Taissumani, Oct. 26
Arctic Secrets: Jamie Florence at Bylot Island – Part 2
Last week I introduced Jamie Florence, a Peterhead trader who went to Button Point on Bylot Island in 1916 to trade for the Arctic Gold Exploration Syndicate. He endured three winters there on short rations because no ship was able to reach his post until 1919.
There were two other trading posts in the area. They were all manned by white men, and each had Inuit assistants, through whom they tried to secure the loyalty — and thereby the furs — of the hunters. So relations were not always friendly between the white men, even though they were the only qallunaat in all of northern Baffin Island.
At one point in his lengthy stay in the High Arctic, Jamie Florence had a fight with one of his rivals, Robert Janes, an independent trader from Newfoundland, whose post was at Tulukkaan.
Janes had been in the Arctic twice before. In 1910-11 he had been an officer on Captain Bernier’s famous ship, the Arctic, and it was because of this role that he acquired his peculiar Inuktitut name, Sakirmiaq. That was the closest the Inuit could come to pronouncing “second mate.”
He had been back to the Arctic in 1912 on a summer expedition in search of gold near Pond Inlet. Now, with a wealthy backer in St. John’s, he had returned in the hope of making his fortune in furs.
But to the fight between these two men. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police heard of it a few years later, far to the south in Chesterfield Inlet. There Sergeant W. O. Douglas took a statement from an Inuk, who told him a story that he had heard from another man.
He told that Takijualuk, a Pond Inlet native whom the traders knew as Tom Kunuk, had stopped Janes from killing another white man at Pond’s Inlet (as Pond Inlet was then known.) The other white man was Jamie Florence. Janes had had him on the floor and was holding a knife over him when Tom ran in and pulled him off.
Inuit memory lives long. Over seventy years later a respected elder in Igloolik, Noah Piugaattuk told the same story. The two white men had had a long argument which soon broke into a fight. He described how Janes threw the other man to the ground and pinned him with his right arm while drawing his knife with the left.
Tom Kunuk, whom Piugaattuk knew only as Takijualuk, was an assistant and interpreter for Florence, and he yelled for Janes to stop the attack. Piugaattuk explained Takijualuk’s motives thus, “He said that he did not want a white man to be killed in the land of the Inuit.”
None of the traders in question left any record of this altercation. Florence’s boss, Henry Toke Munn, wrote a book about his experiences in northern Baffin Island and about the work of his company there, but he noted only that Janes was “a very difficult, unreasonable fellow” and he had had trouble with “my man” during their his years in the Arctic.
Janes’s fight with Florence had probably occurred in 1917. It would prove, ultimately, to be his undoing. In the summer of that year, Munn’s ship, the Albert, had failed to reach Button Point with supplies for Florence. The station had not been provisioned with personal supplies for more than one year.
By fall Florence was in bad circumstances, his supply of personal rations depleted. Janes, on the other hand, was still well-supplied with personal foodstuffs as he had been provisioned for a two-year stint in the Arctic.
Florence paid a visit to Patricia River and appealed to Janes for supplies enough to last him until his relief ship would arrive the following summer. Janes replied that he would be only too happy to provide Florence with food sufficient to tide him over but that there would, of course, be a charge for this favour.
The cost, Janes informed an incredulous Florence, would be 50 per cent of all the furs Florence had taken since his arrival a year earlier. Florence was incensed by this demand and refused to accede to it. Janes remained adamant that that was the only condition under which he would part with any of his foodstuffs. The fight reported by Sergeant Douglas and Noah Piugaattuk may well have taken place at that time.
What is certain is that a dejected Jamie Florence returned to Button Point empty-handed. Inuit recall that he lived out the remainder of his stay in the Arctic largely on tea, of which he had a plentiful supply, and seal meat, supplemented in the spring by birds’ eggs. After his meals, they remember, he used to fill his pipe with tea and settle down for a relaxing smoke.
Next Week – Jamie Florence’s ordeal continues.