Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, KCMG (28 February 1865 – 9 October 1940) was a medical missionary to Newfoundland.
He was born at Parkgate, Cheshire, England, on 28 February 1865, the Son of Rev. Algernon Sidney Grenfell, headmaster of Mostyn House School, and Jane Georgiana Hutchison.
Grenfell moved to London in 1882. He then commenced the study of medicine at the London Hospital Medical College (now part of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry) under the tutelage of Sir Frederick Treves. He graduated in 1888.
The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen sent Grenfell to Newfoundland in 1892 to improve the plight of coastal inhabitants and fishermen. That mission began in earnest in 1892 when he recruited two nurses and two doctors for hospitals at Indian Harbour, Newfoundland and later opened cottage hospitals along the coast of Labrador. The mission expanded greatly from its initial mandate to one of developing schools, an orphanage, cooperatives, industrial work projects, and social work. Although founded to serve the local area, the mission developed to include the aboriginal peoples and settlers along the coasts of Labrador and the eastern side of the Great Northern Peninsula of northern Newfoundland. One of the children Grenfell assisted was an Inuit girl, Kirkina, for whom he helped secure artificial limbs and later the Grenfell Mission educated her in nursing and midwifery.
In 1907, Grenfell imported a group of 300 reindeer from Norway to provide food and serve as draft animals in Newfoundland. Unbeknownst to him, some of the animals carried a parasitic roundworm, Elaphostrongylus rangiferi, that then spread to native caribou herds. The reindeer herd eventually disappeared; however, the parasite took hold and causes cerebrospinal elaphostrongylosis (CSE) in caribou, a disease well known in reindeer in Scandinavia.
In 1908, Grenfell was on his way with his dogs to a Newfoundland village for a medical emergency when he got caught in "slob", from which he managed to get onto an ice-pan with the dogs. He was forced to sacrifice some of his dogs to make a warm, fur coat for himself. After drifting for several days without food or fresh water, he was rescued by some villagers in the area. Because of this experience he buried the dogs and put up a plaque saying, "Who gave their lives for me."
He married Anne Elizabeth Caldwell MacClanahan (died 1938) of Chicago, Illinois, in 1909. They had three children and retired to Vermont after his work in NewfoundlandThey were married in 1909 and came to live in the Grenfell House (which they designed together) in St. Anthony, Newfoundland.
Anne gave Dr. Grenfell's life comfort and refinement. She became totally involved in his work. She organized his fundraising tours and lectures, edited his books and helped secure scholarships for the children of the area to continue their education.
Although Anne was ill towards the end of her life, she kept her pain hidden from her husband and took care of him until she died in 1938.
By 1914 the mission had gained international status. In order to manage its property and affairs, the International Grenfell Association, a non-profit mission society, was founded to support Grenfell's work. The Association operated until 1981, as an NGO. It had responsibility for delivery of healthcare and social services in northern Newfoundland and Labrador. After 1981 a governmental agency, The Grenfell Regional Health Services Board, took over the operational responsibility. The International Grenfell Association, having divested itself of all properties and operational responsibility for health and social services, boarding schools, hospitals then became a supporting association making grants and funding scholarships for medical training. For his years of service on behalf of the people of these communities he was later knighted by the King in 1927. In 1931, Grenfell had a small speaking role in the film, The Viking, in which he narrated the film's prologue and gave a brief statement of the tragic circumstances involving the film's production. During the production of the film, which was filmed on location in Newfoundland, producer Varick Frissell felt that the film needed more action sequences and set out on the ice floes to film them. During filming, the ship, SS Viking on which filming was taking place, exploded killing Frissell and 27 others.
Grenfell died of a coronary thrombosis at Kinloch House in Charlotte, Vermont on 9 October 1940. His ashes were brought to St Anthony, where they were placed inside a rock face overlooking the harbour.
The Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell Historical Society was formed in 1978. The society purchased Grenfell's home in St. Anthony, Newfoundland and Labrador. The home has been restored as a museum and archives. The Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell Historical Society with the support of Provincial Government and the International Grenfell Association began construction of an interpretation centre in St. Anthony and it was opened in 1997. This facility added to the existing house and serves to promote the legacy to thousands of visitors each year. The Grenfell Interpretation Centre also is used by other organizations for meetings and events. A large interpretive display is housed there and provides historical background surrounding the work of Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell.
Grenfell is honoured with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on 9 October.
A unique figure, Grenfell served to inspire at least two characters in Canadian literature: Dr. Luke in Norman Duncan's Doctor Luke of the Labrador (1904) and Dr. Tocsin in White Eskimo by Harold Horwood (1972).
A biography for children (middle-high school) was written in 1942, by Genevieve Fox. Published by Thomas Y. Crowell Co. The book had second and third printings as well.
The following statement has been widely ascribed to him, but cannot be found in any of his books: "The service we render to others is really the rent we pay for our room on this earth. It is obvious that man is himself a traveler; that the purpose of this world is not 'to have and to hold' but 'to give and serve.' There can be no other meaning."
Mill owner Walter Haythornthwaite of Burnley, Lancashire created a cloth for Sir Wilfred Grenfell after attending a Grenfell lecture. Designed to withstand the conditions of the Labrador coast, it is a 600 thread-per-inch woven cotton gaberdine that became known as 'Grenfell Cloth' from 1923. The cloth became the signature fabric of the Grenfell Clothing brand which is, to this day, manufactured in the United Kingdom. Grenfell specialises in luxury and outdoor outerwear, popular in Japan, the UK and Europe
In 1979, the Corner Brook campus of Memorial University of Newfoundland was renamed Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in his honour. In 2010, following a debate to rename this campus, the name Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland was chosen, to reflect the campus' ties to the spirit of Sir Wilfred Grenfell's legacy.
Books by Grenfell include:
Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, founder of the Labrador Medical Mission, who devoted his life to caring for the spiritual and physical needs of Eskimos, Indians and fishermen of ...