For over a thousand years before the arrival of Europeans, Inuit people lived around Pangnirtung Fiord, subsisting on whales, seals, walrus, fish, caribou and bear. In 1921 the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established a trading post in Pangnirtung. Once a year a HBC supply ship would pick up furs and whale oil and drop off food staples, cloth, guns and other tools.
Occasionally, however, the ice would not clear out of the fiord enough to allow the ship to enter. It would then be two years between re-supplies. For the handful of white people who staffed the HBC post and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police station, life could be isolated and lonely with only one annual mail-drop.
HBC Pangnirtung staff person Edward Beauclerk Maurice, however, learned Inuktitut and developed close friendships with the Inuit people. His years in the Arctic were full of adventure and learning. In a style reminiscent of Charles Dickens, Maurice recounts his adventures in his book The Last of the Gentlemen Adventurers (London: Fourth Estate, posthumously-published in 2004).
Maurice’s Inuit guide, mentor and friend was Jim Kilabuk, the grandfather of Meeka and Becky Mike. Meeka loaned Elizabeth a copy of Maurice’s book. Elizabeth is excited to now be in Pangnirtung where Maruice and Kilabuk lived. Some of the old HBC whale blubber rendering buildings are still standing.
Here is a Maurice’s description of the whale blubber buildings:
The [blubber house] was as unromantic in appearance as in name. Inside one shed was a rendering machine into which the cut-up blubber was stuffed to be processed into oil which was then pumped from the machine to tanks outside. In another shed, the hides were stored at one end and meat which could be used to feed the dogs at the other. The hides had been shipped off on the [ship], but a pile of decomposing meat remained. This was my first encounter with high meat en masse and the smell was too much for me. I had to grasp my nose and retire in haste. I surmised that…this was another aspect of my new life that I would adjust to in time. (pp. 57-58)
In the photos, you can see the blubber buildings as they look today. The round metal tub was where blubber would be rendered into oil. The oil would then be stored in the rectangular containers until it could be loaded on the supply ship.
Inuit people on Baffin Island still hunt beluga whales for subsistence.