Polar Sea 360°

Episode 03

Legends of Food

Greeting Canada Map it

By Richard Tegnér, Swedish architect and father of two daughters. After DAX, a 9.5 meter sailboat and Richard’s vessel through the Northwest Passage, lands upon the shores of the small Inuit village, Pond Inlet, Richard takes his first look at the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Canadian Arctic.

August 5 - Pond Inlet, Nunavut

It’s one degree and foggy this morning. At 10:10 we stare at the dramatic mountains around Pond Inlet. Snow-covered peaks with steep edges dive right into the water. At first, we hit thick fog but gradually the fog parts and drifts to the sides of the mountains and the whole channel clears up. The glaciers are like frozen waterfalls along the mountainsides. It is truthfully, totally wild.

We chug towards Pond Inlet where Polar Sea director David New waits for us on the beach. We go for lunch and then to the police station to get our passports stamped and report our weapon. There is no harbour in Pond Inlet so we stay bobbing in the water and go back and forth to the beach on the dinghy. The view is strikingly beautiful. On the opposite side of Pond Inlet is the Sirmilik National Park.
 

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Dog Food Map it

By David New, Polar Sea TV Series Director. In Pond Inlet David spends most of his time learning about and documenting local food, animals, and hobbies; but he never suspected he’d also be providing the local entertainment with his crazy cultural habits!

Milne Inlet, Nunavut

The Inuit we are with, when they hunt narwhal, are mostly after the tusk and the muktuk, which is the skin. On the first one they caught, they just left the meat behind. But we tried it and thought it was delicious. Way better than the muktuk. They say that the older people eat that stuff, but the hunters themselves don’t anymore. Perhaps different families have varying tastes, because we did hear that the people in the next cabin were eating the meat. In any case, we thought it was too good to waste, so Sanjay and Scott (The Polar Sea sound technician and camera assistant) got permission to carve off a few steaks to fry up later.

“When we started eating our narwhal steaks we were basically eating dog food”


 

“When the Inuit we were with hunt narwhal, they are after the tusk and the muktuk”

Sam Omik, our boat captain, then killed another narwhal, and he took all the meat off that one. He’s an older guy, we figured perhaps he still had a taste for it, but no – it turns out he eats the muktuk, and feeds the meat to his sled dogs. So when we started eating our narwhal steaks there was a lot of laughing going on because we were basically eating dog food. A few people tried it, Sam had a piece for example, but when his wife saw what we were up to she looked like she had seen someone picking their nose in public, and quickly went into her tent.

The next morning, Michael Kusugak, a storyteller and writer we brought along for this journey, told us about how when he was small, his father would bring a big sack of oatmeal along with them when they went out with the dog team in winter. Not to eat, but to fix the sled. If a piece of the runner broke you would mix up some oatmeal and pat it into place to freeze. In a few minutes, you had nice new runners ready to go.

But if times were tough, if the hunting was bad, if you didn’t have enough walrus meat or whatever to keep your sled team going, guess what you would do with the oatmeal. Feed it to the dogs. At that point one of the two scientists was having a nice big bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Yep, dog food again.

Crazy white people.

 
 
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This post is also available in: French, German

Bonding Over Lunch in Pang Map it

By Ulla Lohmann, a German photojournalist and documentary filmmaker. Ulla works regularly for publications like National Geographic, BBC, and The New York Times. During her first trip to the Arctic Ulla celebrates Canada Day in Pangnirtung and learns about significance of food in Inuit culture.

Pangnirtung, Nunavut

Hmmmm… was my first impression about the people in Pang. I walked out of the airport, smiled at some passing people and said “hello” but received no reaction. No smile back from the next person either, nor from the following. I live in a small village and I am used to people greeting others in the streets. Maybe this is just not a custom here?

And what a place of contrasts! From mid-November to mid-February Pangnirtung does not receive direct sunlight due to high coastal mountains. I can’t imagine living without sunshine or in permanent daylight either. The days are very short and wind chill temperatures can be –50°C or below. What do people do? How do children, especially cope with this?

“We can only see a glimpse of life up here. To get the full picture we would have to stay much longer”

For us as outsiders, it seems that there is not much to do in this small community. Yet I have discovered a very creative scene. We meet weavers, screen printers and famous painters, known all over Canada. There is also an active youth culture. There is Youth Center with a canteen, pool games, and Wi-station; and although our ideas of entertainment are quite different, we did meet many Inuit children with the same hobbies as we used to have. We saw children fishing in the sea, playing “catch and hide” on the shore, bicycling, playing with dogs, going to dances, and carnivals, and playing games of bingo.

Of course, we can only see a glimpse of life up here. To get the full picture we would have to stay much longer and also experience the winter: who knows? Maybe people here are quite happy playing in the snow, driving around snowmobiles? Just because I am used to a very different climate does not mean that life here in winter is bad and, above all, it is not about where you are, but what you make out of it.

The following days we spent in Pang I continued to greet and smile, without much success. People did their thing and we did ours. We didn’t really break the ice until our fourth day in Pang, Canada Day. It started with a constable raising the Canadian flag, followed by a “parade” of decorated red and white cars, and a group of elderly Pang women fashionably took up the rear of the parade. I joined the group of laughing women and performed the “Photographers Dance.” We laughed together and soon enough we were engaged in inspiring talks.
 


 

“Sharing food is very important in Inuit culture, it creates bonds between people”

Not long after the parade Annie, a local Pangnirtung woman, invited us for lunch at her place. We arrived with a bag of groceries from the supermarket. A good decision I learned later; sharing food is very important in Inuit culture. It creates bonds between people – like when a hunter returns home he shares with his friends and family. We brought apples and to our surprise they disappeared quicker than the lollies. We found out later that it was probably because of the prices – one apple costs around $3.50 CAD ($2.50 Euro).

For a family it seems very hard to afford a life with fresh groceries from the supermarket. Most of them rely on hunting as their main source of food. Seal, whale, fish, shellfish, and wild berries are kept inside the freezers and defrosted for meals, but hunting has become difficult with the changing climate. Annie tells us that more families rely on store goods and that they can’t even afford to share their catch in the traditional way; they have to sell it to cover fuel costs.

This is not the only challenge people have to face up here. Annie confesses us that there are also many depressed people and there is a “dark side” to the life here. There is a high suicide rate and much domestic violence. In the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, Eduardo Chachamovich et al. state that Nunavut’s suicide rate is 10 times the Canadian average, with child abuse as a major risk factor.

“I will treasure what I’ve learned from my newfound friends”

I learned a lot during my visit with Annie. She taught me to cut raw seal with an “ulu,” the woman’s knife. The ulu is used for everything, from skinning and cleaning animals to trimming a child’s hair, cutting food, or even shaping blocks of ice to build an igloo. At the end of our visit Annie gave me an ulu as a present. Traditionally the knife would be passed down from generation to generation. It was believed that an ancestor’s knowledge was contained within the ulu and thus would also be passed on with it.

I will treasure what I learned from our newfound friends. And I did revise my first impression about the people in Pang – once you have earned their trust they are the friendliest and open and generous people you can imagine.
Thank you for a great time and unforgettable days, dear Pang people!
 

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Henry Larsen: the man, his life

By Doreen Larsen-Riedel, daughter of Henry Larsen, legendary Arctic explorer and captain of the St. Roch, the first ship to circumnavigate North America. Throughout his career, in order to adapt to the tough Arctic winters locked in ice, Larsen learned Inuit customs like hunting and food preservation techniques.

Vancouver Island, British Columbia

On October 11, 1942 a 104-foot wooden schooner, captained by Norwegian-born Henry Larsen, was escorted without fanfare into the harbour of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Arctic patrol ship, the St Roch, left Vancouver, British Columbia in June 1940 for the Canadian Arctic. The 28-month voyage placed the ship and her crew in the annals of Canadian and global maritime history, as the first ship to traverse the Northwest Passage from west to east. Forty years had passed since Roald Amundsen set out to make the only prior transit of the fabled passage, a feat that inspired a young Henry Larsen.

I first met my father, Henry Larsen, in 1937 when I was only twenty three months old; the meeting is still burned into my memory. My mother, a family friend, Mrs. Poulsen, and I stood on the Evans-Coleman-Evans wharf in Vancouver. Mrs. Poulsen held my hand tightly as the St Roch glided in; its gangplank descended and a man in a brown uniform began his way down. I remember loosening her grip and running towards him. Reportedly I called out, “My Daddy, My Daddy, My Daddy.” He swept me up into his arms. That meeting was the beginning of a lifelong bond.

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Larsen was born in 1899 on the Norwegian island of Herføl in the Baltic Sea. He was a voracious reader, especially about the Arctic and could quote every major Arctic explorer. He said, “At school I read all the books on geography that I could come across and was attracted by stories about the Polar Regions. Books by Nansen, Amundsen, Sverdrup and Stefansson were my favorites…” Even before he went to sea at the age of 14 on the Anna, the sea was his great love.

“During the 28-month voyage St. Roch was the first ship to traverse the Northwest Passage from west to east”

Larsen loved ships, large and small, especially sailing ships. His hobby was building models of ships on which he had sailed. In the basement of every house we lived in, he built a beautiful room like a ship’s cabin. As a youngster he sailed pilots out to their ships and tourists to various islands. Often when large ships were anchoring in the bay waiting for favorable winds, he was allowed to go aboard, climb the masts and rigging and to do chores.

At age 15, Larsen first served on Norwegian sailing ships to the Americas during the First World War. Later he graduated with a master’s certificate from the Oslo navigation school and completed his required stint in the Norwegian navy. While on the Theodore Roosevelt in 1922, he met Amundsen, who was arranging a passage home for his pilot, Oscar Omdahl, after their failed attempt to fly over the North Pole. The long conversations he had with Omdahl again aroused his interest in the Arctic. The following year he read in the newspaper that a Danish-American trader, Christian Klengenberg, who had been sailing into the Arctic since 1905, was in Seattle and looking for a navigator.

With Klengenberg he gained experience navigating in the ice, over-wintering a ship, and living off the land by hunting for seals and walrus, handling dog teams, trapping, and living among the Inuit. Most importantly, he came to realize that he really liked life in the Arctic.

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“Of all the many men that served under me, none ever let me down” – Larsen

While on this voyage he learned that the RCMP intended to build a floating Arctic police detachment and supply ship. Larsen was determined to join this ship. Four years later, after becoming a naturalized Canadian citizen, Larsen, now 28, was the most junior member of the crew on the trial voyage of the RCMP St Roch. Once in the Arctic Larsen was appointed skipper and navigator.

The St Roch was built of Douglas fir with a sheath of Australian ironbark. Her rounded hull helped to resist the crushing pressure of the ice, but made her unstable. She had a 6 cylinder, 135 HP diesel engine, which was no more powerful than the engine of a modern car. The crew of 7 to 9 policemen usually had little prior experience on a ship. They sailed mostly through uncharted waters without modern navigational aids or regular radio contact. Larsen trained his crew to cope with such difficulties.

My dad once said to me, “Of all the many men that served under me, none ever let me down.” He was described as egalitarian and his men respected him. When there was work to be done he led his men by example. As one of his men said, “He never gave orders, he just asked you to do things.”

“Henry Larsen demonstrated Canada’s sovereignty over its part of the Arctic region”

Henry Larsen’s assignment was to demonstrate Canada’s sovereignty over its part of the Arctic region. The St Roch carried supplies to land detachments, transported Inuit, priests, and families around. The men carried mail, monitored game, conducted censuses, administered federal regulations, checked living conditions of Inuit communities, occasionally investigated murders or other crimes, acted as judges, collected various taxes, and issued licenses. In other words they carried out the functions of every government department. They raised and trained their sled dogs and hunted for fish, bears and seals to supply fresh meat for their dogs, themselves, and sometimes local Inuit. In winter they dressed and traveled in Inuit fashion, usually hiring a local man as interpreter or guide. These were the functions of the RCMP in the Arctic up until the late 1950’s.

Henry Larsen sailed the St Roch in Arctic waters, overwintering 11 times, from 1928 until 1948 when the ship was retired from Arctic service. Among the most renown achievements of the St Roch were the first west to east transit of the Northwest Passage (NWP) in 1940-42, the first complete transit by ship of the more northerly NWP route in 1944, and the first circumnavigation of North America. After his death in 1963, Larsen Sound, north of King William Island, Nunavut, was named in his honour.

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This post is also available in: French, German

Alone in Fog and Space Map it

By Richard Tegnér, Swedish architect and father of two daughters. After the DAX, a 9.5 meter sailboat and Richard’s vessel through the Northwest Passage, lands upon the shores of the small Inuit village, Pond Inlet, Richard takes his first look at the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Canadian Arctic.

August 8 - Eclipse Sound, Nunavut

This experience made me go inside myself and it was clear from the beginning that this was my intention, to dive in to myself more. It’s an external and internal journey. It happens to most people travelling to places like this. I mean in the Arctic you’re not filled up with impressions from society you’re usually living in. Here everything is so clean and silent. So you have to meet other people, but mostly you have to meet yourself.

We left Pond Inlet this morning. It looks like Martin’s coolness and distance is decreasing somewhat, which is good. Hopefully we take time to discuss our social relations when we dock again in Resolute Bay. We should obviously take as much care of our personal relationships as we do of repairing faulty equipment. Harmony is just as important for the onboard safety as the engine oil or the navigational instruments.

This post is also available in: French, German

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