Moravians are German and Czech Protestant devotees that came to Labrador in the mid-18th Century as part of their church’s missionizing efforts throughout the world. Sir Hugh Palliser, then Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Newfoundland (1764-1768), viewed the Moravian Church as a means to calm conflict between the Inuit and European settlers.
A strong supporter of the migratory fishery in Labrador, Palliser was concerned by disorder in the Strait of Belle Isle between the Inuit, French, and British fishermen, and he would spend much of the 1767 summer in Labrador trying to make peace with the Inuit. Palliser would go on to build a blockhouse at Chateau Bay and encourage the Moravian Brethren, a Protestant sect from Saxony, to establish a Labrador mission.
The first permanent mission was established in 1771 at Nain by the Moravian Brethren, who would later go on to establish missions in several Labrador Inuit coastal communities between the 1770′s and 1960′s.
The Moravian missionaries brought with them a unique and aesthetically interesting architectural style, illustrating design influences from vernacular styles of Central and Eastern Europe. As an entity, Moravians were far more than just religious leaders, also introducing the arts, including classical music, and a written language that remains in use today.
In 2005, the last missionary was recalled after a 234-year presence, yet, Moravian traditions and customs live on with a distinct Labrador Inuit twist.
The Moravian Church remains an integral part of Labrador’s Nunatsiavut region and in recent years, there has been a cultural revival of traditional Moravian music throughout the northern coastal communities of Nain, Hopedale, Makkovik, Postville, and Rigolet.
Today, the Inuit proudly perform throughout Labrador, a glimpse into a profoundly emotional part of their culture that is coming back to life. The Internal Grenfell Association has played a key role in this revival by funding countless music workshops, where local Inuit relearn traditional Moravian music and songs once thought lost.
In April 2011, Innismara, a vocal chamber ensemble based in St. John’s, took part in a very special project, they visited Labrador’s coastal communities and explored Moravian musical traditions.
Moravian Points of Interest
Hebron Moravian Mission Station
The Mission Station in Hebron, a designated National Historic Site of Canada, is the oldest Moravian building in all of North America. First settled by Moravian missionaries from Germany in 1830, the station provided an impressive church, school, medical clinic, and post office building. They even planted large mission gardens including rhubarb which still grows there today.
Hebron was a once beloved Inuit community, but for economic reasons, the station officially closed in 1959, which represented a traumatic event to countless Labrador Inuit that called Hebron home. The closure of the community and the resettlement of its people was a tragic event that has had far-reaching consequences.
Today, the Nunatsiavut Government is actively working to restore the buildings at Hebron to their former architectural glory, so as to preserve them for future generations.
Nain Moravian Church
The Moravian Church in Nain is a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. The church is an early 1900s wooden church building with a low-pitch gable roof and a square bell tower with a helm roof. It is located near the shore and community dock and is a dominant structure on the landscape.
The Moravians were known to spend extended periods of their ministry at their chosen missions, sometimes up to 30-40 years. They spent a great deal of time and effort in building whole complexes, such as the one in Nain, which contains wood buildings for the church, stores, outbuildings, and residences.
Happy Valley Moravian Church
The Moravian Church in Happy Valley is the youngest of the congregations, only established in 1954. The church represents the most recent migration of many Labrador Inuit Moravians from the northern coasts to the Lake Melville area during the Second World War. This movement was inspired by the placement and building of a new air base in neighboring Goose Bay.
Hopedale Moravian Mission Complex
The Mission Complex in Hopedale is home to the oldest and largest continuously used Moravian buildings in Labrador. Designated a National Historic Site of Canada, the original mission settlement was constructed in 1782.
Today, stands seven buildings built by the Moravians in their unique and appealing architectural style.