Wilfred T. Grenfell

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Adrift on an Ice Pan

Grenfell, Wilfred

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story


Easter Sunday April 1908, at St. Anthony on the tip of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula. Grenfell is summoned sixty miles south to a boy with osteomyelitis who had been operated two weeks earlier. "The people had allowed the wound to close," he said, and the lad needed immediate attention to save not only his leg but his life. Grenfell set out with his komatik (dog sled) and his eight best dogs. "A lover of dogs, as every Christian man must be," Grenfell writes how each was as "precious as a child to its mother."

To save a few miles, he takes a short cut across a bay, but the ice breaks up beneath him, his komatik sinks, and one dog drowns. He and the other dogs climb out of the water on to an ice pan, which drifts out to sea in an offshore wind. In the cold and solitude, he decides to stab three dogs with a small knife, stifling their cries and struggles with his numb hands. He skins the animals for their warm hides and assembles their frozen legs into a flagpole from which he waves his tattered shirt.

After a day and a night on the ice, he is rescued by "five Newfoundland men . . . with Newfoundland muscles in their backs, and five as brave hearts as ever beat in the bodies of human beings." On shore the frostbitten and snowblind doctor is greeted with tears and rejoicing. Many feared he would be lost. But, he says, he had not been afraid in the face of immanent death; he felt merely regret for lost opportunities. And the sick boy? Two days later he was brought to hospital by boat, operated, and cured. Grenfell closes his "egotistic narrative" by describing the brass plaque dedicated to the memory of the three sacrificed dogs: it proclaims "not one of them is forgotten before your Father which is in heaven."

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