It was late September 1977 when we arrived back in Yellowknife, having finished Ft. McPherson. BUT now there was Sachs Harbour to complete before the Arctic winds howled.
I stayed put in Yellowknife with the children, who were in the most beautiful and modern school they every attended, in their travels.
Alex must have flown in there earlier in the year, because I know his original coil unwinder was shipped in there, and actually never came out again. I wonder what the village did with it. Is it rusting on the tundra? are the musk ox checking it out?
On his first trip he was privileged to stay with a elder whose name was Susy. She graciously served him southern breakfasts of bacon and eggs, and he had delicious meals of musk ox, which was as good as beef.
Susy brought out her photo album and Alex being very curious and not shy, started firing questions to you. He saw a picture of a smartly dressed couple on the streets of San Francisco, and she said it was her first husband Fred Carpenter and herself.
“What year, Susy”? 1937!! Now Alex’s mind was trying to decide were there planes out of this remote place in that year?,
“How did you get there?”
“Oh the North Star” said Susy.
Alex felt privileged to learn first hand, about the fascinating history of this community on the southern side of Bank Island, 325 miles north of Inuvik. The Arctic fox were abundant on the Island and once a year a large 600 ton ship, the Patterson came from California and bought their furs, for a fashion crazy world., with US dollars. She told him, they didn’t know they were Canadians in those days.(Canada Revenue Agency hadn’t found them). It was the same captain that came every year, and of course the whole community was dependent upon him coming, in the fall, when the ice had melted and before it froze up again.
One summer this beloved captain’s wife arrived to tell them her husband had died and would not be coming. The Patterson brought the North Star, a triple masted schooner on the deck It was in 1936 that Fred and Susy started the yearly trip with the furs, up around Alaska all the way to California, charting with a sexton and the stars. Alex was humbled not having any knowledge of this. ( While in Victoria in the 1990’s, imagine how surprised we were to find this very ship in the Victoria Harbor . The current owners live in it and according to my research it is now harboring in Vancouver area. Isn’t history grand?)
Now back to getting back to the rest of the story, getting up there to build the tank, before winter.
Apparently, Ernie, our welder, complained anxiously the whole flight to Inuvik, because Alex had not made any reservations or confirmed where they would stay in Sachs Harbour. As they sat in the Inuvik airport waiting for the flight to Sachs, Ernie threatened,
“I am not getting on that plane until I know there is a place to stay!”.
Alex sheepishly admitted he had called the White Fox Inn and the number was disconnected (out of business ) As time went by, Alex realized he might have a mutiny on his hands but assured Ernie he could get back on the plane they had arrived on.
Just about then, a priest strolled through the tiny terminal and noticed they were waiting on the bench that was for the Sachs Harbor plane,
” I see you are going to Sachs, where are you staying?” Alex admitted there were no arrangements. “you can stay with me in the manse, there is lots of room and I can cook for you.!!”
“How is that Ernie?” Ernie shrugged and grinned, wondering , how does he, Alex do it?
One day, while waiting for the use of the hamlets front end loader, Alex decide to take a stroll onto the tundra. Well, when he got back, he got quite a tongue lashing, seeing he carried no gun. “what were you planning to do if you saw a polar bear, “they grilled him? “Run” said Alex, He got a look of total disgust, that one could be so dumb. You would never out run a polar bear. “If you did have a gun, where would you aim?” At his head? NO, NO, his front leg, so that he would be distracted with his leg and then you aim for his head. How ever would a East York boy know that?
I think it was Bob Whiteway who shared this. One morning at breakfast, our hospitable priest, said ,
“well I have to go out and baptize some babies, I can just see Alex rolling his eyes”. I take from that they had been some discussions of a doctrinal nature.
Again it had been a rich experience for Alex, having heard some very remarkable stories of the old days, when the whole community waited to “hear” where the caribou or other animals (food supply) were.
I like the story of Alex’s brother Dave ,who was on a hunt with snowmobiles and a group of Inuit men, .They were looking for a cache of gasoline left on the tundra and the sun had gone down and they hadn’t located it. Now, to his amazement and consternation they stopped to build a fire and make tea. “Why are you stopping now,?” asked the anxious southerner. “Waiting for the stars to come out”.
Sure enough ,after dark, they drove directly to the spot in a vast wilderness of nothing.I love it! I
I tell our Inuit son Tim, that he may very well have remarkable gifts that his white father couldn’t teach him.
ALL PHOTOS ON THIS POST FROM THE WEB Musk Ox grazing.