This is an elegant little book posing as a biography of King William Island and a vehicle for telling its indigenous history, the story of the Franklin debacle (prior to discovery of the sunken Erebus), and a fairly brief account of the Franklin Search.
p. 90, during Thomas Simpson’s 1838 winter at Fort Confidence: When tired of writing and chart-drawing and astronomy, Simpson read in the little library he had brought along. In addition to scientific books and books of northern travel it contained “Plutarch, Hume, Robertson, Gibbon, Shakespeare, Smollett, and dear Sir Walter.”
p. 116, on Erebus and Terror, during winter of 1846-47 with Franklin: Everything possible was provided to keep the crews occupied and amused. Both the Erebus and Terror carried large libraries, the one on the Terror of 1200 volumes. There were books of all kinds, for all tastes. There were devotional books, Bibles and Prayer Books and Testaments, and there were schoolbooks for evening classes in reading and writing and arithmetic. On each ship was a hand organ that played fifty tunes; ten of them psalms or hymns, the others more lively airs. As further insurance against time’s hanging heavy on the men’s hands, everything needed for staging plays and publishing a newspaper had been brought along.
p. 253-54, on the natives of Prince William Island: And what of the Kikerktarmiut today? They still live on in their lively island home. Seen from the air in summer, with its hundreds of lakes, each a different shade of blue and each set in a big patch of golden moss, Kikerktak looks like an enchanted island, guarded sometimes by a turquoise sea, sometimes by a white sea of floating ice, and sometimes by a molten lead that looks as if it had just been poured. Across the island’s wide plains the Kikerktarmiut wander to their hunting and fishing places; and along its shores they seal. No longer do they use stone age weapons; today they have rifles and nets and traps. At the Hudson’s Bay Post they trade fox skins for many of the white man’s goods—guns, ammunition, tea, tobcco, flour, sugar, and kerosene; even mirrors, stockings, printed dresses, and fleece-lined bloomers. But the Kikerktarmiut have not bartered away their heritage for these trimmings of another civilization. They are still the ancient and wise people they have always been.
In Gjoa Haven the children of the Kikerktarmiut go to school; they must learn to meet a changing world, for which they need reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic and geography. Everything possible is done to help them master their own language and cherish their own culture.