Alex was kind of a funny dude actually. In Spence Bay the Company had a snowmobile and a square stern 18 foot freighter canoe with a 20 horse kicker on it. After Paniloo and I went to Cam 3, as far as I knew that snowmobile never went anywhere again. As for the canoe, we never used it. One day I asked Alex if I could use the canoe to go out fishing or seal hunting or just a ride, he said no and didn’t explain why not. I don’t know what his problem was, we didn’t work seven days a week, we did get Sundays off and during summer there was twenty four hours of sunlight. After work it would have been nice to go for a canoe ride once in a while.
One day in late April 1963, Alex the store manager in Spence Bay (Taloyoak) came to me saying that he wanted Paniloo and myself to go down to Cam 3 and pickup his (Alex’s) personal belongings that were being air freighted across the Dew Line from Broughton Island on the East coast of Baffin Land. Not much of a trip, only 50 miles of snow covered, trackless ice and tundra between Spence and Shepards Bay where Cam 3 was situated.
No dog team this time. Because it was basically a two day trip, there and back a day each, we would use the Company’s recently acquired piece of modern technology… to wit, a snowmobile. I’m unsure of the make of this mechanical wonder but I think it was a Polaris Autoboggan. I do remember it was red, all steel, with a steel bar – rubber gapped track, and propelled by a rear mounted 3 or 4 hp Kohler engine, top speed less than 10mph. I was impressed by this modern marvel.
Early next morning we hooked up a sled, loaded a minimal amount of survival gear, extra gas and lunch and off we went. This time I did get to ride the whole way sitting down, spring was rapidly approaching, the weather was comparatively warm necessitating no reason to run. Paniloo being Inuit knew the way so he got to drive. The journey to Cam 3 must have been uneventful because I remember nothing about it.
We arrived at the Site later in the afternoon and after reporting to the Station Chief and learning Alex’s stuff had not yet arrived but would on the next flight we were assigned accommodation and except for the secure/secret areas of the installation, given the run of the place.
At this point in my HBCo. career, I had been in the Arctic for less than a year and posted to Spence Bay for less than six months, however… Spence Bay is in the most central place of the Central Arctic coast, the most Northerly HBCo store on the Canadian Mainland and at the end of a very long and difficult supply line. We were lucky if we saw an airplane from Cambridge Bay once a week and a ship arrived once a year in September to resupply the store and settlement. Fresh, not previously frozen or canned food was next to non existent. There were only 12 non Inuit folks in Spence, ( two Priests plus one wife, two nurses, two HBC boys, two RCMP, one Administrator and one teacher and assistant) surrounded by approximately 250 Inuit, half of them of the Netsilik tribe and the other half imported Cape Dorsetmiut and, Ernie Lyall from Labrador. Where am I going with this you may ask? Slightly bushed by this time, I was somewhat overwhelmed by Cam 3. It had a fair number of new people to meet in residence, had hot and cold running water, three squares a day, current newspapers and all ‘mod cons’ as they say. The folks seemed a bit strange to me and I dare say vice versa but their hospitality was impeccable. We were made to feel at home and settled down to wait for the plane bringing Alex’s stuff to arrive.
Of course next day arrived all bleak and stormy, the weather remained like that for the next three days. No planes landing at Cam 3 so we had to sit around to wait. No much to do for recreation at a Dewline site in those days. There were 16mm copies of popular movies to watch but we’d seen them, card games to play, a paperback book library, a small (but popular) bar and the radio to listen to. AFRTS from Thule Greenland. There was no TV of any sort, neither satellite links or tape existed yet. So I sat around, ate, slept and chatted to whatever guys were off shift. One gentleman taught me how to play crib. There was always a bowl of fresh fruit sitting on the mess room table… I hadn’t seen any fresh fruit in about 6 months. I remember how impressed I was by a simple navel orange, I ate several, the first was the best though, I ate the whole damn thing, pith and all… well except for the orange bit of the very outside skin. I’ll always remember that orange and how darn good it was.
Eventually the weather cleared and the plane landed with Alex’s stuff. Next morning we packed up our sleeping bags, loaded the sled, gassed up the snowmobile, said our goodbyes and buggered off back in the general direction of Spence Bay. It was a beautiful day, beautiful as only early Spring can be in the Arctic. Clear blue sky, warm temps … -10°F instead of after minus forty, a dazzling sun reflecting of a vast unmarked whiteness. At those latitudes, the sun reflecting off the snow will render unprotected eyes snow-blind in fifteen minutes. Snow blindness, similar to a severe welding flash is agony to the patient and requires a day or two of bandaged eyes against any light to recover from. We both had our dark sunglasses so no worries.
All went well for about the first 35 miles of the return trip, we were just cruising along enjoying the day and fresh air that didn’t hurt your face to breath when all of a sudden, in the middle of Netsilik Lake that stupid snowmobile broke. I don’t remember what was wrong with the stupid thing, perhaps a chain broke but whatever it was, we couldn’t fix it. Nothing left to do but hoof it into town the last fifteen or so miles. Fifteen miles doesn’t sound like much until, totally unprepared for such a walk, one has to make it. The snow drifts were still relatively hard but the snow between them was soft. I’ve said elsewhere how difficult walking in those snow condition can be………. up-down… up-down…up-down, it’s torture on the knees and hips. Paniloo being lighter, in way better shape than I and somewhat used to it was making far better time than me. I couldn’t keep up with him, he soon put some distance between us and after a fairly brief time he became a black moving dot on an otherwise blank sheet of whiteness. I remember looking around and seeing some low hills way over there to the south and some more way over there to the north, me standing in the middle of nowhere and thinking, ‘Well this sucks!’
I wasn’t particularly worried, I knew that when Paniloo arrived back in Spence he would send someone out with a dog team to pick me up. There wasn’t much around that would hurt you. Polar Bears were about the only thing that would do you damage but in those days Polar Bear hunting was unregulated and their skins very valuable to the Inuit, so Bears were a bit thin on the ground anywhere within a hundred miles of any settlement.
The thing that really surprised me was how quickly I became very thirsty. As we were now on foot we had no water, nothing to drink it out of and nothing with which to melt snow. I was parched and eating snow didn’t help much but it sure played hell with the lips. So there I was trudging along in my own little world, Paniloo getting smaller and smaller in the distance. Suddenly I noticed he had stopped and was bending over something, next thing I see is a small cloud of smoke at his feet. "What the heck?" I thought, what magic was this, from where did he produce fire making material? I admit I was baffled by the smoke and excited by the thought that he was perhaps melting some snow to drink.
Quickening my pace, after about ten minutes I arrived at where he was sitting waiting for me. To my huge disappointment there was nothing on the snow around him but a small pile of burnt ash. "Did you make tea?" I asked him. "No." he said laughing, "I just burnt my empty cigarette pack. Made you hurry up though, didn’t it?" I had to agree.
Off we went again, him ahead, me following, until eventually he disappeared around a point or behind a hump. I didn’t see him again that day. Eventually I saw a dog team coming from town to pick me, a very tired, thirsty and hungry Icemannwt, up.
Finally arriving back in Spence, hours behind Paniloo I drank several large cups of tea, ate a can of Dintymore Beef Stew, and exhausted by my walk went off to bed and slept for twelve hours. Alex, not surprisingly was totally unmoved by my adventure. To him it was all part of some sort of learning curve for me, I guess. "Welcome to the Hudson’s Bay Co and the Arctic." Next day a couple of local Inuit and a team were hired to go out with Paniloo, repair the snowmobile and drive that sorry piece of junk back to town.