Remembering Louie Kamookak

me and louieSince the passing of Louie Kamookak on March 22 at age 58, I have been revisiting old photos in which he features. Here is one of the two of us that stems from August 1999. Louie made me laugh when he dubbed this “the Boat Place.” We were slogging south along the west coast of Boothia Peninsula, making our way back to camp. The previous day, we had found the ruins of the cairn John Rae built in 1854 to mark his discovery of Rae Strait.

Earlier in the afternoon, we had erected a memorial plaque beside it. We had toasted Rae and the two men who made the trek with him—the Inuk William Ouligbuck Jr. and the Ojibway Thomas Mistegan. I had suggested that we stop for a rest and Louie, with a twinkle in his eye, said let’s rest at the Boat Place. We had passed this overturned rowboat travelling north, so I knew where he meant. Like many people reading this, however, I also understood that he was alluding to the famous Boat Place on the west coast of King William Island—the location where, in 1859, searchers found a clothed skeleton from the lost Franklin Expedition sitting frozen at one end of a boat.

louie at cairn hi resLouie Kamookak is well-known now as the foremost twenty-first-century champion of Inuit oral history—that history which, in 2014, led searchers to discover John Franklin’s long-lost flagship, HMS Erebus. For decades, Louie dedicated time and energy to collecting oral history, traditional place names, and the history of Inuit groups before Europeans arrived in the Arctic. For his contributions, he was made an honorary vice-president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, which awarded him the Erebus Medal. He also received the Lawrence J. Burpee Medal, the Canadian Governor General’s Polar Medal, the Order of Canada, and the Order of Nunavut.

In recent months, Louie made no secret of the fact that he was back and forth from Gjøa Haven to Edmonton, in and out of hospital, and receiving chemotherapy. But he was not yet sixty years old and I was in denial. I honestly believe he would remain with us for years. A couple of months ago, Louie agreed to become Gjøa Haven Consultant on the Arctic Return Expedition slated for 2019. Together, he and I intended to set out from Gjøa Haven and meet the four-person expedition at its culminating point, the John Rae Memorial Plaque and Cairn overlooking Rae Strait. By so doing, we would not only honor John Rae, but also mark the twentieth anniversary of when, together with antiquarian Cameron Treleaven, we located that site. I wrote about that adventure in Fatal Passage and Dead Reckoning.

After drinking cold coffee at the Boat Place, we reached our campsite and began packing up our gear. Louie said that, before recrossing Rae Strait to Gjøa Haven, he wanted to investigate a spot where sometimes he found good hunting. Louie had a passionate interest in Arctic exploration, but he was also a proud Inuk who lived, and so helped to preserve, a traditional way of life. In summer, he went hunting in his twenty-foot boat. In winter, he used a dog-team or a Skidoo. The water, the ice—they belonged to his world, and to the way his Inuit ancestors had lived for generations.

We piled into the boat and, with Louie at the wheel, away we went, south down the coast of Boothia. After about twenty minutes, we entered a nondescript bay, hauled the boat onto a sandy beach, and climbed a ridge to scan the horizon. I saw nothing. There was nothing to see. But Louie pointed and whispered: “Caribou!” A huge-antlered animal, all but invisible against the brown tundra, stood in profile more than one hundred metres away. Way too far, in my opinion. But Louie fell to one knee, brought his gun to his shoulder, and fired. Nothing happened. I thought he had missed completely.

But no! That caribou dropped down dead where it stood. I could hardly believe it. We all three went charging across the tundra. Louie was jubilant. When he reached the caribou, he cried: “Straight through the heart!” Treleaven and I watched as he said a few words over the dead animal. Then he skinned that creature, hoisted the heavy carcass up onto his shoulders, and staggered back to the boat. Heaving it into the stern, he said: “Meat will last all winter.”

We hauled the boat into deep water and set out for Gjøa Haven, returning from what had evolved into a successful caribou hunt. Louie Kamookak was feeling good. All three of us were on top of the world. And as we pounded across Rae Strait in the wind, I knew that I would remember these past few days forever.

Over the years, Louie and I kept in touch. We talked on the phone, traded emails. I saw him once in Calgary, once in Ottawa, and couple of times in Gjøa Haven when, with Adventure Canada, I called in there. Louie gave me a wonderful quote for the back cover of Dead Reckoning. As I say, we were planning to revisit the John Rae memorial plaque next spring. But my fondest memories remain those we created together in 1999, when we found a cairn, erected a plaque, went hunting for caribou, and located our own Boat Place.

Photos by Cameron Treleaven. For more of Ken’s thoughts on Louie, visit his website.

The Grand Seduction wins again

BarbaraDoranVeteran Newfoundland film director and producer Barbara Doran is beaming today, after Don McKellar took Best Direction in a Feature Film from the Director’s Guild of Canada forThe Grand Seduction‘.

The film, produced by Barbara Doran had already won a Canadian Screen Award for Best Actor (Gordon Pinsent) and the David Renton Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor (Mark Critch.)

We’re thrilled for Barbara, whose body of work includes the Newfoundland epic Random Passage, which many of our passengers have appreciated aboard Adventure Canada sailings.

Barbara will be aboard with us once again in the summer of 2015 on our Newfoundland Circumnavigation itinerary. Please join us in sending Barbara our heartiest congratulations!

10 Arctic Surprises

After six months working behind the scenes as Adventure Canada’s creative director, I’ve just returned from my first trip Into the Northwest Passage, travelling from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, to Resolute, Nunavut as a Zodiac driver, musician and host.

The adventure was everything I’d hoped it would be: inspiring, invigorating, educational. And like any great voyage, this one featured its share of surprises, too. Here are a few things I hadn’t expected.

Icy Arm, Baffin Island

Icy Arm, Baffin Island

1) Geology rules. Until I visited the Arctic, I had never really seen geology for what it truly is: the continual reshaping of the planet itself, measured in millennia. Where soil is thin, human habitation scattered, and forest non-existent, geology is everywhere, eternal—and endlessly fascinating.

Ilulissat, Greenland

Ilulissat, Greenland

2) Europe is closer than it seems. Though Inuit culture looms large, western Greenland displays its Danish influence strongly. In busy ports like Sisimiut and Ilulissat you can buy Thai food in an Internet cafe, and watch publicly funded transit buses wend their way among brightly painted modernist houses surrounded by sled dogs.

Ice off Karrat Island, Greenland

Ice off Karrat Island, Greenland

3) Ice is amazing. From the massive chunks calving off Greenland’s Store Glacier, to the berg the size of a city block grounded in Ilulissat, to the 16 km2 floe we circumnavigated in Baffin Bay, to the slushy pans that blocked our transit of Bellot Strait, the Arctic ice never ceased to amaze.

Sled runner, Dundas Harbour

Sled runner, Dundas Harbour

4) Things last a long, long time. Detritus around former Hudson Bay posts, scraps and bones from traditional Inuit camps, tin cans from John Franklin’s expedition, foundations of Thule houses: all these items and more are preserved almost perfectly at scattered landings among the fiords of the Far North.

The Sea Adventurer

The Sea Adventurer in Karrat Fjord

5) The Arctic is huge. It’s not just that there’s a lot of area north of the Arctic Circle. The water, the landforms, the glaciers, and even the history of the Far North are epic-scaled. Lancaster Sound, for example, which we crossed three times, is the width of a Great Lake. Davis Strait takes more than a day to steam across, in good weather. Baffin Island covers over half a million km2. Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island in the world. The works of man are dwarfed. It’s humbling.

Coastal Greenland

Coastal Greenland

6) Water, water everywhere. If you’re like me, you probably pictured the Arctic as a vast expanse of either ice, or tundra. But when you visit by ship, during the relatively ice-free summer months, you begin to understand the importance of the ocean. The communities face seaward. The animals directly or indirectly depend on ocean life and ocean currents. And in a territory almost entirely without roads, the ocean (or the sea ice on it) supports travel, too.

Fort Ross, Devon Island

Fort Ross, Devon Island

7) It’s still wild. Over the ten days we spent in the Canadian Arctic, covering over a thousand kilometres, we saw four vessels other than the Sea Adventurer: a navy ship, a Students on Ice sailboat, a private yacht, and a Coast Guard icebreaker. While there’s a lot going on in the Arctic, including resource development, tourism, art, research, and education, the activity is concentrated mostly in the relatively few small communities. Between them lies a whole lot of space to explore.

Resolute Bay, Nunavut

Resolute Bay, Nunavut

8) It takes a village. The Inuit are an incredibly adaptive, resourceful people, among the most vital and successful of indigenous cultures active today. And while they developed many tools and technologies to survive on the meagre resources of the North, it’s clear that the central principle of their success was ‘together we stand.’ The family, the clan, and the community survive by collective effort. In the Arctic, no one can make it alone.

Arctic cotton, Sisimuit

Arctic cotton, Sisimiut

9) Small is the new big. The running joke is that if you’re lost in the woods in the Arctic, just stand up. Haha. True, you won’t find plants taller than, say, an Arctic poppy of about 15 cm in height, and most of what’s growing on the thin soil in the brief summer thaw is even smaller. But you really could get lost, fascinated by the incredible (and beautiful) array of plants, fungi, lichens and insects that have adapted to thrive on the tundra.

Woolly bear caterpillar, Dundas Harbour

Woolly bear caterpillar, Dundas Harbour

10) It’s alive! Despite desert-like conditions, permafrost, cold, long months of darkness, ice, wind, and just about every other challenge you can imagine, life thrives in the Arctic. Algae grows on the underside of ice pans, feeding phytoplankton that feed krill that feed fish that feed seals, walrus and whales that feed bears (and people.) Bird cliffs host tens of thousands of breeding pairs of kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, murres and other seabirds. There are jellyfish and snails and clams; spiders, caterpillars, even bees. It’s a forbidding environment and an unforgiving one, but the Arctic in its way is as alive as any place on Earth.

Spider Saxifrage, Port Leopold

Spider Saxifrage, Port Leopold

Arctic Fox, Beechey Island

Arctic Fox, Beechey Island

Lynda & Lamech, Radstock Bay

Lynda & Lamech, Radstock Bay

Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland

Passengers and staff at Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland