CANADA'S EASTERN ARCTIC
AN ADDRESS BY MAJOR DAVID LIVINGSTONE McKEAND, M.C.
The President, John C. M. MacBeth, Esq., B.A., K.C.
Thursdav, March 1, 1943.
MR. JOAN C. M. MACBETH: Gentlemen of The Empire Club: Our guest today is one of that great company of men and women who, during the last fifty years of the development of this great Dominion, have given so unselfishly of their time and talents and are growing old in the service of their country.
David Livingstone McKeand was born in Hamilton, Ontario. His first permanent job on leaving school was with the Bank of Hamilton, where he was employed for twenty-two years, taking time off from 1899 to 1901 to serve with the First Canadian Contingent in the Boer War. David Livingstone and Africa! He left the Bank to join the Canadian Pensions Commission again took time off to fight another war--this time with the 58th Battalion--in which, at the Somme, he was severely wounded. He was awarded the Military Cross, and, on his return to Canada, joined the Board of Pension Commissioners and transferred to the Department of Mines and Resources, the Department which is responsible for the administration of the Northwest Territories. He has been in the Federal Government service for the past twenty-six years.
The Northwest Territories, as we need not be reminded, is administered under the authority of the Northwest Territories Act, which provides for a Territorial Government composed of the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, the Deputy Commissioner, and five Councillors appointed by the Governor-General in Council. Mr. McKeand is Secretary of the Council.
It is probably a surprise to most of us to hear that the Northwest Territories comprise approximately two-fifths of the entire area of the Dominion and that in this vast territory the population is less than 20,000, including Indians and Eskimos. Until twenty years age, the only industry was the trade in furs, but latterly oil and minerals are being discovered in ever increasing quantities. the reindeer and eiderdown industries are being developed, and, as a recent Bureau reports says, "The exploration and development of the resources of this vast land are a challenge to this and future generations."
Major McKeand has crossed the Arctic Circle just fourteen times, and, both from his official position and from his personal knowledge, has more information about this great country than has any other person.
Gentlemen: Major David Livingstone McKeand, whose subject is "Canada's Eastern Arctic". (Applause.)
MAJOR DAVID LIVINGSTONE MCKEAND, M.C.: Mr. Chairman, Members of The Empire Club of Canada in Toronto: Needless to say I am deeply grateful for the invitation to come here and to tell you something of Canada's northland. As you know, I am a civil servant. The responsible minister who administers that part of Canada north of the provinces is the Honourable T. A. Crerar, Minister of Mines and Resources.
I told you I was a civil servant. There are quite a few of them in Ottawa now and the story is told that one of them approached a young lady, who had recently come there, with a view to matrimony. She said, "Well, do you get good pay?" He replied, "What there is of it is good."
So, Gentlemen, what I have to say to you I hope will be good.
We are inclined to smile, somewhat indulgently perhaps, when told of the kindly gentleman in the Old Country, who asked a visitor from Midland, Ontario, to be sure and look up a near relative at Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia, and an old friend at Carman, Manitoba, on his way home. These places are about 950 miles apart, in a straight line from Midland. Doctors and Mounted Policemen and missionaries, returning home from two or three years service in the Eastern Arctic, may be asked by relatives and friends here in Ontario about a hospital at Aklavik or the reindeer herd at Kittigazuit. Both these places are sure to be more than 950 miles from where they had been stationed in the north. It is not unusual, for some of us sojourners in the Eastern Arctic, to be asked "What kind of motor cars are seen on the Alaska highway" or "The type of aircraft used for making 'The Northwest Passage by Air'." These are fair questions--we Canadians want to know about our own north country but authors of text books and publishers of maps have not been able to keep abreast of developments in the Northwest Territories. Much of our knowledge of northern Canada can be traced to tales of adventure of 100 years ago--or newspaper stories of more recent times. The C.B.C. is doing a grand job in educating our people on Canadian geography through the Northern Messenger Service and by dramatized broadcasts on outstanding events in Canadian history.
About 20 years ago, Sir William Price organized a Canadian-wide competition for the best essay on the "Geography and Resources of Canada North of 56 Degrees". There were many competitors-the prize essay, written by Dr. E. M. Kindle, of the Geological Survey of Canada, was published in the Field Naturalist for March, 1928. The article attracted such widespread attention that the Minister of the Interior had it suitably illustrated and issued as a Government publication. The foreword to this story of long summer days contained these words:
"In recent months many men of wide vision in different countries, attempting to come to some conclusion as to just what parts of the world are likely to make the most striking progress in the next few decades, have commonly fixed on Canada as the one country certain to witness very great development within the near future--and to judge by developments in the past few years--that part of our country north of 56 degrees is likely to be well to the front--if not in the lead--in the coming era of expansion and prosperity. It is for the man of vision to decide just what line his particular effort will take in this great Northland--Any man's land!"
In less than two decades there have been great developments by men of vision--and women too--north of 56! These men and women are true pioneers--worthy successors of ancestors who came from the Old Land to make homes away from home--and they have laid the foundation of our nationhood.
The unfolding of the Eastern Arctic, perhaps not quite so well known or spectacular as some other northern developments, nevertheless is likely to become very important in the near future.
Canada's Eastern Arctic is a very indefinite term--in Government circles, it has come to mean--that part of the Dominion serviced annually by the Eastern Arctic Expedition. It is almost triangular in shape. Its base lies along the northern limit of wooded country between 60° and 105° west longitude and its sides come to a point at the North Pole. It has an estimated land and water area of more than 1,500,000 square miles and a population of 230 whites and 6,300 Eskimos. The annual expedition, sponsored by the Minister of Mines and Resources, on the recommendation of the Northwest Territories Council services the Government, fur trade and missionary stations in this large area. Most of it lies within the boundaries of the Northwest Territories (a historic name to us Canadians) but, in addition, the expedition makes regular calls at points in Labrador, Quebec, Manitoba and Greenland. For practical purposes Canada's Eastern Arctic is only accessible by water and air. The dates on which harbours or, more properly speaking, anchorages, are clear of ice vary according to latitude, ocean currents and prevailing winds. Beyond 62° north latitude, however, there are no beacons, lighthouses or other aids to navigation, nor have Admiralty charts been brought up to date for modern shipping. Local knowledge and experience are required if shoals are to be avoided and safe anchorages found north of Hudson Strait. Eskimo pilots hand down, from father to son, their knowledge of seamanship and navigation which they learned from whalers in the last century. These pilots can be relied upon to bring steamships of 2,500 tons and more-drawing upwards of 22'-through narrow channels-often reduced in width by ice floes and grounded bergs, to safe anchorages-at all tides-close to Government stations or fur trade posts. Without the assistance of native pilots and the help of native men, women and children to handle cargo-the itinerary of the Eastern Arctic Expedition could not be completed in the short season of open navigation.
The extension of the Hudson Bay Railway to Churchill, Manitoba, and the T. & N.O. Railway to Moosonee, Ontario, has had the effect of making the Eastern Arctic more accessible to Canadians living in central and western Canada. But the oldest route, and the one still best suited for operations from points in Eastern Canada and United States, is by ship along the Labrador coast. Two courses then lie open-first; westward through Hudson Strait to Hudson Bay and James Bay. Second---northward between Baffin Island and Greenland to Lancaster Sound--southward through Prince Regent Inlet to Bellot Strait, thence westward through the Northwest Passage to the Mackenzie Delta. This was the course, only reversed, taken by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in their motor schooner St. Roch last year when the northwest passage by water was made for the first time in history.
The names of straits and sounds and inlets, islands and capes and mountains, along this route bear silent tribute to the enterprise, courage and endurance of those intrepid navigators who, for more than three centuries, sought a northwest passage by water from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The 12-year-search for he lost Franklin Expedition almost a century ago, led to the discovery of many islands in the Arctic Archipelago. These islands were transferred from Great Britain to Canada in 1880.
Our knowledge of arctic topography has been gained largely from coastal observation. Baffin. Bylot, Devon and Ellesmere Islands form Canada's eastern boundary north of Hudson Strait. This eastern coast line is generally high and rocky, with many deep inlets or fiords. The land rises quickly from the sea to snow-capped elevations of 5,000' and more. Glaciers run down the many valleys and add their quota of icebergs to the stately procession from Greenland. The ice caps do not extend far inland--the interior gradually gives way to rolling hills, rough plains and broad sea beaches. There are numerous lakes and ponds. The land is practically free of snow in summer-well covered with arctic vegetation-a fine grazing area for caribou, reindeer and musk-oxen-almost ideal breeding grounds for geese, eider ducks and other migratory waterfowl.
It can be admitted at once that the Eastern Arctic summers are short and the winters long and cold. The polar night has usually a clear sky-when the moon, stars and aurora borealis shine out in all their brilliance. White residents agree that enough light is usually available in winter, even in the higher latitudes, for all necessary outdoor occupations. With the return of the sun the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, fur traders and missionaries start on their patrols by sledge and dog team while Eskimos begin visiting and moving to summer hunting grounds. The white men return in time for the annual overhaul of boats, to repair and paint buildings, straighten paths and white-wash stones, bale furs, prepare reports and write letters. July and August are usually delightful monthscool for the most part and bright with only enough rainy days and mosquitoes to vary the monotony. Greenhouses, made with double windows from the residences, are very popular. Excellent radish, lettuce and spinach are grown north of the Arctic Circle in these cold frames. In September the temperatures fall rapidly-October is definitely the beginning of winter. The winds at this season are stronger than any other time and the heaviest snowfalls occur either in October or November. Temperatures continue to fall until late in January and early February. Fifty-five degrees below zero was the lowest reported for January 1942 at Arctic Bay, but White River, Ontario, 1,800 miles due south, was only 4° warmer in the same month.
The Eastern Arctic Eskimo, because of environment, is different in many respects from those in the Western Arctic. National Museum of Canada tells us
"The Eskimo live in small communities throughout the Arctic from the Siberian shore of Bering Strait to Greenland-nearly a third of the way around the globe--yet they number only about 35,000. Three or four hundred roam the barren lands in the Northwest Territories west of Hudson Bay-but all the others are shore dwellers who never go inland except to hunt caribou for winter clothing. Because the Eskimos dressed differently from other natives, had different customs, and spoke a language of their own, many writers have regarded them as a distinct race. It is true their noses are exceptionally narrow and their cheek-bones stand out wider than their heads, nevertheless, most authorities now class them as Indians and consider them to be more closely related to the aborigines of America than any people in the Old World."
The Eastern Arctic coast is treeless--different from the Mackenzie River Delta. The sea, is covered with ice and the land with snow for more than half the year. So short is the summer that the hardiest wild berries often fail to ripen and in any case these are too scarce to be an important item of Eskimo diet. The Eastern Arctic Eskimo is a nomad and without a tribal system. The family is the unit. Two or four together follow the game on which they chiefly depend for a living. They carry tents in summer and build snowhouses in winter, sharing everything until by friendly agreement one or more decides to join another camp. The hair seal-hunted summer and winter-supplies their food, clothing, footwear, light and heat. Also the hide is used for covering the kyak or one-man boat, so necessary in hunting the animal during open water.
These Eskimo had nothing of value to barter with the white man until the beginning of the present century. The demand for white fox belts rose to unprecedented heights in the fur markets of Europe, and the Hudson's Bay Company opened the first trading post in Hudson Strait in 1909. Prior to the arrival of the fur traders the Eskimo of the Eastern Arctic were solely dependent on their skill with hunting gear made of caribou antlers, walrus tusks and whale bone. Even today the Eskimo still use harpoons tipped with walrus tusks and secured with sinew lines, as well as rifles, to hunt sea mammals from their kyaks.
The discovery of petroleum on the right bank of the Mackenzie River near Fort Norman 23 years ago drew public attention to the possibilities of finding valuable minerals in other parts of the Northwest Territories. In feverish haste furtraders and gold seekers invaded the Eastern Arctic. In 1921 the Dominion Parliament amended the Northwest Territories Act to provide for the reconstitution of the Northwest Territories Council, and the following year the annual Eastern Arctic Expedition was inaugurated. Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachments were established at strategic points to enforce the Northwest Game Act-Migratory Birds Convention Act-open post offices, and generally maintain law and order. The Arctic Islands Preserve was created to protect the game resources for the sole benefit of the Eskimo population. Under the game laws no white man can hunt or trap in the Northwest Territories without a licence nor can anyone, white or native, open a trading post without the permission of the Commissioner in Council. Furthermore, no scientist or explorer can enter the Territories unless the Commissioner in Council is satisfied- the expedition is properly qualified, equipped and financed to maintain itself in the field and return home safely. In addition to the group of scientists from national and provincial institutions in Canada, Great Britain and United States were given permission to investigate and explore the Eastern Arctic. Reports of the work of these scientists have been submitted to the National Research Council and other departments of Government and made available to universities and other institutions throughout the world.
Fifteen years ago the missionaries established hospitals at Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island, and at Chesterfield, on the west coast of Hudson Boy. The Northwest Territories Administration provides the doctors and trained nurses and supplies a generous assortment of drugs. The hospitals are up-to-date in every way, with modern heating, electric light, X-ray, operating room, public and private wards. The Government pays $2.50 per day for every Eskimo patient treated. Industrial homes are operated in connection with the hospitals where convalescents are provided with board and lodging, at Government expense, until transportation is available to send them back home. Aged, blind and crippled Eskimo are admitted to these institutions on the certificate of the Government medical officer. Eskimo hunters are no longer compelled to look after their old people or those unable, through physical infirmities, to provide for themselves. These social services have improved the economic status of the Eastern Arctic Eskimo but there is still a scarcity of game in some areas. During the past ten years several families have been moved, at their own request, farther north where the Eskimo population is not so dense and the game resources more abundant. Some families have moved 800 miles from their birth place and are doing well in their new environment. At times, the older members think of returning to the scenes of their childhood, just as some people do who came to Canada froth the Old Country-but not the children. One young girl from Cape Dorset in Southern Baffin Island, recently married a young native hunter from near King William Island, thereby effecting a union of Eskimos from east to west for the first time in history.
One of the greatest difficulties of administering the affairs of primitive people is keeping track of individuals through their native and baptismal names. The Eskimo have no written language of their own. About 30 years ago the missionaries taught them the use of a group of characters based on the syllabics invented for the Cree Indians in Northern Ontario. Many Eastern Arctic Eskimos can read the religious books and papers now being printed especially for them. Most of them can sign their own name in syllable characters, but sometimes, and without any apparent reason, they decide to change their native name or drop it entirely for the baptismal name given by the missionary. The confusion is further complicated by the white man's attempt to write an Eskimo name phonetically. There can be as many as ten different spellings for one Eskimo name. In taking the census of 1941, full particulars of each member of a family were recorded, each given a number and presented with an identification disc similar to that worn by the armed forces of Canada. Space is provided on the disc for the name of the individual in syllabic characters.
In the last two decades many Eskimos have been able to purchase sail boats or motor boats, with the proceeds of their white fox catch. Consequently, their hunting range has been extended. Skin tents are gradually giving way to canvas. Steel needles and hand sewing machines are treasured by the women and their clothing is thereby kept in good repair. Every hunter has a rifle. Comparatively small quantities of flour are used but the consumption of canned milk is increasing annually. Pilot biscuits and well sugared tea are relished by Eskimo men, women and children. However, the amount of tea and sugar bought by Eskimos in the Eastern Arctic during the season 1941-2 was below the authorized ration for you and me. Fish and seal meat are still the chief articles of nutrition, and caribou or reindeer skins, and musk-ox hides are still necessary for clothing and bedding.
The Arctic was never tamed. It has known many playmates but no masters. Any man's land, between the timber line and perpetual ice, appears to be a wide and persistent wilderness, but below the surface it may hold great riches for those who have the "open sesame" to hidden wealth. The very rocks, thrusting their sharp jaws through the snow, shelter the Eskimo as they sit in their igloos, wondering what the white man will try next, in his attempt to master the Arctic. (Applause.)
MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Major McKeand, we are going to ask one of your boyhood friends to voice the thanks and appreciation of the audience-His Lordship, Bishop Renison.
RT. REV. R. J. RENISON, M.A., D.D.: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: I confess that nothing would have kept me away from the story to which we have just listened. It is one of those things that make life seem beautiful and desirable to people who are living in a so-called civilized country where there is so much grief, so much regimentation and so much of the drab side of life in days like these.
The very name of the Arctic stirs the blood of every Anglo-Saxon, and the story of the Northwest Passage I believe is one of the great pipe dreams of history. It is one of the crazy ideals which men for centuries followed, and yet I honestly believe that it had a great deal to do with the founding of the British Empire in this part of the world. The men who lived on the little Island which we call our Motherland couldn't bear to think, in the days of Queen Elizabeth and before them, that the Spaniards and the Portuguese had actually been able to find a land of ease and plenty where there was nothing but bananas and flowers and gold and jewels to be had for the asking, while they themselves had nowhere to go, and therefore, they conceived the idea, and from the British point of view it was a perfectly logical one, that there must be some passage ordained for the British people in the northwest that would carry them straight through the unknown continent of America and lead them out into the storied seas of Cathay to find the fabulous wealth that Marco Polo used to talk about.
So they kept it up for three hundred years. They didn't find much. You heard today one story of how that little ship came from the west to the east and I happened to be in San Francisco in 1903, when it first came the other way-Amundsen's little Norwegian vessel that picked her way through the ice. The Northwest Passage didn't mean anything, practically, but as an inspiration it is perfectly marvellous. What it has done to our people, the legends it has given, is incarnate in the personality of men like Major McKeand who has thrilled us today with his story that is told with such great reticence.
I saw some of those people this summer. I was permitted by the Bishop of the Arctic to go through the western part of his Diocese for a summer journey this year while he went with Major McKeand in the Nascopie. The Nascopie must be one of the most wonderful boats in existence. I remember when she was built. The original boats that sailed there were only four hundred tons, they were sailing vessels and sometimes they got back the same year from Scotland and sometimes they didn't.
However, we have come here and we have gotten away from the world in which we are living and that northern channel that may have a great deal to do with the future of our race because that is the Part of the Continent that is going to touch the hard of Russia. It is the easiest route to the great Asiatic Continent and so today it will be a beaten path.
It is a very great pleasure to have the privilege of moving a vote of thanks to Major McKeand for his very wonderful story, and we hope, although somebody said he was growing old in service, we hope, like Cleopatra, he may grow more wonderful as he grows older. "Age cannot wither or custom stale his infinite variety". (Applause.)
Mr. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Cleopatra, you have heard the motion of thanks so ably moved by His Lordship, and so responded to by the audience It is my great pleasure to pass that motion on to you. We are very grateful to you for having come to us today. Gentlemen, the meeting is adjourned.