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The Journals of George Simms, J.P., and the Untold Story of the Labrador Court, its Origins, Operations, and Demise

Augustus G. Lilly, Q.C.

The Labrador Court of Civil Jurisdiction was a short-lived experiment in long-distance justice delivery. Each summer, from 1826 to 1833, the Court departed from St. John’s for the Labrador in an ice-reinforced vessel that cruised the Coast for two or three months, stopping at numerous coves and harbours from Blanc Sablon in the South to Rigolet in Esquimaux Bay (now Hamilton Inlet), and occasionally West to Kinnemish in Carter Basin and North West River. The Court’s activity in Esquimaux Bay played a significant role in the decision of the Privy Council in 1927, which set the boundary between Labrador and Canada. The Court’s Clerk, George Simms, a Justice of the Peace and merchant from Trepassey, kept a journal of these voyages, of which four, from 1830 to 1833, are known to have survived. This lecture is based on The Journals of George Simms, J.P., and the Records of the Labrador Court, 1826-1833, 2 vols., edited by Augustus G. Lilly and Christopher P. Curran, St. John’s: The Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2017, which contains Simms’s Journals, the complete Court Records, and a selection of archival documents, all of which add to our knowledge of legal, commercial, and indigenous activity in Labrador. These materials, most of them published for the first time, are supplemented by an Introduction which traces the history of the delivery of justice on the Labrador Coast from 1809 to 1863. There are identifications for some 225 persons and places mentioned in the publication, extended biographical sketches of the Court’s Judge, Captain William Paterson, and Simms, and contemporary illustrations, showing people and places on the Coast and the politicians, administrators, and lawyers who were instrumental in setting up the Court.