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Cold Comfort

Cold Comfort: My Love Affair with the Arctic

Graham W. Rowley
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  • Book Info
    Cold Comfort
    Book Description:

    In 1936 Graham Rowley went to the still-unexplored west coast of Baffin Island as the archaeologist for a small British expedition - the last in the Canadian North that depended on traditional techniques. Cold Comfort, his acclaimed memoir of this period, captures the way of life in the North before World War II, including the experience of travelling by dogsled over unexplored land. This new edition includes the beginning of Rowley's planned sequel covering his post-war experiences in the Arctic. The additional three chapters describe Operation Musk-Ox, the first military exercise to show that it was feasible to manoeuvre in the Arctic even in winter, and Rowley's work for the Canadian Defense Research Board. An afterword by Susan Rowley and John Bennett expands on Rowley's ongoing involvement in the rapid change that took place from the Cold War to the establishment of Nunavut.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7542-4
    Subjects: Geology

Table of Contents


    • 1 Preparing for an expedition
      (pp. 3-9)

      One morning in June 1935 Tom Manning came to see me in Cambridge. I did not know him, but he gave me a letter from Louis Clarke, the eccentric and respected curator of the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and of Ethnology, who added style and unpredictability to the museum’s activities. His letter was short:

      June 12, 1935.

      My dear Rowley,

      This is to introduce Mr. Manning with whom, I hope, you will go to the Arctic. He will explain things to you.

      Yours sincerely,

      Louis Clarke.

      Tom Manning was of average height, as I am, but in no other...

    • 2 The Eastern Canadian Arctic in 1935
      (pp. 10-13)

      While teaching at Oundle I read all I could find about northern Canada and the history and prehistory of Foxe Basin. The history was easy as it was so short, beginning in 1821 when a British naval expedition entered Foxe Basin in search of a Northwest Passage.

      The expedition’s two ships, HMSFuryandHecla,commanded by Captains W. E. Parry and G. F. Lyon, were following the coast of the mainland of Canada north from Repulse Bay. They examined the inlets of Melville Peninsula, wintering first on Winter Island off its southeast coast, and then at Igloolik, near the...

    • 3 Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Churchill 28 March – 9 June 1936
      (pp. 14-22)

      Reynold Bray, Pat Baird, and I sailed from Southampton late in March 1936 in theAlaunia,one of the Cunard “A” ships that took eight leisurely days from Southampton to Halifax. We arrived on a perfect spring afternoon and were soon westbound by train through the beautiful countryside of the maritimes.

      Our first night in Canada was unusual. Johnny Buchan, the son of Lord Tweedsmuir, then governor general of Canada, had been with us in theAlauniaand was an old friend of Reynold. His mother had come to meet him in Halifax and she invited us all to a...

    • 4 Churchill to Bay of Gods Mercy 9 June – 18 July 1936
      (pp. 23-31)

      The Churchill elevator, standing out against the clear blue sky, sank slowly below the horizon as we sailed north keeping close to the floe-edge, the limit of the land-fast ice. We were now on our own. It was 9 June, later than we had hoped, but several weeks before the Port of Churchill would open, and much earlier than small boats normally travelled along this coast. Our intention was to head about three hundred and fifty miles north to Chesterfield and from there another one hundred and fifty miles east to Southampton Island.

      The band of land-fast ice between the...

    • 5 Walrus Island 18 July – 22 August 1936
      (pp. 32-39)

      Our next objective was to visit Coats Island. Its northwest coast had never been fully mapped, and we hoped to survey it and then sail to the HBC post at Coral Harbour which we had to reach before the HBC steamerNascopiecalled. Tom thought this might be as early as 17 August. She would be bringing Peter Bennett to join us and would take Dick back to the south. To be reasonably confident of getting to Coral Harbour in time, we would have to reserve enough gasoline for the leg from Coats Island to Coral Harbour, and this meant...

    • 6 Ship-time at Coral Harbour – Coats Island and Duke of York Bay 22 August – 25 September 1936
      (pp. 40-47)

      Life in an arctic settlement reached it’s annual peak when the supply ship arrived, which in those days provided virtually the only contact between the north and the south. Supplies for the coming year had to be offloaded into scows, ferried to the beach, carried above high-water mark, checked, and stacked. The year’s catch of fur had to be sent aboard. The HBC district manager would inspect the post and there might be unexpected personnel changes. A year’s mail would be received, scanned, and in urgent cases answered in time for the outgoing mail.

      The ship did not serve only...

    • 7 A long walk to Repulse Bay 25 September – 13 October 1936
      (pp. 48-54)

      Peter told us that he and Tom had picked up Reynold in Bay of Gods Mercy. Reynold had collected some hybrid snow and blue goose chicks, showing they were colour phases of the same species. They had also fixed the astronomical positions that Tom needed along the west coast of Southampton Island. In Roes Welcome Sound they had experienced the same stormy weather that we had. ThePolecathad been blown ashore once and swamped, but they had been able to refloat her. Wind was packing ice into the head of Duke of York Bay and had stopped thePolecat...

    • 8 Preparing for winter travel 13 October – 21 December 1936
      (pp. 55-66)

      Within a couple of hours we were washed, clad in dry clothes, and eating bacon and eggs prepared by Joe Ford and Henry Voisey. Joe came from Northern Ireland and was not related to Sam Ford of Coral Harbour. Among his many admirable qualities he was an excellent cook. Henry, a member of a Labrador family well known in the north, was an outdoors’ man, never happier than when hunting with the Inuit, whose language he spoke fluently. We were very lucky in finding them at Repulse, and seeing so much of them while we were there.

      There had been...

    • 9 Repulse to Igloolik – hard start 21 December 1936 – 22 January 1937
      (pp. 67-79)

      The coast between Repulse and Igloolik was quite well known. Every spring several Igloolik hunters, usually with their families, would come down to trade their year’s catch of fox, and Mathiassen and Freuchen of the Fifth Thule Expedition had travelled with Inuit to Igloolik from their base near Gore Bay. Mathiassen had made a rough map of the route they had followed, which supplemented the chart published in Parry’s report a hundred years earlier.

      The most difficult part of the journey was sure to be between Cape Wilson and Cape Penrhyn. Here the ice breaks off close to the land...

    • 10 Repulse to Igloolik – easy finish 22 January – 6 March 1937
      (pp. 80-89)

      He looked no more than fourteen years old; he also looked rather surprised. He had gone out that morning hoping to find some ptarmigan: instead he had discovered a strange igloo and even stranger occupants. We were as happy as he was surprised. As we drank tea together we understood him to say that his name was Aipilik and that he lived nearby. Little did I then think that at various times during the next fifty years he, his wife, several sons, daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters, and even a greatgrandson would come to visit me in Ottawa.

      After we had...

    • 11 Igloolik to Piling 6 March – 30 March 1937
      (pp. 90-103)

      We left Igloolik around noon on 6 March. Mino and Reynold had our komatik with eleven dogs, mostly our own. I was with Kutjek who had a team of fifteen strong dogs and was taking the heavier load. Kutjek seemed a quiet, capable, and rather reserved man, who would always do his best but perhaps with not much imagination. Mino was very different. He was short and plain and had no wife, no dogs, ragged clothes, a very old gun, no ammunition, and a good sense of humour. Most white men in the north would have described him as an...

    • 12 Return from Piling 30 March – 12 April 1937
      (pp. 104-109)

      Parry refers to Inuit from Piling visiting his ships at Igloolik in May 1823, but neither he nor Lyon learned anything about where they lived except that it was a journey of six to ten days to the east. At that time of the year Inuit could travel long distances in a day by komatik. Hantzsch, coming from the south, was within a few miles of Piling when he had to turn back in May 1911, ill with the trichinosis that killed him. The Fifth Thule Expedition had wanted to complete the map of Baffin Island by mapping from Igloolik...

    • 13 Across Baffin Island to Pond Inlet 12 April – 26 April 1937
      (pp. 110-116)

      Jack Turner led the camp in a final hymn before we headed north in mid-morning. Two large packing cases were on his komatik but they weighed very little and our load looked heavier than it was. Jack expected it to be a quick journey and had based the amount of food we took for ourselves and the dogs accordingly, adding that we were sure to see some caribou if we ran short. The Lord would provide.

      To my surprise we stopped to feed the dogs two or three miles from the camp, possibly to avoid a fight with the dogs...

    • 14 Pond Inlet 26 April – 3 May 1937
      (pp. 117-122)

      Within an hour we had reached the settlement and driven up to the mission, where Jack had invited me to stay. After a warm welcome by Maurice Flint and a large number of Inuit, we were given a splendid meal. I do not remember what we ate, but it was neither corn flakes nor walrus, so it was delicious. I was then able to enjoy my first bath for a year or so, though enjoy is too weak a verb to describe the pleasure of soaking in warm soapy water after so long a time without the possibility of even...

    • 15 Pond Inlet overland to Arctic Bay 3 May – 13 May 1937
      (pp. 123-128)

      We had two teams, one of eighteen dogs and the other of twenty-one. They seemed rather small and young, but we more than made up in numbers what we forfeited in weight. There were certainly many more dogs than we needed, though several had probably been included just to give them experience. The loads were light because we were carrying only our camping equipment, food for a few days for ourselves, and two seals for dog-food. At this time of the year it was safe to rely on hunting if we should run short of food. As we harnessed the...

    • 16 Spring at Arctic Bay 13 May – 15 June 1937
      (pp. 129-135)

      My arrival had disturbed the other occupants of the house and I soon met them all. Alan Scott, the post manager, was from Peterhead, a small town on the east coast of Scotland north of Aberdeen that had been the home port of many of the whalers in the British whaling fleet. Alex Stevenson, his clerk, had spent a year at Pond Inlet before moving to help open the Arctic Bay post. During the depression years, the HBC had been under pressure to find their staff in Canada rather than continue the tradition begun more than two centuries earlier of...

    • 17 Excavating in Admiralty Inlet 15 June – 31 August 1937
      (pp. 136-144)

      We set off by komatik on 15 June for Strathcona Sound, Kavavau and Napatsi coming with us to help with the load and to hunt on the way. After crossing the sound we camped at Avartoq, the name of the site I had visited at the entrance to Admiralty Inlet. Deep snow still covered the old houses so in the morning we followed the north shore of Strathcona Sound a few miles east to a second group of houses.

      Kavavau and Napatsi left early next day. Takulik and I shovelled snow and ice out of the houses, with diminishing enthusiasm...

    • 18 South on the Nascopie 31 August – November 1937
      (pp. 145-154)

      Leaving Arctic Bay was made easy because so many of my friends there were embarking on theNascopiewith me. They included Kavavau, Takulik, their families, Alex, Ernie, and Mac and Jack. This exodus was largely because theNascopie’snext task was to establish a post near Bellot Strait, which bounds the most northern part of continental America. Kavavau, Takulik, and Ernie were moving to this new post, which would be called Fort Ross.

      The HBC’s plan was for their schoonerAklavikto come from the Western Arctic to meet theNascopiein Bellot Strait. Here theNascopiewould transfer...


    • 19 Return to Repulse Bay 6 August – 2 September 1938
      (pp. 157-164)

      I spent most of the next few months at home or in Cambridge, working on the material I had excavated and picking up the threads of my life from nearly two years earlier. When Reynold returned from America I went to stay with him and his wife for a few days at a house they had been lent in Sussex. Together we wrote an article on our travels for theTimes, and he told me that he was missing Igloolik as much as I was. He was thinking of returning to Piling to continue his ornithological work in Foxe Basin...

    • 20 Waiting at Repulse Bay 2 September – 19 December 1938
      (pp. 165-173)

      At Repulse Bay I was greeted by Big Boy, The Bouncer, Father Massé, Father Lacroix, and many Inuit whose faces I could remember much better than their names. The mission now had a radio and the fathers had heard that theThérèsehad failed to get through the ice to Igloolik and was returning to Repulse. She was held up in Frozen Strait but expected to arrive in two or three days. Reynold and Pat had been landed near Winter Island with all their supplies and an old whaleboat they had bought in Churchill.

      The Hudson’s Bay Company’s plan to...

    • 21 Christmas in Lyon Inlet 19 December 1938 – 4 January 1939
      (pp. 174-180)

      Kutjek decided we could carry much more food than I had expected and packed, so we did not leave Repulse Bay until late in the morning of 19 December. An older man who was going in the same direction kept us company. The air was so calm that it seemed almost warm though the sun scarcely rose above the horizon. After four or five hours we reached a small camp, and decided to build an igloo and spend the night. One reason was that the family living there had been lent one of Kutjek’s dogs and wanted to keep it....

    • 22 Lyon Inlet to Igloolik 4 January – 30 January 1939
      (pp. 181-189)

      Pat and Qanattiaq did not arrive until the evening of 4 January. They had very hungry dogs. Kutjek and I were ready to leave, thinking they would want to continue their journey the next day, but Qanattiaq decided to give his dogs another feed and a day’s rest.

      Pat told me they had reached Repulse on 23 December but he had decided to wait until after Christmas to send such terrible news to Reynold’s wife. The day after this had been done he had heard on the BBC news a very fanciful description of Reynold’s accident which must have originated...

    • 23 Jens Munk Island 30 January – 27 February 1939
      (pp. 190-197)

      Father Bazin welcomed us with great kindness, even though he developed a terrible cold soon after our arrival, a repetition of what had happened after Reynold and I had first met him. His knowledge and advice, freely given, were again invaluable. Father Trebaol was a young priest from Brittany who then spoke little English. I found that whenever I was at a loss for a word in French, it was the corresponding Inuktitut word that came to my mind. Fortunately his Inuktitut was already good, so he could understand what I was trying to say. Like Father Bazin, he did...

    • 24 Through the Baffin Island Mountains 27 February – 17 March 1939
      (pp. 198-206)

      Leaving the coast to make our way inland was in some ways like sailing into uncharted waters. We were going from a known coast and the familiar environment of the sea ice to enter unmapped country. From now on I would have to make the best map I could with the resources I had - a compass and a wrist watch. This meant taking bearings whenever we changed direction, and estimating our distances by timing how long the dogs walked and how long they trotted on each heading. Every night I would make a sketch-map of our day’s progress.


    • 25 Anaularealing to Pond Inlet 17 March – 23 March 1939
      (pp. 207-211)

      The dogs seemed as happy as we were to be back on the sea ice, which had only a thin cover of hard snow giving excellent going. For the first time in days they broke into a trot and their tails, which had been dragging in the snow so long, rose and began to wave in the air, while we were able to ride on the komatiks again. After more than two hours we saw a small piece of old ice that had frozen into the fiord, in the lee of which we found the snow drift to be about...

    • 26 Pond Inlet to Igloolik 23 March – 16 May 1939
      (pp. 212-219)

      We reached Pond Inlet on 23 March, more than a month earlier than I had arrived two winters before, from the opposite direction, and again to the surprise of those who lived there. Kutjek, Mino, and Panikpakuttuk had friends to stay with, and I went to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The post manager was now Alex Smith who seemed to have an intuitive understanding of everything I wanted. He invited me to sleep at the post, produced a bottle of rum, and asked the three other white men in the settlement to share it. They were Constable Len Corey, of...

    • 27 A new island 16 May – 8 June 1939
      (pp. 220-225)

      Father Trébaol met us outside the mission and after a cup of tea Kutjek, Panikpakuttuk, and Mino left for Akudneq, where Kutjek’s wife was living. The father was alone and, seeing how tired I was, suggested I have a good sleep. I woke up at noon the next day, fifteen hours later, much the better for it. Father Bazin, who had been at Igloolik Point, returned during the day with four dog teams to carry lumber for a small cabin he was intending to build there. The three of us spent a happy evening talking together in a mixture of...

    • 28 Excavating at Abverdjar 8 June – 16 September 1939
      (pp. 226-236)

      Abverdjar is on the east coast of an island that lies west of the rather larger Igloolik Island and is separated from it by a strait less than two miles wide. The two islands are very different in character. Igloolik is formed of flat-bedded light grey limestone, its horizontal geometry accentuated by old beach lines rising like wide steps out of the sea, while Abverdjar is typical Canadian Shield of dark brown, weathered granite with steep shores and rocky knolls hiding small lakes. Whenever I moved from one to the other, I was struck by the contrast.

      Father Bazin had...

    • 29 South to the war 16 September – December 1939
      (pp. 237-240)

      TheThérèsehad other calls to make before she headed for the south. The next place on her itinerary had been Cape Dorset, but the calm in which we had sailed from Igloolik changed later in the day to storm and mist, making conditions too risky for her to try to enter the harbour there. Instead we went first to Southampton Island. Here we anchored well out from Coral Harbour, giving us a five-hour row to the post. I spent a short night ashore talking to the HBC post manager, who was from New Zealand, before we rowed back to...


    • Foreword
      (pp. 243-246)
      Susan Rowley

      After the publication ofCold Comfort,Graham Rowley was urged by many to continue his history - to expand it beyond the boundaries of his personal life and look more closely at Canada’s policies in the north. With his contacts with the Inuit, his years as a civil servant in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and then as a university professor, and with a wide knowledge of the literature, Graham was perhaps uniquely positioned to undertake such a task.Cold Comfortdetails the experiences of a young man embarking on an adventure into the unknown, not realizing...

    • 30 The War Years 1939–45
      (pp. 249-255)

      By late 1939 the elevator in the National Museum of Canada in Ottawa was itself something of a museum piece. At the end of a day spent examining what I had excavated in the Arctic during the summer, I pressed the bell for it to take me down. Before it stopped, I knew it already held a passenger from the offices of the Geological Survey on the third floor. When the iron door of the cage opened I saw a man two or three years older than I, wearing a tie I recognized as that of a Cambridge college. I...

    • 31 Exercise Musk-Ox 1945–46
      (pp. 256-265)

      Jock Wilson had been appointed Director of Operational Research at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. He recognized that, in order to defend their country, the Canadian Armed Forces had to be able to operate effectively throughout Canada at all times of the year. This had led him to take particular interest in the development of equipment for arctic warfare and in 1945 he had been involved in a series of winter exercises - “Polar Bear” and “Eskimo” in the west, and “Lemming” north of Churchill - to test the army’s ability to move and fight under winter conditions. He saw...

    • 32 The Defence Research Board 1947–53
      (pp. 266-273)

      In 1947 the Defence Research Board (DRB) had been authorized as a fourth service in the Department of National Defence to carry out research and development for the three Canadian armed services, with its chairman having the status of a chief of staff of the Armed Forces. The importance of scientific research to defence had been convincingly demonstrated during the war by such developments as radar, degaussing of ships to counter magnetic mines, and the use of nuclear weapons.

      Dr Solandt, the founding chairman, had himself been involved in arctic-related research and retained a keen interest in the Arctic. He...

    • 33 The Advisory Committee on Northern Development and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
      (pp. 274-287)
      Susan Rowley

      Graham left the Defence Research Board (DRB) in 1953 to become the secretary and coordinator of the Advisory Committee on Northern Development (ACND) and a member of the fledgling Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources (yet another new name for what would eventually become DIAND. In his 1992 report on “The Role of the Advisory Committee on Northern Development in the Development of Policy and the Coordination of Federal Government Activities in Northern Canada,” Graham wrote:

      The increased activity in the north [following the Second World War], both civil and military, revealed the need for close coordination among civil...

    • 34 Retirement and the Carleton Years
      (pp. 288-300)
      Susan Rowley and John Bennett

      Retirement did not come easily to Graham. From 1974 until 2002, Graham would often drive to the department to visit and read in the library. In the early years of his retirement he wroteThe Circumpolar North(1978) with his old friends Terence Armstrong and George Rogers.

      Graham found the civil service a rewarding but somewhat trying career. He thoroughly enjoyed new initiatives and the opportunity to have a hand in creating the Advisory Committee on Northern Development (ACND) and later the Northern Coordination and Research Centre (NCRC). However, he found the silencing of critical voices and the requirements to...