With ‘the wind in our sails’
Good evening. With your kind permission I would like to turn the clock back in time for a wee moment, to share this passage from author, Ken McGoogan’s, Fatal Passage (2001).
“ …By April 10, when the party reached the point on the coast of Committee Bay from which the explorer intended to travel due west across the Boothia Peninsula, all the men, including Rae, had endured some degree of snow-blindness, their eyes stinging as if filled with sand.
The following night, Rae and his men found themselves hauling sledges through drifting snow under a full moon, sinking nearly ankle-deep at every step. The party managed eight and a half miles in six and a half hours, then built a small igloo and enjoyed some tea and frozen pemmican. They rested three hours, then resumed slogging through country so flat and snow-covered that it was difficult to tell where lake began or ended. On April 14, Rae led the men forward through the zero visibility of a violent snowstorm, steering by compass. After two and a half hours, the party took shelter, having covered only one and a half miles.
The next day brought clear skies and relatively balmy temperatures (eight degrees below zero), though the heavy snowfall made trekking difficult.”
And so, here we are now too, in Pelly Bay. Only, it is April 16, 2019, 165 years on. It is certainly not lost on us that where we are is very, very close to the spot where, in 1854, John Rae, and his two indigenous companions, William Ouligbuck (Inuk) and Thomas Mistegan (Ojibway), met a small party of Inuit that had retrieved relics from Franklin’s expedition.
*The scene of this historic meeting is poignantly captured in a painting by the renowned artist, Charles Comfort. The painting portrays Rae standing and talking to a group of Inuit, likely from Kugaaruk (formerly Pelly Bay). Rae is holding a silver spoon, and as history tells it, this spoon was retrieved from the ill-fated Franklin Expedition by the Inuit he met that day.
Camped on the Arctic sea-ice as we are tonight, at a spot lying roughly West by Southwest of the community of Kugaaruk, we are again reminded of the heavy snow (perhaps not to the same extent as Rae) we’ve encountered and worked our way through over the past week. The sticky, sometimes deep snow has made going incredibly tiring, slow and difficult. But we put our heads down and press on.
We are in ‘the thick of it now,’ and we really have a sense that it was over this same expanse of ice, over these hills, and through these lakes and through these rivers, that Rae and his companions travelled. I am sure that as we move further forward, our appreciation of Rae, and his accomplishments, will only deepen. His stamina and determination have put, ‘the wind in our sails,’ and certainly gives us the impetus and encouragement to carry on to fulfill this journey.
Tomorrow, it’s onward, with our sleds in tow and our spirits strong!
* can be viewed on Arctic Return’s hompage. (courtesy of the HBC Archives).