Life on the Mista Shipu: Dispatches from Labrador


In Life on the Mista Shipu, Robin McGrath acts as a navigator, guiding locals and visitors alike around parts of Labrador—particularly the interior—that are too often overlooked. In doing so, she offers candid glimpses of human and natural history, of local colour and characters, and of the culture of the three founding peoples of modern Labrador. Although a native of Newfoundland, she had spent much of her working life in what was then the Northwest Territories, now Nunavut.   McGrath moved to Labrador in 2006, eager to learn, explore, and write in the Big Land. Over the next decade, she opened her ears and eyes to the people and places around her and wrote dozens of captivating articles and essays about her experiences. Labrador is very, very different from Newfoundland, and very different from the more northern parts of Canada also. Its geography is varied, its languages are complex, its history is unique.    In her time there she met some of the nicest, bravest, most interesting people she has ever known. Innu activist Elizabeth Penashue and her husband Francis brought her into a part of Labrador that most people never see – into the country, to the sweatlodges and remote beaches and into the homes and tents of their friends and relatives. They brought her to religious services, baby showers and funerals, berry picking and on fishing trips.  This book is a collection of more than 50 of these pieces. The Mista Shipu is known as the Churchill River in English.

Author Bio

Robin McGrath

Robin McGrath is the author or editor of 15 books. Robin has published more than 200 articles in magazines such as The Beaver (now Canada’s History), Inuit Art Quarterly, Fiddlehead and Room of One’s Own. She is the literary editor of Nursery Rhymes of Newfoundland published with Boulder in 2005. Besides publishing numerous academic articles and history in Newfoundland Judaism, McGrath’s distinctions include:

  • The Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award (Fiction) for The Winterhouse, the Halbert Chair for Canadian Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (1996-1997)
  • The Henry Fuerstenberg Award (1999) for her collection of poems Escaped Domestics. She was also shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (2003) and won the first annual Heritage and History Award (2004) for Donovan’s Station.
  • The Geldert Medal (2004) for her article, “Simon Solomon: Newfoundland’s First Postmaster.”

Robin was born in St. John’s two days prior to Confederation. She is part of the “confederation baby” generation, whose mothers often took castor oil to speed the delivery process so that their children would be born as Newfoundlanders rather than Canadians. She is a member of The Writers’ Union of Canada, WANL and the Letterset Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. She currently writes a monthly column for The Northeast Avalon Times. Robin now lives in Harbour Main, NL with her husband, retired provincial court judge, John Joy.

Life on the Mista Shipu is, " A marvellous thorough collection where story, history and culture cross paths, intermingle and provide an informed view of an area many of us will never have the opportunity to experience first hand." Atlantic Books Today, November 2018.

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