Arctic history enthusiasts will have a new book to feast on come Aug. 4 – Kenn Harper’s third volume of In Those Days: Collected Writings on Arctic History, Tales of Arctic Whalers.
“Along with first-hand accounts from journals and dozens of rare, historical photographs, this collection includes the myth of the Octavius – a ship that drifted for 12 years with a frozen crew – encounters between sailors and Inuit, tales of the harrowing hazing rituals suffered by first-time crew members, and much more,” according to the book’s blurb.
Harper, who lived in the Arctic for a half century, has been publishing stories for years, and he says people had expressed a desire to see those stories collected and published in book form. While his original intent was to write history that would appeal to Northerners, as stories were published Harper received comments from around the world.
“I thought that I was writing for Northerners, and I still try to direct my writing in that way. It was just a bonus that I discovered it was appealing to people interested in the North all over the world,” he said, adding people are interested in the North more than ever.
“But the focus in what I chose to write is always what’s going to interest Northerners.”
Harper began learning Arctic history as a pastime, from the day he arrived.
“I learned and listened and read – it’s not all from oral history. A lot of it is archival research. I listened and read for 50 years, and over and above my various jobs, whatever they were at various stages of my life. I would say thousands of hours,” he said.
Inuit Lives, life histories and biographies of Inuit, was published in 2013, then came Arctic Crime and Punishment about “murderers, thieves, and fraudsters – as well as the wrongfully accused – in the early days of Northern colonization” in 2015.
“I was very happy with Inuit Lives because it brought together between two covers the stories of a number of Inuit nobody except real Arctic history fanatics had ever heard of,” said Harper, adding he was equally pleased with Arctic Crimes and Punishment.
“And I’m pretty pleased with the way this one has turned out.”
Of the tales, Harper has a few favourites.
“I really like the story David Cardno: At Home in Cumberland Sound. To me that was a real eye-opener when I discovered his story. When I lived in Pangnirtung from 1969 to 1971, I heard people talk about this fellow from the tail end of his time in the Arctic. Elders remembered him,” he said.
“But, in fact, when I eventually delved into his story, he went to the Arctic in 1866 as a 13-year-old stowaway on board a whaling ship. His father was already in Cumberland Sound wintering for a few years, and the boy went out on the whaling ship to join his father. Didn’t tell his mother, didn’t say goodbye. He ran away from the whaling ship a few times and lived with the Inuit in their camps. His career in the Arctic, off and on, lasted until 1917.”
Captain George Cleveland: Whaler and Trader, is another favourite.
“What an outrageous man. There’s a picture of him in the book – he just looks like such a dissolute character. There are so many rival stories about him in the North. He actually had children … At last count he had children by about eight different Inuit women, all of whom were married to somebody else,” said Harper.
“He has hundreds of descendants in the Arctic, most of who seem immensely proud of having him as their great-great-grandfather, or whatever he was to them. He’s just an outrageous character.”
Yet another favourite is Inuluapik and Penny Discover Cumberland Sound. Harper says he thinks it’s quite important.
“Inuluapik was a young Inuk from Cumberland Sound, the Pangnirtung area. He and his family had gone over to the Davis Strait coast, where he met the whaler William Penny. In 1839, Penny took him to Scotland, where Inuluapik spent the winter,” said Harper.
“This was quite unusual for an Inuk to travel outside of the North. It happened, but very seldom. There was this mythical place called Cumberland Sound. The explorer John Davis had mapped it in the 1500s, but since then nobody had been able to find the entrance to it. There was a theory that it might have a great stock of bowhead whales in it.
“Inuluapik drew a map for (Penny) and the next summer, in 1840, they set off from Scotland and drove right into the mouth of Cumberland Sound.”
There are 25 other tales between the covers of the book.
“I love these stories,” said Harper, who now lives in Ottawa.
Iqaluit company Inhabit Media is publishing the book.