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Part Qallunaaq
Chapter 2. Discovering Archival Footprints

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. Haynes left.”

“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.

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