Inuit Delegation explores Historical link to Shelburne

Fathers of two men visited town in 1925

Peter Ernerk and David Owingayak had a chance last week to walk in the strange land where their fathers walked 73 years ago. Mr. Ernerk and Mr. Owinagayak are Inuit and the strange land visited by their fathers in 1925 was the town of Shelburne, Nova Scotia.

The two men, along with George Qulaut and Attima Hadlari, are from the part of the Northwest Territories that will become the new territory of Nunavut on April 1st. The group is visiting Nova Scotia during Nunavut Awareness Days, sponsored by Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

When peter was our guest speaker at the first Nunavut Awareness Days in 1996, he told us that his father had been in Shelburne in 1924, and asked if we could find out more information about it, " said Michelle Daveluy, an anthropology professor at St. Mary's.

The story they discovered was an early 20th century adventure. "Almost an odyssey" was the way Brian Savege, chairman of the Shelburne County Museum board, described it. In 1925, four Inuit men described as full blooded Eskimos, in the newspapers at the time, arrived in Shelburne as part of the crew of the fur schooner, Jean Revillon. The schooner had been built in Shelburne in 1923 and gained fame for being the second vessel to make it through the Northwest Passage and reach the magnetic North Pole.

In 1924 Jean Revillon had arrived at Bakers lake in the Nortwest Territories. While there the ship became frozen in the ice, missing its chance to sail south for the winter. their ship was badly damaged and the captain decided to make a trip to Shelburne for repair work the next spring. Some of the original crew returned to England so they enlisted the help of four Inuit men to help sail the ship to Shelburne in the spring of 1925. The voyage was close to 4,830 kilometres and took four months to complete in poor weather.

"They talked quite a lot about the trip when they returned", said Mr. Ernerk. "About things they had seen. It would have been extremely scary and frightening, coming from Baker Lake where there were only igloos, this is the first time they would have seen trains and towns full of permanent buildings," he said.

It was quite an experience for the town of Shelburne as well. Bill Cox, a resident of the town, remembers when the ship was being repaired. "I remember (the Inuit men) working aboard the vessel at the time. I was only eight years old at the time," said Mr. Cox. Other residents remember their families talking about the visit of the four men. "It would have been as exciting for the people of Shelburne as it was for the Inuit," said Finn Bower, curator of the Shelburne County Museum.

Mr. Ernerk said the men's stories taught the people in Baker Lake about life in in the southern part of Canada. "These four men allowed us to know exactly what sort of things to expect in the southern civilization," he said. As part of the Nunavut Awareness Days, the delegation wants to promote the new territory to Saint Mary's and other groups. "There is lots of excitement, lots of happiness, that we are finally taking back control for the people of Nunavut", said Mr. Ernerk.