Polar Sea 360°

Episode 05

Arctic Exiles

Decision to Abort Map it

By Richard Tegnér, Swedish architect and chronicler of the DAX voyage through the Northwest Passage. After unsolvable engine problems halt his trip with DAX, Richard becomes an Arctic hitchhiker.

August 10 - Pond Inlet, Nunavut

I write today with some sad news: we have decided to abort the Northwest Passage trip with the DAX. Martin advised that he is tired of all the problems. He wants to quit the voyage and sail the DAX back to Greenland to put it on dry dock. This decision is based on the risk of going further into the passage with an engine that cannot be trusted. At almost every harbour or anchorage Martin plunges into the motor well to fix never-ending problems.

This decision seems to have made it easier for us to breathe on board. To go through the Passage with an engine, which is not safe would be too risky. So now we head for Pond Inlet to advise those at home. In one way I am happy to let go of the bad atmosphere on board and the stress of the journey but I am also sad that we will not complete the project. I don’t want to go home just yet…


This post is also available in: French, German

The Impact of Relocation Map it

Lucie Idlout is an influential Canadian alternative rock singer and songwriter. She has produced three albums, toured all around Canada and Europe, and opened for well-known artists like The White Stripes and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Inspiration for her music comes from life growing up in Nunavut as well as her Indigenous roots, which includes the dark history of Canadian Inuit forced relocation. Lucie speaks with Polar Sea Online Director, Stephanie Weimar about the impact of relocation on her grandparents and the rest of her family.

Resolute Bay, Nunavut

In 1953 and 1955 Inuit families were relocated from Inukjuak, Quebec and Pond Inlet, Northwest Territories (now Nunavut) to the uninhabited Arctic land known as Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord. Lucie’s grandfather, Idlout and his family were one of them.

“It is impossible to say exactly where my family is from because they lived nomadically”

Where did your family live and what was life like before the relocation?

A: It is impossible to say exactly where my family is from because they lived nomadically before they were relocated to Resolute Bay. My great-grandparents, grandparents, and their children spent the spring and summer at a place called Aullativik, in the Mittimatalik area a good distance to the community called Pond Inlet in English. Mittimatalik is located on the Northern tip of Baffin Island. My mother was born there in a qarmaq (sod house), at the base of a big hill just up from the beach at Aullativik. The area was rich in marine mammals and other wildlife.

My grandfather, Joseph Idlout was a renowned hunter known for his expert skills. He was very forward-thinking and he always ensured he provided well for his family. Though the western world wouldn’t see it this way, by Inuit standards he was a very wealthy man. He had many dogs, a few boats, and all the equipment he needed to be a good provider. All their food was hunted and their clothing was sewn by my grandmother, Kidlak. This was the 1950s, before Inuit moved into institutionalized communities; before houses, electricity, plumbing, heat and modern commodities as we know them today. My mother tells me stories of when she had pet snow geese or lemmings. It was a very different time.

“My grandfather was lied to and deceived, just like everyone else who was forced into relocating to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord”


Q: How was your family coerced into moving to Resolute?

A: My grandfather was lied to and deceived, just like everyone else who was forced into relocating to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord. Contrary to government he did not volunteer. He was forced. He was told Resolute Bay was a land of plenty and was promised a better life. Unbeknownst to him and two other families from the Pond Inlet area, their purpose was to teach survival skills to the Inuit from the first relocation in 1953, who were originally from Inukjuak and not used to living in 24 hours of darkness or light. It was traumatizing and impossible to adjust to without help. People died. My grandfather was sent there to support them in adjusting to this drastically different environment, with fewer species of wildlife.

“It was traumatizing and impossible to adjust to without help”

At the time, the demand for fox furs was in decline and, to my grandfather, Resolute Bay seemed like a place with more opportunity. This was the time of the Cold War. He wanted to be able to continue providing his family with the goods they had grown accustomed to, like tea, sugar, flour, and biscuits. At the time these items were luxuries.

Q: What were some of the difficulties your family had to contend with in Resolute?

A:My grandfather, who was a respected man and hunter in our traditional homeland, who had received the Coronation medal, and was welcomed into the homes of the few non-Inuit at Pond Inlet, had no status in Resolute Bay and struggled as everyone else did. The land itself was extremely inhospitable. Resolute Bay was made of gravel, there was nothing else to build shelter with. It was impossible to build a proper dwelling or erect tents. They were moved to an empty land, with no housing, no infrastructure – nothing in place. My family was just dumped on a beach.


“Imagine being left on a beach with nothing and no means of creating or building anything”

Nothing was as we knew it from back home. A lot of change was forced onto people really quickly, having many negative impacts. Imagine being left on a beach with nothing and no means of creating or building anything. At the time the Americans had an army base at Resolute.

Inuit were forced to build shacks using discarded lumber from the army base dump, a place Inuit were ordered not to go to. They used scraps of anything they could find that would build a rudimentary home. Discarded boxes were used for flooring and other garbage found at the dump served other purposes. With no insulation, living in -50°C conditions in the winter – it was harsh.

The hunting conditions were also difficult and my grandfather found the isolation hard to deal with. Inuit in Resolute Bay were strictly controlled in every sense by the government and permission had to be sought for virtually everything, including their movements. Following a government directive, the RCMP slaughtered our dogs. There was some sort of policy in the day that Inuit were to be 100 per cent self-sufficient for every element of their lives, with no outside assistance from the very government who relocated them. Though my grandfather had his .222 and his .270 rifles, there was no ammunition to buy for him to hunt with, making it very difficult to feed his family.

Prior to the relocation my grandfather was able to earn credit at the Hudson’s Bay post for his furs and he earned money through other types of work at Pond Inlet. But in Resolute Bay, there were no credits or wages to be had, and no post to trade his furs.


“Inuit in Resolute Bay were strictly controlled in every sense by the government and permission had to be sought for virtually everything”

Q: What were the government’s motivations for the relocations?

A: The government claims that the Inuit volunteered to move to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord. In reality, it was a forced relocation so Canada could assert sovereignty over the High Arctic at a time when the Americans, Danes, and Russians were looking to do the same. They used Inuit as human flag poles by establishing these two previously non-existent communities and populating them. They called it an experiment. They treated Inuit like lab rats. In total, just under 100 Inuit made up of tight-knit families, were divided between these two new “communities” so Canada could claim that part of the map as Canadian soil, which was otherwise being disputed.

Q: In 2010, the government issued an apology to Canada’s Inuit people. What did that apology mean to you?

A: I’m sure the apology was a comfort for some and too-little-too-late for others. As I said earlier, we know the relocation was due to sovereignty, though in the apology government documents refer to it as an experiment. A lot of lives were lost and a lot of hearts were broken. Families were separated from their homeland and were forcibly divided from each other between the two new communities. Families were torn apart and for the tight-knit society this was highly traumatic. I can only speak for myself but Canada has a very dark history in its treatment of Inuit and Aboriginal people and the apology doesn’t fix the damage done. In order to receive the acknowledgement that what happened was wrong many people had to tell their stories, forcing them to relive the nightmare so that the truth could be told. I can only hope that they have found some peace in that apology.

This post is also available in: French, German

Torch of the Inuit Map it

By Celina Kalluk, travelling mother of four, shares experiences of her childhood growing up in Resolute Bay and the importance of throat singing and the Inuktitut language in her life.

Resolute Bay, Nunavut

I am me: a mother, a katajjaqti – an Inuit throat singer, a seamstress and designer, a visual performance artist. I am alive, inuujunga.

Throat singing in Inuktitut is katajjaq. Normally it’s a two-person game with a leader and a follower, which creates a canon effect. One woman breathes in while the other breathes out and the goal is to make the intricate songs last as long as possible. For example, if I want to challenge my friend to sing the sounds of the river, I start and my partner follows shortly after I make my sound, but before I finish it. There is a unique mysteriousness and challenge to it. We almost always end in laughter.

My mother Zipporah, a library of Inuit music, sang all types of traditional songs and hymns to me as a child; but I didn’t start throat singing until my first daughter was born. At a young age I learned that katajjaq is unique to Inuit culture and that the beauty of the voice does not matter as long as the context is not lost. It is an art that requires immense discipline.


“I am strengthened by Inuit traditions and songs. They give me a sense of belonging and humble pride, a kind of torch to carry”

I believe that art is a natural trait of the Inuit. My “Ukuaq” Dora, (my uncle Padluk’s wife) was a great artist all her life. She happily shared her family throat songs with me and the children of Resolute Bay. Dora taught me the importance of traditional-style throat singing. I am inspired and strengthened by Inuit traditions and songs. They give me a sense of belonging and humble pride – a kind of torch to carry. I am blessed to be able to sing and teach these songs to my daughters and others.

Throat singing is historically a woman’s practice but it is not looked down upon when a man wants to throat sing. While the men went out hunting on the tundra, or on the ice, the women sang songs while working hard to survive in Canada’s High Arctic. Sounds of this environment were (and continue to be) imitated in these songs.

I started singing publicly when I was 19 and since then throat singing has taken me all over the world. My first “gig” was to Folk on the Rocks with my cousin Tanya Tagaq Gillis. I went to Timbuktu, Africa for Festival au Désert as a part of Artcirq, the world’s first Inuit circus. We sang for the Queen of England and her royal family for her Diamond Jubilee. This sort of international acclaim helps with local popularity of throat singing and we are beginning to see younger generations of Nunavut girls embracing it proudly.

My life began in Resolute Bay, where I was born and raised. We were content and for the first six years of my life my parents would take my siblings and I camping on the Arctic tundra, until my dad, a French Acadian, left for his home in New Brunswick. He said he missed the trees. My mother was born in the High Arctic. Her strengths come from this environment; it is the only life she knows. It was sad and put pressure on our mother. She spent a lot of time drinking heavily, although this was not unordinary. The pressures of the bar seemed to intoxicate our entire village. Over time we became bitter and depressed, but that’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of love from my family and our community. During the sober times I discovered the power and greatness of the Inuit: including our language, Inuktitut.


“The Inuktitut language is in a state of emergency; we need more strong Inuktitut teachers”

When I was ready for high school I had to leave to another community because at that time, school only went to grade 9 in Resolute Bay. I went to Cambridge Bay to live with my auntie but it was difficult to leave home and as I struggled to fit into the new community and cliques – I became pregnant with my first child. With the shock of the pregnancy I challenged myself to accept the responsibility of being a mother, even if I was just a teen. When my beautiful child turned two years old, Resolute Bay started a high school program and, with much support from my mother, I completed secondary education. Afterwards my daughter and I moved to Ottawa to study art for one year. From there I moved to Iqaluit to build a family, until my own family fell apart. I moved to Toronto with my children, eager to see another side of life before returning once again to Resolute Bay after 3 years to teach Inuktitut. I knew it was the right choice. My heart is Nunavummiut, from Nunavut.

Two years ago I began teaching Inuktitut Language and Cultural Arts classes at the high school in Resolute Bay. The experience has been wonderful and one of the biggest challenges I have ever been faced with. When I first arrived at the school it felt cold, as many institutions can be. There was a non-Inuk, non-Inuktitut speaker teaching the class; no one else was available. It broke my heart a little. I wanted to do my absolute best.

“Our class is so much more than a language lesson. We learn Inuit songs, drum dancing, and more”

I am not a trained teacher yet – the language and cultural arts teacher position is only required to have traditional knowledge of Inuktitut – but I work well with the 30 students. We learn together. I have learned that the Inuktitut language is in a bit of a state of emergency; if we really want to preserve it then we need more strong Inuktitut teachers and for the community to be present in their children’s education. We need to help the communities learn trust for education but first the system must trust itself.

I feel for the kids here. They deserve the very best. We have really tried to encourage community involvement in the schools. For example, we have invited elders to show us how to recognize every usable part of a seal, cut it up, and cook it in class. We go outside on good days to learn how to build igloos. We also learn Inuit songs and drum dancing to relay stories and to lighten our work loads. Our class is so much more than a language lesson. I have now applied and been accepted to teachers college, which will begin in the fall of 2014. Inuktitut is a distinguished part of our culture and our culture is a living thing; it is the people.

This post is also available in: French, German

The Ghosts of the Franklin Expedition Map it

By Shane McCorristine, an interdisciplinary geographer, historian, and lecturer from Dublin, Ireland. He researches 19th century understanding of Arctic regions at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge. In this article he explains the mysteries of the British explorer Sir John Franklin’s futile voyage through the Northwest Passage.

Beechey Island, Nunavut

The quest to locate and traverse a north-to-west passage through the Arctic Archipelago was one of the most mythical and emotionally tumultuous British campaigns of the nineteenth century. The expedition, led by Sir John Franklin, departed from Beechey Island in the spring of 1846 in search of an elusive passage to the Pacific Ocean. It never returned.

Early modern navigators searched for a passage to the Orient in vain but later land explorers like Franklin explored and mapped significant portions of the Arctic coastline. In 1822 Franklin returned from the Coppermine River expedition (an attempt to map the Northwest Passage) as ‘the man who ate his boots.’ Tragically, most of its indigenous voyageurs died and incidents of cannibalism occurred. Franklin led a second, less dramatic Arctic land expedition (1825-7), following which he was knighted and married Jane Griffin. Franklin was a shy man from Lincolnshire, England who worked his way up the ranks and served with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars. He was considered a humane, reliable, and honourable officer.

“Beechey Island became a place of investigation, pilgrimage, and haunting”

Franklin’s ships, HMS Erebus and Terror, had impressive technological might. They were converted bomb vessels fitted with screw propeller engines, a modern hot water heating system, and reinforced with iron hulls. The expedition was expected to take several years and was supplied with massive stores of food, rifles, ammunition, and winter clothing, alongside libraries and theatrical equipment for recreation. The British Admiralty had never before sent out such a well-equipped discovery expedition, which left London in May 1845.

The expedition departed amid much fanfare and optimism. Both the eastern and western ‘doors’ of the Northwest Passage were open and Britain’s imperial strength and naval dominance encouraged the public to believe that mapping this unknown corridor was quite possible. Yet the experiences of other naval expeditions should have sounded a note of warning. As Amundsen knew only too well, it was almost impossible for large steam-powered ships to navigate treacherous ice fields over successive winters. Detrimentally, Franklin’s massive crews were dependent on their stored goods rather than the kinds of environmental knowledge and craft expertise that Inuit communities depended on.


“British Admiralty had never before sent out such a well-equipped expedition”

The men of the Franklin expedition perished in dire circumstances: its history unwritten, its ships lost. Beechey Island was famous among Arctic explorers as the last safe winter harbour of the British expedition and central to understanding why Franklin failed. It became a place of investigation, pilgrimage, and haunting. In 1903, on their own Northwest Passage journey, Amundsen and his men felt the “heaviness and sadness of death” hanging over the island. The ghosts of the Franklin expedition remain there to this day, invoking a sense of mystery that surrounds its fate.

In 1850 search and rescue expeditions discovered a cairn of empty cans of preserved meats and soups and the graves of John Torrington, John Hartnell, and William Brain of the Franklin expedition. They died during the winter of 1845/6. One searcher recorded his feelings of melancholy at the scene:

“The three resting places proved that death had been busy amidst the little band… [but] there existed no record pointing out their intended route, nor even a trace which gave a clue to their fate, which is, and alas! I am afraid will ever be, clouded in mystery.”

Why had these men died so early in the expedition? Why were no documents placed under the cairn, as was standard practice?


“The men of the Franklin expedition perished in dire circumstances: its history unwritten, its ships lost”

For some, the discovery of the Beechey Island graves created collective fantasies that the expedition had, in fact thrived and was actually trapped in the mythical ‘Polar Sea.’ Rumours and hoaxes spread through the British media during this period and dozens of young clairvoyants even offered their services to the search. Over 30 missions to find traces of the expedition were launched between 1847 and 1859, including official British Admiralty missions, United States expeditions, and private ships sent by Lady Franklin. Scepticism surfaced and they were officially taken off the Navy list by the Admiralty in 1854. It seemed that the Beechey Island would hold onto its mysteries forever.

Yet in 1854 evidence finally emerged. Dr John Rae, exploring the King William Island region for the Hudson’s Bay Company, heard stories from Inuit about 40 white men. The men communicated that their ships had been crushed by the ice and that they were heading south in search of deer to shoot. Later in the same season the Inuit encountered graves and the corpses of around 30 white men. The mutilated state of the bodies led Rae to believe that cannibalism had occurred. He brought the despairing news home to a shocked British public, along with the pathetic relics of a disaster – buttons, silver cutlery, and medals.

In 1859 Leopold McClintock, dispatched by Jane Franklin, found documentary evidence on King William Island: a record from May 1847, which gave the coordinates of the ships and mentioned that the Terror and Erebus overwintered on Beechey Island with the commander Sir John Franklin. McClintock noticed handwriting around the borders of the document that told a dark story. Dated April 1848, it recorded that Franklin had died on June 11 1847, the ships had been abandoned off the coast of King William Island, and that 105 officers and crew were heading south under the command of Captain Crozier.

“In 1854 evidence of the Franklin expedition finally emerged”

Many reasons for the disaster have been discussed throughout the years: scurvy, imperial hubris, massacre, cultural arrogance, and even bad luck, but the fact that 24 men, including Franklin, died by this point in the voyage suggests some form of disease afflicted the crew. This would have weakened the expedition and destroyed morale. The fact that the ships had been locked in the ice since 1846 also points to severe ice conditions inhibiting any channels through the Northwest Passage.

Beechey Island continues to gather researchers to its shores. From 1981-6 forensic investigations on the three buried bodies were carried out by Owen Beattie and others and after analysing the hair and bones of the remains it was concluded that lead poisoning was also a factor in their death. The source of this poisoning was found in the cairn of stacked tin cans. It seems that during the preparations for the expedition, Goldners, the company supplying the Admiralty with preserved goods, rushed the canning process and imperfectly sealed some of the seams. This allowed lead to seep into and contaminate the food, gradually poisoning those who were dependent on it to survive. Combined with the common naval danger of scurvy, lead poisoning may have doomed the Franklin expedition.

As long as the mysteries of the expedition remain, the ghosts of Beechey Island will live on.

The Most Notable Shipwreck Mystery of our Age

On October 1, 2014 Canadian Prime Minister, Steven Harper confirmed that Parks Canada Archaeologists found Sir John Franklin’s ship, HMS Erebus, which was last seen entering Baffin Bay 169 years ago. Franklin’s voyage ended in tragedy when his ship, alongside a second British Navy vessel, HMS Terror disappeared while searching for the mysterious Northwest Passage. 2014 marked Parks Canada’s largest search effort for the remnants of the Franklin expedition since the 19th century. Archaeologists have not yet explored the vessel interior, and cannot do so until the Arctic ice melts again next summer, so they can’t confirm whether Franklin still rests within the great ship or whether he was buried on shore or at sea.


This post is also available in: French, German

Beechey Island Map it

By Line Cottier, a 13-year-old writer from Zurich, Switzerland who travels the world with her family on their Catamaran, the Libellule

Beechey Island, Nunavut

For me Beechey Island was one of the most significant parts in the Northwest Passage trip.

After crossing the Baffin Sea from west Greenland, we sailed along the south coast of Devon Island and stopped at Beechey Island. After passing a couple of bays blocked with pack ice we ended up anchoring in Union Bay. Then we hiked up to the highest point with our gun (for protection against polar bears) and looked around. We slid down the other side into a flat plain and saw a beach and four graves, where my father told us the story of four graves, three of which belonged to the famous explorer John Franklin and his crew.

Franklin was one of the first people to attempt the Northwest Passage on an expedition from 1845 – 1848 but unfortunately all 129 crewmembers died. He must have been really brave to attempt such a feat back then, especially because his boats Terror and Erebus had much weaker engines, no GPS, and poor maps. It was pretty exciting to imagine Franklin’s adventure and its sad ending – after all, the same could have happened to our boat. His frostbite was probably even worse than mine!

This post is also available in: French, German

Goodbye Pond Inlet Map it

By Richard Tegnér, Swedish architect and Arctic hitchhiker. Richard began his voyage on the 9.5-metre sailboat, DAX before unsolvable engine problems made that trip impossible. With a strike of luck Richard finds his way aboard the cruise ship, Akademic Ioffe, in Pond Inlet.

August 19 - Pond Inlet, Nunavut

Today I said farewell to the staff at the Pond Inlet library and visitor centre as I am hitching a ride with the Akademik loffe (a polar adventure cruise ship)!

While I waited for the cruise ship in Pond Inlet I got to know a little soul of the city; but still, there are so many more things left to see and learn in this interesting place. There is a shaman who communicates with killer whales, there are beautiful icebergs in the harbour, and there is architect Richard Carbonnier’s extremely unique self-made house. I’ve learned that many Inuit are afraid of flies and that mosquitos outnumber other terrestrial mammals by weight. In the past week it’s been so very windy that at least two locals have lost their boats: swept away by the wind and waves or filled with water and sank. Even small waves can cause a lot of trouble here since there is no harbour; the whole shore is open to the sea. We experienced that when we used the dingy to and from DAX. It filled with water very quickly.

“Even small waves can cause a lot of trouble here since there is no harbour; the whole shore is open to the sea”

By noon the concierge, Eva Westerholmm, picked me up in a Zodiac. Onboard the ship I was welcomed by Gus who showed me to my cabin, and what a cabin! The large, comfortable twin room with shower was an enormous space compared to staying on DAX. The Akademik Ioffe heads for Cambridge bay but, as always, it depends on the ice situation. The cruise ship is said to carry Russian tourists. Let’s see if my preconceptions about them will be fulfilled.

I feel totally worn out after today but I am happy. Already I feel the difference between this ship and being aboard the DAX. The atmosphere on board is very good and relaxed. On the DAX, I don’t think the crew had much in common to talk about and we didn’t seem to get any closer. We did the trip but we didn’t laugh much.

This post is also available in: French, German

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