A hundred and fifteen years later, in August of 2000 I first learned of John Davidson’s demise in the Canadian Arctic. I was leading a tour for Quest Nature Tours and we stopped at Dundas Harbour, some hundred and sixty kilometers east of Fellfoot Point. I was a member of the R.C.M.P. at the time, posted at Arctic Bay, and the trip afforded me the opportunity to do the annual grave inspection of our cemetery at Dundas Harbour. The R.C.M.P had a detachment at Dundas Harbour from 1924-1931 and 1945 to 1951, and two of our members, Csts. Victor Maissoneuve and William Robert Stephens died and were buried there. The RCMP conducts annual inspections of the graves of members, to ensure that they are well maintained and well remembered.
The cemetery at Dundas lies up the hill behind the detachment surrounded by a white picket fence. I was surprised to see the headstone of the Scottish Whaler, resting against the fence, between the headstones of our members. I wondered how it came to be there, and assumed that he was buried there, and later when our members died they used the same spot as a cemetery.
I left Dundas Harbour captivated by the place and vowed to learn as much as I could of its history. It was during this search for its history that I learned something strange about Mr. Davidson’s headstone. For in 1935 it had been moved from Fellfoot Point to Dundas Harbour for some unknown reason. Not only was Mr. Davidson not buried there; his grave was apparently unmarked many miles away. Getting his headstone back to where it belonged would be the right thing to do. But how?
Enter the Canadian Coast Guard. Travel in the high Arctic can be problematic at times and the detachment at Arctic Bay relies on the good graces of the Coast Guard to get us to Dundas Harbour for our inspections. The CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent has been especially helpful to us, getting us to the site on numerous occasions, and doing their own cleanups of the site. One of the Captains of the Louis at that time, Captain Stewart Klebert, has a keen interest in the history of the area, and his crew shares this enthusiasm. The crew of the Louis has even posted a brief history of the Dundas Harbour Detachment there so visitors can better appreciate, and respect the site and it’s significance.
Late in the 2002 season, Constable Eric Ootoovak of Arctic Bay Detachment accompanied the Louis to Dundas Harbour to do the annual Grave Inspection. When he returned to Arctic Bay he brought with him Mr. Davidson’s headstone. The headstone was to be stored at the RCMP Detachment in Arctic Bay until it could be returned the next season.
In the interim John’s grave would have to be located, and other than an RCMP memorandum from 1949 showing that the headstone had been moved to Dundas Harbour from Fellfoot Point in July of 1935, there was little to go on. So I began to contact archives in Dundee Scotland, and although I found some information about the Resolute, information about Mr. Davidson himself proved elusive. But the Dundee City Archives did provide a contact that was the key to finding out more about the man, or at least his death. Helen Chavez and Fiona Riddell of the Arbuthnot Museum in Peterhead were instrumental in finding out key information of John Davidson. They took a great interest in the life of John Davidson, as the story of “a Peterheid loon far awa’ fae hame” captivated them. It was through them that details of John’s demise emerged, but unfortunately there were no more details as to the location of his grave.
When I first visited Dundas Harbour I was struck by many things. It is a place of splendid isolation, and I often reflect on what it would have been like to be posted there in the 1920's, with no one to police and only one way in or out. Of course for two of our members it is their final resting place, where they will spend eternity. There is also the grave of a child there, Davidee Panipakichoo, born premature in December 1950 only to die shortly after. In our cemetary there was also the headstone of a Scottish Whaler, John Davidson, but as it turns out, it isn't his final resting place, and the story of finding it is what follows.
Fellfoot Point on Devon Island would be a lonely place to spend eternity. It marks the eastern mouth of Maxwell Bay, and although people have visited and lived lives here since at least 3,500 years ago, no one inhabits this place. In fact, no one lives at all on Devon Island, although Inuit hunters visit from time to time and some scientists spend summers here at the Mars Research Station at the Haughton Crater. But Fellfoot Point is the final resting place for John Davidson of Peterhead Scotland, a bosun on the SS Resolute, and it is here that his mortal remains will spend eternity.
The Resolute was a whaler from Dundee Scotland, plying Canadian Waters for Bowhead Whales and Seals. In the spring of 1885 she was off the coast of Newfoundland and Arthur Jackman, a Newfoundlander, was the Captain. That spring they harvested 38,800 seals, the most in the Dundee fleet. In the summer they came north to the High Arctic to try and match that success with whales. It was to be John Davidson’s last voyage.
Tuberculosis was not uncommon at that time, and indeed right up to the mid 20th Century. A famous arctic grave, that of the Franklin Expedition’s John Torrington, on Beechey Island gave evidence of that. An autopsy on his well preserved body in the 1980’s showed that he succumbed to TB. Ironically it saved him from having an anonymous resting place scattered on the shores of King William Island like many of his expedition mates. Tuberculosis took John Davidson also, on the 1st of August 1885, while at sea. According to the Register of the Resolute he died of a cerebral infection brought on by consumption. Cared for by the ship’s unqualified surgeon until his passing, he left the world at the age of 42, or perhaps 37. His surgeon, a 19 year old from Nairnshire on his first voyage, would have been able to do little, except give him comfort. He was a long way from home.
Someone, probably the ship’s carpenter, carved John a nice headstone, carving down into the oak so the letters were raised. Then he was buried on the shores of Devon Island at Fellfoot Point. The Captain probably conducted the service for him, and stones were placed over his grave. Then the Resolute would have sailed away, for there were whalefish to catch. They had moderate success, managing to find 4 Bowhead and 200 “white whales”. At that the Resolute returned to Dundee, never to return to the Arctic or John Davidson’s grave, for she was crushed by ice and sunk off Fogo Island Newfoundland the following spring. But the story doesn’t end there.
Today is my one year blogiversary, and what a long strange trip it has been. One year, 255 posts and 610 thoughtful comments. Two hundred and fifty-five posts would mean that, on average, I’m writing some drivel five days out of every week. No wonder my dishes aren’t done. These pages have been visited here 25,000 times. Twenty-five thousand! I’m strangely embarrassed that anyone thinks that I might actually have something to say, or finds me entertaining enough to come back. It's amazing to me that something I intended to do for family and friends would have generated that amount of interest. I've been interviewed for a book on blogging and by a northern newspaper and I've started a blogroll of other Nunavut bloggers. In the last ten days (since I installed some counters) I’ve had 358 different visitors, from some 229 different places in 24 countries(Canada, USA, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Egypt, Sweden, Malaysia, France, Denmark, Ukraine, Japan, Romania, Belize, Singapore, Estonia, Netherlands, Spain, Venezuela, China, Belgium, South Korea and Papua New Guinea)! To those who came looking for good construction advice I’m sorry. To the guy that came looking for crack cocaine, email me when you’ve got some and I’ll send a friend right over.
I’ll blame it on my insecurities but I waffle between pride and embarrassment that some people that I find to be truly exceptional writers come here. Nuthatch, Whippoorwill, larry, pohanginapete, Debbie Lee and others are inspirational and I may just get back to work on that play one of these days. I hope you don’t mind but if I do I’ll be emailing it to you for criticism if I ever finish it. It is also a source of pride that I have met many people here, who I consider friends. Friends I’ve never met face to face to be sure, but people who are supportive, who can put up with differences in thought and opinions, and who are just plain fun to hang out with. I hope that we all get a chance to sit down for that cup of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, warm milk, mate or what ever your choice of non-alcoholic beverage is. Do I risk listing you? Cindy, Anita, Duncan, Mike, Karen, Dave, Troutgrrl, John, Charlie, Pamela, Carl, Tony G., Robin Andrea, Jennifer & Ian, Jesse, the aforementioned, and on and on.
I was trying to figure out how to celebrate this “milestone” and ended up deciding to go back to the beginning and offer you a post from each month in the last year. I think it was Rurality where I first saw the idea. So if you’re new to the place here’s a sampling, and if you’ve been here since the beginning here’s a trip back.
It occurred to me, as I went back and read these post, that I enjoy my writing back at the beginning more than I enjoy the later stuff, ah innocence.
So there you have it, a year of my life, or parts of it at least. Some history, some family, a bunch of birds, and some construction crew stories that'll make you want to lay down that hammer. If you're new here, why don't you wander around awhile, it will cost you nothing except some time. And whether you've just arrived or are a seasoned vetern of the House thanks for stopping in. Either way, leave a comment and say hello. Oh, and if you want someone to blame for all of this, just remember it's my blog-mom, nuthatch's fault.
A couple of people have shown an interest in Inuit Art, so I thought I'd put up the odd picture of our collection from time to time. Here is the newest carving. The Artist is Bobby Levi, and he is fairly new at the game, and to be honest I haven't liked a lot of his stuff yet. However I quite enjoy this carving.
One of my favourite birds has made it to Nunavut!! Granted they are still a long way from here, however the first (I believe) record of Magpies (Pica hudsonia) in Nunavut has occurred this spring in Baker Lake. Here is a CBC news story on them (via Circumpolar Musings).
It was a gorgeous evening last night and the four of us went for a drive down to the water lake. Along the way we saw several Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus), one of which was starting to change colour. We stopped near the airstrip on the way back and Travis and I got out to see if we could get a closer look at one. When I got out of the truck I was startled to see some Purple Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) in bloom. They were in a fairly protected spot with a southern exposure but this is early for them.
The other points of interest was at least one Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) amongst the Glaucous Gulls (Larus hyperboreus) and possibly a Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) (I knew I should have grabbed the binoculars). It was a glorious evening.
That age old fraternity of nature, where man’s presence is unnoticed and his absence un-regretted.
William Beebe's definition of wilderness has always resounded with me. It is wonderful to think that there are places in the world where humankind's presence goes un-noticed. It is both sad and maddening that those places are shrinking and disappearing every day.
A few days ago a friend, Cindy of the wondrous Woodsong, posted on wolves, an animal that holds great meaning, a sacredness, to her. I commented on the post, a comment meant to point out that wolves in fact have attacked and killed a person in North America, but despite my being in agreement with much of what Cindy was saying I believe I didn't state my case very well, and seemed to have come off rather badly there. And while we agree on the salient points we miss on some others.
The wolf is a wondrous creature, a social animal with an amazing hierarchy. It is a creature of intelligence and a creature of the wilderness. That it is a creature of the wilderness is the crux of the problem, not a problem for us, but for the wolves. We continue to shrink wilderness at an unprecedented rate, encroaching on their home and conflict is bad for the wolves.
Humans have long had a relationship with wolves, and while they may be vilified by some for various reasons, not being able to tame them isn't one of them. The evidence of our relationships, and the domestication of them is all around us, perhaps it even lies curled at your feet. For our "best friend" the dog is but a wolf. Although it has been long thought that dogs are have are descended from wolves and perhaps some other wild canids, DNA studies have shown that their direct ancestors were wolves, and nothing else. In fact dog's DNA is so close to wolves that some taxonomists have classed them as a subspecies of wolf... Canis lupus familiaris. Estimates of when the domestication occurred vary greatly, and it is likely that it happened separately on a number of different occasions, between 10,000 and 150,000 years ago.
When I went back to read my link to the story of a young man's death from a wolf attack near Wollaston Saskatchewan I followed a couple of other links at the bottom of the article to studies on wolf attacks in the USA and Canada and also world wide. (they are pdf documents). The first article is a technical bulletin that details most known attacks by wolves in North America. It made for fascinating reading. I have to admit that prior to the incident in Wollaston I had bought the "wolves had never attacked a person" thing. Turns out that there has been numerous incidents, of varying degrees of seriousness (although when you factor into the number of wolf person encounters and that there are probably some 50,000 wolves in Canada alone these incidents are a pretty rare occurrence). The author of this case study, Mark E. McNay groups the incidents by the different reasons for the attack 1) Agonism (Which McNay defines as a behavioral pattern exhibiting features of both aggression and avoidance, arising from a conflict between aggression and fear (Rudin 1997). Agonistic behavior includes most aggressive behaviours and non-aggressive ritualized behaviors related to wolf social interactions including territorial defense, rank-order interactions, and sexually motivated aggression. Agonistic aggression is often preceded by some warning or threat display (Fox 1971:134).; 2) Predation; 3) Prey testing or Agonistic charges; 4) Self-Defense; 5) Rabies; 6) Investigative Searches; and 7) Investigative approaches. Significantly, habituation to people plays a significant role in many of these incidents. Also significantly the incident almost always ends badly for the wolf or wolves.
Reading the world wide case study made it very clear that North American wolves pose much less of a danger than wolves in the rest of the world, Europe and Asia. The conclusion I came to as to why that was is that we have more wild here, less places where wolves and people butt up against each other on a regular basis. In the extreme case of India, where there is very little wild, and limited prey species for the wolves, there are many incidents of wolves preying on people. In one area some 200 children were killed and many more attacked over a fifteen year period (1980-1995).
I love wolves and have had the good fortune to see them on numerous occasions in the wild, both near where I grew up and in almost every place I've lived. I've stumbled upon a wolf killed deer while the carcass was still steaming, knowing full well that the pack was just out of my sight (but that I wasn't out of theirs). I've never really been scared of them in the encounters, comfortable in the knowledge that they were more wary of me and probably wanted nothing more than for us to put distance between ourselves.
The lessons of the attacks and other encounters though seem fairly clear to me, that we can not continue to shrink the wilderness that is their home without there being more conflicts. And we can not habituate them to our presence, by leaving garbage where they roam or even worse feeding them, without it leading to trouble. And almost always that trouble spells the death of the wolf.
Many people have long vilified the wolf and other large predators. In part because sometimes they compete with us, and our commerce, and in part (I believe) because of fear. Both the fear that comes from not understanding something, and the primal fear of large predators that rests in us as the result of our early days as just another prey species on the Savannah. The more that we do to learn about the wolf (and other life) and the more that we learn to respect them, and especially their space and their wild nature, the less of that persecution and vilification will happen. I'm thrilled that I live somewhere where wolves live, but I'm also concerned that two would be comfortable enough to roam around our house. Concerned because I have two small children, one of whom plays outside all the time, and that it is worrisome that these would not show the fear of town as they should. The death of my child would not seem to me to be an acceptable risk of living in a wild area.
"There's an elegiac quality in watching [American wilderness] go, because it's our own myth, the American frontier, that's deteriorating before our eyes. I feel a deep sorrow that my kids will never get to see what I've seen, and their kids will see nothing; there's a deep sadness whenever I look at nature now." -- Peter Mattheissen
When I was a young man I first read Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat and was gripped by it as I had been with few books. Somewhere I have an autographed copy, Farley Mowat was campaigning in Manitoba during a provincial election campaign and I went with one of my teachers to a rally in Dauphin where he was speaking, just so I could get the book autographed. If you have any knowledge of my dislike for politics you would know that that involved a big sacrifice.
Mowat is a great storyteller, but unfortunately I've come to learn that he is one with an agenda, and that he is rarely bothered by letting facts get in the way of that agenda. Never Cry Wolf did much to help the wolves cause, and helped promote a better, hmm not understanding but empathy towards them. Unfortunately much of it is pure fiction. I think that L. David Mech, one of the preeminent wolf researchers in the world, and a man who also lived among the wolves in the remote arctic, said it best. In his book The Wolf Mech acknowledges that Mowat is an excellent counterpoint to Little Red Ridinghood's portrayal of the wolf as a savage man-killer, but that neither of the stories were grounded in fact.
You know, I give up. There are far far too many creative, talented people out there. I mean I had been thinking about hosting another I and The Bird but the hosts keep raising the bar higher and higher and...
Carel Brest Van Kempen, the extremely talented host of Rigor Vitae has offered up one of the best I and the Birds yet. It was to be expected, even the briefest of visits to his blog will show that he not only a keen observer of the world around him, but a wonderful artist as well. This latest offering of the best carnival in the blogosphere is presented to you as a cartoon, with each panel representing one of the posts. I'm actually looking forward to next adventures of a man and his (?) Great Blue Heron.
I'm so stoked about this weeks version that I'm waxing effusively and I haven't even started to read the posts yet. Go. Go now.