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

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

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

Just Posted

Lotte Obergfell at the age of 21. (Photo submitted)
Smart 55: Lotte Obergfell of Williams Lake will celebrate her 100th birthday on March 10

She still feels healthy but never imagined she’d reach this milestone

The wind has been gusting Friday, March 5 in Williams Lake with the risk of a thunderstorm in the forecast for later in the afternoon. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
More than 500 customers in Cariboo without power, risk of thunderstorm Friday afternoon

The BC Hydro map is adding more power outages as the afternoon unfolds

The two suspects arrested south of 150 Mile House Tuesday, March 2, following a high-speed chase with the RCMP have been charged. (Will Roberts photo)
High-speed chase suspects charged, remain in custody after arrest south of Williams Lake

John Craig and Maggie M. Higgott appeared in Williams Lake Provincial Court March 4

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Kevin Haughton is the founder/technologist of Courtenay-based Clearflo Solutions. Scott Stanfield photo
Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

Entrepreneur $300,000 mobile system can produce 50,000 litres of water in a day, via solar energy

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

Most Read