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Canadian Arctic Expedition Christmas 1915

posted December 31, 2015

When three men from the East visited the Canadian Arctic Expedition headquarters at Bernard Harbour at Christmas in 1915, they too were bearing treasures. Not as gifts for the baby Jesus, but to trade with the men of the Expedition. Kakshavik, Atqaq, and Nauyalowak, and their wives; Manitok, Alaiak, and Tamosoina, had heard about the Expedition from the Inuit who lived around Bathurst Inlet. Dr. Anderson, Expedition biologist, and the other scientists, O’Neill, Chipman and Cox, along with their assistants, Mupfi and Natkusiak, had spent most of  the summer and fall of 1915 exploring along the mainland coast to Bathurst Inlet. They had met and traded with several groups of local Inuit.

Knowing that these “Kablunat” would exchange animal skins and bones for useful items like ammunition, tea and tobacco, the visitors had brought with them dozens of muskox, wolf, wolverine, grizzly bear, and arctic and red fox skins. Anderson selected several skins which showed interesting phases of moult or other variations, plus a number of muskox and bear specimens which he had so far been unable to acquire himself. All of these specimens are still part of the Canadian Museum of Nature collections.

Kakshavik, about 45 years old, was originally from Palliirmutok, west of Hudson Bay, and he had traded at HBC posts. He had not been home for three years. Unlike the local Inuit, he had always had a rifle and had never used a bow for hunting. Nauyalowak was from the area southeast of Bathurst Inlet, south of Arctic Sound, and Atqaq was from the Thelon River area.

Copper Inuit at snowhouse village north of the Coppermine River mouth, November 3, 1915. R. M. Anderson 38962.

Copper Inuit at snowhouse village north of the Coppermine River mouth, November 3, 1915. R. M. Anderson 38962.

As the visitors had arrived just before Christmas day, they took part in the Festivities including outdoor games (sack race, blindfold race, etc.) and a shooting competition. They also performed a dance, using a frying pan as a drum, and sang into the recording machine which Expedition anthropologist Jenness had set up. The Christmas breakfast menu included “Cream of Wheat, Eggs on toast, Arctic wafers and syrup, and Coffee.” The Christmas dinner was bolstered by special items from the 1914 Christmas box, likely prepared by the “ladies of Victoria,” which had only arrived in the summer of 1915!

The travelers from the East left on December 27th to visit the Inuit living at the Ukillik Islands, before heading back to Bathurst Inlet and Arctic Sound to continue hunting for caribou and muskoxen. Atqaq promised to bring Anderson complete skins of a bull and cow muskox in exchange for a new rifle.

Anderson continued working on developing his Kodak films from August, and on bringing the Expedition accounts and stores lists up to date. Then the men and women of the Expedition celebrated with a “Lunch at midnight in honor of the New Year.”