|Pelly Bay * [pop: under 500]
by Steven W. Metzger
In early April, the night sky is completely dark for
only a few hours; by late may, the sun will be up for 24 hours. But the warmth of May is
still a dream, and the tuktuit [caribou] are still far away. The men spend many hours
fishing, waiting for warmer weather and the return of the caribou, enduring as they always
have. They travel in the bitter cold to Kuuk [Kellet River] or to one of the many other
bountiful lakes and rivers in the area, to tend their fish nets. Arctic char and whitefish
are in good supply, and occasionally a seal is caught near Qurvigjuaq ["big urine
pot"]. Still, everyone longs for the caribou to return, to complete the group of
animals - seal, caribou and fish - that are synonymous with life.
I moved here five years ago, and after countless
journeys on the land I'm still captivated by it's stark beauty and isolation. I marvel at
a culture that enabled Inuit to thrive for centuries in this challenging environement
using only animl products, stone and snow. Elders welcome visitors to the community, and
relish the chance to retell the old stories. As they talk, their warmth and joy fill my
spirit. I snese a bond with the land, and I feel my growing respect for the
Arviligjuaqmiut [ those living in the area Arviligjuaqmiut, "the place with lots of
bowhead whales" ], which is the Inuit name for Pelly Bay. The English name came from
early explorers who chose to honor Sir John Pelly, a governor of the Hudson's bay Co. The
bowhead whales of the Inuktitut name ply the waters no more.
In 1968, the Canadian government transported 32
prefabricated house into Pelly Bay. Until then, the Arviligjuaqmiut lived a semi-nomadic
lifestyle. Small family groups, lving in igluit [igloos] and skin tents, followed the
wildlife that sustained them. Occasionally, groups would come together to hunt and fish.
In 1937, whenthe Catholic mission was established here, groups would meet for Christmas
celebrations at Kugaarjuk [the mouth of the Kugajuk River], then separate again to pursue
their nomadic cycle.
The first Catholic missionary, Father Pierre Henry,
arrived in 1935. He built a small stone chapel/house, but soon learned that stone wasn't a
good insulator in this harsh climate. Instead, he adopted Inuit ways, living in an iglu
and wearing traditional Inuit clothing during the cold months. He and Father Franz Van de
Velde, who remained a powerful force in the community until 1965, built a stone churc in
1941. Recently, the Hamlet of Pelly Bay received a governemtn grant to restore the
deteriorating church as a historic site.
Until 1955, when the DEW Line construction began.
people here had almost no contact with the outside world. In 1829, English explorer John
Ross camped narby, but no whalers or Hudson's Bay Co. trading post ever came to Pelly Bay.
Ice jams around the islands guarding the bay's mouth made access almost impossible.
The rapid arrival of te modern workld has led to an
interesting blend of cultures. It's not unusual when visiting a home to find family
members watching the latest movie on a large-screen tv, while eating raw arctic char cut
from a fish lying on a square of cardboard in the centre of the room.
Created by the Canadian government to help assert
its sovereignty over the North, Pelly bay is now a small settlemtn with a wage economy.
Although traditional activities remain very important here, the community is in rapid
transition; cable TV has arrived, and internet access began in 1998. Only a few elders who
have lived more than half their lives in the old ways on the land remain. And while
efforts are being made to preserve Inuktitut, English is now the first language of many
Gjoa Haven: Its Land and Wildlife
Between the bay to the west and the seemingly
endless, flat tundra to the east, Pelly Bay is nestled in the coastal mountains at Kugaarjuk. The settlements stone church, set
off by a large group of inuksuit, and its
cross, built by hand atop a mountain across the river using 45 gallon gas drums, are
distinctive features of the scene.
July to September marks a time of rapid change. The sea ice
melts and the tundra becomes a multi-coloured carpet of wildflowers. Migrating birds
arrive from the south including falcons, rough legged hawks, snowy owls, sea gulls,
ravens, terns, jaegers, ptarmigans, cranes, ducks, geese and swans. Over the past few
years a small number of narwhal have visited the bay in August. In early August Inuit
fisherman use kakivait (traditional spears) to fish at an ancient saputit (stone
weir) on the Kugajuk River. Insect repellent is a must during July and early August.
By the end of September the ice starts to form again. You can
fish for arctic char and explore archeological sites. The wide open tundra and mountain
valleys provide unlimited hiking and camping opportunities.
*Reproduced from the Nunavut Handbook