Hebron restoration project nabs heritage award for Nunatsiavut Government

The Nunatsiavut Government has been recognized with a Manning Award for its work in preserving the Moravian and Inuit resettled community.
Hebron was first settled by Moravian missionaries in 1830, but was resettled in 1959. (Jillian Larkham)

The Nunatsiavut government has been honoured with a provincial heritage award for its efforts to preserve and restore the Hebron National Historic Site, at the southern tip of Torngat Mountains National Park.

"Hebron, after so many years of ongoing excellent work by our ambassadors and our restorers, is being recognized," Sean Lyall, Nunatsiavut's culture and tourism minister, told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

"I'm very proud of the people who worked on this project."

Lyall was one of those representing Nunatsiavut at the ceremony in St. John's on March 17, for the Manning Awards for Excellence in the Presentation of Historic Places, a provincial body that recognizes effort to preserve the province's history.

In 2004, the Nunatsiavut government, aided with funds from the province, embarked on a major restoration of the church in the resettled community, a project that continues to the present day.

"So, despite the remoteness and challenges of the logistics, and of course the cost of the massive effort, we have a stabilized structure," said Lyall.

The church in Hebron dates back to 1831, and has been undergoing restoration since 2004. (Jillian Larkham)

Resettled, then restored

When the Moravian mission in Hebron — first established in 1830, the oldest mission in North America — shut down in 1959, its residents were forcibly resettled.

"I think the forced relocation has had lasting impacts today on many who have lost their roots, and a way to make a living," said Lyall.

"Despite being closed in '59, it still remains one of our most culturally important and significant [sites]."

Major repairs took place between 2004 and 2008 to stabilize the foundations of the church, with smaller projects continuing since then, thanks to two on-site carpenter-restorers.

"It's definitely ongoing. We plan to go again this year. Every summer it's usually from July to September, and of course that's totally funded by Nunatsiavut government," said Lyall.

Joseph (Buddy) and Jenny Merkuratsuk are caretakers of the Hebron National Historic Site. Their son Julius is one of the carpenters helping to restore the former Moravian Church. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Sharing their story

Along with the restorers, two caretakers spend their summers in Hebron, in part to welcome the up to 800 tourists who visit the remote site each year.

"Being situated on the most southern part of the national park, it's a great attraction for the visitors and tourists," said Lyall.

"Whoever's been there realizes the atmosphere, and the feeling you get, from just being in such a special place for sure."

Lyall said beyond the benefits of tourism, the restoration of Hebron has created a more open dialogue with a past that has been marred by resettlement.

"For Labrador Inuit to want to tell their story is a very significant thing in itself."

With files from Labrador Morning