Taissumani, June 28

Sakirmiaq, The Second Mate — Part 2


Last week I wrote about Robert Janes’s introduction to the High Arctic on Captain Bernier’s 1910-11 expedition. In December of 1911 Bernier asked Janes to take the ship’s mail to Pond’s Inlet, to be sent out on a whaling ship in early summer.

Janes left Arctic Bay on Dec. 12, with three Inuit, Miqutui, Miqqusaaq, and another man, 30 dogs and three sleds, each carrying about 500 pounds of supplies. Janes characterized his Inuit companions as “smart, able and willing.”

Their route led northward along the shores of Admiralty Inlet and into Lancaster Sound, thence south via Navy Board Inlet and west through Eclipse Sound to Pond’s Inlet. It was a grueling trip. The official report of the expedition reads like a litany of hardships and attests to Janes’s competence on the trail and to his tenacity.

Just before Christmas, the party reached Pond’s Inlet and the Igarjuaq station where Inuit welcomed them and revived them with much-needed food.

The trip, about 180 miles, had taken only 10 days, but Janes had walked or run alongside the sled for all but 10 miles to keep his extremities from freezing. His cheeks were frostbitten. They tingled as his aching body responded gradually to the warmth of the Inuit homes. The trip had been arduous, but Janes had proved himself against the Arctic’s climate and demonstrated his abilities to its people.

At Pond’s Inlet, Janes remained active in prospecting and exploring for the rest of the winter and spring. He traveled south-west from the station to prospect at Cape Bowen and to investigate the potential for a halibut fishery.

He visited Possession Bay in eastern Bylot Island, and Canada Point on the western side of the same island, where he discovered an extensive seam of coal. He made two trips to the Salmon River.

On the first, in late May, he followed the course of the river to Salmon Lakes and found considerable quantities of coal along the river banks. He later tested samples in a small stove at the station, and it proved to be an excellent fuel.

During his half-year at Pond’s Inlet, Janes was the only white man among the Inuit. He hunted and travelled with them, ate their food, shared their hardships, and learned some of their language.

Although he missed his wife, Leah, and their large family back in Glovertown, Newfoundland, he shared the Scottish whalers’ house, now owned personally by Bernier, with an Inuit woman, Tatiggat, sister of one of his guides, Angutirjuaq, and widow of William Duval’s son, Killa, by whom she had had two children. The result of her liaison with Janes was another child, a daughter named Ataguttak, born late in 1911, after Janes had returned south.

In early July, Robert Janes left for Button Point on Bylot Island to await the arrival of whaling vessels. A few days later, two ships came in sight to the north-east and made fast to the floe.

They were the S. S. Morning under Captain William Adams and the S. S. Diana under Captain Milne, both out of Dundee. Janes boarded them both to issue licenses for fishing in Canadian waters, but he was unsuccessful.

Capt. Adams said that the Department of Marine and Fisheries should contact the Morning’s owners in Dundee about licensing. Capt Milne gave an even better reason for not paying – he stated simply that he had no money. The departure of these two vessels that year marked the end of Scottish whaling in the High Arctic.

On the twenty-first of July, the Arctic broke free from the ice of Arctic Bay and sailed into Admiralty Inlet. She made Button Point on August 4 and two days later anchored in Albert Harbour, where Robert Janes rejoined the ship.

Before the Arctic left for the south, Bernier built another depot for stores at Albert Harbour and a shed on the bank of the Salmon River. He and his prospector investigated the coal deposits that Janes reported and were impressed with their potential. Janes also reported having found gold in the Salmon River, although a shipmate, Arthur English, pronounced the discovery to be simply iron pyrites — fools’ gold.

As the CGS Arctic steamed south amongst the heavy drift ice off the Baffin coast, she sighted another small vessel making her way north through the pack about four miles away.

Bernier was unable to intercept the ship. The vessel was the Kite, a sealing steamer owned by Bowring Brothers of Newfoundland, and she was working her way slowly through the unusually heavy pack ice of that season, bound for Pond’s Inlet. She would return with a report of gold in Baffin Island.

On September 25, the CGS Arctic reached Quebec City after an absence of fifteen months. With her was Robert Janes, who carried a conviction related to his explorations on the shores of Pond’s Bay. English’s report aside, he was convinced that he had discovered gold in the bed of the Salmon River.

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 [email protected].

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