- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 6 Feb 1913, p. 170-177
- Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Some of the resources of Canada. An appeal to the audience as public-spirited citizens of the Empire to try to protect and perpetuate those resources. The Eskimo of Northern Canada: features of their culture. The market for caribou skins in Alaska. The fate of the caribou, similar to that of the buffalo. Reasons for the diametrically opposed policy of the Hudson's Bay Company from that of the American Government with regard to the Indian. Protecting the Eskimo and his way of life. An intelligent quarantine. The speaker's plans for another expedition. A look back at the speaker's first two expeditions. Details of the plans for the third expedition. Hope of finding new land north of Canada. Ascertaining the oceanic depths, investigating the geology of the country, and determining the range of the prehistoric migrations of the Eskimo. A plea from the speaker to the audience to do something intelligent for the Eskimo to preserve his way of life, and his life.
- Date of Original
- 6 Feb 1913
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- OUR NORTHLAND, ITS PEOPLE AND RESOURCES
An Address by MR. VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON, before the Empire Club of Canada, on February 6, 1913
Mr. President and Gentlemen,
Possibly you may have expected from me some narrative of my work in the north, but selfishly yet still with your interests in mind, I am not going to give you any narrative. I am going to present to you some of the resources of Canada, and make an appeal to you as public-spirited citizens of the Empire to try to protect and perpetuate those resources.
The then Geographer of Canada, Mr. White, published a map in 1906, Map No. 29 I think it is in the Atlas of Canada, on which you will find that Victoria Land is labelled in red as uninhabited by human beings. Mr. White is a man of wide and exact information--it is a misfortune for Canada that he is not now in the position in which he then was-but he could not put on the map any later information than he had at hand, and he was not himself an explorer and had not been in that part of the country. It is a matter of fact that that country is inhabited by about two thousand Eskimo. These Eskimo are a resource to the country because they are the only people who can ever make that country of any value so far as we can see, unless minerals are discovered there, which I hope may not be the case, for the sake of the Eskimo. (Laughter) These Eskimo hunt for a living with bows and arrows and spears and harpoons; they had not heard the report of a rifle or seen a sulphur match lighted until I came--at least those around Dolphin and Union Strait had not, and the ones from the Coppermine east to Grace Bay had not. There was one family who had come in contact with David Hanbury in 1903 or 1904, and there is also a group that traders from Hudson Bay are reaching now. On account of their weapons and the peculiar conditions of their country, they live for three months of the year on caribou, which they shoot with bows and arrows, and for nine months they live on seals. The caribou are there in millions. In Banks Land the caribou never leave the island, stay there winter and summer; in Victoria Land they come in tens of thousands from the south in the spring, stay there and drop their fawns, and come back south in the fall to the mainland again. The Eskimo hunt them in the summer, kill only as many as they need, and hunt them at a season when the animals are fat and the skins are suitable for clothing. Now, the traders are beginning to come in; their rifles will soon replace the bows and arrows; and then the Eskimo will find that they can easily kill caribou at any time of year, so that instead of living on caribou for three months they will live on caribou for twelve months. This will quadruple the consumption of caribou.
Another feature is that the dog among the Eskimo today is not a draft animal primarily, he is a hunting animal; he is used by the Eskimo for the finding of seal holes under the snow. Consequently our hunter has only one dog; he hasn't any more because it is not convenient for him, under the present arrangement, to support any more. But the coming of the rifle will make it easy to support any number of dogs, and the Eskimo will develop large dog teams. The same thing happened in the Baillie Island District and the Mackenzie District a few years ago. In that District they had one dog to a family twelve years ago, and now they have fifteen to a family. Here is another thing that will increase the consumption of caribou. Instead of feeding one dog the Eskimo will be feeding twelve or fifteen. That will greatly increase the consumption.
In Alaska there is a great market for caribou skins among the miners and Eskimo. The caribou of Alaska have been destroyed by carelessness; no one took steps to save them, and they are now a thing of the past. If the Government takes no precautions, traders will come into our districts and buy caribou skins, and the Eskimo will begin with their modern rifles and hunt them for the market. I have known men who in August and September killed three or four hundred caribou, and by October they were starving. The same thing will happen with the caribou which happened with the buffalo. The buffalo had to go because he encumbered the farming lands; but there is no reason why the caribou should go, because he is in an unfertile country, a country of no earthly use as far as we can see unless minerals are discovered. Some one said to me the other day, "The thing to do is to kill off the caribou as quickly as possible and then do, as Grenfell did, import reindeer." But the caribou are nothing but reindeer, and if you protect them intelligently you have your reindeer there already; it is a minor scientific difference that differentiates between the caribou and the reindeer. If, on the Slave Lake or the Great Bear Lake, you were to try to get the Slaves or Yellow Knives to stop killing caribou all the year round, you would have trouble. They would say, "Our ancestors have killed them all the time, and why shouldn't we?" But the Eskimo are in the habit of killing only three months a year, and all the Government has to do, if it takes them in time, is to step in and maintain the status quo, and there will be no murmurings because they have known nothing different.
There is, on the American side of the line, the saying that the only good Indian is a dead Indian; that was so because the Indian, as well as the buffalo, encumbered the farmer's land. But in the north the only good Indian is a live Indian, because he secures furs. That is one of the reasons why the Hudson's Bay Company had a policy so diametrically opposed to the policy of the American Government. That is one of the reasons that has kept the Indian in the northern part of this country. If it be true of the Indian in the Hudson Bay and Mackenzie River Districts that the only good Indian is a live Indian, it is more true of the Eskimo, because he inhabits the fringe of your country, which cannot be used by anybody so well as by him. At present, in most of the tribes that I discovered, the Eskimo kill only enough caribou to clothe themselves; some do not kill enough; the tribe at Cape Bechsell kill only about half enough for sleds and bows, and they buy in skins to dress from other tribes. The Eskimo in Victoria Land district will trap wolves, when traders go in and sell them traps. Wolves live on caribou, and there are many wolves there. On one occasion, when we left the Eskimo women of our party behind in camp and--the men went away hunting, the wolves came and for two days sat around our tent in a circle and kept the women and dogs indoors. Those wolves were fattened on caribou. The traders will teach the Eskimo to trap wolves. Each wolf killed means a great many caribou saved, and you can double the consumption of caribou (above the present rate) and still keep the balance even by killing the wolves. The machinery is at your hand. The Eskimo everywhere have shown a disposition to obey the Mounted Police in Herschell Island. And I am sure, if the missionaries were clothed with authority by the Government, they could be made an arm of the Government in enforcing any intelligent regulations. If the Government will step in now, before the habits of the Eskimo change, and pass wise laws which they have the machinery to enforce, the caribou in millions can be protected forever as one of the resources of Canada and the Eskimo will also be protected. If you let the caribou be killed off, the Eskimo will do as they now do in Mackenzie District, they will dress in the Hudson Bay blanket. Those Eskimo cannot go out in winter; that was never true while they dressed in caribou skins.
In Alaska sportsmen are willing to pay licenses of three or four hundred dollars for the privilege of killing a few animals each year, and highly paid guides are maintained who have permanent employment in accompanying sportsmen, so that in that way also the caribou, if intelligently protected, will be a resource.
There is another thing needed in order to protect these Eskimo, besides the protection of the caribou, and that is an intelligent quarantine. There are certain diseases, notably measles, which will kill the Eskimo like flies. Among other things we have developed to a high degree of efficiency are certain kinds of germs, and the germ of measles is especially virulent when it attacks the Eskimo. We do not know what the Black Death must have been in Europe. One of the newspapers reported me as saying that the Black Death was nothing but measles, that has not been proven; but it is quite likely the doctors will stand by me when I say that it is probable that the first time measles came to Europe they were no less fatal than the Black Death. But it killed off the susceptibles and left the immunes; then the next time it killed off susceptibles and left immunes, until now we are all immunes, and measles are not any more serious than cold in the head. Not so with the Eskimo. I know a family at the mouth of the Mackenzie River, thirteen in number; within two weeks eleven died of measles. The other day I was in the University of Iowa and I was speaking to a distinguished Canadian doctor; he was a pupil of Dr. Osler's. He said to me a thing which is well known, that on an island in the South Pacific a British gunboat crew went ashore and carried measles. An epidemic came and carried off seventy-five percent of the people. I said, "If you had had ten years notice of that epidemic and had unlimited money to install hospitals and so on, do you think you could have done anything to stop that epidemic?" He said, "No, practically nothing." That is the present status of medicine in regard to measles. But one thing you can do is to quarantine. I gave out an interview to this effect in September, and among the many interesting commentaries I received was one from the British Governor of the Soudan, Sir Reginald Wingate. He wrote to a mutual friend saying, "Stefansson's proposal to quarantine the Eskimo is practical and it ought to be done. Here we are doing the same thing for sleeping sickness and doing it successfully." There are practically only two gateways, one by the ocean to the west through Baillie Island, where Mounted Police could inspect any traffic, and the other by Great Bear Lake. It is simple, as compared with the problem Sir Reginald Wingate is facing.
Next to measles, in point of danger, I should put syphilis. It is deadly in many ways. Last winter, a year ago, three men out of a population of forty at Baillie Island went insane as an after effect of syphilis incurably insane-and that is apart from the people that died of it. There are men there whose tongues are gone, and who have sores all over their bodies. Measles, syphilis, increase of pulmonary consumption, diseases from unhealthful food, all have co-operated in the Mackenzie District to bring down the Eskimo population in sixty years from two thousand to forty, and since that time six individuals have died, so far as I know. That is the effect of civilization as introduced into the Mackenzie District, and if you don't do anything at all the same thing will happen in Coronation Gulf. You have the machinery, the Conservation Commission. It is up to the Government to do something for the sake of humanity, for the sake of the commercial interests of the country, for the sake of perpetuating your resources.
There is another thing that interests me which I should like to present to you also, and that is my own plans for another expedition. (Applause) It will be my third. There are two gentlemen present here today, Bishop Reeve and Mr. Stewart, who were my companions when we went down the Mackenzie in 1906. At that time I expected to meet a ship at the mouth of the Mackenzie; the ship never came, fortunately for me, for it gave me an exceptional opportunity for studying the Eskimo. I lived in their houses for thirteen months and got the beginning of an understanding of their lives and character. That expedition was under the auspices ,of Toronto University and Harvard University. My second was in 1908. I went down the Mackenzie again, having as my companion Dr. Anderson, the zoologist. I remained in the country four and a half years, did about ten thousand miles of sled and foot travelling along the coast of North America, and brought back results, some of which you have heard of, and scientific collections numbering in the neighbourhood of thirty thousand specimens. (Applause)
My present plan is a more ambitious one. The four years and a half cost us only ten thousand dollars; it is probably the cheapest Arctic expedition that ever went north, because we lived on the country. For fourteen months, for instance, we lived entirely on the country, and did not carry salt or tea, but simply had rifles and matches and cooking' gear. This time I want to provide better transportation facilities; I want also to have a scientific staff. I am an archeologist and ethnologist; we want magnetic surveyors, geologists, biologists, etc. That involves more expense. There is an area of about a million square miles north of Canada and north of Alaska still unexplored. We have no idea whether it is all land or all water, or partly land and partly water. For the purpose of exploring it we want a ship, and our plan is to sail north of Herschell Island, north of Canada, into the waters which are usually open. Whalers were often there last year; and in 1906 a whaler was two hundred miles north of Herschell Island and never saw a cake of ice. Her captain returned because he had no interest in exploration and did not think the whales went any further north. We cannot sail far if there are no northwest winds, but with their assistance we should make a considerable distance. By means of that ship we hope, possibly, to extend the bounds of the Empire. We hope to find new land north of Canada; and if we do not find land we shall, at all events, be adding to our knowledge of the country. We shall ascertain the oceanic depths, investigate the geology of the country, and determine the range of the prehistoric migrations of the Eskimo.
If by water we can reach no new land, we hope to establish a base on southwest Prince Patrick Land nine hundred miles northeast of Mackenzie River, and from that base by sledges in winter, we expect to explore the frozen ocean west, north, and northwest from there. From a second base in Victoria Land we shall work down to Coronation Gulf, Great Bear Lake, and eastward to King William Land. It has been our good fortune to add a river over five hundred miles in length to the map of Canada. Richardson, in 1820, went along the coast; he entered the mouth of the River Horton, the River Jardine, and the mouths of several rivers. They are all there, but the Jardine is a creek about six miles long that you can jump over, while the Horton is five hundred miles in length, as big as the Coppermine. Even on our mainland there is need for exploration. For many reasons I am hoping that Canada, either the Government or the Institutions of Canada, or individuals, may think it worth their while to support our enterprise. (Applause)
But really what I have more at heart than anything else is that you do something, something intelligent, for the Eskimo. That is the thing, really, that I am pleading for now. That is what brought me to Canada, and it is more or less incidental that I am trying to get support for another expedition. It seems to me so self-evident that you ought to lock the door before the horse is stolen. It is also unfortunate that nobody seems to see the need of locking the door, usually, until the horse is stolen. Considerall that you know of Alaska and the= effects of civilization in general on a primitive people; and then look at Greenland where the Danish government is maintaining an intelligent quarantine, and where the population is increasing. Canada allows the population, as in Mackenzie, to dwindle from two thousand down to forty, while Greenland is building it up until it is now about eleven thousand. That is what you should do, take a leaf from the book of Denmark and do likewise. (Applause)
A vote of thanks was moved by Mr. Stewart, and seconded by Bishop Reeve, both of whom gave reminiscences of the trip they had taken with Mr. Stefansson.