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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic April 12, 2013 - 9:34 am

Taissumani: April 12

Sivutiksaq — William Duval

William Duval with his wife and daughters at Usualuk camp in Cumberland Sound. (PHOTO COURTESY OF K. HARPER)
William Duval with his wife and daughters at Usualuk camp in Cumberland Sound. (PHOTO COURTESY OF K. HARPER)

In my columns of the last two weeks, I mentioned first hearing from Inuit in Padloping the name Sivutiksaq, a white man who had lived in southern Baffin many years earlier. Here is his story.

Wilhelm Duvel was born in Germany in 1858, the fourth son of Charles and Wilhelmina Duvel. When the boy was two years old, the family emigrated to the New York City area – a not unusual move for Europeans of the time, who saw America as the promised land. Wilhelm and his three older brothers, Ernest, Charles and Berthold, and a sister, Minnie, born in America, grew up and were educated there. Some of the siblings eventually changed the family surname from the Germanic-sounding Duvel to Duval. This represented the first transformation in Wilhelm’s life; changing both first and last name, he became William Duval.

At age 21 he made another momentous decision. He shipped aboard an American vessel bound for the Arctic, and arrived in the hotbed of Arctic whaling, Cumberland Sound, in 1879.

A legend grew up around the circumstances of Duval’s arrival in the Arctic. As a young man, the story goes, he was engaged to be married but wanted a year of adventure before settling down.

Shipping north, he passed the winter in the Arctic. On his return to the United States, he learned that his fiancée had married a clergyman in his absence. Despondent, he returned to the Arctic, vowing to remain there.

In fact, Duval’s first sojourn in the Arctic lasted four years, a time when he was usually employed as second helmsman aboard the schooner, Lizzie P. Simmonds. Finally in 1883 he returned to the United States for a year.

But the spell of the Arctic was in his blood and the following year he returned, this time to a whaling station at Spicer Island in Hudson Strait, moving the next year to another station at Cape Haven at the mouth of Frobisher Bay. He then went south for another year, but in 1887 he returned north, and this time the move was permanent.

Duval spent many of his early Arctic years at the famous whaling station of Blacklead Island. Employed at one time or another by most of the companies active in Arctic whaling, he was known to Inuit by an Inuktitut name, Sivutiksaq, the harpooner.

Like many of the whalers at Blacklead, Duval took an Inuk woman as his wife. With his first wife he had at least one child, a son, Killaq. The wife died, and Duval eventually took another wife, Aulaqiaq, with whom he had four more children. Two sons, Qakulluk and Natsiapik, did not reach adulthood. Two daughters, Tauki and Aluki, did. Tauki was childless, but Aluki bore a number of children.

The Duval family lived at many locations in the Arctic — Albert Harbour near Pond Inlet, a winter in Admiralty Inlet, Durban Harbour south of Broughton Island, and two years on Southampton Island. But always they returned to their beloved Cumberland Sound.

Many whalers, Scottish and American, black and white, came to live and work in the Canadian Arctic. Most of those who stayed for any length of time took Inuit wives, and left behind Inuit children. Only one, William Duval, remained in the Arctic for the rest of his life and did not abandon his family. 

Duval’s descendants are everywhere in the Baffin Region. In Pangnirtung and Iqaluit, the Akpalialuk, Battye and Duval families count him as their ancestor.

In 1903 the Duval’s moved to North Baffin; when they returned to Cumberland Sound a few years later, Duval’s son, Killaq, remained there. With his wife Tatiggat, he had a daughter, Uisattiaq, who eventually moved to Resolute Bay, the grandmother of the Palluk family of that hamlet. Killaq and Tatiggat also had a son, Qangualuk, who famously disappeared on the shores of Foxe Basin in the winter of 1942-43. His descendants, the Siakuluk family, live in Hall Beach.

In the 1970s I met Bertha Krooss, an elderly spinster in New Jersey, William Duval’s niece, daughter of his sister, Minnie. All Duval’s siblings except Minnie had died childless, and Bertha was Minnie’s only child.

“I am the last of my family,” she told me. “I have no relatives anywhere.” Imagine her astonishment when I told her that she had dozens of relatives among the Inuit of Baffin Island. She had had no idea that her uncle, whom she had met only twice in the 1920s, had had any children. “He showed up here unexpectedly a few times with outlandish tales of living with the Eskimos,” she told me.

In those days, a visit out of the Arctic meant spending a winter, and he often passed the time by taking his niece in to New York City to see the shows at Radio City Music Hall. But inter-racial marriages were a rarity in America at the time, and he never revealed the secret of his Inuit family.

William Duval aka Sivutiksaq —  German, American, Canadian and almost Inuk — died at Usualuk, a camp near Pangnirtung, in 1931, surrounded by 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

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