Friday, December 28, 2007


Bought these today from a job-lot of Arctic-related 70s publications. The Polar Record magazine is particularly, scuse the pun, cool...there's a fascinating feature called: "History of the Hudson's Bay Company Salmon Fisheries in the Ungava Bay Region" (no, really!) which details the setting up of remote trading posts in Northern Quebec in the 1830s...the first commercial fishery in that region was established in 1867 on the Koksoak River, and there's some great diary extracts explaining how harsh these peoples lives were...also some terrific old photographs of the clippers they used to navigate through the ice-clogged waters and pics of Eskimos preparing nets and so forth. The processes used to pack and prepare the fish are explained in detail, and how these evolved into mini-industries in what's basically an incredibly inhospitable environment. It's a remarkable miniature snapshot of a time and a place that (presumably) hasn't been documented much elsewhere...something that most people prob. won't have given much thought to. But I find this sort of stuff fascinating - it's an obscure micro-history of a lost era. I think the economics of running this sort of opertation finally crashed in the 50s or 60s...but it survived for the best part of a century. (Hey- stop yawning at the back!)

There's also pieces on the British Arctic Expedition of 1975-1876 lead by George Strong-Nares...lots of accounts here of being stuck in pack-ice all winter until the Spring thaw. I didn't know, for example, that they held mini theatre productions on board ships...or that Melville Island (up in the Canadian Actic Archipelago) had a Theatre Royal that was used to entertain ice-bound Arctic sailors...this originally opened in the 1820s after Brit Explorer William Parry's expedition made landfall in 1819...when the island was abandoned again, this theatre shut up shop for 32 years, then reopened again in 1857 following a later British expedition. (And you think your hometown has a shortage of decent venues!) This whole idea of remote Arctic Theatres has fascinated me, I gotta say...I can't help thinking of the guys in Carpenter's "The Thing" endlessly watching videos of old game-shows while smoking weed...

There's also a piece on (and bear in mind this was written in the Mid-70s): "The Soviet North in the tenth Five-Year Plan" which talks about the Soviet Union's industrial and mineralogical ambitions in the far north during that era...sounds dull, I know, but it's particularly relevant now, given modern-day's Russia's ability to withhold gas supplies from entire European nations..not to mention Putin's alleged personal fortune of £40billion, allegedly amassed from purloined, er, I mean, privatised national assets...rumour has it that he's the wealthiest man in Europe...basically, some of these Russian billionaire oligarchs have copped their enormous wealth from the thankless labours of long-forgotten Soviet workers...

Also a piece about Musk-Ox domestication (LOL) in Alaska to establish a small local wool industry amongst the herdsmen. Meanwhile, on Jan 1st, 1976, the entire 12-man-team of Siple Station, Antartica, was evacuated to New Zealand suffering from nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. And there were problems with whalebone carving in the far north of Canada after large amounts of old bones were looted from the ruins of ancient Thule Eskimo settlements.