WE WENT BABY-HUNTING IN THE ARCTIC

Dick Harrington mushed his cameras lOOO miles across the top of the world to take a new portrait of the icy north

RICHARD HARRINGTON December 15 1949

WE WENT BABY-HUNTING IN THE ARCTIC

Dick Harrington mushed his cameras lOOO miles across the top of the world to take a new portrait of the icy north

RICHARD HARRINGTON December 15 1949

WE WENT BABY-HUNTING IN THE ARCTIC

Dick Harrington mushed his cameras lOOO miles across the top of the world to take a new portrait of the icy north

RICHARD HARRINGTON

Gerald Anglin

EARLY THIS year a 25-year-old RCMP constable named Dick Connick embarked on an 800-mile Arctic patrol by dog team. From Coppermine on the Arctic Ocean he headed inland in a shallow arc which carried him more than 500 miles across what the storybooks call “trackless Arctic wastes” bringing him out to the frozen coastline again at Bathurst Inlet; then he cut back along the coast to Coppermine.

Dick Harrington mushed his cameraslOOOmiles across the top of the world to take a new portrait of the icy north

By RICHARD HARRINGTON

with Gerald Anglin

EARLY THIS year a 25-year-old RCMP constable named Dick Connick embarked on an 800-mile Arctic patrol by dog team. From Coppermine on the Arctic Ocean he headed inland in a shallow arc which carried him more than 500 miles across what the storybooks call “trackless Arctic wastes” bringing him out to the frozen coastline again at Bathurst Inlet; then he cut back along the coast to Coppermine.

Connick was 33 days on the trail at temperatures so cold (50-60 degrees below zero) that his sled dogs’ breath left vapor trails hanging above the sharp-crunching snow and a bottle of rye whisky froze solid.

He bunked overnight in a canvas tent or snuggled in with a dozen different Eskimo families on the sleeping benches of their snowhouses. He ate frozen beans, frozen biscuits and frozen caribou steaks (all usually thawed out before eating) and still-frozen raw fish.

He was storm-bound in igloos two and three days at a time with the air outside a solid fog of whirling snow.

Though normally handsome enough to be a Hollywood Mountie, after three weeks on the trail Connick was red-eyed shaggy-faced and given to dreaming of hot baths and real beds. And film fans would be jolted to learn that this real-life Mountie dared all the rigors and dangers of the Arctic mainly to authorize family allowance payments to Eskimos.

I should explain that the bottle of rye was mine, not Connick’s, and that I was along lugging four cameras; some of the pictures I took appear with this article.

I’ve spent five years roaming Canada as a photographer and a trip to the Eastern Arctic a couple of years ago had convinced me that I wanted to see some more of the Far North. That’s how I came to share Constable Connick’s trek across the top of the Northwest Territories as far as Bathurst Inlet; when his route turned back I pushed on east with an Eskimo guide another 250 miles to a small trading post at Perry River, and then northwest across the frozen seas of Queer! Maud Gulf to Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island. Here I got an airlift back to Edmonton with the JjtCAF.

I must have traveled about 1,000 miles without seeing a road sign, a service statidh or a hot-dog stand. On the other hand, I f^ll down no icy crevasses, was chased by no wolvet (we did see one) and never got lost—though almost every day we got “lost” in the elementary sense that we didn’t know which way to go from wherever we were!

The only first-aid kit I carried was a package of aspirin and the only injury I suffered was a crack on the head when Dick Connick forward-passed a tin cup to me and I missed.

Looking back, I’d say the trip was probably less dangerous than any 1,000 miles by highway at today’s accident rates and I sáw a vast and wonderful part of Canada that few of my city neighbors are ever likely to know.

When I first arrived at Coppermine a full moon rolled around the sky 24 hours a day and the only sunlight was a glow reflected from the frozen seas to the north; before my trip ended we were having 12 hours sunshine a day. Continued on page 51

We Went Baby-Hunting In the Arctic

Continued from page 9

But traveling and living among the Eskimos were the big attractions of the trip. I met a grizzled medicine man, one of the few leaders left who knows how to make a kudele (stone lamp) or a bow from musk-ox horns. I met a tattooed lady living contentedly with two quite amicable husbands. I won the respect of at least one Eskimo guide and hunter to the point where he offered to lend me his wife—I didn’t take him up.

I watched little Eskimo children crawl out from under their mothers’ parkas to play naked about the igloo, already well inducted into a society in which man has learned how to adapt himself almost perfectly to his environment.

I saw an ancient widow accepting the consequences of that environment as simply as the children, following the death of her husband. She sat alone in her icy igloo, immobile, expressionless, the flesh lying loosely over her old bones. Her untended kudele showed only the tiniest spark of light, as both she and the lamp waited patiently for life to flicker out.

Starting out, I flew into Coppermine, 100 miles north of the Arctic circle and 1,000 miles almost due north of Edmonton early in January of this year. Coppermine doesn’t see a plane a month so the entire population— about 16 white people and as many Eskimos—welcomed us.

A native woman there made me a complete outfit of caribou, first tirelessly scraping (and sometimes chewing) the skins to soften them up for sewing. Altogether 14 skins were needed for my complete wardrobe, plus a sleeping bag. As finally garbed to conform to the best Arctic fashion I wore long underwear, an inner pair of caribou pants and parka with the fur turned inside, then another pair of pants and outer parka with fur outward. (Incidentally, parka is an Aleutian Eskimo word and is not used by the NWT Eskimos. They call the inner hooded garment artiggi and the outer garment kulctak.)

Kamingoak Had a Komatik

I hired an Eskimo named Peter Kamingoak as my guide, he to provide a good komatik (sled), an 11-dog team and food for his dogs. For this I agreed to pay him $10 a day on an each-way basis. By the end of the trip I had put $550 in Peter’s account with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

I paid $70 for my fur clothing and, all in all, the actual trip cost me about $1,250. Add in air travel to and from Toronto, photographic supplies and other items, and my private Arcticexpedition ran to more than $2,000.

Before Constable Connick could set out he had to get his baking done: 350 biscuits, 220 doughnuts and 20 plates of beans, all fast-frozen by the simple process of shoving them outside. Besides this we bought a great deal of food for we would have to feed not only our own party but be prepared to swap delicacies with the local population.

Special Constable Noel Avadluk, Connick’s regular guide, interpreter, stool pigeon and handy man, made up our party of four. A 40-year-old Eskimo named Jimmy also started out. with us, but he had his own sixdog team.

The dogs caught the excitement of our last-minute packing and when the clear brittle-cold morning of our departure arrived they howled in their

eagerness to get going. Our two teams each had a 1.500-pound load on an 18-foot sled, plus two men.

The sleds shot away as the Eskimos cracked their whips over the teams, and there was great laughter by our guides as Connick and I scrambled to get aboard the fast-starting komatiks. A few days before Dick had been tumbled headlong from his sled—and there’s nothing like a pratfall to amuse an Eskimo, who has a sense of humor worthy of old-time burlesque. Once on my earlier trip to the Eastern Arctic I was the victim of a fast getaway and before we could resume the journey we had a 10-minute delay while my guide wowed his friends with repeated demonstrations of how his white man had (yakety yak) backflipped into a snowbank.

“Lost” in the Frozen Waste

The dogs settled down to a steady 4 m.p.h. pull, heading inland and roughly southeast. The land was windswept and featureless, except where broken by gulleys—shallow cuts usually, but sometimes dropping away in a sheer cliff to the bed of some unnamed frozen river.

After a time the snow thinned out and Avadluk had to shout sharp commands at his lead team to keep the sleds clear of rocks and patches of frozen ground which the wind had swept bare. Wooden sled runners are always “mudded”—given a two-inch layer of ice-coated mud, or cooked oatmeal; if a chunk is knocked off the break must be shaved smooth immediately and “remudded” that night.

As long as the going was smooth we rode the sleds sidesaddle, facing away from the wind. When the dogs hit heavier going we’d jump off and run; sometimes we’d run just to get warm.

There is an element of danger for the new chum. In poor visibility you may be caught by surprise when the team goes rushing down an unexpected slope, and if the sled threatens to roll over you must leap clear or run the risk of being dragged. A missionary I met once went on a short; trip by himself during which his lead dog broke oui of harness. When he left the sled to try and catch the lead dog the rest of the team promptly took off into the distance. The weather closed in and he wandered about for two days, completely lost, before a search party found him.

Along about noon that first day the sun, which by now would roll along the edge of the southern horizon for about four hours of the 24, was blotted out by driving snow and we wandered blindly up a dead-end gully. Natives and Mountie got their heads together.

It’s an experience, the first time you realize you’re lost somewhere in the Northwest Territories. You’re lost— and every adventure story you’ve ever read warns you to watch yourself—it’s at times like these men panic!

Instead of which Jimmy let out a whoop, hurled himself at a smooth icy slope and went whizzing down head first on his back, chortling with the innocent abandon of a potbellied gent on a convention far from home. A moment later we were all doing it, and in 10 minutes everybody was too winded to worry about being lost.

The storm continued and we camped early. Watching a pair like Dick Connick and Noel Avadluk make camp is to see professionals at work. Dick rurts out the dog lines, anchors it at both ends, unhitches the dogs and secures them to the line; then he straightens out the harness. Noel pitches the canvas tent and digs away the 9now inside the door to a depth of a foot or so and perhaps a third of the

“So I says to myself — now if I were Pop, what would I want for Christmas —"

way back. The raised part will be our sleeping bench, across which caribou skins are spread and four sleeping bags unrolled, feet to the back of the tent.

While Noel throws the dogs frozen fish and beef tallow we pull off our outer fur parkas and leave them rolled up outside the tent. The snow would melt on them, inside, and the wet fur freeze hard before morning.

Inside the tent we perch Eskimo fashion, side by side on the bench, while Dick pumps up our two primus stoves and melts some ice with which to restore dehydrated soup to some semblance of the original article. Second course: Dick’s fast-frozen beans heated in the skillet. Dessert: Hardtack with frozen butter and tacky jam—all washed down with hot tea.

That first night I tried to follow the others in getting my clothes off as quickly as possible without scattering snow about. In underwear and socks l crawled feet .first into my caribou fur sleeping bag, which in turn was inside my eiderdown bag and this in turn inside a canvas wrapper. And I was just as cold as you’d expect to be inside a canvas tent at 60 below. But in two minutes I was as warm as I’ve been under an electric blanket in a steam-heated penthouse. In three I was matching snores with Avadluk, Kamingoak and Connick of the Mounted.

Some days we would cover perhaps 35 or 40 miles, others (usually due to bad weather) only 12. One afternoon we dropped downhill out of the squat September Mountains to the camp of Koikhok, Eskimo man of distinction.

Koikhok is a small, wrinkled Eskimo with long black hair, steel-grey eyes and a bristly stubble. Generally, Eskimo eyes are almost jet-black, their faces all but hairless; which suggests that Koikhok may claim among his unknown ancestors a member of Franklin’s or some other early expedition. Yet it is to Koikhok that many other Eskimos come to ask advice about the migration routes of the caribou. Sometimes they call him medicine man.

When I expressed an interest in Eskimo drums Koikhok happily agreed to stretch a caribou skin on an oval frame. He worked stripped to the waist, his lank hair dancing about his face and casting strange shadows in the light of the caribou-fat lamp (see photo page 9). Then he beat the drum I with a wild rhythm to which another Eskimo performed a hunting dance.

Divide Up the Children

Connick and I visited 10 native camps between Coppermine and Bathurst Inlet. The Mountie is still the long arm of the law, but more and more he is becoming the long arm of Ottawa, patrolling the Arctic armed with a loaded brief case.

At each stop every Eskimo in camp jammed into the leader’s tent or snowhouse, each grinning his welcome to the Mountie from a distance of about six inches. Connick told them they must come to Coppermine to be X-rayed. He handed out plastic identification discs. He asked about game conditions (it was a bad year for Arctic fox) and warned about game laws (Eskimos must not kill musk ox, 'tfhough from the number of musk-ox Horns I saw the animals must drop dead .as obligingly as schmoos). He settled ‘trapline disputes. He registered Births, marriages and deaths.

Keeping track of births for familyallowance purposes is a constant headache. Mary Puniak may obviously be pregnant, but return later and you’ll find the new baby peeking from the parka of the woman in the next igloo. Why? Mary already has three children and the other woman none. To Eskimos, who love their children but lack our intense sense of possession, it makes good sense to divide up the children—and the work.

But the baby bonus has really altered Eskimo society by giving girl babies equal value with boys. Females, being the hardier sex, normally come to outnumber the males in most societies, a problem which the Eskimo used to solve by exposing some infant girls to the Arctic elements. White authority is very pleased that the family allowance has put an end to this custom, but trouble of a different kind may develop as the grown women begin to outnumber the men.

Spinsterhood, the inevitable result of this condition in the rest of Canada, would strike any Eskimo as silly. Already he sometimes vexes his white fathers by wife trading, although an obstetrician would admit that for two childless couples to swap mates makes good biological sense. So thanks to the baby bonus the luckless Mounties may before long be ordered to crack down on a northern bigamy crime wave.

In fact, you come to consider the Eskimo exceedingly tolerant of the many ways in which white man’s meddling upsets his balance of life. After Connick and I parted at Bathurst Inlet I spent three days stormbound in the only “settlement” between Bathurst and Perry River, 250 miles east. This was the two-igloo camp of an Eskimo named Ikhik.

Ikhik was about, the same calibre man as my friend Koikhok.

But Ikhik’s two sons were something else again. They did not know ho\V to build a snowhouse. One had some träps, but had caught no foxes all season. Instead of furs one wore a cast-off

morning coat above tom drill pants. They could hardly even speak Eskimo.

Ikhik’s sons had been away at mission school. They had swapped their Eskimo heritage for a stilted English vocabulary, some white man’s schooling and a pair of Christian names. And in their own land they are useless.

Commentary to a Strip

Five of us—Ikhik, his wife and a young child, my guide Peter Kamingoak and I—shared the sleeping bench in one igloo. Finding yourself one of a happy Eskimo family is a bit of a shock at first, but you become used to it surprisingly fast. For instance, my reaction when the three Ikhiks stripped to the skin before diving between the caribou skins was simply admiration for their hardiness.

But as Kamingoak followed suit he offered a lewd running commentary to the whole business. The Ikhiks looked both mystified and uncomfortable, but I felt even worse because Peter had to use mostly English words to convey what he meant.

Kamginoak was a capable guide and for the most part good company— except when he was acting the part of the city slicker from Coppermine to impress the inland Eskimos. After a few days’ stay at Perry River (where the native trader, able to copy English but unable to understand it, once ordered three boxes of “This side up, Made in Canada”) my spirits dropped as we approached the end of our trek at Cambridge Bay.

I knew that white men’s talk would sound shrill and excited, that radios in the RCAF station would blare the news of a raucous world. But Kamingoak urged the dogs forward, obviously eager to bask in the bright lights again.

And louder than ever rose his sledding song—a barbaric chant which had threatened throughout our trip to drive me mad—consisting of endless choruses of “Jingle Bells” punctuated by piercing screams of “Heigh-0 Silver!”

THE CENTURY’S FEATS AND FUTURES> MACLEAN’S JAN. 1

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