TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AMONGST THE ESKIMOS
AN ADDRESS BY DR. LESLIE D. LIVINGSTONE, M.D., C.M.
Chairman: The President, Mr. Eric F. Thompson
Thursday, October 25, 1945
MR. THOMPSON: Gentlemen of the Empire Club of Canada also our unseen radio audience, we are privileged to have with us today one of Northern Canada's pioneers, our guest of honour having been a member of the original expedition to the Canadian Far North in 1922.
In the last two decades there have been great developments in this North Country of ours by men of courage and vision-These men are the true pioneers, worthy successors to their ancestors who laid the foundations of our nationhood.
With the establishment of the Mission fields, the finding of oil, the advent of the Aeroplane and the discovery of iranium, Canada's Great North country is coming more and more into prominence.
We are to hear about this fascinating land and it's people from one who has lived there continuously for a quarter of a century. He established the first medical service for the Eskimos in Baffinland also at Chesterfield 'Inlet, Hudson's Bay, later moving to the ewster artic where he consolidated the medical services over a wide area.
On returning to his native Ontario in 1944, he became a member of the Medical Staff, Department of Indian Affairs, being stationed at The Lady Willingdon Hospital in Ohsweken, Ontario.
It is with the greatest of pleasure that I introduce to you Dr. Leslie D. Livingstone, M.D., C.M., who is a direct descendant of the Livingstone clan--a sept of the Royal Stuarts of Scotland--and named after his forbear, Dr. David Livingstone the famous missionary to Africa.
The subject of our speaker's address is "25 Years Amongst the Eskimos".
DR. LESLIE D. LIVINGSTONE: Mr. President, and Gentlemen of the Empire Club.
I wish to extend to you my appreciation of the honour of being asked to speak to you today, and I will endeavour to give you some idea of the Northland and the native inhabitants and my work among them.
I landed in North Baffin Land on the 18th of August, 1922, and there for the first time was introduced to the most primitive of the Eskimo. They were a dirty rather unkempt lot, the men with long lanky hair topped by tam o'shanters handed down to them by Scottish whalers. The women were short and squat, invariably, whether married or single, carrying small children in their hoods. They were all more or less garbed in sealskins which was the staple source of clothing. Their clothing was supplemented by such imported articles as they could purchase from traders or whalers.
This was practically their first introduction to the practice of medicine, although unknown to many of the medical profession Conan Doyle had been a residential doctor aboard a whaling expedition some thirty years previous to my introduction to the country; and also there is the story of Sir John Ross in 1825, fitting an Eskimo with a wooden leg.
Due to the non-productiveness of the country little vegetation of medicinal value was produced, with the result that unlike the Indians the Eskimo had next to no pharmacopial drugs. 'Shaumism" or witchcraft had been practised and still is in some parts.
The Eskimo have not been in the Arctic from prehistoric times, in fact when the Norsemen under Leif Ericsson landed in Greenland in 984 and later explored the Eastern coast of North America as far South as the Southernmost New England States, no Eskimo had reached these shores on their trek from Asia, and it was not until several hundred years later that they reached the Coast of Southern Greenland.
It is rather interesting to note that the Danish Government in their investigation of the complete annihilation of the Norse colony established in Greenland in 185 was traced through two sources: one, the excavation of their graves; and the other the sagas of the Eskimo folk-lore which has been handed down verbally for hundreds of years. The aboriginal Eskimo had no writing and all this folk-lore was passed on through generations by songs and stories. The story of the annihilation of the remnants of the Norse colony procured through the excavation of the graves, showed that these supermen through vitamin deficiency had deteriorated into an inferior people with tuberculosis rife among them. The Eskimo sagas showed that the remnants of the colonies were killed off by the Eskimo who drifted in in skin umiaks covered with white fox skins to simulate ice. They chased the emaciated scorbutic rickety remnants into a stone church where they were all slaughtered.
These same Norsemen contributed their tithes to the furtherance of the wars of the Crusades with Richard I, but following the Crusades during the next two centuries there was no contact with the West Greenland coast and when the ships returned in the fourteenth century no living soul remained, nothing but the walls of their stone churches and their cemeteries.
Eskimo stories were the source of entertainment during the long periods of Winter darkness, some of them being so long as to take a whole evening to relate. They were all mythical, linking up humans and animals. One of these which I think is typical and which has been told to me by natives throughout the Arctic, from Cape Farewell on the southern tip of Greenland to Behring Strait, with slight variation, is as follows.
A young Eskimo, unmarried, was out caribou hunting. He found it quite hard after hunting all day to have to cook his own meals and keep his tent clean. After several days hunting he realized that work around the tent was being done by someone with a feminine touch but he never could locate the person doing this. Eventually he arranged a series of zig-zag rock piles, "innossok", or blinds for deer-hunting. In the evening by means of these blinds he approached the tent and there saw the parka, or coat, of a fox-woman who had been doing this work for him. Knowing that a fox could not go without her skin, he made a wild dash and seized the parka hanging on a tent-pole. Without her skin she was helpless and looking for a wife as he was, the possession of the skin was sufficient to procure him one. The conversation was about like this
The woman said, "Give me back my skin."
The man replied, "You be my wife and I'll give you back your skin."
Foxes of course are very timid animals and knowing; this the man treated her accordingly. They lived happily and when winter came along they moved from their skin tent on the land to the salt-water ice and a snow house, travelling by dog-team.
The natives visit from settlement to settlement which might be several hundred miles apart. Once a native and his wife travelling spent the night at this man's camp and, according to an old Eskimo custom which has been carried on for hundreds of years, the visitor suggested the swapping of wives. This was satisfactory except that the fox woman was timid and the visitor was a wolverine, which animal slaughters foxes. He agreed to the proposition so long as the man closed every crack in the snow house as otherwise she would escape. This man was a careless fellow and left two or three loopholes open, through one of which she escaped and in the morning was gone. He was much exercised over the loss of his wife, so he hitched up his dog team and dashed after her, following her tracks in the snow. The tracks ended abruptly at an enormous snow igloo which was sealed tightly. He called to the people inside, telling them he had lost his wife and thought she was there. Someone cut a small hole through the wall and shoved out first a raven, then various birds and animals, asking whether this was his wife. There was a complete story of the habits of each of these animals or birds, so you can imagine how long this would take to relate. Eventually they informed the man that they could not locate his wife, but allowed him to enter the snow house under the consideration that he close his eyes, which he agreed to do. He was so eager to recover his wife, however, that after getting in he opened his eyes, and the snow house collapsed and everyone, including his wife, disappeared.
That is typical of one of the stories which the Eskimos handed down through generations.
The Padlemuits, probably the most primitive of all Eskimo, lived on the west coat of Hudson Bay. These people are called caribou-eaters, living inland and subsisting entirely on caribou. They are devoid of any fuel, with the exception of the small willows called "padlee." They live in elaborate snow houses during the winter and, without fire, eat everything raw, mostly caribou, of course. The adults eat ice 'or snow and the women carry small waterproof birdskin bags which they tie around their necks, filled with snow or ice each morning when travelling. By evening this is melted and supplies an adequate water supply for the children.
The original expedition in 1922 was arranged in order to send in a number of police to occupy the Island of Ellesmere. A year previously the Department had organized the expedition under the- command of Captain Pickles, who died before sailing time, resulting in the expedition being postponed until the following year. It was then put under the charge of Captain Bernier, and the Medical Officer engaged had disappeared. He was the man who had made the trip to the Antarctic with Shackleton, and the Department being unable to locate him, gave me the appointment, and this was my initiation in 1922 to the "Arctic" and Captain Bernier. There was some question at the time of the previously planned sailing as to dropping police and supplies by parachute but it didn't seem feasible and was abandoned.
The "Arctic" the ship we used, was a three-masted government with the original intention of making a trip to the North Pole. Sir Wilfred Laurier engaged Captain Bernier to make this trip but in the meantime survey work was required in the Hudson Bay area and Dr. A. P. Low, doing this work, was transported into Hudson Bay and supplied by the "Arctic".
Later the ship under the same command went into the Far North, spending several years in North Baffin and Melville Islands. During the first World War the ship was laid up and reconditioned and from 1922 to 1926 carried on the Departmental survey and supply work. This included the establishment of several Mounted Police posts including one at Craig Harbour, one at Boche Peninsula, one in Northern Baffinland at Ponds Inlet and one at Dundas Harbour on North Devon Island; Pongnirtung in Southern Baffin Island, and Lake Harbour on Hudson Straits. Most of these police posts are beyond the Eskimo area, as there are no Eskimo farther North than Baffin Land. At one time there had been the remains of the oldstorehouses right across the coast to Greenland, which at that time they lived in. Apparently the original Eskimo that came from Asia one thousand years ago did not know what a snow horse was, it was only after they had been in Canada quite a long time they started using snow houses.
In 1926, my Department, as the "Arctic" was not large enough by this time to carry all supplies needed, chartered the "Beothic", a sealing steamer from St. Johns, Newfoundland. This ship was specially built for ice and was used for several years. Then in 1932 the Hudson's Bay took over the transport, and since that time the "Nascopie", a steamer built for ice, has been used.
Prior to my first trip into the Arctic, abdominal surgery was unknown although the natives themselves were quite adept in superficial cutting. During my early years there; there was no hospital or nursing facilities, arid any work carried out was done with the assistance of natives themselves, Mounted Police and Hudson's Bay Company personnel and the Missionaries. During one of my first trips by dog team to the east coast of Baffiin, I encountered a very sick boy with acute pain in the abdomen, vomiting and a temperature of 102, a typical case of appendicitis. I carried with me such surgical supplies as required for operative purposes including knives, scissors and sutures, and I also carried a supply of chloroform for anaesthesia.
The work was done in a snow igloo under low temperature. I had a quart or so of alcohol which is' used for lighting primus stoves, and this I used for sterlizing purposes, using about a square yard of oil silk, dipped into this alcohol for sterilization purposes, as a laparotamy sheet. The anaesthetic of chloroform was given by myself and carried on during the operation by an Eskimo woman, the mother. The operative table was a snow bench covered with seal and caribou skins and the light was supplied by two candles one of which was held by my dog driver who, although he could work in seal or whale blood to his shoulders, could not stand the sight of human blood and fainted, falling to the floor and extinguishing the light he held.
I left the following day, leaving instructions and dressings with the natives. Two years later when I returned the boy, by this time almost a man, reported to me, very proudly exhibiting his scar, his mother informing me he had remained in bed only four days after the operation. The sutures where removed by her at the end of eight days, as instructed.
Travel, especially in the East coast of Baffin Land, was by dog team in Winter, and boats in Summer. Most travel is actually done during Winter, and on salt water ice. The average dog team in that area would be from 8 to 15 to 18 dogs. The native sled is a long narrow sled about less than two feet in width and anywhere from ten to 20 feet in length. Everything is carried on the sled and piled on and lashed on for the rough ice, and dog feed is hunted as the natives travel.
Baffin Land, especially the southwest corner, is very great game country, especially seal. Seal is really the staple food of the Eskimo. It is used also for clothing and especially for fuel. The seal oil is burned in what they call a "koodluk" a stone pot, and the wick is made of a mixture of Arctic heather, Arctic poppies and some seal oil rubbed together into a mush, and the amount of heat required is regulated by the length of the fire they make along the side of this "koodluk". A small house cannot take very much heat, otherwise it will melt, or drip at least, and probably fall down.
I went to the Western Arctic in 1938, where I carried on medical services already established there. I had two hospitals, with adequate nursing facilities which served an area of several thousand square miles with an approximate population of 1,000 Eskimo and 600 Louchoux Indians. During my six and a half years there, with the assistance of several competent nurses, I completed a large amount of surgical work, including approximately 600 tonsilectomies alone.
I might say here that both the Indian and Eskimo have very large tonsile which fill up their throats, and when the chidren came to school they were all examined and any of them that had enlarged tonsils, they were removed.
Transportation is by dog team, boat and airplane, and serious cases of illness are transported mostly by 'plane.
The two hospitals at Aklavik cater to a vast area extending along the Arctic coast as far as King William's Land. It was here, off the coast of this island, in 1848 the Sir John Franklin expedition perished. This included the loss of two ships and some one hundred men. There yeas not a single soul left.
Education is carried on by residential schools, two of which we had at Aklavik each with an attendance of between 85 and 90. The children of both Eskimo and Indians are brought here from long distances. At the present time practically all these children can talk, read and write, in English, although 'few of the older natives can.
It was quite a difference from I would say 20 years ago the Eskimo in the East coast, very few could speak English at all, and although they were educated, they could read and write their own language, using the syllabic taught to them by Mr. Peck, missionary in there many years before my time. I remember Major Lockie Burwash, Department Explorer, saying, although only 5% of the Eskimos were taught to read and write by white teachers, at the time of his sojourn there 95% of the people could read and write. It was handed down the same as their stories from mother to child.
I have a letter here which is rather interesting, written 'by a boy since I came out. He was educated at the school at Aklavik. Bishop Fleming could no doubt tell you he knows this boy; he was at the school for several years, he had some hip trouble. (Reading letter)
"Dear Dr. Livingstone: I am in the hospital again because Dr. Hayward said that my chest is not very good. I am sorry to tell you that the old black cow died and one of the calves. I don't know how long I am going to stay and there are seven of us in the room. There are four cows left. Buttercup was getting along fine before I came here. My guitar and Alvin's parcel came on the last boat. Alvin's skiis, sled and his jacket came but not his harp, and my ball and bat came. Before I came I was snaring rabbits and I set a trap near the barn door and next morning when I got there one rabbit was in it. Just as I was about to take it out it gave a big jerk and left one of its toes behind and I started to chase it but it was too fast, and as I was chasing it I stopped and looked and there was a rabbit hanging on the fence with a trap. It had been trying to jump over and it got tangled in the fence. I got five rabbits that morning.
"I must close my letter now, and I am wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and I hope to see you again some day. Goodbye for now, from Harry Kigiona."
They are all taught now to read and write English.
The natives in general utilize everything the country will produce. Seals supply clothing, food, fuel, covering for boats, dog harness and tents. These are taken every month of the year along the coast. During the Summer and Fall the natives migrate inland to hunt caribou the skin of which is essential for Winter clothing. Polar bears and foxes are also used at times for clothing and those Eskimo in the northern part of Greenland, especially, use both bears and foxes.
At the present time the Department of Mines and Resources are developing quite a large herd of reindeer. These were brought from Alaska and are established on the mainland about 100 miles east of Aklavik. Eskimo are used as herders, and these deer are used to supply the needs of the natives for food and clothing. At the present time there are about 10,000 deer.
After my arrival at Aklavik I imported a Jersey cow and found out that cattle could easily be kept there. Later I built a barn of local timber, cleared and fenced some land, and imported more cattle. When I left there a year ago I had twelve head but the labour problem became so acute that I had to slaughter them:
Oats, barley and dye were grown for fodder and matured quickly. Grain planted about the twentieth of June was ripened by the twentieth of August. This rapid growth of course was due to the perpetual sunlight. Wild hay was abundant and with tractor and farm machinery, was easily harvested. Cattle remained in the barn from the first of November until the first of May, but during the Summer grazed on the luxuriant grass. The milk was used in the hospitals, schools and restaurants.
In the twenty-five years from the first introduction of medicine to the natives, until the present time, there have been vast changes. It is a long step from the time of no hospitals at ail to well-equipped hospitals with X-ray and even iron lungs; and from slow transportation by dog team to the airplane.
Last year I flew from Aklavik to Edmonton, a distance of 2,000 miles in eleven hours, which, on going in seven years previous I went by boat, took me about four weeks.
I might say this was the first Summer that I have spent outside the Arctic since 1920-21.