This Week in History


Ipirvik and Taqulittuq

For the week of Monday October 13, 2008

On October 15, 1872, nineteen people, including five children, survived 196 days adrift on an ice floe in the Canadian Arctic when they were separated from their ship, the Polaris. Among the nine Inuit in the stranded group were Ipirvik and his wife Taqulittuq, both of whose invaluable contributions ensured the group’s survival.

Tookoolito, C.F. Hall, and Ebierbing, ca.1865
© Library and Archives Canada / C-028015
Ipirvik and Taqulittuq were both born near Cumberland Sound on Baffin Island around 1837 and 1839 respectively. They were known by several different names, including Ebierbing and Tookoolito, and Joe and Hannah. In 1853, Ipirvik and Taqulittuq travelled on a whaler to England, where they were received by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Back in Cumberland Sound in 1860, they met American explorer Charles Francis Hall, and soon after they began accompanying Hall on three expeditions in the Canadian Arctic in 1860-62, 1864-69 and 1871. Ipirvik usually acted as a guide, while Taqulittuq was an interpreter, since she had a better mastery of the English language than her husband.

Before leaving for these expeditions, Ipirvik and Taqulittuq helped Hall raise funds in the United States to finance the voyages. They appeared in presentations wearing traditional Inuit clothing and answered questions from the audience about their way of life. Hall’s expeditions explored Arctic regions that, until then, had been thought to be cursed or inhabited by dangerous people according to the accompanying Inuit of the expeditions. 

Nineteen of the Party of the Arctic Steamer Polaris rescued by the S.S. Tigress
© McKenney & Parsons/ Library and Archives Canada / 1873

It was during their last expedition with Hall that Ipirvik and Taqulittuq were stranded with others on an ice floe. During that time, these two Inuit were crucial to the group’s survival. Ipirvik was especially useful for building shelters as well as for hunting and fishing. On April 30, 1873, the group was rescued by the Tigress, a sealer from Newfoundland. Following the Polaris expedition, Ipirvik and Taqulittuq settled in Groton, Connecticut. In 1875, Ipirvik joined the Pandora Expedition lead by Captain Allen Young, but heavy ice halted the voyage and Ipirvik soon returned to Groton.

Taqulittuq died from tuberculosis on December 31, 1876. In 1878, Ipirvik joined one last Arctic expedition under the command of Frederick Schwatka. When it was over, Ipirvik decided to remain in the Arctic, which is where he died around 1881. Ipirvik and Taqulittuq were designated National Historic Persons of Canada in 1981.

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