Years ago, I asked two acquaintances to try finding any trace of my
Scottish grandfather in the archives of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC).
We knew he never worked for the HBC, but a search has to start
somewhere. The Revillon Frčres trading company was taken over by the HBC
in 1936, and their records were farther afield in Edmonton, New York
City, and Paris, France.
We possessed only a few tattered scraps of
information on this man. My late mother always insisted that her father
was a Scotsman who worked for the Ouigouikkut, the French trading
company, Revillon Frčres. She was somehow certain of his first two
names: William Mackenzie. The late Tamusi Qumak, who knew him as a boy,
was unshakably confident about his initials: W.M.P. Many Inuit had known
him simply as Piitaaluk (Big Peter).
He had a sister named Winifred, for whom he
insisted my mother be named. He left, as did so many others, with no
trace other than the child he fathered; there was no photograph, paper,
or keepsake. After the failure of my friends’ searches in the HBC
archives ended with a seemingly final reply of “Not a thing!” twice, I
was resigned to never finding any evidence of my Scottish grandfather.
Then, I had the good fortune to visit
Winnipeg, to see people I had not seen in over forty years. The Knight
family had lived in Puvirnituq from 1957 to 1960, when Ralph Knight
served as manager of the HBC post. I didn’t need any coaxing to accept
Mr. Knight’s offer to take me to the HBC archives. My goal was to obtain
a list of company staff having served at the Puvirnituq post over the
years. I wanted to match English proper names to what Inuit had called
these people. Obtaining such a list was easy enough.
Then, I turned to the daily journals for
Povungnetuk Bay out-post, called Kangiqsuruaq in Inuktitut. I looked
under 1927, the year of my mother’s birth:
“Saturday, January 1, 1927
N.E. Wind. Drifting at times. Arrived
here tonight about 9 p.m. We left Port Harrison on Wednesday morning and
were accompanied by Mr. Peter of Revillon Frčres with two of their men.
Eskimo arrivals are Kenouak, Toolooako, Shuglualuk, Amitook and Migamik.
Our party consisted of H. Gibbons, J. Allen (that’s me) and Argnaualook,
while Revillons had Mr. Peter, two men and a woman. I learned from
Takiaksuk that the Northern hunters had been in with 160 foxes since Mr.
“Mr. Peter” – This was certainly my Scottish
grandfather! A host of emotions; joy/shock/surprise/relief,
jack-hammered my being as I read this evidence.