At the Edge of All Things: In Search of Labrador

At the Edge of All Things: In Search of Labrador by Rick Hornung tells the story of First Nations smugglers in northern Labrador. The format of the story resembles a novel, and the abundant dialogue only emphasizes this perception. The storyline is introduced in the prologue, when the central character, Martin Rouleau, tells it to the author after the latter hires Rouleau to take him on a caribou hunt in northern Labrador. In between the tale of travelling to the Labrador peninsula, shooting, drawing and quartering caribou in the prologue and epilogue, Hornung writes about Rouleau’s adventures snowmobiling and smuggling to and from remote Labrador native communities.  

Rouleau has a team who pilots the goods in, stores and distributes the contraband, which is mainly cigarettes and alcohol. He has colleagues who score drug deals for him in Montreal and who bring in more money so that he can buy more contraband. The focus of At the Edge of All Things is Rouleau’s search for the gang who torched his remote cabin–while he and his girlfriend, also a smuggler, were still asleep in it. While continuing to bring in booze and drugs to the native communities, Rouleau devises a plan to seek revenge on those who destroyed his cabin and all of its stored contraband. 

Rouleau shares his own personal history of growing up half Montagnais and half Naskapi in Labrador, at a time when the peninsula was being carved up by mining companies, native groups and the new province of Newfoundland. Multiple new place names are dropped on every page and the map that is featured on the inside cover is regrettably too small and too general to chart most of them. Unfortunately I could not follow Rouleau’s smuggling journey across the province, however his final journey, in search of the arsonists, is mapped out. 

Hornung describes wintry Labrador with the eyes of a true explorer, and every colour of every rock, each snag in the trail and every snowmobile switchback is painted with precision. The exposed granite and ore are streaked with rainbow hues that change colour as the sun rises and sets, and one can feel one’s own fingertips freeze when Rouleau must set up his outdoor tent and tie the stakes together. 

The detail does get tiring however when the reader stumbles across, yet again, another reference to an “L-shaped depression” or an “L-shaped jag”. Labrador must have been created by God wielding an enormous cookie-cutter shaped like an L. Hornung also uses the verb “zigzag” and “zigzagging” far too often; it is not hard at all to open the book to any page at random and find these words popping out at you.

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