Photos from early Arctic expeditions travel back to Nunavut
Northern communities see new collection of 400-plus portraits, landscapes
Three years ago, an Alberta museum was given a glimpse into early 20th-century Inuit history.
That’s when, in 2015, the descendants of a North West Mounted Police officer and his artist spouse donated thousands of photographs—kept as glass-plate negatives, vintage prints and lantern slides—to Calgary’s Glenbow Museum, along with journals carrying details of the people and places in those pictures.
Of the photographs, more than 400 were taken between 1903 and 1909, during two western Hudson Bay sovereignty expeditions sanctioned by the Canadian government.
Most pictures show the area in and around Fullerton Harbour at an outpost near what is now Chesterfield Inlet, as well as Churchill, Manitoba. A few photos are of other spots—such as whaling and Hudson Bay stations—elsewhere around Hudson Strait, Cumberland Sound and even in Labrador. The collection is of Inuit portraits, taken in a studio-style setting, along with candid snapshots of landscapes, vessels, community camps and dog teams.
The photographers were Douglas and Geraldine Moodie. Douglas, the police officer, began the photo project as a way to document his work opening a police post to collect customs duties from foreign traders and whalers. As one of western Canada’s earliest professional female photographers, Geraldine encouraged this hobby. She also took part in the second expedition.
The collection was discovered in the attic of the couple’s family ranch.
“His portraits were much more relaxed and her portraits were more staged. You see people sitting and posing, that was more her style,” said Glenbow’s Joanne Schmidt, who spoke to Nunatsiaq News at Iqaluit’s Unikkaarvik Visitor’s Centre, on Sept. 27.
While letters and journals carry the story of the Moodies’ own travels, Glenbow staff, who have archived the collection, are looking now for the northern side of this photo story.
“We had Geraldine and Douglas Moodies’ diaries and notes, but we didn’t have the Inuit perspective,” Schmidt said.
Over a two-week period, running from late September through the second week of October, Schmidt has been touring the photos through the Nunavut communities of Iqaluit, Pangnirtung, Rankin Inlet, Baker Lake and Chesterfield Inlet. She will then finish the tour in Churchill.
With her, she has photo books of around 100 images from Fullerton Harbour and Churchill. On a USB key, she’s brought over 400 photos from the Moodies’ northern collection. These resources are being left with libraries and visitor centres in each community Schmidt visits.
On her way, Schmidt is looking for oral histories, family memories and community feedback.
“It’s so we can get a more in-depth understanding of who these people [in the photos] were, and their impressions of the non-Inuit who were coming here,” she said.
In Iqaluit, she gathered correct Inuktut spellings, in regional dialects, for people and place names in the photos. In her photo book, names are recorded as they were in the Moodie journals.
“The Moodies gave them names according to what they heard,” Schmidt said. “We’ll be able to go into our database and give these people their correct names and spellings.”
Those were people like Atangala, a man who at one time delivered a message to Fullerton Harbour from Roald Amundsen, while the Norwegian explorer was overwintering near Gjoa Haven.
Another photo shows a woman called “Shoofly,” whose image Schmidt said is often recognized by northerners who view the Glenbow photo book.
Another set of portraits show a woman, named in the Moodie journals as Kootucktuck, who in one photo is pregnant, and in another is pictured with her newborn child. A diary entry by Geraldine Moodie says Kootucktuck is sad around the time of those photos, because she had been asked to give the baby to her brother who had no children.
In his writings, Douglas Moodie speaks of a young boy, of about 12, known as Toodoolicks. The child, who in his portrait wears a top hat and a suit jacket that is much too large for him, spoke English and sailed on government ships as a translator.
In one photo of a group at a camp near Churchill, we see a woman holding a developed photo left with her by one of the Moodie photographers.
“There are notes in their diaries about how they left images. You can imagine how hard it was to develop and print photos at that point,” Schmidt said.
Geraldine Moodie died in 1945, and Douglas Moodie followed her two years later.
Now, more than a century after those police postings, this Glenbow photo-narrative project has brought back to the North the pictures that the Moodies couldn’t leave behind.