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Part Qallunaaq
Chapter 4. A “London Bridge” to Scotland

I had last been to London, England in January 2001, as one of the invited speakers at an event called “The Human Image Conference” at the British Museum. It never occurred to me that this trip might serve as a springboard to further my search for William Mackenzie Peter. This could have been to Paris, France, where Revillon Frères archives are known to exist, or to Scotland, my grandfather’s land of origin. In hindsight, though, this could not have been.

Paris was an intimidating destination. In addition to not being able to speak French, I had no contacts with anybody who might guide me through the world of French archives. On a private visit to Paris, an acquaintance of mine had taken a shot at tracking down the company archives of Revillon Frères. His report did nothing to boost my hopes. The company still existed, he said, but was now a high-fashion house, not much in tune with its fur-trading past.

People who know such things have said that there’s a “Revillon section” in France’s national archives, entirely separate from the company’s own records. But any excursion to delve into these things would take money, planning, and as much practical assistance as one could drum up. In my limited but vivid experience in archives, making relevant documentary record discoveries is not done in a single afternoon. This was a daunting challenge, to say the least.

At the time, I had not even thought seriously about the possibility of going to Scotland. Where in that country would I go? We had absolutely no idea from where in Scotland William Mackenzie Peter had come. In fact, a university professor who had done extensive research on Revillon Frères operations in Canada’s Arctic suggested the possibility that Mr. Peter might never have returned to Scotland after his time in the Arctic, and that he might be buried somewhere in southern Canada.

When Jonathan C. H. King, Curator of the North American Collections at the British Museum invited me to London again, in November 2004, to an event called the Native North American Film Festival, I eagerly accepted the invitation. This time, my foremost thought from the outset was to use this trip as a “London Bridge” to Scotland to carry on the search for my grandfather. This “bridge” would be my way to the land where 25% of my genes come from.

I had not a clue as to which place in Scotland to aim for in this search. Staring blankly at a map of Scotland didn’t help one bit. None of its cities names even remotely rang any bells. It’s not a huge country, but what I wanted to find in it could have been in any corner of it. I appreciated the “London Bridge” provided to me by the speaking invitation. But, going from there to Scotland was like plunging head-on into the Great Unknown.

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