The International Grenfell Association (IGA), a non-profit, philanthropic organization, was established as the coordinating agency for four regional associations which supported the medical, religious and social initiatives of the Grenfell Mission in northern Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as on the southern coast of the Canadian Labrador. The IGA was incorporated on 10 January 1914, but the association originated in the initiatives of physician and surgeon Wilfred Thomason Grenfell (1865-1940), to secure adequate medical care and improved social conditions in the region.
In 1892, Grenfell, a medical missionary with the National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen (NMDSF) - a British evangelical Christian charity ministering to British offshore fishermen - visited northern Newfoundland and coastal Labrador to investigate reports of inadequate medical services for the thousands of migratory fishermen who went annually to the coast of Labrador from the island of Newfoundland, as well as the settlers (livyers) in Labrador. Perceiving an urgent need to provide improved medical assistance, Grenfell returned in 1893 with two nurses and two doctors, under the auspices of the NMDSF, determined to establish a system of medical care for northern Newfoundland and Labrador.
Grenfell established small hospitals at Battle Harbour (1893) and Indian Harbour (1894), and a secured a hospital ship which undertook summer visits along the Labrador coast. Grenfell and his associates (commonly termed the Grenfell Mission) also became involved in efforts to improve social welfare and to promote social and economic development. The mission built an orphanage, established boarding schools, and introduced industrial arts training (including rug hooking, weaving, carving, leather work and toy making) with the help of qualified volunteers (called "workers without pay" or "wops"). Grenfell personally encouraged the establishment of cooperatives, the first of which was founded in Red Bay in 1896. Other experiments included agricultural programs, the introduction of domesticated reindeer, and the promotion of tourism.
Associations were established in Newfoundland, Canada, the United States and Great Britain to support Grenfell's work, which, by 1914, had become a diverse philanthropic movement. This movement was created mainly by the energetic and charismatic Grenfell who divided his time between active missionary work and lecture tours to raise funds for his activities, particularly in the United States and Canada.
Initially, the IGA represented the Grenfell Association of Newfoundland (est. 1899, St. John's); the Grenfell Association of New England (est. 1904, Boston); the Grenfell Association of America (est. 1907, New York); and the Grenfell Labrador Medical Association (est. 1909, Ottawa). The IGA later included representatives from the Grenfell Association of Great Britain and Ireland (est. 1927, London) and the Grenfell Labrador Industries (incorporated 1934-5).
The IGA hired staff, recruited volunteers and allocated funds for mission projects and operations. It relied on the other support bodies and Grenfell's own fund-raising efforts (lectures and publications) for most of its finances. When Grenfell resigned from active direction (1936), retaining only the honorary title Superintendent, the IGA restructured. By then the IGA owned two hospital ships, six hospitals, seven nursing clinics and four boarding schools, and operated the King George V Seamen's Institute in St. John's. At St. Anthony, the headquarters of the medical mission since 1899, the IGA established farms, greenhouses, ship repair facilities and a machine shop as well as a hospital, an orphanage and a boarding school. The IGA also sustained industrial arts industries in many communities. The association had a permanent staff of over 50 paid employees, but much of the mission work was done by volunteers from Canada, the United States, Britain and Newfoundland.
Following the completion of a consultant's report (Tamblyn Brown, 1938) on its operations, the IGA was reorganized. Further changes were implemented after the death of Grenfell (1940), in response to health care developments during World War II and in Newfoundland both before and following confederation with Canada (1949). Most importantly, other agencies, especially government, became increasingly involved in providing medical and social services in the regions formerly served only by the Association. In 1978, the business offices of the IGA were moved from Ottawa to St. Anthony.
The IGA continued to be the main agency responsible for health care in northern Newfoundland and Labrador and to operate the other projects initiated by Grenfell until 1981. That year, the Grenfell Regional Health Services Board was created which effectively transferred the provision of medical services and its facilities from the IGA to a provincial authority under the Department of Health. The IGA ceased to be a governing body.
The IGA, now based in St. John's, has become a charitable foundation in support of various medical, educational and community projects in northern Newfoundland and Labrador. Its funding sources include endowment funds from the regional Grenfell associations in New York, Boston and London. The Board of Directors include representatives from the regional associations, as well as two nominees from Memorial University of Newfoundland.