Padloping, From a Small Boat

Taissumani: 2007-08-31

By Kenn Harper

This month marks an anniversary for me. Forty years ago, as a naïve and curious young man, I embarked with my young family in a Peterhead boat manned by an Inuit crew for Padloping Island, about sixty miles south of Broughton Island (now Qikiqtarjuaq.)

I had taught at Broughton Island the previous year, my first year in the Arctic. In 1966, that community had a population of only about 250 people. About a dozen non-Inuit lived there – teachers, an administrator, a mechanic, and the Hudson's Bay Company manager and clerk, some with wives, some single.

At the other end of the island, separated by a long road and a dangerous switchback trail up a mountainside were the Qaqqarmiut – the people who lived on the mountain, as the Inuit called the small contingent of about twelve DEW-liners, all men.

But this was not quite the Arctic for which I had hankered. I despaired of learning to speak Inuktitut with a dozen English speakers around. And the job of a teacher in those days was to teach all subjects in English. As isolated as I was, I wanted more.

Learning that Karl Kristensen, the teacher in the one-room school at Padloping, would be leaving at the end of the school year, I applied as his replacement. It would be the opportunity of a lifetime. This would put to shame the one-room country school I had attended as a boy – it was small, but hardly isolated. But Padloping – now that was remote. And its population was only 34. So I sent in my application, and waited, and hoped.

Since Broughton Island got infrequent plane service, all messages of any urgency from the government offices in Iqaluit (then Frobisher Bay) were sent by "telegram" over the two-way radio to the Hudson's Bay Company manager, who relayed them to the government administrator, who passed them on to the staff.

One day Bob Pilot, the administrator, arrived at my classroom door with a telegram from the education office – I was being offered the job in Padloping Island. Bob also had a recommendation – that I shouldn't accept it. It was too small, too isolated and had too few services for a small southern family.

Not accepting it was the farthest thing from my mind. I jumped at the chance. I would be the settlement's only teacher, as well as its administrator and medical dispenser. There was no church (I would learn that a lay minister conducted services every Sunday in my classroom) and no nursing station. Neither was there a store. All our supplies would have to come in by the medical ship, the C. D. Howe, the only vessel that put in to the isolated island.

At the end of the school year in Broughton Island, my wife and son and I headed south for a well-deserved holiday. But in late August we were back, anxious to reach our new home. There were no float planes in Frobisher Bay, and there was no airstrip in Padloping, so we headed off on the familiar route to Broughton Island by DC3. There, the administrator had arranged for us to continue to Padloping with Iqaalik (Ilkalik) in his Peterhead boat.

Perhaps it was because I was so young, but I thought Iqaalik to be quite an old man. A shock of white hair sat atop his weather-worn face. His eyes twinkled as if in remembrance of some past pleasure and he was quick to show a smile. We felt supremely confident in the hands of this "ancient mariner." (He can't have been as old as I thought, for he lived another three decades.)

The trip took a day, with a stop for tea on an uninhabited island. Finally we passed around the protected south-western end of Padloping Island. It was late evening, almost dark, when we got our first glimpse of the few lights that marked the tiny settlement that would be home. Padloping's diesel generator supplied electricity only to the school and its two apartments. The Inuit houses, all eight of them, were lit only by lanterns.

In his novel, Youth, Joseph Conrad wrote a moving passage about a young man approaching Java by boat, in his case a rowboat: "And this is how I see the East. I have seen its secret places and have looked into its very soul; but now I see it always from a small boat."

I wasn't rowing, like Conrad's protagonist. I was traveling in the relative comfort of Iqaalik's Peterhead boat. But the first sight of the few small flickers of lantern-light as we rounded the point and approached Baffin's smallest and most remote community is etched forever in my memory.

And that is how I see Padloping. I see it always from a small boat.

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