Day 11: Bannock, BBQs and Borealis – Pangnirtung, Baffin Island (Sept 07)

The Inuit name for Pangnirtung, also known as Pangniqtuuq, means “place of the bull caribou” and according to a local legend this name was given by a man called Attagoyuk. Explorer John Davis was the first know European to survey the area in 1585 during his quest to find the Nortwest Passage. After a Scottish whaling station was established on nearby Kekerten Island in the mid 1800s, the Inuit way of life, which had remained relatively the same for thousands of years, began to change when they left their camps to work at the whaling stations. More change came in the early 20th century when an outpost was built by the Hudson’s Bay Company, followed two years later by an RCMP detachment.

It was a cool morning but much clearer than when we landed at Pond Inlet. We reached the beach and were greeted by several people who would be our guides for the city. Steve was the guide for my group and brought us to the Parks Canada where we learned about the local national parks and the types of animals and plant life found within. Next we went to the Arctic Co-op where people in Pangnirtung shop for their groceries, supplies and even appliances. Just beside the Co-op is the post office which is connected to artist studios and a gift shop. Inside the gift shop you can buy sculptures, prints, crafts, and books. Or if you go to the artist studios you can see demonstrations of beautifully woven tapestries and blankets which can be purchased.

After the gift shop, many of the Iöffe passengers went off in different directions. I went down to the old Hudson’s Bay Company blubber station which has been refurbished to show the various processing buildings that would have been active in the 1800s and ear ly 1900s when the area was booming with whale hunting. The whale blubber was harvested from the whales here and rendered into oil that could be used to lubricate machinery, make candles and soaps, and was even added to food products for humans and animals.

Once all the passengers had gathered down at the blubber station some of the community members joined us there to deliver some freshly baked and fried bannock and to prepare some tea (I highly recommend getting some fried bannock if in the Arctic). This was no regular tea, however, it was Tetley tea heated by burning Arctic heather. The tea was placed in a cast iron cauldron and heather was continually added to the fire beneath. Burning the heather imbues the tea with a wonderful smoky flavour.

Finally it was time to leave the lovely hamlet of Pangnirtung and make our way back to the ship. It was lunch time when we arrived and we were informed to go to the stern deck where an outdoor barbe cue had been set up. If it is a rare thing to be on a ship going through the Canadian Arctic, it is most peculiar indeed to be seated on the deck of such a ship while eating smoked ribs and corn. The sun was out and everyone was enjoying this truly unique experience as we pulled away from Pangnirtung and sailed back out the fjord to Davis Strait.

Tonight we were once again treated to a spectacular light show. The Aurora Boralis showed up in full force around 9:40 and it was a sight to behold. Unlike the thin green line that appeared last night, tonight’s Aurora spread wide across the sky, dancing and changing colour. And this time I managed to get some half decent images of the Aurora which I am pleased share with all of you reading the blog.

With only one full day left on our Arctic journey, we are headed to Monumental Island off of Baffin Island where we hope to see some more wild life.

Words and photographs by Dunc an MacLeod – Curator, Vancouver Maritime Museum