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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic July 11, 2014 - 3:54 pm

Taissumani, July 11

Escape From The Arctic — Robert Janes’s Last Journey (Part 1 of 4)


Robert Janes was born on Gooseberry Islands near Glovertown, Nfld., and first traveled to the Arctic as second mate on the Canadian government ship, Arctic, under the famous Captain Bernier in 1910. From the English term “second mate” came his Inuktitut name “sakirmiaq.”

In 1912 he returned north on an unsuccessful summer expedition in search of gold at Pond Inlet. Finally, he came back for the third time in 1916 and established a trading post west of Pond Inlet at Patricia River.

But competition was intense. Two rivals already had trading posts nearby.

Janes quarreled with the Inuit and with the rival traders. In particular, he quarreled with an Inuit leader, Nuqallaq. At first they quarreled over a woman. Nuqallaq’s wife, Ullatitaq, tired of her husband’s cruel beatings, had committed suicide.

Janes had left his wife, Leah, and 12 children behind in St. John’s. Both men decided that they wanted an attractive young woman, Kalluk, who was married to Inuutiq, who worked for Janes. In fact, Janes, Kalluk and Inuutiq all lived together in a ménage-a-trois in Janes’s small shack.

But Nuqallaq happened by from time to time when Janes was away. This situation eventually sorted itself out when Nuqallaq took another woman, Ataguttiaq, as his wife.

But Janes had problems with other Inuit over trade. He had liberally advanced goods on credit in the early days of his trading post, but had eventually run out of trade goods. He solved that problem by simply extorting furs from the Inuit at gun point. In the process he became a very unpopular man.

But his life took a decided turn for the worst in 1919 when his rival, Captain Henry Toke Munn – kapitaikuluk – arrived with supplies for his own post, and news for Janes. His backer in St. John’s had sold the ship. No relief was coming for Robert Janes. Munn and Janes were unable to agree on the terms of passage south, and Munn departed leaving Janes behind.

The departure of Munn in the fall of 1919 left Robert Janes in northern Baffin Island to prepare for his fourth winter in the Arctic. One other white man shared the district with him, a Peterhead man, George Diament.

That winter, Janes concocted a desperate scheme to reach the south and home. With one native, Uuttukuttuk, as his guide and driver, he would go west through Eclipse Sound, north through Navy Board Inlet, and into Lancaster Sound to round the northern tip of Borden Peninsula.

From there he would head south through Admiralty Inlet to Arctic Bay, where he hoped to meet natives and secure from them dog food sufficient to allow him to reach the Inuit camp at Igloolik in Foxe Basin. He would secure more food from natives there and continue on to Repulse Bay.

There he would dismiss Uuttukuttuk and hire another guide to take him that same spring along the Keewatin coast as far as Churchill and from there to the terminus of the Hudson Bay railroad. He would travel by train to Winnipeg.

From there he would continue on to St. John’s. There he would charter a vessel to go back north to Patricia River to bring out the furs that he was leaving behind.

His journey began on February 24, 1920. Janes kept a daily diary on this, his last trip. Called “Record of Expedition to Hudson’s (sic) Bay,” it is for the most part a lucid recording of the journey, an optimistic account of a difficult trip on which temperatures reached as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Until the last two entries, there is no reference to trouble with any of the Inuit and no hint of the ill temper which had marred his previous relations with them. The diary describes starkly and sparely Robert Janes’s attempt to escape from his Arctic hell.

Monday, February 24 Calm and clear. Thermometer 36 below. Left station outward bound to try and reach civilization. Team eleven dogs, load about 800 pounds. Snow deep and going slow. At 3 p.m. cached half and sleighed till 11 p.m. when we reached south-west Bylot and put up for night in driver’s igloo.

That morning Robert Janes bid farewell to his mistress, Kalluk, and her husband, Inuutiq. Kalluk was heavy with Janes’s child, a child that Inuutiq would have the responsibility to feed and raise, and Janes knew that he would never see her again. It mattered little. He was on his way home to Leah and the large family that awaited his return in St. John’s.

(Continued next week)

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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