Twenty-Five Hour Days in Padloping

Taissumani: 2008-04-25

By Kenn Harper

In 1967, I moved with my wife and son from Broughton Island, where I had spent one year teaching, to Padloping Island, about 60 miles south. The community was tiny. The school at Padloping was the last one-room schoolhouse in the area that would one day become Nunavut.

To the Inuit the community was called Paallarvik, the place where one falls forward. And falling on my face, figuratively, was very much on my mind. I had never had to be as resilient and self-reliant as I would have to be in Padloping. Learning to survive and to succeed in such a tiny place, to learn Inuktitut, and to get to know the community, were the challenges I faced.

The community was built on a hillside and the school was raised quite high at the front, the area that faced the sea. Our home was a one-bedroom apartment on the western end of the building. The school janitor, Jacopee Kokseak, his wife Letia, and their children lived in a second apartment attached to the north end.

Other than my family, Padloping's population was only 34 Inuit. They lived in seven small houses, not today's modern comfortable bungalows with three or four bedrooms each, but small single-room houses, a rectangular style called the "matchbox" or a slanted-front style called "anorak." The latter is a peculiar name for a housing style, since it means "clothing."

The community had a small diesel generator, which supplied power only to the school and its two attached apartments. The Inuit houses had no electricity, relying on lanterns for light and oil-burning stoves for heat.

Jacopee had many responsibilities in addition to being school janitor. He also delivered water to the school, no mean feat in a community with no roads and no water truck. The water came from a lake northwest of the school, and delivery was in a large plastic open-topped water tank lashed to a sled and drawn by a skidoo, whether there was snow or not. When there was not, it was a bumpy ride over rocks, which shortened the life of the skidoo and sloshed out about half the water before it ever reached the school. Needless to say, a daily shower was a luxury that was foregone in Padloping.

Anything mechanical was and still is a mystery to me. So it was fortunate that Jacopee's skills included running the generator that supplied electricity to the school. From the little I understood of it, this machine was finicky. And one of the realities I had to face was that Jacopee occasionally left town to go hunting or to go to the nearest store, a three or four-hour ride (on a good day) to Broughton Island.

On those occasions, I was responsible for the generator. But there was only one knob that Jacopee trusted me to manipulate. When the school lights dimmed, I put on parka and boots and trudged out to the power plant and turned this knob to the right. If the lights surged too brightly, I turned it to the left.

Occasionally the school in Broughton Island sent movies down to Padloping. When I showed them in the school, I had to first turn out the school lights, then go out to the power plant and turn the knob to the left, then go back to the school and turn the projector on to show the movie. Otherwise, we'd blow a bulb.

But this finicky generator had its advantages. It usually operated just enough out of sync that it gained, on average, an hour each day. The school and my apartment each had an electric clock. Once I realized that this marvellous generator was causing the clocks to gain time, I devised an ingenious way to turn this to my advantage.

I would teach my classes, prepare the next day's lessons. Then we'd have our dinner, and I'd spend some hours visiting people or hosting visitors. (Being in the only building with electricity meant that visitors were often in our home.) I'd spend some time studying Inuktitut, which I was making a determined effort to learn. In all this, I would be guided, when I bothered to check the time at all, by the electric clock, imperceptibly gaining two and a half minutes an hour.

When all my duties and studies were completed, my day was ended. It was time for bed. But not quite. One thing remained to be done. That was to set the apartment clock back one hour. (I always adjusted the school clock the next morning.)

But now it wasn't bed-time anymore. A full hour remained. It was like the end of Daylight Savings Time in the fall. Except that, for me, it happened every day. And my family and I were the only ones who had this phantom hour. It would be a shame to waste it by going to bed. It would be even more of a pity to waste it by finding more work to do. And so I did neither.

This was my hour, an hour that my neighbours didn't have, that the people in Broughton Island with their reliable supply of electricity didn't have. This was an hour that no-one else had. And so I enjoyed it. I relaxed. I put my feet up and did nothing. I wound down from the day's work.

And then I went to bed.

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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