Labrador retriever

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Labrador breaking away from the rest of Canada.

In 1863 when Queen Victoria ceremonially named the British Columbian lumberjack Gladys Mimspottie to the high rank of Royal Beaver, outrage gripped the province of Labrador. Over the following days outrage turned to open rebellion. Determined to quit the British Empire, the Labradorians created a fracture in the continent west of Churchill Falls and broke their scrubby rockstrewn province away from the rest of Canada. They then began to paddle Labrador east, intending to unite with Iceland.

The British Empire was not amused.

The device chosen by the British to pull Labrador back to Canada was called -- as you have probably guessed -- the Labrador Retriever.

Historical Perspective[edit]

In years gone by, the rulers of the British Isles often honored royal favorites by elevating them to the rank of furbearers. For example, in 1455 Henry VI elevated Thaddeus Whingely to the position of Badger of All Britain. And in 1550 Edward VI named Dame Spinnie Wampuddle the Royal Stoat of Surrey.

So Queen Victoria was perfectly within her rights to elevate a musclebound Canuck tree cutter like Gladys to the rank of Royal Beaver.

Labradorians, however, had always detested the people of British Columbia in general, calling them "Sawdusters" and "Tree-boobies". They scorned lumberjacks as being intellectually, physically, and morally inferior to cod fishermen. They also felt any slight by the Royal Personage most keenly. In 1860 the entire population of Goose Bay rioted when the Labradorian fisherman Pyles Ploppiér failed in his bid to be appointed Moleskin of Leamington, and both rioters agreed they'd do it again if the Queen failed to honor Labrador with some sort of royal appointment.

Thus the stage was set for the Labrador rebellion of 1863.

Geological Perspective[edit]

Diagram of the geology of Canada, courtesy of Mrs. Pidsnottle's fifth-grade class.

In his textbook Geological Principles A.G. Werner wrote, "Canada is composed mostly of rocks. Cold filthy rocks, frozen mud and moose excrement. Nothing geological happens in Canada." So the sudden separation of a whole Province like Labrador was a scientific non-sequitur to say the least.

How was that separation accomplished?

The answer lies in the Imperial ambitions of the notorious rogue nation Iceland. This quarrelsome island lies at the northern end of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is one of the greatest centers of seafloor spreading on Earth. Icelanders know more about volcanic rifts than anyone else on the planet. Upon hearing hints of rebellion in Labrador, the Imperial Intelligence Corps of Iceland passed certain secret volcanic techniques to the angry Labradorians. Then the disaffected Provincials used these techniques to initiate rift-type spreading along ancient fractures west of their border with Quebec.

And so the deed was done: Labrador -- and a large chunk of northeastern Quebec -- broke away from Canada as magma welled up like Laffy Taffy in the new rift.

The Rage of a Monarch[edit]

News of the rebellion was shouted to Queen Victoria through the keyhole of a palace lavatory as she sat in state upon her porcelain throne. Attendants listening outside the door later said that the royal thunder mug truly blew a bass note as the Queen vented her rage, along with three pounds of poorly-digested turnips.

Queen Victoria pondering the fate of Labrador. Her royal determination is obvious, as is her royal mouth-breathing.

Moments later, Victoria Regina strode from the royal water closet and hurled her still-smoking knickers to a cringing lackey. "They dare to defy us?" she snarled. "Fetch hither Sir Walter Raleigh, and Lord Nelson as well. Labrador shall soon learn the price of rebellion!"

"Your Highness," whimpered her chamberlain, "both men are dead after these many years, may it please the Queen. How about, uh, Admiral Saint-Saucy dePooves? Could he help?"

"No, he'd be useless. Useless!" The monarch's eyes narrowed to icy slits as she lowered her imperious rump onto her regular, non-porcelain throne. "Send instead for Colonel Wolfstrangler of the Third Regiment, Royal Engineers. We will see what the Engineers can do for our Empire."

Colonel Wolfstrangler, PhD, G++, MFB[edit]

Konrad Mordo Wolfstrangler graduated from the Pemberton Academy of Improbable Devices in 1839 with a Genius Plus-Plus diploma. He won this special award by building a steam carriage in which you can go home again, thus disproving Wolfe's First Law of Thermonostalgia. Immediately upon matriculation he began a career with the Royal Engineers.

By the 1850s, he was the greatest military inventor in the British Empire. During the siege of Wollamagorra in Australia, Wolfstrangler created the Non-Returning Boomerang, which gave the British infantry a crucial edge over the aborigines. He provided the Scots Guard with one of his cleverest inventions, the Silent Bagpipes, which allowed them -- for the first time in their history -- to sneak up on their adversaries.

But Colonel Wolfstrangler was also utterly, utterly ruthless. He would kill earthworms with his bare hands. He sometimes went into his garden and uprooted a dandelion, leaving it to die a horrible death by withering. Twice in his career he scolded puppies so severely they whimpered. His soul was cold as a frozen lime daiquiri chock-full of shaved ice.

And he hated Labrador.

A Sordid Side-story[edit]

Ephemára Wolfstrangler, a strange fey child destined to die during the Codfish Famine of 1826.

You see, once Konrad had a sister named Ephemára. She was a sweet, delicate English flower with a sickly constitution, always coughing up lumps of green phlegm the size of Croquet balls or unexpectedly hemorrhaging pint upon pint of stringy black ichor from her ears. But Konrad loved her dearly...and the only thing that kept Ephemára amongst the living was her daily ration of cod-liver oil.

She used a lot of oil. In modern terms, the girl got about five miles to the gallon.

Then, one rainy spring when Konrad was 13, London's supply of this essential dietary supplement dwindled and vanished. There was simply no cod-liver oil to be had, for the cod fishermen had gone on strike.

The Labrador cod fishermen.

Ephemára Wolfstrangler skipped off the mortal coil with all the alacrity of a butterfly quitting a rotten rose. She died toot sweet, as they say in Canada, and was buried in a foggy, lilac-smothered churchyard in Dorking Cross. Young Konrad wept into the fresh dirt of her grave.

And so, forty years later, the ruthless Colonel Wolfstrangler still hated Labrador.

The Plan Takes Shape[edit]

On August 14, 1863, Colonel Wolfstrangler was summoned from the Engineers' headquarters in metropolitan Stotfold to the royal quarters at 1149 Pudsey Place. He caught the first train down, took a Hansom cab across London, and found the Minister for Damp Crumpet awaiting his arrival at the door. The fussy little man looked serious as an barn owl with hemorrhoids. "The Queen," he said, "is not a happy camper."

The Colonel snapped his monocle into place and gave the Minister a look. "Smash them," he snapped.

"Er, what?"

"Smash them. Burn their daisies. Defenestrate their guinea pigs."

"Are you mad?" the Minister said. He led Colonel Wolfstrangler down the hallway.

"Yes," the Colonel replied quietly but with great conviction. "As Ceylon will soon its sorrow."

"You mean Labrador."

"Yes, yes, correct. Labrador. Sorry, I have a headache in my pancreas. You wouldn't happen to have a few grains of opium or a medium-calibre howitzer in your pockets, would you?"

But the Minister for Damp Crumpet was already opening the massive steel doors leading to the Royal Empire Control Room. "The Queen is waiting," he said. "But don't mention Princess Beatrice...the little lady left a yucky doody in the Royal Personage's brassiere, and the Queen banished her to Liverpool for the weekend."

William Gladstone was a happy fellow; he always carried an umbrella with which he fended off Queen Victoria when she was in one of her more violent moods.

Plan One: Bananas and Pie[edit]

Inside the REC Room, the Queen sat at the head of a polished mahogany conference table, glowering and nursing her rapidly swelling right hand. Colonel Wolfstrangler entered and made his obeisance. Prime Minister Gladstone was already there, as was Sir Herbert Dripsheet, Minister of Foreign Balderdash, who sat with his head tilted back with a handkerchief pressed to his bloodied nose.

"Be seated, Colonel," said Her Majesty. "Herbie here was just saying that we ought to ignore the rebellion and get on with the thankless task of civilising Wales. Weren't you, Herbie?"

"Urrgh," whimpered Sir Dripsheet, holding his nose. Tears of pain trickling down his cheeks.

"Never ignore insurrections," said Colonel Wolfstrangler intensely. "Crush them, Your Majesty. They must pay. You must crush New Guinea."

The Queen glared at him suspiciously. "You mean Labrador," she said.

"Yes, yes, Labrador, correct. Damn."

"And how might we best accomplish that goal, Colonel?" she asked.

"Catapult bananas," the Colonel snapped. "When the rebels pause to peel the bananas, move in with a brigade of light horse. Cut holes in their pockets. As they are looking down hit them with a cream pie."

"Are you mad?"

"Yes", said the Colonel with quiet conviction. "And Venezuela must be made to pay."


"Oh Jesus Christ, yes, Labrador. I knew that."

"He is mad," said the Queen to Gladstone.

"I believe he is mad as a Welsh hare," said Gladstone.

"Just the man for the job," said the Queen. Then, apropos of nothing at all, she leaned down the table and punched Sir Herbert Dripsheet in the left eye.

Plan Two: The Labrador Retriever[edit]

That evening the party reconvened upstairs in the glass penthouse. London lay like a plate of smoked salmon below them -- a very large plate of salmon with streetlights in it. Queen Victoria lit up a cheroot and said, "We do not wish to harm the people of Labrador. We wish to reunite them with our Empire...peacefully, if possible; by force if not. But without casualties."

"War is hell," replied Colonel Wolfstrangler, trying and failing to light his own cheroot. "Crush the cod-fishermen. Three or four deaths is a small price to pay."

"There are twelve people inhabiting Labrador," said Gladstone. "Nearly a dozen."

"That is a dozen, you fool," said the Queen. "The point is, Colonel, we want Labrador back, and at least nominally undestroyed."

"Your Majepty, I beg you, butt aside these betty quaffles," interrupted Sir Dripsheet, who had shoved wine corks in his nostrils to stanch the bleeding. His left eye was blackening nicely. "Concendrate on bringing cibilisation to your subjedts. Hab piddy on the boor illiderate sabbages in Wales, and let the Labadorians go to Iceland...or to Hell, if they want."

Without even looking, the Queen sucker-punched Sir Dripsheet hard in the brisket. He toppled over and sank out of sight behind the horsehair sofa.

"Hmmm," mused the Colonel, trying again to light his cheroot. "Retrieval, not crushage. A method to retrieve Macedonia."

"Labrador!" said Gladstone.

"Oh bloody hell yes, Labrador. Sorry, sorry, I was musing."

"I say, old fellow," said Gladstone. "Did you know that's a stick of licorice you're trying to light?"

"There's nothing I like better than a good muse amongst good company," the Colonel mused, drawing hard on his smoldering licorice.

"There's nothing I like better than a prompt answer," said the Queen dangerously, rubbing her knuckles, "unless it's giving a Colonel of the Engineers a black eye."

The Colonel snapped his fingers. "What we want," he cried, "is a retriever! A special-purpose retriever. An Irish Retriever!"

"Labrador," muttered Sir Herbert Dripsheet, rising like a shaky specter from behind the sofa. "A Labrador Retreeber."

"Shut your gob, you tit," said Queen Victoria, and with one blow to the temple knocked him out cold.

"I shall begin work straightaway," said Colonel Wolfstrangler. "By your leave!"

And he strode from the room.

Design and Construction[edit]

All the rest of the night Colonel Wolfstrangler worked in the secret laboratories down in the basements of 1149 Pudsey Place. At first he drew out plans for an immense grappling hook, imagining that it could be dropped onto Labrador from a pigeon-drawn flying machine. This he abandoned when he remembered that pigeons detest grappling. Next he decided to beach magnetized whales on Labrador's western shoreline and use gigantic magnets mounted on the mainland to draw the breakaway Province back to Canada. But after a few experiments he found that whales cannot be magnetized reliably.

Colonel Wolfstrangler's drawing of the Labrador Retriever, with a caricature of Sir Herbert Dripsheet sketched in to indicate scale.

Time fled. The hours became wee, and morning approached. The Colonel sat and stared at the fruitless plans spread on the drafting table before him.

He then heard a rustling noise. Turning he saw a young girl standing next to the whale he had previously used for his magnetization experiments. Her eyes were filled with light. The whale gazed at her nervously, its flukes twitching. The Colonel blinked, telling himself that it could not be, could not be the shade of his long-dead sister Ephemára.

"When you want to grab something you use your hand," the girl said.

"Who are you?" the Colonel asked.

"If you want to grab something really big, you better make a really big hand," the girl said.

"By thunder! You may be right!"

The girl turned and began to drift away. She glanced back at the Colonel over her shoulder. "My name," she said, "is Betty Quaffles."

But the Colonel was already drawing out the plans for a huge hand and arm with muscles made of diorite. He did not hear.

Over the next few days, crews of London stonemasons worked 'round the clock on the Labrador Retriever, assisted by a foul-tempered gang of chain-smoking Dusseldwarfs. Time and again the crew leaders declared the project impossible, preposterous, and ridiculous; but Colonel Wolfstrangler's training in building improbable objects stood him in good stead. By August 18th, the great Retriever was substantially complete.

The Colonel's design featured cast-iron framing members covered by diorite muscles, the whole assemblage sheathed in fine-grained elasticized andesite. With the help of the famed Neptunist A.G. Werner he infused the massive muscles with mysterious earth forces, thus animating them.

"It is semi-autonomous," Colonel Wolfstrangler boasted to the Queen, stroking one of his creation's huge fingers. "It can grasp, it can crush, it can burrow beneath the earth. It can even clean its own fingernails."

"But can it solve the problem at hand?" asked the Queen.

"I guarantee it," the Colonel said. "We will retrieve, er, that, you know the one I mean. We will crush it. Assuming it hasn't gotten too far."

"They've moved the dam' thing about 50 kilometers offshore. Our spies tell us that yesterday the rebels stopped paddling and got drunk. Now they're having a clambake."

"Savages," snapped the Colonel. "Filthy clam-eating savages. Smash them all. Smash them to jelly."

"No smashing," growled the Queen. "We want 'em brought back alive."

"As Your Highness wishes," said Colonel Wolfstrangler, bowing.

"Say," said the Queen, "these little buggers you have working for you..."

"They're Dusseldwarfs, Your Majesty. Fearless and feisty."

"That's as may be," the Queen said, "but one of them is humping our shoe. If it doesn't get off we're going to punch it into next Tuesday."

The Labrador Retriever emerges on the Canadian mainland and launches itself east toward Labrador.


That very evening Colonel Wolfstrangler set the Retriever to burrowing west toward Canada. The massive construction dug its way beneath the Atlantic and then turned upward under northern Quebec. It burst from a hillside and, propelled by its huge 200-kilometer-long arm, reached across the newly formed strait to the hills of Labrador.

Observed only by marmots, lemmings, and one lone moose, it grasped a high point of land and began to pull the breakaway province to the west. The very rocks of Labrador groaned and shuddered as the land began to ride up and over the Laffy Taffy magma beneath the sea. Solid granite splintered, lakes sloshed and spilled over their shores, and the grouse clucked nervously.

Labrador began to move toward the mainland.

A few hours later it crashed into Quebec, sending geysers of seawater squirting upward from the join and smashing several whales to blubber-butter. The land quivered and then was still. The Labrador Retriever released its hold and retreated back underground.

Oddly enough, all twelve residents of Labrador -- stuffed with steamed clams and Labatt beer -- slept through the whole episode.