Saturday is for fishing. That’s what we were told when our expedition team traveling in a giant convoy of 10 komatiks arrived in Pangnirtung on Friday, April 12th.
We had finished our grueling trek, snowshoeing 100 km through the Akshayuk mountain ranges when we pulled into the beautiful bay area. As our drivers cut the loud roar from the engines and pulled up to the edge of the frozen lake, I turned back for one last look at the national park behind us. The snow covered mountains looked so serene under the cloudless sky, they looked like a giant postcard.
Out front, a few people were milling around with curious, tanned faces. They were timid but smiled, some even managing a shy wave as we stepped out of our wooden sleighs for the last time. With great excitement, we made our way to the two parked vans waiting by the roadside for us.
Hopping in pretty quickly, there were three things on our mind: food, rest and a hot shower. We didn’t bother with seat belts and giggled with joy. As the front and back seats filled up, I jumped into the trunk space knowing we were less than a half a mile from the inn.
We had just enough time to be impressed by the landscape and the cheery-looking houses. They were painted in bright colors and people were driving down the streets in all kinds of different vehicles. I saw ski doos and snowmobiles, and larger pickup trucks and strange open-air style Jeeps that moved and looked like mini tractors.
Photo: Lakefront area with of Pangnirtung and original site of the Hudson’s Bay Company
But as we came closer to the inn and walked to the front door, eager to grab our duffle bags, I realized that many of these bright houses were actually in serious disrepair.
A great many were boarded up and I wondered if this was to keep the heat from escaping or to block the winds that cut across the peninsula.
We soon learned just how needy the town was, but at this point in time I had only a vague idea that conditions were bad from what I had read. I was excited and paid little attention to anything else but the shower I had waited nearly two weeks to take. Later, when walking around the town, I would notice the many dogs without any sign of their owners, and men who seemed equally lost. They hung outside supermarket stores and peddled small carvings and art stencils.
Our lead guide Scott suggested we take time to rest and have lunch before touring and meeting with people from the town. He knew they were planning something for us, but imagined it was small. Tomorrow, on Saturday, we would have time to visit the arts center, and today, we’d time some time to meet with the local people and see the heritage center.
An example of some of the rug art you can purchase in Pangnirtung
But we soon learned the town had a really big surprise for us. We were big news in Pangnirtung.
The local radio station and newspaper shared how we had traveled from across Canada to hike the Park and raise money for Canada’s military Veterans.
After our luxurious shower and a warm meal of ham, scalloped potatoes and salad, we shuffled over to the community center. Words can’t describe the reception and the heroes welcome. As I looked around at the Inuit people gathered in the modest center, I felt tremendously blessed and fortunate to be there.
I had no connection to this Indigenous culture and a people who had been so wronged by the Residential Schools Program and empty government promises. And yet, here they were, welcoming me and our entire group of “southerners”, as they called us, into their community with open arms!
It was truly humbling to sit at the front of the big gym arena and to meet the Park Rangers who were dressed in full uniform alongside the Junior Rangers. The room was filled with several hundred people who were excited to meet us. Over the next hour, we ate bannock (fried and slightly sweet Inuit bread shown in photo) together and drank warm coffee.
And if that wasn’t enough, a ceremonial seal had been pulled from the freezer. It lay next to the entrance door with a small pool of blood forming around its head. We were told it would be cut and gutted for our group to eat in a ceremonial gathering on the lakefront just after dinner around 7 pm.
Sushi seal – a rarity for most Canadians and certainly me! And, a real honor for our Baffin 2019 team. The Mayor gave a speech as did one of our Veterans, Lieutenant commander Kathryn Logan, who thanked the community for their warm hospitality.
Afterwards, we spent more time chatting before heading back to the hotel for a short rest and quick dinner. Next stop, the big fish party of the lake and the cutting of the seal.
But on the way back to the inn, we stopped in to see the arts center. We had been told they would be open on Saturday but the clerk looked at us with surprise and said,
“Don’t you know we are closed? Saturdays is for fishing?”
Check back next Saturday for part 2 of the story, and photos and videos of our lakefront party and sushi seal experience.