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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic July 25, 2014 - 6:50 pm

Taissumani, July 25

Arrival At Cape Crauford — Robert Janes’s Last Journey (Part 3 of 4)

KENN HARPER
Ataguttiaq, the young wife of Nuqallaq. (HARPER COLLECTION)
Ataguttiaq, the young wife of Nuqallaq. (HARPER COLLECTION)

On March 4, Robert Janes passed Adams Island in Lancaster Sound, 10 days into his desperate bid to leave north Baffin Island by dog sled. He would travel by sled as far as Churchill, and from there overland to Winnipeg, then home to St. John’s.

Although Janes saw no sign of Inuit at Adams Island, a group was camped there, perhaps on the opposite side of the island from which he passed.

This was Nuqallaq’s camp. Kaukuarjuk had warned Nuqallaq that Janes was heading in this direction and that he was still obsessed with his dislike for him.

Nuqallaq still feared the unstable trader and had decided that it was better for Janes to pass without meeting him.

In doing so, Nuqallaq demonstrated the same tactic of avoidance of confrontation that he had shown in earlier years when experiencing difficult relations with white men. It was a display, not of cowardice, but of common sense.

Janes and Uuttukuttuk left Navy Board Inlet and skirted the coast of Baffin Island’s Borden Peninsula along Lancaster Sound, which marked the eastern entrance to the fabled Northwest Passage.

Its ice was often unstable, but the landfast ice close to shore, on which Janes and his partner travelled, formed a stable platform for safe travel at this time of year.

Janes hoped to meet Inuit near Arctic Bay, from whom he could get fresh seal meat to feed his hungry dogs. He sent Uuttukuttuk on ahead with a lightly loaded sled to see if the Inuit were still at Strathcona Sound. Janes spent the night alone, drying his clothes and tending to his gear.

The temperature was minus 25. He noted in his journal, “Today makes 15 days and not at my destination yet, the longest trip here during my stay in this land. Night fine. All well.”

When Uuttukuttuk returned, it was with news that confirmed Janes’s fears. There were no Inuit at Strathcona Sound, but there were sled tracks and they indicated that the natives had all headed west. Now Janes faced uncertainty as to whether to continue on to Arctic Bay or to make a long diversion north-west to Cape Crauford.

He could not be sure of encountering any Inuit at Arctic Bay, for the winter had been severe there and food had been in short supply. He felt it more likely that the whole population had relocated to Cape Crauford — Kangiq as they called it — a favoured spring sealing area on the western shore of the mouth of Admiralty Inlet.

It was important that Janes meet a large group of Inuit soon for he needed more dog-food for his dash to Igloolik, three hundred miles to the south, the next location where he could be assured of meeting natives.

If the Inuit had moved on to Cape Crauford, then he must follow, even though the diversion would add days to a trip already behind schedule.

On March 10 he made his decision. His diary records the events of that day.

Tuesday, March 10

Cape Crauford. Wind strong westerly and bitterly cold. Driver returned from the west at 6 a.m. after being all day and night going and coming. He saw no natives but saw plenty of sleigh tracks. We picked up our gear and got away from igloo at 9 a.m. This has been one of the coldest days I have ever spent on a sleigh. Pretty tough to keep from freezing. As it was, I got my nose frozen. Half way to Cape Crauford we cached our outfit. Dogs pretty tired. We made poor progress. At 6 p.m. we arrived at native colony three miles off Cape Crauford and were glad to get into a native igloo. Fortunately I picked a warm one. Several are away down in bottom of inlet. I may see them later on. Night fine. All well. Thermometer 38 below.

When Janes and Uutuukuttuk arrived at Cape Crauford, seven native families were camped there. They were there for the spring seal hunt, so their camp was a few miles offshore on the landfast ice. Four feet thick at this time of year, this ice would form a surface for travelling and camping until June.

The sun had returned to northern Baffin Island in early February, and the amount of light was increasing daily. The evening light lasted until about 10 o’clock and dawn came in the wee hours of the morning.

Janes and his guide moved into Paumik’s snowhouse and were made welcome. The trader intended to spend only a few days at this camp before continuing south.

The following day, however, more Inuit arrived at the camp. With them was Nuqallaq.

(Continued next week)

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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