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Canadian Monsters: Nennorluk

Today we will be taking a look at another Canadian Monster, this time heading to the east coast of Canada to Newfoundland & Labrador.

 
Nennok is the Inuit name for what we call the polar bear, and the suffix “luk” indicates it is evil. This would imply that the Nennorluk is an evil polar bear, but alas, it is “simply” a ferocious amphibious creature reported as far back as 1773. Similar creatures are said to inhabit nearby Greenland. It is said to feast on seals and has ears big enough to cover a tent. It comes from the sea but is reported to come ashore at will. Reports from August 1786 near the town of Okak claim the thing is as tall as an iceberg. The legend is that it does not swim, but rather walks on the bottom of the ocean. It is white on its back like a polar bear but big enough to turn over large rocks with a thunderous noise. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, on his way back from claiming the New Found Land for Queen Elizabeth and Britain in 1583, is said to have stared into the glaring eyes of a lion-like sea monster. The Canadian government forced the last remaining townspeople from Okak in 1956. Perhaps it is for the best.

This is the legend of Nennorluk, however, there is little else known about this legend most likely due to the decimation of the community in 1918. At least that I could find, every version of the story that I found was the same.

 

Okak is a former community located on Okak Bay in northern Labrador. It was founded in 1776 by Jens Haven, a missionary of the Moravian Church. In 1918, Moravian missionaries brought an outbreak of Spanish influenza that devastated Okak, killing 204 out of a population of 263. Okak is now a National Historic Site of Canada due to the grouping of over 60 archaeological sites dating from 5550 B.C.E to the present. The sites are spread across three nodes of varying landscapes: the forested mainland surrounding Okak Bay, which lies just south of the tree line; the partially forested inner islands, with small stands of spruce and patches of brush; and the outer (seaward) islands, which are characterized by a landscape of bare rock and tundra vegetation. The sites cluster near the shore on raised beach terraces where cultural material may be found in both surface and buried contexts. Foundations of buildings, walkways, and a wharf from Okak Mission, located on Okak Island, are visible amid vegetation on tundra-covered hills. Official recognition refers to a series of 17 irregular polygons that encompass the Moravian mission site and 31 Okak archaeological sites as they existed at the time of designation in 1978.


Okak was designated as a national historic site of Canada in 1978 because it features a series of archaeological sites that represent a long record of habitation from Maritime Archaic (beginning about 6000 years ago) to recent Labrador Inuit; it is the location of the second oldest Moravian mission in Labrador, founded in 1776 and abandoned in 1919 after most the population was decimated in the Spanish Flu epidemic.


The archaeological remains found at Okak span more than 6000 years, including its occupation by Maritime Archaic (5550 B.C.E.- 1550 B.C.E.), Pre-Dorset (1850 B.C.E. – 250 B.C.E.), Intermediate Indian (1550 B.C.E. – 250 B.C.E.), Dorset (550 B.C.E. – 1450 C.E.) and Labrador Inuit (1200 C.E. – Present) cultures. Many of the sites are multi-component, incorporating occupations during two or more of these cultural periods. A range of site types, from small surface scatters to groups of sod houses are represented within the site. The cultural material consists primarily of stone tools and flakes documenting changes in tool form, manufacturing techniques, and raw material sources among the various cultural periods. The oldest archaeological finds date from the Maritime Archaic period on Cut Throat Island.


In 1776, Moravian Missionaries established a mission site in northern Labrador and settled off Okak Harbour on Okak Island. It was the second successful mission to be established by the Moravian Missionaries on the Labrador Coast, the first being founded at Nain, 400 kilometres to the south in 1771. The Okak Mission was prefabricated at Nain and then transported north to Okak, along with a provisions house and bakehouse. Inuit houses were also constructed here as families gradually relocated to be closer to the mission. Between changing hunting patterns and the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, which decimated the population at Okak, the mission was abandoned in 1919.

 

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