on the coast the thermometer in July indicates 86°, but a short distance inland it is at all times more temperate. The winters are extremely cold. From December to June the sea is frozen, while on land travelling becomes almost impossible. The mean temperature of the respective months at the missionary stations of Okkak and Nain is: in January, 1.55°; February, 2.73°; March, 7.88°; April, 29.48°; May, 27.24°; June, 42.59°; July, 50.91°; August, 51.99°; September, 44.71°; October, 32.56°; November, 24.45°; December, 27.84°. The mean annual temperature at Nain is stated at 22.52°; at Okkak, 27.86°; at Hopedale, 27.82°. The prevailing winds on the E. coast vary between W. S. W. and N. W. There is less fog than on the island of Newfoundland, and the strait of Belle Isle is never frozen. The aurora borealis is frequent and of extreme brilliancy.
The rivers abound with salmon, and the lakes with pike, barbel, eels, and trout; the wilds with reindeer, black and white bears, wolves, foxes, hares, mountain cats, martens, and otters, with a few ermines, porcupines, and beaver; the birds are white grouse, ptarmigan, spruce game, gray plover, a great variety of water fowl, the white-tailed eagle, and several varieties of hawks. Mosquitoes are as abundant as in more southern climates. Dogs and reindeer are the only domesticated animals, both being used as beasts of draught. - The main wealth of Labrador is in its fisheries, in which, besides the settlers on the coast, a large number of schooners from Newfoundland, the Canadian provinces, and the United States (citizens of which by treaty have the right to take and cure fish on the shore E. of Mount Joly, lon. 61° 40', near the mouth of the St. Lawrence river) are engaged, employing during the fishing season probably 30,000 men. According to official reports, the exports from the Labrador coast subject to Newfoundland in 1873 were valued at $1,132,935, the chief items being 303,208 quintals of codfish, 4,536 gallons of seal oil, 31,004 of cod oil, 1,467 tierces of salmon, and 43,413 barrels of herring.
The value of the fisheries of the Quebec portion for the year ending June 30, 1873, was $518,140, the chief items of catch being 92,800 quintals of codfish, 8,146 barrels of herring, salmon to the value of $41,135, 7,225 seals, 26,975 gallons of seal oil, 400 of whale oil, and 23,283 of cod oil. These figures do not include large quantities of fish taken to St. John's, Harbor Grace, and other Newfoundland ports, and thence exported to foreign countries, nor the catch of American and Nova Scotian fishermen. It is estimated that the total annual value of the fisheries on the Labrador coast is more than $5,000,000. The shores and adjacent islets are also resorted to for sea-fowl eggs. - Labrador was discovered by John Cabot in 1497. His son, Sebastian Cabot, who accompanied him in that voyage, subsequently again visited the coast, and entered and partly surveyed Hudson bay, giving names to several places. Henry Hudson explored the coast in 1610, after his discovery of the river which bears his name, passed through the strait now called Hudson strait, and entered the great bay, to which also he gave his name.
The Portuguese called the country Terra Lalorador, or cultivable land, a misnomer equal to that of Greenland. About the middle of the last century a settlement was formed on the coast by Mr. Darby, an American, for the purpose of establishing a whaling station and civilizing the Esquimaux; but the Indians made a descent on it, murdered many of his men, and broke it up. - See "A Journal of Transactions and Events during a Residence of nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador," by G. Cartwright (3 vols., Newark, Eng., 1792); and " Explorations in the Interior of the Labrador Peninsula," by Henry Youle Hind (2 vols., London, 1863).