The Fan Hitch Volume 15, Number 1, December 2012

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog                                    
In This Issue....

From the Editor

Astrup’s Harness

Akunnirmiut Nunavut Quest, Pt. 2

Sleds, Dogs and Nitrate Film

In the News

Fan Mail

CAAT 2012 Baker Lake Animal Wellness Clinic

  Book Review:  Kamik, an Inuit Puppy Story

Movie Review: Inuk

IMHO: Henson, Pt. 2

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Index of back issues by volume number

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Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

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Defining the Inuit Dog

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HBC film crew travelling by dogsled in northern Alberta; 1919.
                   Photo courtesy: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives

Sleds, Dogs and Nitrate Film

by Kevin Nikkel

Five Door Films
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

I must admit, I didn’t know much about sled dogs when I first turned my attention to the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company to create a documentary on this storied corporation and a film they created in 1920 for their 250th anniversary. Now, as I find myself studying and learning about the early days of travel in the far fur country, I am captivated by stories of the winter treks of the likes of James Tyrrell, Casper Whitney and John Rae. Related to this, I have been working with archival footage that contains spectacular scenes of these same sorts of arctic journeys.

In 1919, the Hudson’s Bay Company set out to create a feature film that told the story of their work in Canada.  They sent two cameramen from coast to coast to coast to shoot what would become the Romance of the Far Fur Country. The film was to be a portrait of the fur trade, showing life from the trapper to the factor to the fur warehouses and the life along the way. There are many interesting aspects to this journey, the representation of sleds and dogs being one of them.

The film reels have recently returned from the British Film Institute in London to the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg. The original reels of nitrate film were digitized to HD video giving it a new lease on life. In addition to working on the re-release of the silent feature film, I am producing a documentary that tells the story of the film’s return to Canada after such a long absence.

The filmmakers set out on their journey from Montreal traveling on the steam ship Nascopie up the St. Lawrence River to follow the coast of Labrador.  They arrived at Baffin Island in July to film in the Hamlet of Lake Harbour (now called Kimmirut).  Due to the summer season, there wasn’t much opportunity to film sled dogs in action.  They did film the feeding of packs of dogs, and seemed to have convinced a few Inuit locals to harness their dogs in their fan hitch formation to demonstrate the use of their traditional sleds albeit without snow on the ground.

Original title card from Romance of the Far Fur Country
describing scene below.

Lake Harbour (Kimmirut), on Baffin Island; 1919.
Photo courtesy of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives

From Lake Harbour they traveled south into Hudson’s Bay and James Bay, taking canoes up the Abitibi River from Moose Factory.  They trained west and would eventually begin their trek north from Athabasca Landing, Alberta. Their destination was Fort Chipewyan on the northern border of Alberta. They had set out by scow, but because of delays, and an early cold snap, the crew was forced to abandon water travel for horse drawn sleigh, then by dogsled at House River as they pushed north.

In the archival footage we see the crew using several different sleds. One is a cariole, another is identified by Thomas O’Kelly as his Shackleton sledge, because it had been given to him by Sir Ernest Shackleton for the journey. The HBC filmmakers would film trapping, ice fishing, sled races, and every day life in these remote northern outposts.

In early February 2013 I am making another trip up to Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan to continue filming my documentary On the Trail of the Far Fur Country.  I have been invited to experience winter on a trap line and to film a sled dog outing. I can’t wait.  You can follow progress of the film on our web site.

Aboriginal child with toy dogsled.
Photo courtesy: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives
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