Page 3, 19th October 1951

19th October 1951
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Page 3, 19th October 1951 — c ; "' Hazards of the 20th Century

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c ; "' Hazards of the 20th Century



Author of 'Men Against the North'

THE penetration of the Arctic regions, now going ahead at a truly remarkable speed, is having a marked effect on the Eskimo and the Indian of northern forest and tundra.

In the past, the missionary has served as a buffer between civilisation and the simple, trusting native of the more northerly regions. But as civilisation pushes farther into the wilderness,

existing missions have to cover wider areas, and more Eskimos and Indians are likely to Come under the influence of the new mining communities.

Thus the missionary in the North, both Catholic and Protestant, is being called upon to put yet greater efforts into the attainment of one of his main aims-to serve as a buffer between civilisation and Eskimo and


IVIISSIONARIFS have played a large part in the penetration of Arctic Canada. A century and a half ago they led the way into totally unknown territory, and the missions they founded became the bases from which prospectors, trappers, traders and explorers worked.

Nearly a century before the prospector Gilbert Lal3ine discovered the ore from which uranium is derived on the shores of Great Bear Lake, Fr. Grandin and Fr. Faraud were living among the Indians many hundred miles to the north on the coast of Great Slave Lake.

Fr. Jean Baptiste Thibault reached the Mackenzie Basin in the extreme north of Canada in 1845. News of his work there prompted the Methodist missionary, James Evans to travel northwards with all haste, and but for an accident the Methodists might today be challenging the supremacy of the Catholic and the Anglicans in the Arctic Canada. Evans accidentally shot and killed an Indian on the journey by canoe up the mighty Mackenzie River. The dead man's mother forgave him, and to prove her forgiveness adopted him, hut he was so shaken by the tragedy that he never completed his journey.


FR R. Tache was the first missionary to reach Fort Chipewyan, on Lake Athabraska. Next came Fr. Grollier, a remarkably energetic man who founded a mission at Fort Rae, on the Great Slave Lake, and then to the north at Fort Providence, Fort Simpson, Fort Norman (now the focal point in a new system of oil wells) and Fort Good Hope (eight miles south of the Polar Circle).

He was the first missionary to meet the northern Eskimos in 1860; and on September 14, 1860, he " brought Indian and Eskimo together, inducing two chiefs to join hands in his at the foot of the Cross." nt

thereby turning centuries of enmity between the two peoples into a peace that neither has destroyed.

TTHE missionary who selects the Northlands as his field of endeavour needs more than the ability to convert the savage to fulfil his calling. He must have something of the qualities of the explorer selfreliance, a sense of adventure, the mental and physical ability to with stand extreme hardship. The hardships attending mission work in the Far Fast or among the islands of the Pacific are not normally so pronounced as those met within the Arctic. Large areas of the East and the Pacific are thinly populated, but in few cases can the native populations be as low as that of the American North and Greenland, where in areas exceeding that of Northern Ireland and Eire there may be but 300 or 400 natives and '' whites." Travel in the more remote parts of the tropics presents its own particular problems, among them disease, sunstroke and the hazards of jungle and swamp. But extreme heat is less likely to prove lethal than extreme cold; and travel across virtually unpopulated regions is inevitably more dangerous than that in areas where help is available in the ev'ent of emergency.

The airplane has brought as much benefit to the northern missionary as to the prospector to trapper and doctor. Distant settlements can he reached quickly by air in the event of need arising from epidemic or accident.

But to maintain contact with outlying settlements in the normal course entails the missionary in arduous journeys by sledge; and the dangers normal to travel • by dogteam are more pronounced than those common to journeying between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.


IN the Arctic the individual parish at covers thousands of square miles. The largest Catholic diocese extends from Fort Smith to Red River, a distance of some 1,000 miles.

Here, within this vast region of tundra. the Catholic missions arc the foundation of daily life. They provide education for "white," Eskimo and Indian alike (there is only one Government-run school in the whole region), and likewise the hospitals are run and maintained by the missions.

The Arctic missionary is indeed a father to his flock; more so than in other parts of the world. He accompanies Eskimo and Indian on the trap-line; his equipment includes a rifle with which to provide his needs when visiting the sealing camps and settlements within his parish; he drives a dog team. sometimes covering journeys of 1,000 miles and more, and when on his rounds, he lives in an igloo. He is friend, father. doctor. Religioue services in the distant settlements are almost invariably followed by extraction of teeth. the lancing of boils and treatment of other minor ills.


FR. Dionne. one of the 30 Oblate priests who serve the vast extent of the Hudson Bay Territory, tells the story of an Eskimo named Aneksak who arrived at the mission one day in a bad state.

He had been caught in a blizzard when seal-hunting; two of his toes had turned gangrenous from frostbite. " I'll have to amputate them,"

Fr. Dionne told him. " It won't hurt at first, but it'll he pretty bad when I cut through the gangrenous. dead tissues, into the living flesh." Aneksak nodded understanding. A number of Eskimos collected to watch the operation, and Fr. Diopne went to work with a knife. When he cut through to the living flesh and the bone the Eskimo burst into laughter. 'I he pain must have been excruciating. but the custom of the polar native is to meet pain and hardship with laughter, and to support him bear the pain of the knife the watching group of Eskimos laughed uproariously.

" A couple of clays afterwards Aneksak Wes out hunting again," said Fr. Dionne. " He accepted the amputation of his toes as part of the day's work-and so did I.


droNVERSION of the Arctic native has not proved difficult. Few E,skimos retain their old beliefs, and the majority adhere to the new Faith with the simplicity of a child.

They are devout; indeed, the average Eskimo considers himself a better Christian than his white mentor. and certainly as knowledgeable in the Christian beliefs as his priest. But the Eskimo's child-like mentality is his great weakness, for he is easily influenced and naay fall victim to the less creditable of civilisation's ways.

The polar hunter often follows "the teaching" blindly, and in this he sometimes brings upon himself disaster. 1 he story told by Inspector A. H. Joy, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, illustrates this.

He describes how a number of Eskimos in Baffinland (an island larger than the British Isles which lies between Arctic Canada and Greenland) refused to kill a whale on the Sabbath, and as a result starved to death. Starving for lack of game, one whale would have turned hunger into plenty. But the day was Sunday. the day of Christie° rest; the hunters lowered their weapons and the tribe died almost to a man. The Arctic missionary does not forbid hunting on Sunday. Indeed, before now the missionary has proved himself to be more adaptable and understanding than the hardbitten " whites" of the Far North.

When, for example, a whaling captain was about to shoot a Herschel Island Eskimo for killing his new-born daughter. a priest intervened skit') the explanation: "When food is scarce the Eskimo father argues that it's better to kill a new-born babe than to risk the death of his whole family through starvation."

This does not imply that savage or morally wrong practices are condoned on the grounds of local needs. They are not. But the Arctic missionary understands the difficulty of keeping Christian ways in a world of blizzards and hunger.


TTHE coastal missions receive food supplies in summer by ship when the ice breaks up. those inland being replenished by river steamer during the short summer or by air. Normally a reserve of supplies is kept at every mission sufficient to maintain it in case circumstances prevent the delivery of fresh supplies. But there have been many occasions when circumstances have pre

vented the annual supplies getting through. and then the missionary has had to provide the mission's needs either by hunting or by sledging to a neighbouring settlement for help.

Fr. Joseph Billiard chose the latter alternative when. in the autumn of 1948, a gale wrecked the floatplane which was to have flown supplies to the mission at Lake Garry in the extreme north of Arctic Canada. Winter set in early, a succession of blizzards swept over the frozen surface or the lake. and Fr. Buliard decided to travel 130 miles to the mission at Baker Lake. In normal conditions the journey would offer little difficulty. But the ueather deteriorated, most of the huskies diedof exposure, and the changed circumstances prompted the party to make for the Hudson's Bay Company outpost at Perry River. Travel on foot in the Arctic winter can be arduous in the extreme. for the snow is powdery or broken and frozen into ridges, so that a man flounders or slips and stumbles.


Turner, who covered 3.000 miles on one sledge journey (the Intorno' of the Scott Polar Refearch Institute describes it as " great a journey as Treary's. Shackleton's or Scott's") wrote in his diary that on one occasion pressureeridges of ice resulted in his taking 14 hours to cover 400 yards. Under such conditions food runs short, and blizzards force a traveller to keep to his tent or igloo while his food runs out altogether.


VERY soon Fr. Buliard faced just

these conditions. Food supplies dwindled to the danger point. No fat could be spared to provide light or heat. and then none for cooking. The Sack of hot food, allied to the severity of the weather, had a serious effect both on the missionary and the Eskimos.

Fr. Bullard suffered badly from frostbite and broke his teeth on the frozen caribou meat that formed the party's main diet. He had not expected a lens journey when he first act out from Lake Garry, and ammunition ran out.

The party reached the H.B.0 outpost at Perry River safely and replenished its supply of cartridges. But the severe winter had driven the caribou south and there was little to shoot, which meant empty stomachs.

It was late February before the party returned to Garry River after five months of travel. One of the Eskimo women had stripped a treasured dress into bandeges with which to bind Fr. Buliard's frostbitten legs, and the priest had torn up his cassock for the same purpose. Ile and his companions were near starvation, their faces lined with hunger and exposure.

During the winter infantile paralysis had broken out at Chesterfield Inlet, and an area of 40,000 square miles was placed under quarantine. But permission was given to fly an aircraft into the afflicted area to bring Fr. Butiard out of the Arctic. Fr. Ferran found him sitting by a hole cut through the ice of Lake Garry, fishing.

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