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 at Labrador, Palliser was concerned by disorder in the Strait of Belle Isle between Inuit, French and British fishermen. Additionally, he built a blockhouse at Chateau Bay and encouraged the Moravian Brethren, a Protestant sect from Saxony, to establish a mission to the Labrador Inuit.
Palliser spent much of the 1767 summer in Labrador, trying to make peace with the Inuit. Consequently, the first permanent Moravian mission in Labrador was established in 1771 at Nain by the Moravian Brethren. They would later go on to establish missions in several Labrador Inuit coastal communities between the 1770′s and 1960′s.
The Moravian missionaries also brought with them a unique and aesthetically interesting architectural style, illustrating the design influences from the vernacular styles of Central and Eastern Europe at the time.
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. However, Moravian traditions and customs live on with a distinct Labrador Inuit twist. For example, the Moravian church remains an integral part of northern 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.
The Internal Grenfell Association has played a key role in this revival. They have funded countless music workshops where local Inuit relearn traditional Moravian music and song once thought lost. Today, they proudly perform throughout Labrador, a glimpse back into a profoundly emotional part of their culture that is coming back to life.
In April 2011, Innismara, a Vocal chamber ensemble based in St. John’s, took part in a very special project. They visited Labrador’s spectacular coastal communities and explored Moravian musical traditions.
The Moravian presence is a cultural, historical and architectural gem amidst spectacular Nunatsiavut. A definite must see while exploring sensational Labrador.
Moravian Points of Interest
Hebron Moravian Mission Station
The Hebron Mission Station, a designated National Historic Site of Canada, is the oldest mission 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. This was a traumatic event to countless Labrador Inuit whom call 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 twentieth-century 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 like the church, stores, outbuildings, and residences.
Happy Valley Moravian Church
The Moravian Church in Happy Valley is the youngest of the congregation. They recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of their founding in October 2014.
Happy Valley Moravian represents the most recent migration of many Labrador Inuit Moravians. They moved from the northern coasts to the Lake Melville area during the Second World War. This was inspired by the placement and building of a new air base in neighboring Goose Bay.
The mission headquarters also moved from Nain to Happy Valley. A clear sign of the new order that was coming to Labrador.
Hopedale Moravian Mission Complex
The Hopedale Moravian Mission Complex 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. Hopedale Mission Complex is one of the most cherished sites in all of Newfoundland and Labrador to visit.