Governor-General’s husband on sabbatical in the Baffin
Writer John Ralston Saul is spending February exploring and writing in Pond Inlet.
MONTREAL — It’s no surprise that Pond Inlet, with its spectacular mountains, glaciers, and unending views, would have an attraction to John Ralston Saul, a deep-thinking writer in search of inspiration.
Saul, 54, an author of several prize-winning books, including the acclaimed Voltaire’s Bastards is a philosopher, essayist and novelist.
Of course, many in Nunavut know him better as the husband of Canada’s Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson.
But when Saul accompanied Clarkson on her recent official tour of Nunavut, weather didn’t permit a stopover in Pond Inlet.
Saul, frustrated by this change in plans, said he decided to schedule a special, private visit to Pond Inlet, because he was eager to visit the community. That way he could work on his latest literary project and become more familiar with the place.
Since his arrival in Pond Inlet nearly two weeks ago — just as the sun began to peek above the horizon — Saul has divided his time between writing and touring the community.
This week he spent two days out seal hunting, 95 kilometres up the bay, accompanied by two local Canadian Rangers. “The first time I’ve ever been out in minus 40 degrees for such a long time,” he said.
While in Pond Inlet, Saul has also spoken at the community’s schools and with some individual classes. On Wednesday he was to stop by the high school’s senior English class.
Saul visited the Nattinnak visitors’ centre, and the Rebecca P. Idlout library, too. There, according to librarian Philippa Ootoovak, Saul looked over the library’s collection with special interest. Much to Saul’s pleasure, the library had four of his books on display — one from its permanent collection and three on loan from the regional library service.
Saul brought three of his books, as well, to Pond Inlet, which he signed and donated to the community and its library.
Saul said he’s been struck by the strength of the Inuit in the community.
“It’s very impressive,” Saul said. “It strikes me as a very successful community, with its mix of traditional and Southern ways.”
The North, said Saul, is one of his favourite places. In his opinion you can’t understand Canada without knowing the North.
“It’s the centre of what Canada is,” he said. “The idea of what Canada is in the North.”
Saul said its importance as a region goes beyond its per capita population figures. To Saul, the North is often seen in negative ways. People simply say, “Who would want to live up there anyway? It’s so boring; it’s so cold. The winter!”
Saul maintains that the reality of Canada is that most of its land mass lies north of Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. He’s against the view that Southern cities, because of their size, are what really matters simply because that’s where more people live.
According to Saul, Canada is really both the people and the territory, which play an equally important role in Canadians’ vision of their country.
Some of Saul’s views on the North are spelled out in his 1997 book “Reflection of a Siamese Twin.”
Saul’s current work-in-progress, however, doesn’t necessarily deal with the North or its people, but he wouldn’t reveal its subject. To do so, he said, would be “bad luck.”
Saul plans to be back in Ottawa on Feb. 23.
He and Clarkson will then head North again on March 13. This time, their official visit will bring them to Nunavik.
Although plans are still being finalized, they are expected to arrive in Kuujjuaq on the 13th and then visit Kangiqsualujjuaq as well as Kangirsuk, where they will call on the board meeting of Makivik Corporation.
On March 16-18 the Governor-General’s delegation will travel to Puvirnituq and Inukjuak.
The visit will likely wind up in Sanikiluaq on March 19 or 20.