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Uqshuuqtuq or Gjøa Haven?

The Northwest Passage Day 5

“People travel to far way places to watch in fascination the kind of things they ignore at home.” Dagobert Runes

No matter which you choose, the name of this hamlet is difficult to pronounce. Uqshuuqtuq is the Inuit name and Gjøa Haven is the name given after Roald Admundson stayed there with his ship Gjøa. Uqshuuqtuq, in the language Inuktitut, means “a place with plenty of blubber.” Because ot the daily Inuktitut lessons on the ship, I can venture a guess as to the pronunciation—“uk shuk tuk.” Gjøa Haven (pronounced Joe Haven) means “a harbor for the ship Gjøa.”

We visited Gjøa Haven this morning. Our first stop was the Heritage Center where the exhibits told about Inuit culture in parallel with information about Amundsen (who they loved) and the Franklin expedition. Amundsen valued the practical knowledge of the Inuit from clothing to diet to hunting practices. He realized this knowledge as the key to survival in the Arctic. The Inuit loved  Admundson because he showed respect for them and adopeted their practices. This is in contrast to many of the British explorers, and a contributing factor to the demise of the Franklin expedition.

The Heritage center is the building onto which the Parc Canada plans to build a museum for the Erebus and Terror shipwrecks. Gjøa Haven is the closest to the H.M.S. Terror wreck and is where the Inuit Guardians who guard the wreck live.

Visitors to the Arctic hamlets are so rare that the Inuit welcomed us through song and dance. Songs are passed from one generation to the next, as are the dances. When visitors arrive, like our ship, the community finds whoever is around and brings them in to sing and dance. The woman who sang was not expecting to sing to a crowd today, but she graciously accepted because the other singers were unavailable. I was hoping we would be treated to throat singing (a specialty of Inuit women), but that was not to happen today. Still, the performance was wonderful.

After the rousing community center welcome, we walked around town and to its boundary where we visited the Inuit memorial to Raolf Amundsen, perched on a hill with a great view of the town and harbor. We also stopped at the Post Office, located in the Northern Store.

Gjøa Haven is very remote. Like most hamlets in the Arctic, they get supplies delivered twice a year to supplement the “country food” harvested from the land and sea (whale, seal, char). The shipping costs drive up the price of the food to outrageous amounts, especially in a community where there is so little work. Those who can hunt share their bounty with the elders and those who are unable to hunt. The community looks out for each other.

A fisherman's storage shed


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