Hundreds of century-old photos of Inuit travelling the North

Between 1903 and 1909, a police officer and his wife took more than 1,000 photos of Inuit and their way of life in Fullerton Harbour, Nunavut, and Churchill, Man.

Douglas and Geraldine Moodie took photos between 1903 and 1909 in Nunavut and Churchill, Man.

The Ivalik tribe in Fullerton Harbour, Nunavut, between 1904 and 1905. The photos were taken by Douglas Moodie and his wife while he was stationed with the Northwest Mounted Police in Fullerton Harbour, Nunavut, and in Churchill, Man. (Glenbow Archives)

When George Qulaut saw a photo of his late grandmother at Calgary's Glenbow museum last year, it was a powerful moment.

"It was quite emotional for me and my family," he says.

Last of the Sadlermiut (Sallirmiut) People of South Hampton Island. Taken in Fullerton Harbour, Nunavut, in May 1905. (Glenbow Archives)

Qulaut's grandmother died more than 60 years ago, but her image lives on in the exhibit. A selection of photos from that exhibit will be travelling across Nunavut this fall.

The project, called Qatiktalik (Fullerton Harbour) Photo Narrative Project, is drawn from more than 1,000 photos taken by a police officer and his wife who lived in the North from 1903 to 1909.

Qulaut says he was keen to convince the Glenbow to bring the exhibit North and show the photos to people who might recognize family members, so their stories could be recorded.

"What's really special is there are many, many portraits taken of the people in the area," says Joanne Schmidt, acting curator of Indigenous studies at the Glenbow. "There's some really, really amazing clear photographs of people."

Schmidt says along with books featuring over 100 photos from the exhibit, she will also be travelling with more than 400 digital images and 70 prints.

She plans to leave USBs holding the digital images along with books in each community. The prints will be given to the community of Chesterfield Inlet, which has the deepest connection to those images, she said. 

"The goal is to collect stories by meeting with people who will come view the photo books, slide show, small prints, and digital images on a laptop and add to our archival database," she said.

The photos, taken by Geraldine and Douglas Moodie, show Inuit hunting, at summer outpost camps, and on whaling boats.

More than a century ago, Douglas Moodie was stationed with the Northwest Mounted Police in Fullerton Harbour, Nunavut, near Chesterfield Inlet, and in Churchill, Man. Schmidt said he was there to "establish police presence in Hudson Bay." The photos also show the couple's travels to Quebec and Labrador.

There's some really, really amazing clear photographs of people.- Joanne Schmidt, Glenbow

The Moodie's great-grandchildren donated the photos to the museum in 2015.

According to Schmidt, Geraldine kept detailed diaries and notes, so the Glenbow also has some names and information about the people — but they'd like to know more.

"Maybe some stories about those people or more information about their families or where they came from, that would be really special," said Schmidt.

Later this month and into October, she will travel to Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Baker Lake, Chesterfield Inlet and Churchill, Man., to show the photos to community members.

Fullerton Harbour in 1903. The Moodies took many photos on their travels. Douglas Moodie took many of the scenic shots, while Geraldine took more portraits. (Glenbow Archives)
This is George Qulaut's grandmother, Odile Panimira Uqajuitu, in her late teens. She was also known as Kutaktuk. Here she is wearing a beaded attigi (outfit), taken in Fullerton Harbour, Hudson Bay, February 1905. (Glenbow Archives)

Gathering a written history

Schmidt hopes to record interviews with locals who knew, or are related to, the subjects in the photos.

For Qulaut, that's the most important part of the project.

Qulaut, a former Nunavut politician from Igloolik, has known photos of his grandmother existed since the early 1990s, when he saw one in a northern magazine.

"I immediately recognized my grandmother. I had known her when I was a child. I recognized her eyes."

He says his grandmother was mute, and though he was only a baby when she died, the 64-year-old remembers communicating with her.

"She loved children very, very much. She was a very interesting person."

Qulaut says the touring exhibit is a chance for people to recognize their own relatives, before they pass on.

"I'm glad they're now doing it," he says.

Woman Fishing, Fullerton Harbour, 1905. (Glenbow Archives)

"We don't have a written history, all we have is oral history and it would have a huge impact on the younger generation, who they are, where they're from."

Keveowk, of Kinepetoo, Fullerton Harbour, 1904-1905. (Glenbow Archives)

He's encouraging other organizations that may have photos from the North long ago, like missionaries and the RCMP, to also reach out and work to identify Northerners.

"It's important for the younger generation to see their own great grandparents. I feel these are very valuable."

Schmidt says she'll bring hundreds of images on her travels North. With funding from Library and Archives Canada and the Glenbow, she also has copies for the communities to keep.

"We thought that the best thing to do would be to give those back to the communities where these people are from," she said. 

"I'm so happy that people will be able to have these pictures."

Schmidt will show her first slideshow at the Iqaluit visitors' centre on Sept. 26. Her tour will end in Churchill, Man., in October.

With files from Eva Michael