Arctic landscape calls out for Return

Voyaging Out of the Passage with Adventure Canada

Day 13: Qikiqtarjuak

“The whalers used to call us Yaks,” Billy Etooangat said as he rode back to the ship in the zodiac to retrieve his luggage. He was arriving home in Qikiqtarjuak in the sunshine. “After Yaks, we were Eskimos.” He took a beat. “I didn’t mind that, but then I became aboriginal . . . an aboriginal person. Now I am indigenous.” The man at the helm of zodiac, David Reid, said, “What would you like to be called?” Billy answered: “A Canadian.”

Billy’s hometown, called Qik by those in the know, has a population of 600, which makes it the smallest community we visited. The handy-dandy postcards that people were giving out note that Qik is 100 km north of the Arctic Circle and 483 north of Iqualuit. A favorite slogan, especially popular on the backs of white sweatshirts, is, “Qik’in It / Above The / Artic Circle.” The town has everything you find in the larger centres – health centre, visitor centre, Co-Op, Northern Store – and also a larger percentage, or so it seemed, of fluent and friendly English speakers.

The scenery is the biggest highlight. We made our way, most of us, to the massive inukshuk on a high hill at the back of town, wending upwards along a rock-lined path, and wow! what a vista of harbor, beaches, mountains and, as it happened, a large flat iceberg, sparkling in the sun. The half dozen snorkelers who went out with Rick Stanley and Neil Burgess returned to the ship abuzz with the excitement of ranging along near the iceberg.

Mid-afternoon found travelers partying at an Inuit Social in the Nautilus Lounge. People crowded around a table near the back to sample Narwhal muktuk, char, smoked or dried, and dried caribou. Fifteen or twenty were playing a game on the dance floor when a whale sighting – “Bowhead! thar she blows!” – lured everyone outside, including master of ceremonies Derek Pottle. He called it a “whale break” and afterwards returned to the festivities.

As we sailed southeast along the coast of Baffin, we spotted a cargo ship at work. It was clearing detritus from an old Dew Line Site. Then came a sighting of multiple bowheads fluting and blowing, and the captain managed to draw the ship to within less than 200 metres. Marine mammal expert Pierre Richard said we saw more than ten bowheads. Best viewing of the voyage!

Later, during recap, David Reid stepped forward. Last spring, Reid led a four-person, four-dog expedition in circumnavigating Bylot Island: 29 days, 540 kilometres. During this Adventure Canada voyage, while chatting with friends, Reid settled on a challenging new project — a re-enactment. As an emigrant Scot who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and lived two decades among the Inuit in the High Arctic, Reid feels a special affinity for 19th- century explorer John Rae.

For his next project, he will reprise Rae’s 1854 expedition – the one on which he discovered both the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage and the fate of the Franklin expedition (cannibalism among some later survivors). This will mean traveling on skis or snowshoes roughly 650 km from Repulse Bay to Gjoa Haven via Point de la Guiche, where Rae built a cairn on the west coast of Boothia.

Reid will undertake this 35-day Arctic Return Expedition to call attention to the magnificence of Rae’s achievements, and in hopes that it will draw attention to the drive to restore the Hall of Clestrain in Stromness, where Rae was born. He will put together a three-or-four person team with a view to setting out from Repulse on March 31, 2019.

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