An Arctic Man tells about life in the north as it is actually lived, by its native and non-native inhabitants alike; it offers a rare, privileged view of the peoples of the Canadian Arctic.
Born in Labrador, one of 19 children of a Scottish Hudson's Bay Company cooper, Lyall grew up in a north dominated by white traders. After adventures that took him around the Arctic and down the Labrador coast, Ernie settled in Fort Ross in the Arctic Islands. He married an Inuit woman, Nipisha, and immediately became part of her extended family. Ernie writes warmly about his Inuit friends and family, and about daily life in the Arctic and the remarkable transformation of the north that has occured in the last 40 years.
I picked this interesting book up while I was in Halifax last month. I'd heard stories about Ernie while I lived in the arctic so finding his autobiography in a bookstore there was a real treat.
I was interested to learn that Ernie had grown up in Killiniq or Port Burwell as it was called then. This is a place that Nigel Foster and his wife Kristen Nelson paddled by on their Labrador trip a few years ago. When Ernie lived there in the 1910's he used to go out to school beginning when he was around 9 years old. He only got to return home for about one week each year to see his parents before setting off again for another school year!
Years later, he was posted for a while to the Hudson's Bay Post at Killiniq, but his parents no longer lived there. They were down the coast near Otak, another place that Nigel and Kristen paddled their kayaks past during their trip, but it was too far for Lyall to make a visit to see his parents. Only an appendicitis attack in 1928 and once again during his only holiday from the HBC in 1934 did time allow him to make the journey to Otak to see his parents. Both visits forced him to take a whole year off to make the trip, travel being so difficult along the coast in those days.
He never saw his parents again, although his mother kept in touch by mail until she died in 1952 at the age of 99. Times were hard in those days, but Ernie lived an amazing life in the arctic. He become the only non-Inuk to have a Canadian government Inuit identification tag (# E5-1) as he lived in the Inuit manner for several years after leaving the Company. These tag numbers are no longer used, but used to be a feature of northern life until family names officially took their place in the 1970's. Today the name Lyall is well known throughout the central Arctic. Ernie would be proud!