Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Who's Making Dinner?

I was reminded the other day by a fellow blogger, Alison Dyer that we need to eat decent food while we're out paddling and that doesn't happen by accident! This is especially true if you're planning to be out paddling in the wilderness where the opportunities to shop en route are lacking. Here's what I currently do about this situation...

First, I refer to my trusty cooking-in-the-wild guidebook, The Wilderness Cookbook by Bonnie McTaggart (ISBN 1-896764-18-5). What I particularly like about this book is the way the information is organized. I begin with the section on drying your own food - I have a food dryer - but you can use your oven if you wish. The next section gives the recipes themselves, broken down by the usual breakfast, lunch, happy hour and dinner and, of course, snacks. The last section I use helps with meal planning based on the length of your planned trip. Here she gives useful tips on what to eat first, ie, which foods keep the longest and a few examples of what would a typical series of meals look like over a multi-day trip.

The recipes themselves are not just the basic rice and pasta variations, but include some interesting spice ideas, a variety of stews, curries, Mexican dishes, stir-fry veggies, dumplings and so on. McTaggart helps as well by suggesting with each recipe what to do at home - like what to dry - how to package - either in bulk or by meal - and then how to prepare the food once you've camped.

All in all, it's a great little book, obviously written by a person who's 'been there'! When I have a trip in mind where I can't shop, I get out the cookbook, chose what meals I'd like to have enroute and fire up the food dryer to dry the ingredients I'll need. I have done both separate meal packages for shorter trips and also just bagged in bulk as well. Next I prepare spice mixes and either add a spice pack to each meal package or again, keep them handy when I'm eating from bulk packs. I have a box in our freezer where I store all this stuff so that at trip time, I just sort through the box, selecting appropriately.

I have also gone the 'store-bought' route as well, buying easily stored dried food, but it's nicer to prepare your own to your own specifications and tastes. In fact, I still have some store-bought items left over from that trip down the North Shore that I never finished, but I don't have anything left that I prepared myself! Enough said.

Lastly, don't forget to look for local 'country foods' along the way. For example, what about seal meat jerky? How about 'fish 'n brewis'? What about fresh ginger ice-cream?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Touring the St Lawrence Gulf

The summer that Maligiaq visited and took part in La Traversée, a kayak race across the St Lawrence from Forestville to Ste Luce, I met Serge Savard. Originally, I was put in touch with him as I figured he would be better placed to host Maligiaq as he was already entered in the race, but it turned out it was more convenient that Maligiaq stay with me, which he did. Serge was juggling his role as competitor and businessman and was more than busy enough. I was on summer break and totally free.

Over the years since then Serge's name comes up in the paddling world as he continues to seek adventure through kayaking. I recently came across his account of the trip he made crossing each of the straits which form the St Lawrence Gulf. Any of these sections of water is a challenge in itself, but the fact that Serge did them all, one after the other, is remarkable. And why did he do it? To pass a course! Here's what he says -

"To complete a degree in Outdoor Recreation and Adventure Tourism at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi students have to carry out a large-scale project – a practical application of the skills studied. Looking at a map of Canada's Atlantic Provinces, I chose a solo adventure. I would paddle my kayak across all six straits in the Gulf of St. Lawrence."

There is a good account of the trip on the Mountain Equipment Coop site if you want to read it. I highly recommend it. You'll note it's available in French as well. Just click the 'Français' button on the left column. Here's the link. Happy reading and 'Bravo!' Serge.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

New Publication on Rev. Edmund Peck

Rev Peck took his place in the history book of the eastern Canadian Arctic long ago, but recently the University of Toronto press has released a book of his journals and ethnographic notes. It sounds like an interesting read! I am anxious to see whether there are any references to kayaking in the late 1800's. I'm sure there will be as this was a time of great activity among Inuit paddlers who began hunting for trading purposes rather than just to feed their familes.

If you are not aware of this interesting man, Rev Peck adapted a syllabic script for the Inuktitut language (see left) which was based on a similar effort made by James Evans, a missionary with the Ojibwe people living in the James Bay area. The writing system was also used to write the Cree language where it is still used today. Peck worked to translate the New Testament of the Bible in Inuktitut using this new syllabic system. By the time of his death, his Inuktitut Bible had traveled far and wide among the Inuit of eastern Canada, even reaching places ahead of the missionaries, who were amazed to discover the New Testament stories already well known. If anyone wishes to learn Inuktitut today, learning the syllabic writing system is essential, but also fairly easy. The version on the left has been developed beyond Peck's original, but still retains the roots of his work. Try writing your name using them!

A short biography of his life and work can be found here if you wish some further detail.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Kayak Stoves

Recently, on several kayaking blogs and bulletin boards, there has been a discussion of small stoves. The question being, what is the ideal stove to have on a trip? Mostly the consensus is to pack light and small. Other than the Kelly Kettle and the ZZ Zip stove, all burn some form of liquid fuel.

The stove in the picture is a butane burning stove, the fuel coming in readily available pressurized canisters. You won't be able to take these on aircraft, but on my trip around Manitoulin Island a few years ago, the stove was very handy. You'll need a space about 25 cm x 20 cm x 5 cm in volume and a bit more somewhere for the fuel canisters. After a long day on the water, it's really convenient to just turn a dial on the side of the stove and 'presto' instant heat - just like a gas stove at home! Butane burns hot, so boiling up water takes very little time. At first I used up a whole canister in a couple of days, but after fiddling a bit with the flame setting, I soon discovered I could stretch out a canister for several days longer. It comes in a plastic case, can handle a good sized pot, is quick to clean and the fuel doesn't get contaminated. I've added a fold-up metal windscreen which packs inside the case for windy cook sites.

On another trip the stove was actually 'lost' up in the stern of another kayak and only discovered when the boat was lifted off the roof rack on arrival back home. It's that inconspicuous and easy to carry! I always take this stove on trips close to 'civilization' where the fuel is obtainable. Long wilderness trips still require either wood burning stoves or ones with liquid fuels which can be carried in refillable fuel bottles.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Thinking of Highlands

Douglas Wilcox kindly posted some pictures of Highland Cattle on his kayaking blog a few days back as I had expressed an interest in seeing the wonderful animals in their home setting. Thank you Douglas! My father-in-law was a well known Canadian breeder of Highland cattle some years ago now. He fell in love with the animals after reading an article in a magasine and soon after imported a bull from Scotland and purchased some cows from one of the few other breeders in Canada. Thereafter he became known to us as the 'Laird of Swain's Fold'.

A summer picture for those fed up with winter!

Over the years they filled his life - and ours as well to some extent - and their affairs send him east to Scotland, west to Vancouver and south into the United States on several ventures, all related to these cattle in one way or another. It was his passion, much like many of us have a passion for paddling. The urge to travel far and wide and meet fellow paddlers is deep and rewarding to each of us. When we're not paddling, we're dreaming about where, when and how to go on yet another adventure, near or far, it doesn't really matter as long as there's a paddle in our hands and water gurgling under the hull.

The fold of cattle is gone now, scattered as far away as Tasmania and Sweden, but the memories live on. So thanks again, Douglas. Much appreciated!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

This Is The Me!

Those who have been following along with me for a while now know I have an interest in making my own versions of the This Is The Sea videos. Until now the only source for suitable waterproof video recording equipment that I've found has been from England. That system, the one used by Justine Curgenven, uses the PAL video format, which is not compatible with most North American systems and has prevented me from making much progress beyond using my Pentax digital still camera. The Pentax works well, but it isn't a dedicated video camera and lacks the image quality that I'd like to have.

Now there is an alternative: Viosport! This company sells a variety of lens systems, including one that is 'waterproof', making it well suited to our sport of kayaking. You can buy the lens and assorted cables to attach to a recording device - a video camera etc - or you can purchase a complete system package. All sounds very slick to me. I'll be looking into this in more detail over the next little while as I want to be able to simultaneously film and paddle next summer and record my up-coming adventures. Ya, I'm looking over some maps as well!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Biding the Tide

When I was paddling last summer in the Gaspé and again in PEI I found it handy to have easy access to tidal information. Note that the tides in those areas were not that large, but when the foreshore is shallow for a long way out, launching and returning to shore can be a difficult carry or if you have a cart, a long haul. Knowing the state of the tide can save some wear and tear on the body. The tool is a free download and covers most part of the world via numerous databases which download with the program itself. The only area which may not be covered is the UK, but I believe the site gives further information.

I've been using TideTool on my Palm for the last several years and find it handy. It doesn't give as many tidal reading sites as I might wish for in an ideal world, but it is still useful for the kind of information I desire for the places I'm apt to go.

The above picture is a shot taken yesterday of the growing ice on my lake. I found the crystal 'flowers' which grow on the new ice fascinating. They tell an interesting story about ice, how it can be both beautiful and scary at the same time. When I hunted with the Inuit, the sea ice was both friend and foe, constantly switching roles back and forth in a dance of life and death. There are many similar dances in life, I suppose. The better you learn to dance, the better life you'll have!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Vermont Madness 2007 is Coming!

The lake is now almost completely frozen over. I am astounded how quickly the change has occurred. No doubt the cold temperatures during the past week have done their nasty work. So I'll hang up my paddle for a while and ski - nothing wrong with that, as conditions recently have been perfect and I love to ski.

I received some good news to look forward to however, as one must ever remain optimistic - right? The news is that David Miskell over in Burlington, Vermont on Lake Champlain has released the date of Vermont Madness 2007! The wonderful Greenland event grows ever more interesting and pleasurable each year as more and more people bring their boats and join in the sharing. Saturday, April 14 is the rolling competition, followed with the group paddle on the Sunday. The pictures above were taken last year. The top photo was a wonderful first attempt at paddling upside down, and the lower one was taken at lunch during the day paddle on Sunday... before the fun really started (ya had to be there...)!

The lower picture was distributed by a participant last year. I'm sorry I don't know the photographer's name.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Winter's Getting Nasty

Great picture, don't you think? I think NOT! My lake is disappearing into the distance by the hour. The continued cold weather is only saved by the small chance that the winds today - another photo-wrecking item - will break up the ice at the north end of the lake so I can use my new put-in.

I know it isn't easy to see in this less than stunning shot of the lake, but there is clear water way out there in the distance. Will it stay that way? Will the winds break the distant ice at the north end and keep it open? I can only pray it does. Good thing I like to ski because even with the wind and cold it was fun being out under the trees, listening to the wind roar above us as we took shelter in the calm below.

Friday, January 19, 2007

What's that... surely not ice?

The last time I checked, a few weeks ago, the surface temperature of Lake Massawippi was an amazing 10°C. I was expecting it to be much lower, say in the 1°-2°C range. No doubt this anomaly has been the result of the extraordinary warm weather we experienced during December and early January.

Driving home the day before yesterday, I noticed that ice had begun forming and nearly covered the large shallow bay at the south end of the lake. A bit further north, there was a band of ice reaching from shore to shore something I found somewhat unusual as well, although a stream which enters at that point has created a large shallows which extends well out into the lake, so that might account for the ice. Around the shores the nasty ice shelf has been growing out from the shore. This is the ice that lets you do a seal launch with great aplomb, but then prevents you from returning to shore until spring! It's too thin to walk on and too thick to paddle through. A real dilemma. A friend of mine made himself some little ice picks with which he can propel himself across the thin ice and onto the solid ice while sitting in his boat. Neat, but will they always work...

In past years, the date the lake has frozen over completely varied from Jan 10 in 2004 to Feb 11 in 2006 with the norm usually around Jan 17th. This will be another late freeze up again this year, but I was very surprised this morning, heading down to the put-in to discover the lake is now ice covered at both ends, barring me from paddling! Only the center section now remains ice-free. If we get some wind, the thin ice may break up and allow me access to open water again. However, if we don't get it in the next couple of days, then that's it, I'm off the water until April. Good thing I'm in the midst of making plans for a trip to California. Looks like I can go with a free paddling conscience!

The photo above was taken a couple of years ago, but it might as well be today for all the paddling I got to do.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


If you're like me, you've probably been going to YouTube and having a look for kayaking movies to watch. There are a number and quite a range as well to have a look at. One of the frustrating things for me is not being able to save these films to my hard-drive so that I can view them when I'm not online.

Well, if you're a Mac user, those days are over! TubeSock is the easy to use answer to downloading and, yes, Virginia, saving those flicks to your hard-drive! Check it out. Nothing could be easier to use. The first 30 seconds are free, longer than that and you'll have to buy the registered version for $15 USD. Of course, once it's on your Mac, it's as good as on your video ipod. From there, it's on your foredeck to amuse you during those long open water crossings when you're apt to get bored paddling out of sight of land...

If you're a PC user, rush out and buy a Mac! Well, that is one option... Perhaps other readers already know of cheaper, if less elegant, alternatives.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Skiing with Google

The fuzzy looking map above is Google's impression of my backyard. After skiing yesterday, I had a go at plotting the route I had taken with my wife, daughter and brother. Moss acted as scout, ranging far ahead of us, racing around like good hunting dogs do! I know it is not very accurate, but it suggests we tallied about 3.75 km in the hour or so we were out. With our new snow and -12°C temperatures, conditions were perfect.

Just above is a picture from the route we took through forest and fields up on the ridge east of our house. We don't own most of this property, but enjoy the very best of neighbours who, ever since our arrival about 30 years ago, have generously let us use their lands as if it were ours. You don't get better people than that!

Kayaking? Maybe, this weekend if the temperature warms up from our present -24°C to around 0°C. It's been over a week since I've paddled, so I'm getting the itch to get out there again.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Snow, Snow, Glorious Snow!

As you can tell from the two pictures in today's post, we'd had some snow. Above was the situation on Sunday. Below is a picture off the porch this morning. Twenty centimeters of the stuff, which is finally enough to making skiing fun. After the original snow in early December, we've not had much at any one time. No sooner would we get a bit, then it would rain or get so mild it would all disappear. The downside is that the snow has come with very cold temperatures. It's -12°C at the moment and is expected to drop to -20°C overnight. That's fine for skiing, but cold temperatures like these make me seriously wonder about the wisdom of going out for a paddle, especially alone. I think not...

If you're a Sir John Franklin fan, and live in North America, then I understand that the NOVA program on PBS will be re-airing a program tonight at 8 pm on his last voyage to discover the Northwest Passage. The companion website can be found here.

So, with that, I'm off to finish clearing the driveway and then I think I'll go skiing!

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Many of us are using the Google Earth program in various ways to enhance our paddling experience. The program can be used in a host of ways, both before a trip for planning purposes and after a trip to record where you went and what you saw or did. I suppose the really hi-tech among us can use the program en-route as well, downloading pictures of where they are. My interest here was to plot roughly where I went the other day for the fun of it. The exercise also gave me a chance to explore the possibilities the program might have for planning and recording future trips in other areas.

On the east side of the Google map, I pin-pointed 'Home', my starting point where I live. From there I drove to my Put-in (see pin at the top of the map) on the stream exiting north of the lake. The line then traces my path as I paddled down the east side of the lake. I didn't take pictures that day, but the one above, taken in December, is what you'd see as you paddle down the east side of the lake.

This picture shows you approaching Black Point, having made the crossing over to the western shore.

From Black Point, where I had a little look at the ice forming on the cliffs there, I then headed northward along the west shore. About half way along, I passed a small creek entering the lake and that view is seen in the picture above. You can see the mouth of the creek has frozen over due to the shallows at the mouth. Geese had been resting there in the Fall, but they've moved to the south end of the lake now the ice has formed.

The path continues back to the lake's outlet stream, under the two bridges and back to the put-in. According to Google Earth, my path was about 5.5 miles. I can usually do this paddle in just over an hour, but as I stop frequently to look at birds, take pictures and play in the waves, I can take several hours to do this same paddle.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Going Down!

Flying is not supposed to be that dangerous an activity, at least from a statistical standpoint. That said, I have had my share of close calls in the little flying I have done. Here are a few memorable incidents...

The picture above shows a four engine aircraft which has run past the end of the runway in Roberval, Quebec. We were returning south from Iqaluit, Baffin Island at night in 1968 when the plane developed a oil leak in one engine. We were advised by the pilot that he was shutting down the engine, but we didn't need to worry, the plane could easily fly on three engines. Shortly after that announcement, we went to two engines and finally we were down to one and making a forced landing. The pilot managed to get us safely on the ground, but, as you can see from the photo, he used every inch of runway and then some before the plane stopped. We got a ride into town at dawn and 'enjoyed' breakfast at a local hotel before a second, smaller plane arrived to take us to Montreal.

Another 'experience' was flying in a small single engined 'Norseman' up the Ungava Bay coast. I was in the co-pilot's seat enjoying the trip when the pilot passed me a note he had scribbled out. It asked if I thought the 'engine was running rough'? I'm not a pilot and had no idea. Next thing I knew, we were heading down and we landed in a tiny lake in the middle of nowhere. The pilot tried radioing back to Kuujjuak for advice, but couldn't raise anyone. He wandered about for several hours and finally realised if we were to survive this experience, we'd better rescue ourselves. We took off - just barely as the lake was really too small - and returned to Kuujjuak without incident. The engine was taken apart, found to be in perfect order. The pilot was given his walking papers.

I once chartered a pair of small helicopters to fly up the coast of Ungava Bay. I wanted to be in the lead machine, but ended up in the second one. From there, I began to enjoy flying 'in formation' as it were, watching the chopper in front leading the way, then, suddenly, it dropped down below us. Our pilot turned to see what was happening. The other helicopter was in obvious difficulty as we watched it plummet earthward. Just before crashing, the pilot exercised a technique whereby the rotors are allowed to spin freely and then just a few hundred feet or less above the ground, he uses the spin momentum to brake the aircraft, settling it 'gently' on the ground. It was a hard landing, but fortunately no one was injured. It turned out the engine had mysteriously quit and that had forced the emergency landing. It was a doomed machine, eventually crashing for good later that summer. The pilot walked out, but the helicopter remains still sit on a lonely beach in northern Quebec.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Breaking Bread on the Beach

I like gadgets. So one of the things I've usually put on my Consumer Fest list each year is a Bread Machine. Most of those here at home aren't that crazy about new fangled hi-tech gadgets, but they do like bread, so I've never been sure why I'd not been given a Bread Machine. Instead I would get things like pants and socks and books... So it was quite a surprise this year to discover that Santa had finally delivered the bread, so to speak.

I've been cooking up a storm since then, searching the net for recipes, scouring stores for exotic types of flour like spelt and kamut, mixing all kinds of things together to come up with something both edible and suitable as an heirloom item to pass along to my grandchildren when they show up. I've been really pleased with the results so far. Not a single door stopper yet!

I'm not sure it will fit into the kayak, but if it did, imagine waking up to a rosy sunrise, the sound of lapping water and the aroma of fresh bread, hot coffee... I'm looking up some ways of having it make dough which I could freeze and then bake en route using a Dutch oven set-up. I'm not sure anything like that exists, but imagine how great it would be if it does. Ideas, anyone? I've already got toutons on the list for next summer!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Frozen Droplets on My Sleeve

Yesterday morning I made the rounds through the different blogs listed on the sidebar to the right of this post. I often do this, starting with Bonnie's Frogma blog and going all the way to the bottom with Simon's blog. We're all so different, yet we share much as well, especially our obvious love of being out on the water and our interest in sharing what we discover and learn while we're out there or thinking about going out.

While most of the recent postings have been upbeat and fun to read, there is also an underlying thread of gloom running in many of them as well. Most of this is probably weather related. Either it is deplorable and unfriendly to paddlers or it is unseasonable and hints at nasty things going on which tells us Gaia is not amused with her children. Or maybe it's just seasonal. Maybe these dark gloomy days have us deprived of sunlight and joy, of that uplifting feeling we get when heading out to the put-in is a pleasure, the launch a rush and the paddle just the medicine we needed to release all our worries and concerns. It is well known that people living in high latitudes suffer the effects of low light and 'cabin fever', so maybe that's what is behind these postings. I'm sure it's a temporary thing.

When I looked down at the frozen water droplets on my sleeve yesterday morning, I was thinking about these posts, each one like a frozen thought waiting for a day filled with sunshine and hope, joy and happiness to change it's state. A few minutes ago, I noticed some other 'droplets' in my 'Comments' section. Obviously a person signing on as 'Anonymous' is unhappy with me. That's okay. I'm not perfect. I know I make mistakes and this time it appears I'm rubbing someone the wrong way. There are easy and private ways to solve these problems as well so that some sunshine can lighten a space made dark by my blundering. Hopefully this person will work towards solving their difficulty with me in a private, mature fashion.

It is certain that brighter days are coming to us northerners. I held a Beltane Fire to be sure of it during the Holidays, just before the annual, end-of-year Consumer Fest carried me away!

Monday, January 8, 2007

Sleepy Time in the Snowhouse

It's been fun going though all my old slides and pictures. I gather it's been interesting as well for the many people who've dropped in for a look. I've enjoyed reading your comments. It's time to get out another box from the basement and see what goodies it might contain. And didn't my brother call me over the holidays telling me I have another box or two at his place? I'm drowning in history!

It's time to start organizing and burning these onto CD's. My intention is to send them to the library in Igloolik where they may provide some interest for both those who lived these days with me and for younger people who just missed the chance to live that life. It's noteworthy that some people are returning to the land to live at least in the summer for a few weeks. Their children and their friends are getting a glimpse, like I did, of camp life.

So enjoy the snowhouse. I see your kamiik are already hanging up to air. I'll resume the series shortly...

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Warm Enough For You?

Since I discovered MSN Messenger last Fall, I've enjoyed 'chatting' with friends here and there. This evening I was speaking with Mary Nassak from Kangirsuk, a community on the west coast of Ungava Bay in northern Québec. Among other things we talked about was the polar bear which wandered around her town a couple of days ago and the fact that the river passing the town had yet to freeze over, something which normally occurs in October!

At first I didn't see the common thread in these two events, but of course, it is obvious. The bear was hungry. It came to town to look for food. Why was the bear so hungry it decided to try visiting the town, normally a place to avoid? There was not enough sea ice to allow it to follow its normal hunting pattern which at this time of year would take it far out into the middle of Ungava Bay.

Mary didn't mention what became of the bear, whether it was chased away or killed. However, the strangely warm weather seems to be affecting much of the northern part of North America and perhaps other places as well. It is worrisome, especially as, around here, this is the second winter with little or no snow. The picture above was taken this afternoon during a walk with our horses and some friends. Normally in January, we would be skiing this field, not walking it!

There are some climate change models which predict, sudden and rapid fluctuations from a cooler to a warmer climate regime. Let's hope that's not what we're experiencing! The economic impact is already being felt, but if the weather pattern persists, the impact will certainly be enormous and expensive. My dream house on Baffin may be something I should look at sooner rather than later...

How Do You Like Your Rope Done?

If you're a 'skin-on-frame' qajaq builder, you no doubt wish you had genuine sealskin decklines with bone or antler toggles to tension them with. Well, let's have a look at how the sealskin line is acquired as I happen to have a few pictures that illustrate the procedure.

The top photo shows Enuki Kunnuk beside a bearded seal he has just 'harvested'. You can see he has had to harpoon the seal as they frequently sink after bring shot. Once the animal has been pulled up on a level surface, in this case a pan of ice, he begins cutting series of circular cuts. Each cut makes a 'belt' about 10 to 15 cms wide which will become a length of line. Next he cuts through the fatty layer beneath the skin to loosen it and once that's done, the 'belt' is slipped off the seal.

If you have the time, the next step is to let the skin rot sufficiently so the hair can be easily scrapped off. This step can be skipped and done at a later stage. Any fat remaining on the skin must also be removed as well. This is done by using a special scraper pushing the skin against a flat surface. Again, if the skin is a bit rancid, the job goes quicker, although the odor can be... well, interesting!

To cut the rope, you will need the assistance of someone to hold the belt and the cut edge tight as you cut. The idea is to take a slice about a centimeter thick along one side and continue this cut round and round until the whole belt has been sliced. As the skin is very greasy and slippery, the assistant will need a stick to wrap the line around thereby holding the cut end tightly. After you make a cut, he then slides the stick grip forward, maintaining the tension. A sharp knife is a must!

This is where my pictures end, but once the cutting is done, the long piece of skin takes on a 'rope' appearance and is coiled up and left to dry in the wind for a few days. It is then taken down and stretched tightly along the ground or on stones a few centimeters off the dirt. Going along the line with a sharp knife, you remove any leftover fur, fat or other irregularities left in the line, leaving it smooth and pliable. Finish by coiling it up and storing it until needed for your decklines, harpoon lines, sled traces and lashings, whatever you'd use regular rope for. It is incredibly strong and, best of all, it doesn't freeze when wet, making it better than rope for many uses in the cold.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Back to the Land

In 1969 only a single family was left living on the land in the old way. For those in town, returning to camp life after a winter in the new community of Igloolik was fast becoming an economic impossibility. Too many hunters were competing for too few resources and the trading price of seal skins plummeted to almost nothing thanks to the seal protest movement in the south. Returning to camp cost money, especially for outboard motor gas and other basic supplies. Money people didn't have.

I was anxious to learn about camp life as part of my research project and offered to 'finance' a family from my grant so they could spend the summer in their former home. During the winter, drums of gas were taken out by dog team to the old home at Iglujjuak, about 100 miles from town. Then, in late May, we headed off ourselves. We went part way by dog team and then split into two groups, the family and I by canoe and the two older boys continued in a roundabout way by dog sled over the sea ice, a three day trip for them and two for us.

We hunted along the way and stopped at the only permanent camp to socialize. By the time we got to the shore ice at Iglujjuak, the boys arrived with the dogs and we were able to cross the ice and set up camp on shore. The above picture is my tent, set up in the traditional way with sleeping quarters at the rear on winter caribou fur 'mattresses' with the 'kitchen' at the side in front. The young lady is Noreen Kuroyama, a McGill student, who worked with me collecting hunting data. Note the 'tin' seal oil lamp we used to take the chill off during those long summer evenings. The tin had come from a crashed airplane in Hall Beach about 200 miles further south.

Hunting immediately improved. There were seals everywhere and having not been hunted all winter, they were very approachable, especially as we shifted our sorties each time we went out, utilizing a different area each time. We hunted with the dogs until July when the ice finally melted. Then it was time to repair the boat and hunt with it. By the time we returned in September, we were flush with furs, food and a great sense of well-being.

Next time, I'll talk about catching a bearch seal and turning the hide into seal skin line.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Paddling Naked on a Winter's Day

My arctic series took a day off yesterday so I could take advantage of the beautiful, but strangely warm weather. The sky was winter blue, the water deadly cold, but the air temperature was 7°C! The snow we had last Sunday has disappeared from around the lake although it is struggling to stay alive where I live a bit higher up. I packed a quickie lunch, grabbed my gear bag, threw the boat into the saddles, lashed her down and dashed off for an all day paddle.

At the put-in, off came the boat and I carried it down to the water - Freya still seems to prefer that I carry my boat as she hasn't sent me my free trolley yet. I suppose it must be a fitness thing. In any event, it's good to know someone like her is concerned about my health...

Back to the car to suit up. And then I noticed. No pfd! All ready to go and my pfd was missing, still hanging up to dry at home... Should I go anyway? No, of course not. Well, maybe, just in the river, if I stay close to shore? No. Oh come on, I won't fall out... For heaven's sake, I'm not a beginner! Besides, the ducks don't need to wear one, why should I? Okay, but no silly stuff. Just careful paddling.

I launched, feeling strangely naked without my vest. But the river was calm, the current slight and the unencumbered paddling was free and cool. I wondered as I made my way upstream from the dam... it was a gorgeous day, the lake was fairly still, just a little chop, and I would stay close to shore. I'd be careful...

Out on the lake I didn't want to stop. I wanted to go, go, go forever, but finally the guilt of paddling naked with all those gawking sightseers along the shore watching me wondering what kind of idiot would be out paddling a skinny little boat with no pfd in water that cold... I turned around, ashamed and retreated to the car. I drove over to my Mother's place for some mid-morning tea. What a stupid thing to do. I'm going to chain the pfd to the bloody car from now on. I wasted a perfect winter paddling day!

I think I'll scan a 100 photos as punishment...

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Moving to Town

When people first began moving to Igloolik, the new government built town, there was very little in the way of housing. People moved anyway. They missed their children, who were attending school and wanted to be with them. So, at first, many people lived in tents on the outskirts of the new community.

The children lived in the new hostels being built...

... and went to school. This building is not the original school, but a newer, bigger school built to accommodate the rapidly rising number of children in Igloolik.

Each summer more and more prefabricated houses would arrive by ship and be built. These ones are a second generation model which began to replace the original one room houses. A town was born.

In the spring, many people would pull their children out of school and head back out to their old camps, to places like the one at Iglulik that I posted pictures of yesterday (I know, it has the same place name as the town. Actually, Inuit call the town 'Ikpiarrjuk', meaning 'pocket' after the bay its located on, so the confusion is only an English thing). As for kayaks, their existence faded rapidly from memory. Everyone, especially the young, began to think of them as 'old-fashioned', something from the old days, as they eagerly embraced a new lifestyle in a 'modern' world. It would be the next generation that began to realise what had happened and it became their task to try and salvage what was left and record it before it was gone completely. Igloolik has been a leader in this race against time and thanks to people now living there, a detailed record exists. However, few artifacts, and no qajaq remain.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Changing Times in Arctic Canada

The qajaq I wrote about yesterday obviously was built for use in a particular time and place. Today I want to have a look at the first of those two contexts. To begin with, it was a time of major upheavals in the Canadian arctic. The government in the south had begun to move into the country in a major way. Formally the only ones to do so were trading companies like the Hudson's Bay Company (The HBC, jokingly referred to as 'Here Before Christ') and the various churches. Suddenly in the 1960's, towns were being built including all sort of modern infrastructure. There were Northern Service officers, teachers, construction crews and so on, all living in close proximity with Inuit for the first time and introducing new ideas and opportunities.

Families living in their traditional outlying hunting camps were encouraged to leave their children in hostels in the villages so they could attend school for the first time. People began buying large 24 foot freighter canoes to travel to and from the communities and, of course, they used them for hunting as well. Very quickly the advantage of having a larger boat became obvious to everyone. The next step occurred when camps started to close and people moved into the towns to be with their children. At first they camped in town, but within a short time houses were provided and the old way of life rapidly changed. Cooperatives were formed and even bigger boats were brought in as hunters were forced to range further and further afield in order to feed themselves and their dogs. Kayaks no longer had a role to play in this new lifestyle. They were no longer needed or built, not even for recreational reasons.

When I arrived in Igloolik in 1968, the transition was in full swing. After a winter spent in the new town, many people were anxious to move out to a camp setting where they could feel more comfortable, more like themselves back to the 'good old days'! I could actually see people change as they relaxed and opened up after being confined in their new houses, all jumbled close together throughout the winter. It was quite remarkable to witness, especially for an outsider like myself. Naturally, people brought along their new boats. The camp was located close to the floe edge and by mid July, they could launch right from the beach to go hunting. The town of Igloolik would have to wait until August before it was clear of ice.

Tomorrow I will look at the new town that was under construction in contrast to the camp in today's pictures. Then we'll go to a hunting camp far from Igloolik to live the 'old way' as 'Inumarriit'!

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Last Qajaq in Igloolik

I knew I had seen a skin kayak on the beach in Igloolik during the summer of 1968, but for the life of me, I couldn't locate a picture of it. Over the years, I came to the conclusion that I didn't have a picture of the boat or if I did, then it had been lost in the intervening years. After all, that was nearly 40 years ago and I've moved a few times since then, clearing out stuff as I went.

About a month ago, I began systematically making digital copies of all my arctic photographs. I had taken hundreds of them beginning in 1967 in the western Canadian arctic around Bathurst Inlet and continuing to the whole area of northern Foxe Basin and arctic Quebec. I knew there might be a few surprises along the way, and sure enough, just before New Year's, I hit pay dirt: four pictures of a kayak on the beach in Igloolik taken in 1968! These are the pictures posted here. Click on them to get a slightly larger image with more details.

The boat itself seems to be in good condition, particularly the skin. My recollection was that the skin had badly deteriorated when I'd seen it. I recall people telling me that it leaked badly and was dangerous to use. Was this a second boat, or is my memory not accurate? This boat is seen lying between a canoe and a Peterhead boat, again not exactly what I remember, but very telling in a way. Seen between the two other boats one can tell precisely why Inuit gave up qajaq hunting. The freighter canoe with outboard motor became available, was affordable and could carry much more in the way of hunting equipment. The large Peterhead boat on the right became the boat of choice as people grouped together in coops to hunt and run various other enterprises. Suddenly the kayak was not the competitive choice and it soon disappeared.

The construction of the boat is also interesting. Note the use of plywood both for the coaming, a few nails here and there and a few plywood ribs as well as the use of some spacers to fair the hull. I can also see numerous stringers (are there 6 plus a keel?) running fore and aft, not the three more commonly used in Greenland boats, nor the often seen three piece rib and flat bottom construction used in most eastern Canadian kayaks from south Baffin, Quebec and Labrador. The very round bottom suggests to me that it was a tippy boat which is probably why people claimed it was dangerous!

I was glad to see the wealth of hunting equipment stored inside, another feature I hadn't recalled. I find the multi-piece harpoon particularly interesting, especially it's walrus tusk break-away head. There is also a seal hook, lots of seal-skin line and another item I don't recognize (the circular item attached to the wooden T or cross shaped board). Perhaps one of you readers would know its use...

So, an interesting boat which seems to incorporate interesting design ideas from both northern Baffin Island kayaks as well as the Netsilingmiut boats further west of Igloolik. A delightful Christmas present to myself after all these years of searching!

Tomorrow, I'll post some pictures giving an idea of the context in which this qajaq was last used: the Inuit hunting camp at the flow edge off Iglulik, a place where people have lived and hunted for well over a 1000 years.