The coast of Labrador has a long history having, apparently, been visited by the Norsemen in the tenth century. In 1534 parts of the coast were charted by Jacques Cartier who designated it "the land that God gave Cain". Almost from its discovery it was visited by fishermen each summer but permanent settlement was not attempted until after 1763. Since then, the isolated coastal settlements have been part of the colony of Newfoundland and, in 1927, the claim to the interior was confirmed also.
The Eskimo people inhabit the coast from Hamilton Inlet north to Cape Chidley, although it is probable that they once ranged farther south. Their chief occupations are sealing, fishing, caribou hunting and trapping arctic foxes.
The Indians are of two chief groups: the Naskaupi of the Barren Lands and the Montagnais of the forested south. Both tribes are of Algonquin origin. The Indians are nomadic hunters and trappers of the interior with no permanent encampments, but most of them pay an annual visit to some coastal settlement in order to trade.
The earliest white settlers in Labrador were fur traders. These were followed by fishermen who decided to remain overwinter in the north rather than to return to Newfoundland. These people became known as "Liveyeres" to distinguish them from the migratory fishermen. The chief economic enterprises of the settled white population are fishing and seal hunting with a winter sideline of fur trapping. There are also many who are mainly trappers, who have displaced the Indians from some of the best fur producing lands.
Moravian missionaries have ministered to the people of northern Labrador since 1752. Around their missions important villages such as Nain, Hopedale, Hebron and Makkovik have been built up. Nain has been called the capital of Eskimo Labrador. The village consists of a trim white mission house and church and a long line of grey Eskimo huts fronting the main street which follows the waterline.
The life of the southern Labrador people is probably best known from the work of Sir Wilfred Grenfell. Dr. Grenfell. an Englishman, began medical work in Labrador in 1892. Aided by funds from the United States and Canada, he established a hospital at St. Anthony and secured a small ship to carry medical services to the coastal settlements. The Grenfell mission (now carried on by the International Grenfell Association) has been of great benefit to these isolated people.
Most of the trade of Labrador has been in the hands of the Hudson's Bay Company since about 1830. It founded important villages such as Battle Harbour, Cartwright, Rigolet, Northwest River and Davis Inlet. In northern Labrador it has also operated in the mission villages. The company's neat white buildings with their red roofs stand out among the drab shacks which comprise the usual Labrador village while their well stocked shelves provide virtually all the necessities of life.
Only in some of the southern settlements have fishermen's co-operatives and a few independent traders offered any competition.