As north as she gets
October 31st, 2014
In 1988, Pierre Berton and his publisher Avie Bennett flew from Yellowknife to Inuvik, then took a helicopter north to a Gulf Oil rig named Moliqpak, 96 kilometres north of Tuktoyaktuk, in the Beaufort Sea, to launch Berton’s book on the Arctic.
Shelley Wright has outdone that.
After being lowered by cable, one by one, onto the rig, the Berton expedition in 1988 ate muskox and launched Berton’s 672-page doorstopper about the search for the Northwest Passage, The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 (M&S). The latitude of Inuvik is 68.3617 degrees north.
Hence Shelley Wright can now boast the most northerly book launch in Canadian history for her ground-breaking history, Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqtuq: A History of Inuit, Newcomers, and Climate Change (McGill-Queens 2014), launched at a latitude of 74.2167 degrees north in Lancaster Sound, aboard the Akademik Sergei Vavilov, one of the ships that was involved in the successful search to find the ship for the doomed Franklin expedition. Wright was aboard the Akademik Sergei Vavilov in September of 2014, about one week after the much-publicized discovery of the sunken Franklin ship, the finding of which was a pet project of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
As a professor of Aboriginal Studies at LangaraCollege, Shelley Wright, having spent many years in the Arctic, has combined scientific and legal information with political and individual perspectives for an unprecedented overview of the Canadian Arctic and its people, Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqtuq. Focussing on Inuit history and culture, Ice Is Vanishing describes the legacies of exploration, intervention, and resilience alongside Wright’s own recollections and photos—revealing how the Inuit have become the witnesses and messengers for climate change. Shelley Wright lived and travelled in the Arctic for more than ten years beginning with her experiences as the Northern Director of the AkitsiraqLawSchool based in Iqaluit.
Pierre Berton concluded his landmark study with the hope that eventually the Inuit could be properly included in the history of the Arctic. Some twenty-six years later Shelley Wright has literally gone a long way towards realizing Berton’s vision. Berton visited the Arctic for a few days; Wright lived there.
Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqtuq: A History of Inuit, Newcomers, and Climate Change (McGill-Queens 2014) $39.95 978-0-7735-4462-8
Here follows a blog that Shelley Wright wrote on her journey through Lancaster Sound to launch Our Ice is Vanishing
Northwest Passage – West to East
Aboard the M/V Akademik Sergey Vavilov
Photographs by Michelle Valberg
Day 1: Monday, September 8, 2014
Arrival in Cambridge Bay
We know we have an intrepid and adventurous group of passengers when they arrive in Edmonton to miserable rain and snow, only to leave on Day 1 of our journey for the sunny climes of the Northwest Passage. We had an early morning start leaving our hotel and travelling out to the airport where we waited for just “10 more minutes” until we boarded our First Air Charter flight to Yellowknife and Cambridge Bay. We’re off!
In Cambridge Bay we had a fascinating tour of the community including a stop at the community centre and library. The qulliq (Inuit lamp) was lit in honour of our arrival in the North. We were then treated to a performance of Inuit throat-singing, drum dancing and a fashion show.
We wrapped up our day on board the good ship Sergey Vavilov with a thorough security clearance, sorting out our luggage, getting settled and having our first of many lovely dinners. Then it was onward through the night into Queen Maud Gulf and to Jenny Lind Island. What we didn’t know was that we were also at the fulcrum of an important day in Canadian history in which our good ship had been a major participant!
Day 2: Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Jenny Lind Island
Today was a wonderful beginning to our journey through the Northwest Passage as we left Cambridge Bay behind and headed east into Queen Maud Gulf. After breakfast we set out for our first land expedition on Jenny Lind Island (named after that famous Swedish songstress of the 19th century, also known as the Nightingale!) We discovered that it was intrepid explorer Dr. John Rae who actually named the island after his favourite chanteuse.
On land we were enthralled by a mosaic of beautiful rock, lichen, mountain avens and the tracks and bones of muskox, fox, seal, lemmings and birds. Our “long walkers” were also treated to a sighting of muskoxen off in the distance. In examining the bones we found, our cultural advisors were able to tell us the story of life and death on the land and ice surrounding this remote and beautiful island.
After getting back on board, the Sergey Vavilov headed north into the ice in the hopes of pushing through overnight to our next stop. Victoria Strait was strewn with islands of old ice that had broken off from the giant pack circling the North Pole. We kept a close watch out for wildlife. Is that a polar bear, or just a chunk of yellow ice?!
But our day ended with some wonderful news. One of the lost Franklin Expedition ships had been found just north of where we were heading through Victoria Strait to the west of King William Island. Our ship had been instrumental in making the find just the day before we boarded her in Cambridge Bay. A congratulatory letter from Prime Minister Stephen Harper was read out to us on board. What a way to start our journey through the very passage he tried, and failed, to find.
Day 3: Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Today we woke up to pack ice through which our ship had been moving through the night. Although we still had a long way to go to get to our next stop, we were treated to a spectacular field of broken ice stretching around us. The sun briefly winked in and out, giving our view sudden glows of white, blue, gray and gold. The patterns took on a quality of abstract art.
The day was spent enjoying a series of fascinating talks by our Adventure Canada staff discussing everything from rocks to photography to an introduction to Inuit art by Andrew Qappik. Suzie Evyakgotailak gave a talk on her journey from Kugluktuk to Ulukhaktok by snow mobile in 2011.
But our day included our first sighting of a polar bear, out on the ice looking for seals. At one moment he seemed as curious about us as we were about him!
Day 4: Thursday, September 11, 2014
Bellot Strait and Fort Ross
Rough seas and snow did not deter us as we moved north towards Bellot Strait. The seas calmed down in the narrow passage that separates the northernmost point on the North American continent from the Arctic Archipelago of islands stretching far above us. The beautiful cliffs on either side of us through the Strait were skimmed with snow. The mist ahead of us gave the Strait a lovely sense of mystery. We slowly travelled through until we reached our landing spot for the day.
Fort Ross appeared as two tiny buildings lost in a forbidding landscape. The Hudson’s Bay Post here is well-preserved and still used as a shelter by the very few passing travellers who need shelter and provisions. Our landing in the zodiacs was rough and cold, but everyone enjoyed the adventure and the feel of solid ground under our feet. We went back that day feeling like true explorers! And at dinner we dressed up as our favourite explorer, including two Dora the Explorers.
Day 5: Friday, September 12, 2014
Thule Sites and Birds
Our first stop of the day was a visit to a significant Thule site. More snow lay in soft drifts up to the great limestone cliffs that towered over the site. The ancestors of modern Inuit lived here on a seasonal basis, hunting the rich marine wild life found in this area. There are many rings of stones with whale bone debris indicating a long occupation. Off in the distance another lonely Hudson’s Bay Post stood out against the snow.
Then we moved on to our zodiac cruise of Prince Leopold Island. The sea was like glass dotted with drifting ice. Birds circled overhead around and below the towering cliffs. Fulmars, kittiwakes and thick-billed murres splashed in the water and circled overhead, while glaucous gulls kept a lookout on the top of every bit of floating ice. We witnessed an Arctic drama of birds, including fuzzy young fulmars beginning their long journey with their fathers swimming down to Labrador while predatory gulls circled overhead.
In the evening we had our first “kitchen party” where we were entertained by singing, jokes and a lot of laughter. We had hoped to end the night with the aurora borealis, but alas it was too cloudy.
Day 6: Saturday, September 13, 2014
This is the site of Franklin’s first wintering stop before heading south towards the final disastrous end to his expedition. It’s a wide and bleak place, haunted by the ghosts of the past. We landed in stiff winds and cold temperatures, then walked up to the four lonely graves. Our guides kept a careful watch out for polar bears as this is nanuq territory. We zodiaced down the beach to Northumberland House where the Franklin search parties set up a base of operations in 1850.
Our day ended with a showing of “Diet of Souls” by John Houston. A great day in this incredible place.
Day 7 and 8: Sunday and Monday, September 14-15, 2014
Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet
Over the past two days we travelled further east into Lancaster Sound reaching the community of Arctic Bay on Sunday. We spend a few hours in this lovely community where local people greeted us with throat singing, a tent lit by a qulliq, traditional caribou clothing and a warm welcome from elders. We were bussed into town for a tour of the village. Some of us walked out to Thule sites located up the beach while others bought necessities from the local Co-op.
Later that evening we regrouped in the lounge for the first ever book launch in the Northwest Passage. Shelley Wright introduced her book Our Ice is Vanishing/Sikuvut Nunguliqtuq: A History of Inuit, Newcomers, and Climate Change. It was a truly memorable evening.
The next day we sailed into Navy Board Inlet past Bylot Island towards the community of Pond Inlet. The setting is one of the most magnificent in the Arctic with the mountains and glaciers of Bylot Island rising across the water. There we again disembarked for a tour of the town and a wonderful cultural performance at the Visitors’ Centre. There were also carvings, jewellery and other artwork for sale. The people were so warm and welcoming some of us were reluctant to leave when it came time to go back on board our ship. As the snow began to fall, we sailed out of the inlet towards the open water of Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. The next leg of our adventure awaits us in the Icy Fiord.
Day 9 and 10: Tuesday and Wednesday, September 16-17, 2014
Icy Fiord and Crossing Davis Strait
We sailed away from Pond Inlet with some regret, and headed out into Baffin Bay. But, before crossing Davis Strait we had an incredible morning in Buchan Gulf and Icy Fiord. We all got out onto the zodiacs expecting a fairly short and chilly tour. More than two hours later we hardly wanted to leave. The cliffs towering above the deep water were like something out of a Nordic myth. Snow covered most of the landscape. Small glaciers plunged down from the heights above us like waterfalls frozen in time. As we left the ship we could look back and see how tiny was our sturdy vessel and how immense the land around us. Ringed seals kept popping up around us, curious about who their visitors might be.
But the best was still to come. Far up the fiord a mother polar bear and her two cubs were spotted swimming in the water. They swam to shore and moved slowly up the cliff face as we approached. It was pure Arctic magic. We kept our distance, and our viewing short, so as not to distress the mother and cubs too much. Mama bear constantly checked behind her to make sure her cubs were right behind her. They were fat little babies less than a year old. All three looked healthy and utterly at home.
Going back to the ship we stopped to investigate a kill site. Our best guess was that it was a seal that had been hunted and eaten by the mother bear. Two or three ravens were circling around looking to scavenge the kill. And then we spotted an arctic fox, still with his silver coat. He was chasing the ravens away to protect his share of the kill. A blood spot on a nearby piece of ice revealed that at least one raven got his share off to a safe place. A whole Arctic drama of seal, bear, fox and raven was being played out right in front of us!
Over the past day and a half we have been sailing out into Davis Strait north and east. We enjoyed a quieter day with lots of presentations and interesting workshops and, of course, the Arctic beard fashion show! And now, Greenland lies just ahead.
Day 11 and 12: Thursday and Friday, September 18-19, 2014
Karrat Fiord and Uummannaaq
Our crossing of Davis Strait proved to be pretty smooth sailing despite rumours of a hurricane to our south. We arrived in the incredibly beautiful Karrat Fiord where we made a landing, spending a few hours walking over tundra, turf and sturdy willows hugging the ground. Someone spotted an Arctic hare, but most of us simply enjoyed a beautiful day overlooking the magnificent fiord dotted with icebergs.
The next day we sailed to Qilakitsoq where we climbed up to the rocky crevasse where the bodies of five women and two children were exhumed in 1972. The cold dry air had preserved their bodies, including their clothing, into a startlingly desiccated remembrance of what they had been. They had been dead for 500 years. The reason for their deaths and the mass burial remains a mystery. The little bay where we landed was filled with the spirits of some ancient ritual we could not understand.
After our landing we returned to the ship and headed into the lovely little community of Uummannaaq where we spent the afternoon visiting the children’s home, museum, coffee shop and blubber house. And what better way to end the day with – Disco Night!