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Part Qallunaaq
Chapter 3. Picking At a Cold Trail


My search for William Mackenzie Peter turned cold on my second trip to the Hudson’s Bay Company archives in Winnipeg in February 2003. I had gone there to cross-reference daily journal entries of the HBC out-post at Povungnetuk Bay with the journals of other trading posts about Mr. Peter’s comings and goings. But Port Harrison (Inukjuak) and Cape Smith (Qikiqtajuaq), the two neighboring posts the journals had him traveling to, had no record of him arriving or departing.

The last journal entry mentioning him by name was Sunday, September 9th, 1928: “Mr. Peter and myself along with some of the huskies left the post this a.m. going over as far as Povungnetuk. We found that the recent sickness had visited the husky camps over there, and that two Eskimos had died. One, an old man of Revillon Frères, and the other, an old woman belonging to the Company.”

I found this entry infuriating in its casual, matter-of-fact brevity. Here was Mr. Peter, tagging along with his competitor as far as Povungnetuk. The only small distraction, as the trail ended in great spatial silence, was noting how Inuit were described as “huskies”, and regarded as “belonging to” the two trading companies. There was nothing funny about this, but I imagined my grandfather burying the old man, while his rival buried the old woman, each to their ‘property’.

The last thin thread of hope of following my grandfather’s tracks was severed by an even shorter entry for Tuesday, September 11th, 1928, stating, “Supply boats leave for Port Harrison.” I wanted to take this up with whoever was in charge of the Scottish Grandfathers’ Tracing Agency. “This man was the father of my mother, and I can’t let him get lost like this! Surely there must be an employment record, or forwarding address, where I can find him!”

These futile pleadings of my mind had the door slammed shut on them by the journal entry for Thursday, November 1, 1928: “Mr. Gravel of Revillon left the first with his servant this a.m. going inland setting traps.” So, a Mr. Gravel replaces Mr. Peter as out-post trader. This seemed to be the final termination of my search for my Scottish Ataatatsiaq. When a search trail turns this cold, there is no S.G.T.A. to appeal to, no Similar Circumstance Support Group to lean on.

The only consolation at reaching this dead end was the thought that, at least the man who had been my mother’s father was not a figment of somebody’s imagination. William Mackenzie Peter had actually existed, and that was good to know. Then, I got an invitation from the British Museum to attend a film festival in London, England in November 2004. This seemed totally unrelated to my search, but was to heat it up in ways I had never imagined possible.


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