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Labrador West Pioneers: Tom Turnbull

Tom Turnbull
Tom Turnbull - Gary Shaw

Connected with the land




Tom Turnbull is not only a Labrador West pioneer; he is also a true Labradorian by any unit of measure.

For any among us who know Tom and all that he represents, by his vision of Labrador, and by his actions as he has lived his life in Labrador and can never be any doubt about where his heart and soul is solidly planted.

Tom’s roots were from Hawkes Harbour on the south coast of Labrador. It was a tiny community that saw Tom raised in a fishing family. He and his family were fishermen, hunters, and gatherers in the true sense of the word.


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Tom spent his early years living his life on the many lessons of survival on the land and the sea. He and his family lived by these lessons, the lifestyle and culture of the old ways. These lessons and the accumulated knowledge that Tom received have filled him with the obvious passion that he has embraced and lived by, for all of these years.

Tom went to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and worked there for a few years before his arrival in Labrador West in April of 1975 with his wife Madeline joining him shortly after. They have been in Labrador West ever since, raising their children and now enjoying their grandchildren who are all still here as residents of Labrador West.

Tom has quietly punched 40 years at the Iron Ore Company of Canada and Madeline working a full career in the banking sector. A well-deserved retirement has now found its way into the Turnbull home and life is now spent doing what they enjoy the most.

They have a cabin on the Esker Road which is their second home. Time at the cabin is a year round adventure for them and their family as they enjoy every season and the many treasures each season holds.

Tom is a humble guy who has spent his life in the woods and on the water, any among us who know Tom, knows this. He is best known for his fishing, hunting and trapping adventures.

He holds a world of knowledge and experiences “in the country” and is always willing to share this with folks who are still learning the many tricks of the trade.

For those of us who have been fortunate enough to share an adventure in the wilds of Labrador with Tom you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Tom is always recognized as the guy who has everything with him for any eventuality. Whether it’s in the boat or on a snowmobile trip, he has it all. He will have a full set of tools packed away, a full network of survival gear, and the knowledge of how to use it all whether it’s a mechanical problem with equipment, or having to spend an unplanned night in the woods, Tom’s got it all.

He also seems to have pants that have more pockets than any pants that were ever made with. Flashlights, waterproof matches, a handful of small wrenches, vice grips, and cans of sardines, enough for everyone all packed away in his pockets, ready at a moments notice.

Many years ago on a caribou hunt I was following along behind Tom when we stopped for a break on our return trip.

Tom looked at me and said, “Gary, you are colder than you should be.” I walked around a bit and started to shiver. Tom said, “Take your coat off”, as he dug in a pack in his sleigh. He pulled out a heavy hand knit sweater that went all the way down to my knees. I put it on and then my coat, and walked around a bit more and we were on our way. I was warm without even realizing how cold I was. I never forgot that, you would expect anyone to know when he or she were cold, apparently I didn’t realize how cold I was. The magic in Tom’s knowledge was, that he somehow knew it before I did. He is always watching over everyone, whether they know it or not.

Tom has also given over 30 years of his knowledge and skills to the Canadian Rangers, a great gift to Labrador when it matters the most. I told my wife that if I went into the country and didn’t come back home when I should, she should do two things, call Tom Turnbull and go ahead and peel extra potatoes, he would have me found and we would be home for supper.

Tom and Madeline are true examples of great Labrador folks, solid as a rock in our community and family folks, quietly taking care of the things that matter. We are all lucky to have them among us as Labrador West pioneers.

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