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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic July 18, 2014 - 10:58 am

Taissumani, July 18

Away Goes February – Robert Janes’s Last Journey (Part 2 of 4)

Robert Janes travelling with an Inuk. (HARPER COLLECTION)
Robert Janes travelling with an Inuk. (HARPER COLLECTION)

Robert Janes had embarked on a difficult journey south from his trading post near Pond Inlet.

Travelling by dog sled, with one Inuit guide, and heavily-laden sleds, he would travel through Admiralty Inlet, Igloolik, and the Keewatin coast to Churchill, and from there to Winnipeg, and on to St. John’s. He had picked probably the coldest time of the year to begin such a journey.

But the trip would be a long one and there was no time to spare by waiting for warmer weather.

On their third day of travel, Janes and his guide, Uuttukuttuk, rounded the southwestern tip of Bylot Island and entered Navy Board Inlet. There they met another native, Kaukuarjuk. There was no trouble between Janes and the Inuk — in fact, Kaukuarjuk provided the trader with some caribou meat — but there was a portent of things to come.

Janes raised the subject of his old enemy, Nuqallaq, and told Kaukuarjuk that Nuqallaq was no good, an indication that Janes continued to bear malice against the man who had slept with his mistress two years earlier. Ironically, when Kaukuarjuk, more lightly loaded and able to travel faster, left Janes and headed north, his destination was Nuqallaq’s camp.

Uuttukuttuk’s wife, who had accompanied her husband and Janes this far, wanted to continue with her husband on his long journey. Supplies of food in her camp were scarce near the end of a long winter of darkness, and her husband had little to leave for her. Native hunting patterns had been so severely disrupted by the Inuit’s need to trap foxes for the competing traders in the district that privation was often the result.

But Janes needed speed on this trip, and could not be encumbered with a family accompanying his guide. Janes prevailed, and the following day the two men traveled on alone.

Travel was slow. By the end of February, the party was still in Navy Board Inlet. The trip so far had been plagued by bad weather. It was bitterly cold, minus 45 at one point.

Still, it was early and Janes was filled with optimism. His diary entry for the last day of February conveys no hint of despair.

Saturday, February 29

Strong westerly wind with heavy drift over ice. In Narrows about 6 miles to the north of us it blew a gale all day, too much so to make a move. The day was bitterly cold, 35 below. Sent native to hunt. Have returned at 4 p.m. with three partridge which gave us a good supper. We have a very good stock of meat, enough to last as far as Arctic Bay, Admiralty Inlet if favourable weather prevails. Not so bad in igloo considering the frost outside. Night fine, wind moderating, all well.
Away goes February. Taboutie.

Janes’s “Taboutie” is the Inuktitut word “tavvauvutit” — ‘goodbye,” with which he bid farewell to the month of February. To the Inuit this month was traditionally called “avunnivik” — “the month of miscarriages.” Although the sun had returned over the horizon in the High Arctic, this was nonetheless the coldest month of the year. In particularly bad years, caribou often suffered miscarriages about this time.

Dog team travel provides plenty of time for reflection. And Robert Janes had plenty to think about.

His relations with many of the Inuit had been rocky. He had bullied and threatened many, and extorted furs from a number of them after his trade goods had run out. He looked forward to leaving the Arctic and getting back to St. John’s and the family he had not seen for almost four years.

His wife was caring for their 12 children. He thought fondly of them all and had nicknames for most. Among them were two boys who were his pride and joy, Ambrose and Eggerton — Janes called them “Ham and Egg.”

He was leaving behind Kalluk, the woman he had lived with (along with her real husband) for over three years, and who was pregnant with his child. And there was also an eight-year-old girl, Ataguttaq, whom he had sired on his first trip to the Arctic. He recognized her as his daughter and often provided her presents.

(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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