He Handled Santa Claus’ Mail

JOHN NELSON January 1 1926

He Handled Santa Claus’ Mail

JOHN NELSON January 1 1926

He Handled Santa Claus’ Mail

Santa Claus—the real Santa Claus who writes to his admirers from the post office farthest north in America—hasn't any whiskers. Nor does he use reindeer. Absurd! you say. it’s true. Read this and see.


BETWEEN seventy and eighty children, at least, now know definitely that Santa Claus does not live at the North Pole. They have had letters, bearing his signature, and carrying the name of the postoffice — Craig Harbor, Canada — definitely stamped on the outside of the envelope, to reassure them of the location inscribed within.

More children would have received similar letters had they been careful to give their correct addresses, for Santa Claus scrupulously replies to every letter he receives, where the address of the writer can be deciphered.

All of these letters were addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole.” There is no post office at the North Pole, yet, though in time even that facility may be provided. So Santa Claus has taken up his quarters at Craig Harbor, Canada, where he is within reach of his young friends. It is the “farthest north” post office on the continent. And there, among his Eskimos, and his husky dogs, he spends the long northern Winter, in a land where the sun disappears below the horizon on the 25th of October, not to reappear till the 13th of February.

Once a year the stout ship Arctic struggles in through the ice-floes to this land where there is no sunshine for one hundred and ten days. Inward bound she carries the eager inquiries of Canadian children whose petitions to Santa Claus have been entrusted to the mails, and, on her outward journey, the replies in Santa’s own hand.

No Whiskers Here

' I 'HERE is another surprise for the children. Not only does their patron not live at the Pole, but he is neither old nor bearded. MacLean’s Magazine is the first publication in the world to secure a photograph of him, and of his home. As will be seen, he is a strapping, handsome fellow, who runs fifteen miles at a stretch behind his dog team without “spelling” himself for breath. His complexion at least justifies his reputation, for it is of the same brick-red ruddiness as those of the skippers who guide the great ships into New York harbor; of the whaling captains who come out of the Behring Sea, or the sailors who steady the lime juicers with shortened sail as they round the Horn.

Sometimes, in the Summer, he comes out to the warmer lands where his correspondents live. When he does he is carefully disguised, in ordinary, civilian clothes, or in the service uniform of an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. On state occasions he will sometimes don the scarlet or a blue tunic of that famous force, and then his disguise is complete. For none would suspect in Superintendent Wilcox, of the R.C.M.P. (which is the new abbreviation for the riders of the plains), the man who beguiles the long winters by writing letters from an igloo in Ellesmere Land to children in cosy, ■ steam-heated houses and apartments in Toronto and Montreal.

When out at headquarters, he is restless and is a source of more or less concern to his friends. Long residence in icy lands has made him uncomfortable in heated rooms. He perspires almost as soon as the thermometer rises above freezing point. His friends, instead of “piling fresh fuel on the hearth,” throw open the windows, when they want to “give him better cheer.” And when the balmy spring nights come, and the frogs croak in the released waters, and the wild geese honk overhead as they wing northward, Wilcox becomes as eager and as restless as a schoolboy at the end of the term. When he hears the north “a-callin’, why he don’t ’eed nothin’ else.”

One Month From Home

IT TAKES him a month to reach “home.” Early in July a stout ship called the Arctic leaves Quebec. She sails down the St. Lawrence, through the ice-strewn strait of Belle Isle, and then, turning north, steers through Davis strait to the south-west coast

of Greenland. There, at Cape York, the explorer Rasmussen, himself part Eskimo, has a trading store among the natives. There too, and at Gothaven, is a famous breed of huskies, which is used as the foundation for the packs which Wilcox and his men drive in their thousand-mile patrols. There, the ship must wait a favorable opportunity for a dash across to the Arctic archipelago. The long channel which joins Baffin Bay to the Polar sea, and which separates Ellesmere Land and Greenland, stretches far northward, and it is out of this channel that the bergs and ice floes drift southward. Sometimes for d£ys they fill the great bay. But sometimes a backward drift for a few hours opens a passage and the Arctic makes a dash through it to the opposite coast.

It is on the other shore that Santa Claus lives. Craig Harbor is just inside Jones Sound at the south end of Ellesmere Land. Here, in August, a few years ago, the Arctic cast anchor, and deposited on the bare rocks the lumber, provisions and other supplies for a small party of which Wilcox was the head. The crew had to hurry the unloading, for the ice might return at .-any time and lock them in for the winter. Seven days had passed,

and the supplies had just been got ashore when the ice began to return. The Arctic quickly weighed anchor, and at midnight stood out to sea>_ leaving Wilcox, five constables, and a native family of seven disconsolately watching the departure. The ship was expected to return the following season. But the authorities knew of the contingencies of Arctic navigation. So she left supplies for four years!

The quarters here are cosy enough. The little group of buildings shown in the picture look rather God-forsaken in their bleak surroundings. But they are adapted for Arctic winters. They are of wood, with big blocks of snow. Ice is piled about them to further exclude the searching gales which sweep from the north. Round the doors and windows skins are employed to make the buildings weatherproof. And they are needed. Many of the letters which children received last year from Craig Harbor were written when a fifty-five mile gale was blowing and the thermometer stood at fifty degrees. The storm lasted for twenty-one days, and for eleven of those days not a soul dared leave the hut, even to visit the storehouse which stood only a few feet away. A rope stretches from one building to the other because so thick does the atmosphere become with driven snow as fine as flour, that a man is likely to be lost even in making the few yards mentioned, unless guided by the rope. During part of the time when fresh supplies could not be obtained from stores, the littie family lived on raw seal. Santa Claus himself relishes this dish when in the north. When “outside” he can’t eat fat meat even when cooked.

Cold is not the only danger of the northern pioneers. This they can provide against. Fire is a greater menace. It proved so in midwinter a year or two ago, when the home of Santa Claus was burned. That matter of fact statement conveys no adequate idea of what a burn-out means in such a latitude and at such a time of year. On the day in question—February 24—all the members of the detachment were indoors because a fierce blizzard from the northeast was blowing. But they were in the kitchen, and so did not see, in time to stop it, the fire which started in another part of the building. The fire extinguishers wTere frozen, there was a very small supply of water in the interior, and the storm outside prevented anything being done from the exterior after the outer roof had caught.

All that could be attempted was to save bedding, clothing, and those equally vital requirements, arms and ammunition. The simple chronicle in the official report graphically describes the incident:

“Within a very short space of time the house was a red hot shell.

“Anxiety was felt for the storehouse, which luckily did net catch fire, although surrounded by flying sparks from the house.

“With great difficulty bedding and articles saved were conveyed to the blubber shed, which was utilized as temporary quarters for the detachment. In the effort to salvage articles from the flames and convey them to safety all the men were frostbitten, and even the natives suffered severely, pushing the salvaged gear by sled across to the blubber shed.

“In mid-afternoon, a flag pole which had been erected as a wireless mast within five yards of the building could not be seen through the blinding snow. Articles were subsequently found scattered over the ice to a distance ol twro miles.”

His Grown-up Children

SANTA CLAUS beguiles the long, dark days of winter in writing to his correspondents lower dowm on the continent, but his chief work is among the children of the north. And the term “children” includes adults as well as those of tender years. For the Canadian Eskimo are a simple folk, with a ten-year-old mentality. Over in Greenland, the Danish government has partially educated them, and they even have their own newspapers, though they still hunt with primitive weapons like spears. But in Baffins Land and Ellesmere Land they remain childlike and ignorant. They have no desire to go “outside,” nor have they any curiosity as to whence come the white traders who visit their coast. They do not, like wrhite children, have to be admonished not to let their angry passions rise, for quarreling is

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unknown among them, the women alone exercising in a mild way the feminine prerogative to “jaw” one another. They fear a man who loses his temper, and are mortally offended if spoken to harshly^

No matter how perplexed or disturbed Santa Claus may be, he must preserve a smiling countenance for the Eskimos, who, otherwise, will be heartbroken. That, perhaps, is why he is always depicted with a merry countenance. If a man is habitually cross among the Eskimos, his case becomes one for tribal counsel. Two or three years ago a white trader struck one of the Eskimo men. A conference of all the tribe followed, and it was deemed best that such an abnormal creature should be killed, for the protection of society. So they shot him.

Santa Claus can never celebrate Christmas among the Eskimos, for of time they have no conception. “Whachou” (not now) is a favorite and very indefinite term. It means “after a while,” but may span a day or a year.

Neither have they a sense of values. Matches they prize highly and they will split one into several. Wilcox offered a woman who had worked for four days a pot as payment for her services. She rejected it in favor of an all-day-sucker candy, a confection of which the natives are very fond. So the pack of Santa Claus is always laden with sweets.

The natives have an unfailing recipe for content. It is simply, “Don’t worry. You are all right do-day. Let to-morrow take care of itself.” Northern travellers find the philosophy sound. If they will but adopt both native theories and native practices, they need fear little.

“Give me a gun and ammunition,” says Supt. Wilcox, “and I will survive anywhere. Fresh meat—polar bear, fox, ptarmigan, hare—these will prevent scurvy. So will sea weed. We eat it, like flesh, raw. I prefer it to lettuce. It is crisp and nice, and is always available excepting in severe weather in winter. It can be gathered until late in the fall, and quite early in the>pring just where the tide separates the shore ice from the sea ice.” It is vegetables, more than society, that Santa Claus misses.

Each Eskimo family occupies its own igloo. These snow huts are ideal winter habitations. They are maintained just below freezing point, through the services of koodlers, or fat stoves, which are used for both cooking and heat. These are stones chipped out to hold blubber. The front half of the igloo is the living room; the back half the bedroom. Here caribou, musk ox, and bear rugs serve for bed clothing, and all who remain for the night—family and visitors—share the one bed which is elevated about two feet above the level of the living room.

Arctic hospitality takes cognizance first of a man’s feet, and then of his stomach. As soon as Santa Claus arrives, the old woman of the family pulls off his moccasins and stockings and warms his cold feet against her person. Then she puts the little stone pot on the koodler. This contains seal meat which the Eskimo prefers to any other form of diet, even to caribou. When the seal meat is cooked it is withdrawn from the water, and passed whole from hand to hand, much as a pipe of peace is passed, each one taking a bite as it is passed on.

How elementary this law of hospitality is, may be gathered from a singular statement by the widow of an Eskimo, Ko-Okyauk, who was adjudged by the tribe to be insane, and was ordered a few years ago, after full counsel on the subject, to be destroyed as a proper and necessary step for the common good and safety of the band; this, without the slightest malice or intrigue. His widow, in the testimony which she gave at the trial held by the Mounted Police, said that the first incident which made her regard her husband as crazy was that he told her on several occasions not to give food to other poor people in the camp.

He Has No Reindeer!

Santa Claus does not use reindeer. Though there are great herds in Alaska, in Siberia, and in Greenland, there are few, if any, in his neighborhood. Caribou, which are like reindeer in a wild state, +++++-

are killed for food. They use the same great pastures of moss. But the caribou entice the reindeer away, unless the latter are carefully herded. So Santa Claus relies on his dogs. They are better in hummock ice than the larger animal, and they are useful in a way for which the deer can never be trained. They locate the seal holes in the ice. And that means supper for both dog and man.

Wilcox’s method of driving his dogs differs from those employed in other parts of the far north, where the presence of trees would make his plan unworkable and where the tandem team is the better arrangement. His dogs travel fan-shape, led by a trusty female, but otherwise, with the expanded end of the fan forward, tapering back to the sled. _ There are about sixteen dogs, usually, in the team, and each travels free at the end of an independent trace. The entire team is driven with a whip with a forty-foot lash. This is not always sufficient to insure control. On one patrol of 510 miles the dog teams had to pull the sleds and their loads up a long, frozen cascade of about one hundred feet with a slope of about 600 feet. All the dogs were hitched to one sleigh, and with the men chopping footholds and levering the sleigh, and everybody shoving, progress was made step by step. The dogs, having no foothold, refused to pull. When one would fall and roll down, he was immediately pounced on by the rest. The result was often a battle royal with a hopeless tangle of harness and snarling dogs.

Travelling up the frozen rivers, where the dogs slip badly on the smooth ice, men have to run alongside of them on the inner side to prevent them bolting for the more secure footing of the shore. Useful though they are, these dogs are far from amiable, and cannot be petted. They remain outside, or in special snow huts all winter, and are never taken into the igloos where the natives live. Thèir indifference to cold is shown by the way in which they will seek the shelter of rocks or snow as soon as the bright sun comes out, no matter how low the temperature.

Santa Claus himself enjoys a sun bath on the boards on the south side of his hut, even in March, when the thermometer may still be ten or more degrees below zero.

Doctor as Well as Patron

Santa Claus is not only the children’s patron, but he is the family doctor as well. He carries a small stock of simple remedies, and from this ministers to the needs of the child-like folk among whom he lives. Castor oil, liniment, and aspirin, constitute his stock-in-trade. The doses he must administer personally, for the infantile intelligence of the Eskimo is unable to understand why if a dose taken every two hours is good, the effect should not be better or instantaneous if the whole contents of the bottle be taken at once. This makes the healing art under the aurora borealis very exacting on the practitioner, who must often travel sixty miles by dog team to give his patient “her medicine.”

Travel problems are rendered somewhat simpler, however, from the fact that neither time nor distance matter to an Eskimo. The latter '«'ill go 400 miles for tobacco, and be quite content if he be rewarded with two or three pounds.

The Eskimo women are very proud of even primitive clothing such as is worn by the whites, and Santa Claus rigged a group of them up with frocks sewn by his own hand, as shown in one of the cuts. This winter he will be u-nable to do so, for with one constable and an Eskimo family—these are indispensable, the man for hunting and the woman for keeping the clothing in order—he will set out on a tw'o-thousand mile journey, which will lead him far out to the northwest of Ellesmere Land where maps at present show no signs of land. If he goes north, it will bring him within 400 or 500 miles of the North Pole, and that only in the ordinary daily round of his duty.

From which it will be seen that Santa Claus is a very busy and a very practical man, and that this winter he will have no time to devote to his correspondence.