Tom Smith reunited with his old friend Ookookoo after 52 years when Smith went North with the Canada C3 Expedition. Photo submitted

My great Arctic reunion

Tom Smith travelled with the Canada C3 Expedition for a two-week sail through the Northwest Passage

By: Tom Smith

For the three years I served as an RCMP constable at Alexandra Fiord and Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island, in the early 1960s, we never opened a criminal file—we ran a trading store with the Inuit, pulled teeth, stitched cuts, removed a placenta, and ran the post office—mail was sometimes over a year old.

With the Inuit, I explored thousands of miles by dog team. The Inuit there spoke no English so I learned enough Inuktitut to get along.

In March this year Dick Ford, a friend, called me and urged me to apply to join the Canada C3 Expedition that he just learned about on CBC. I followed his advice and luckily C3 selected me as a participant on Leg Nine—a two-week sail by icebreaker through the Northwest Passage from Pond Inlet, north Baffin Island, to Cambridge Bay in the central arctic.

The Canada C3 Expedition, a Signature Project for Canada’s 150th Anniversary, was a 150-day sailing journey by the Polar Prince, an icebreaker, from Toronto to Victoria via the Northwest Passage. You can read and see videos and photos about the Expedition at canadac3.ca.

In mid August at Pond Inlet on north Baffin Island, where Leg Nine started, and 52 years after I left Grise Fiord on Ellesmere, people at Pond Inlet gathered at a community hall for the announcement of the Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area, an area twice the size of Nova Scotia, where 75 percent of the world’s narwhals summer.

When I arrived at the hall, before most people, I asked an Inuk woman about Ookookoo, a teenager and respected hunter, when I lived at Grise Fiord, Ellesmere Island. Ookookoo soon appeared.

I didn’t recognize him but we hugged and soon tears welled up in his eyes and then in mine.

I remember him telling me that a polar bear charged him, tore his parka, knocked him down, and then left.

Since then he has travelled three times by snowmobile to the north pole.

His spouse, Hannah, was with him—she was a teenager when we last saw one another—and held up her finger and said, “You stitched my finger.”

I held up my thumb and said, “And I stitched my own thumb too.”

Soon children of people I knew on Ellesmere appeared and also grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

I showed them photos I had taken in the 1960s and realized how deep our roots were and how I need to write about my experiences and share my photos from those magical times. Our visits were too short—I left Pond Inlet with my heart aching.

When I left for the trip our home was threatened by the forest fires that raged in BC this past summer.

Fortunately, the summer’s fires spared our property and home.

Midge, my wife, encouraged me to go on the trip—and I did—with the following words placing things in perspective, taken from an Inuk in the early 1920s on Kent Peninsula near Cambridge Bay where Leg Nine of the C3 trip ended:

The One

Great Thing

And I think over again

My small adventures

When from a shore wind

I drifted out

In my kayak

And I thought I was in danger.

My fears,

Those small ones

That I thought so big,

For all the vital things I had to get and to reach.

And yet, there is only

One great thing,

The only thing.

To live and see in huts and on journeys

The great day that dawns,

And the light that fills the world.

Collected and translated by Knud Rasmussen on the Kent Peninsula, from The Report of the Fifth

Thule Expedition, 1921–1924. From: Stephen Bown, White Eskimo, Knud Rasmussen’s fearless journey into the heart of the arctic, Douglas and McIntyre (2013) Ltd.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Tom Smith last saw his friend Ookookoo (pictured) as a teenager in the 1960s. Photo submitted

Just Posted

Cariboo female hockey players help make history at outdoor BC Winter Classic

Brette Kerley, Paige Outhouse, Pyper Alexander and goaltender Cadence Petitclerc-Crosby took part

EDITORIAL: Embrace literacy

Family Literacy Week is from Jan. 26 to Feb. 2

Cariboo air attack officer reports from Australia

“We are flying a lot, bombing fires anywhere from four to nine hours a day”

Retired teacher, coach set to release new book, Rugby Rivals

Rugby Rivals is targeted at youth aged 10 to 13, and tells the story of 14-year-old Sam Brewer

All Carlton Cards stores closing in the coming weeks

Schurman Retail Group stores across North America will close, including 79 in Canada

B.C.-based firefighting plane crashes in Australia, killing three

Three people are confirmed dead in the crash in New South Wales

B.C. privacy commissioner suggests media civility for Prince Harry and Meghan

Lawyers for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex reportedly sent a letter to British press threatening legal action

Victoria’s plastic-bag ban ended by Supreme Court of Canada

City’s leave to appeal lower court’s decision denied

One person in Vancouver being monitored for coronavirus, feds say

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said five or six people are being monitored in Canada

Gap between cost of legal and illegal cannabis keeps growing: Stats Canada

In B.C., legal pot cost $9.32 per gram when bought legally

The word ‘landlord’ is too negative, one B.C. councillor says

Coun. Dave Loewen says term should be replaced by ‘rental housing provider’ in new housing strategy

Canada prepares as WHO decides whether to declare global coronavirus emergency

The city of Wuhan, China, has shut down outbound flights and trains

Survey finds support among Canadians for broader assisted-dying law

The survey was conducted Jan. 17 to 21 among 1,552 Canadians eligible to vote

Veteran B.C. journalist battles cancer through pioneering immunotherapy treatment

Vancouver Island rallies around JR Rardon and family during stay in Seattle

Most Read