Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Resuming an Ancient Hunt

Dec 24, 2013


Santa Claus (aka Canada Post) brought a wonderful Christmas present to my door this morning: a copy of Arvik! In Pursuit of the Bowhead Whale, hot off the presses.

Arvik! is a new book from the Avataq Cultural Institute, a Montreal-based organization devoted to promoting the culture of the Inuit people of northern Quebec (Nunavik). It is a collection of essays, photographs and oral accounts, all of which describe the long relationship between the bowhead and the Inuit and in particular the whale hunts that took place in 2008 and 2009 at the village of Kangiqsujuaq on Hudson Strait. I was invited to contribute a preface to the book because of my long interest in the history of whaling.

For many years it was assumed that commercial whaling had so depleted the stock of bowhead whales in Canada's Eastern Arctic that it was an endangered species. However, since the turn of the century it has been determined that there are thousands more bowhead than was previously thought, enough to allow the Inuit of Nunavik to resume a subsistence hunt that they had been carrying on for hundreds of years before the arrival of the commercial whalers. Robert Frechette, the editor of Arvik!, accompanied the hunters and captured their activities in a series of stunning colour photographs that are the focus of the book.