Nunatsiaq News
TAISSUMANI: Nunavut November 02, 2012 - 11:09 am

Taissumani, Nov. 2

Arctic Secrets: Jamie Florence at Bylot Island – Part 3

Rival trader Robert Janes in earlier times, when he served as second mate aboard Captain Bernier’s ship, the Arctic. (HARPER COLLECTION)
Rival trader Robert Janes in earlier times, when he served as second mate aboard Captain Bernier’s ship, the Arctic. (HARPER COLLECTION)

In 1919, Munn’s little ship, Albert, finally reached Pond Inlet with supplies for Jamie Florence. Munn learned that Florence had not been successful in trading. The supply of furs at his post at Sannirut was nowhere near what Munn had expected.

The reasons are unclear. Munn noted only, “My man here had done very badly, and his returns were very poor.” 

Perhaps the generosity of Robert Janes in his first few years of trading had succeeded in luring the Inuit trade away from Munn’s post. Perhaps too, Florence, who had been sparsely provisioned for only one year in 1916, had felt compelled to duplicate Janes’s initial generosity in order to secure furs at all.

It is likely too that the third trader in the area, Bernier’s man, Wilfrid Caron, was a factor. Caron’s Inuit “wife”, Panikpak, bore a large share of the responsibility for the French-Canadian trader’s success.

She was a woman of influence and authority, closely related to many of the best hunters in the district, and she commanded their respect. It is natural that they would prefer to trade with Caron.

There is no doubt also that the aura of authority which had surrounded the impressive figure of Captain Bernier had been in some measure transferred to his trader, Wilfrid Caron, and that that influenced Inuit to trade at his post. Caron’s trading methods were consistent, and he had been well supplied in 1917.

The mystery of why Florence did so poorly at trading is heightened by the reminiscences of his daughter, based on tales that Jamie Florence took back to Peterhead about his extended stay in the far north.

According to an account that his daughter published in a Peterhead newspaper in the 1960s,  about a month after his arrival at Button Point, Jamie Florence went out from his cabin to investigate a noise he had heard.

An Inuk woman had been about to shoot a fox, he claimed. Florence’s sudden exit surprised her and she dropped the gun, which accidentally fired. The bullet hit Florence in the thigh. His daughter’s account describes the aftermath of this accidental shooting:

“The Eskimos were terrified thinking they had killed a white man; every one of them fled. My father dragged himself indoors and into bed, where he lay for many weeks. The bullet was never taken out of his leg. Gradually he was able to walk about again, but was unable to go hunting as the natives had disappeared, taking all the dogs with them. He was alone, and would have to stay that way until the ship returned in 1917. Time dragged on. My father’s greatest worry was that he had been unable to trade for skins for his company and all he could do was wait on and pray for August when the ship would return for him.

“Every morning he dragged himself up a hill looking out to sea for the ship that would save him, but the days went on and on and no sign of any ship. When September came he knew no ship could come now. The thought of being left alone was not his only worry. All his food was gone: every tin had been used up, and worst of all, tobacco was finished too, but he gathered some weeds, dried them, and used that for smoking. Another long year with nothing to do….

“Came 1918, months still dragging, but still hope and faith. The ship was sure to come this year… Summer, 1918, and once again that weary climb to the hills for the look-out for the ship that could not make its way through heavy ice. Weeks dragged on, days grew shorter, and hope died once again — another winter of darkness, cold, and hunger and loneliness. The few books he had with him had been read over many times, his playing cards were worn and could hardly be recognised — the numbers were worn off, he had played patience so often with them.” 

This was what his daughter believed. Next week I will reveal the secret that Jamie Florence kept from his family.

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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