In recognition of National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the Vancouver Maritime Museum would like to highlight Joe Panipakuttuk’s role in the 1944 voyage of the St. Roch through the Northwest Passage.

Joe Panipakuttuk of Pond Inlet (1916-1970) was an Inuit hunter, guide, and special Royal Canadian Mounted Police constable. He was hired by Henry A. Larsen to join the crew of the 1944 voyage which became the first time in history that a ship had completed the passage in a single season. Joe Panipakuttuk was posthumously awarded the Polar Medal in 1975 for his service; it was received on his behalf by his wife Letia.  His wife, his mother (Panipak), his two sons (Aariak and Kalluk), his two daughters (Palluq and Soopi Viguq), and his young granddaughter (Mary Panigusiq) accompanied him on the journey aboard the St. Roch. They brought 17 dogs with them. Joe and his family lived in a tent on the main deck of the ship until they reached Herschel Island, where Larsen put them ashore. The family would return to Pond Inlet until 1946.  Below is a collection of memories from Joe Panipakuttuk about his and his family’s journey.


“I remember I left Pond Inlet on the RCMP boat in the summer of 1944, on the 17th day of August… With the wind not so strong, we left the following day, but the swells were big and the bow of the boat would disappear from time to time in the water. I was very frightened. We arrived at the island (Tatlurutit/Devon Island) where the police used to have a detachment.

Next day we left and followed along the coast close to the high cliffs of the island. Another gale arose and we were forced to anchor in another cove (Stratton Inlet). Ashore we walked around and found some old, old Eskimo houses made of whalebone and sod.

Mr. Larsen, whom we called Pallursi, … told me that there were musk oxen on the land. I went to where he directed me. I searched the land with a telescope and saw no sign of live animals. All I could see were huge rocks. Mr. Larsen said that these were musk oxen, these very things I thought to be rocks. So I looked again through the telescope and the rocks began to move… When you see musk oxen for the first time they have such a huge back on them!

We travelled all day and night and when we woke up Mr. Larsen told me that we would get to Holman Island that day and see people. About mid-afternoon on September 4th we could see a building on a point. For the first time since leaving Pond Inlet we would now get to see a strange people and we began to feel shy.

The Eskimo people on the boat were myself and my wife and Aariak, my son; Pallug, my daughter; Kalluk, my son; Soopi Viguq, my daughter; Panipak my mother, and my granddaughter Mary Paniqusiq.

All the white people and ourselves waited in the bow of the boat and I felt nervous to be among strange people. But at last I went to a group of people when they asked me to come and I was told not to fear them. I shook hands.

They wanted us to come to their settlement which we did and we went to the house of Kanquag. The settlement had only two white people, the missionary and the Hudson’s Bay Company man. We stayed overnight here and left the following day for Tuktoyaktuk.

For the next two days we sailed through a lot of ice on our way to Tuktoyaktuk. We anchored near Tuktoyaktuk when we hit shallow water. A boat came out to welcome us and I saw that there were many white people in the boat and I thought there was only one Eskimo with them but when they came up to our boat it was the other way around. These people were all Eskimos and there was only one white man with them. That was the first time I had ever heard Eskimos talk English. The white man in the boat was the Hudson’s Bay Company manager.

The next day it was very stormy and the wind was coming down hard against our boat. Another Eskimo came aboard with us and he and Larsen steered the boat together as the wind was blowing that hard.

The people in Tuktoyaktuk were building houses. There had been a flood there. There were some dogs on an island and they had all died, all thirty-five of them. Across the Bay there was a house and there were two rooms in it. When the water started to come into the house they went outside and brought in a canoe. … There were some people out in a boat during the storm and they never found them. They only found a young child on the shore wrapped up in a blanket.

We got to Qikirtarjuang [ on September 17th] during the night. There was a house ready for us to live. Mr. Larsen said that he was going to leave us because he wanted to go on through to Vancouver in the south. He left and we were alone there. When I looked through my binoculars and saw there was a house, some dogs and people, I became nervous. The people looked so different.

In the fall a man came to our camp who said he was from Alaska. My mother called him “son” so after that I called him my brother. … He talked to me a lot and he told me not to be scared to talk to the people that I saw. I understood very well the way he talked except for a few things; sometimes he would have to try to explain to me, even in English.

During the summer I caught a lot of seal, caribou and fish. In a day I would get sixteen to eighteen seals. There were also white and brown bear and many different kinds of birds. The Western Eskimos have ways very much like the white people and they would buy meat from me. I got $200 from the Eskimos there just by selling meat. When they wanted seal they would give me $10 for it; caribou meat, $5, or if it was back meat of the caribou only they would pay me $10. I told them that we were all Eskimos and that they should not pay me for the meat, but they said that they had to pay for everything they take from someone. They even tried to buy dogs and that was the first time I found out that Eskimos buy things from other Eskimos for money.

On August 11, 1945, the St. Roch with Captain Larsen was back from the South and we were all happy to see him back… He asked me why we were not staying in the house and I told him that we liked a tent in the summer. We got all of our belongings together and loaded them on the St. Roch… When spring came Mr. Larsen asked me to go to Pond Inlet by way of Gjoa Haven and Fort Ross. I had eight dogs with me and five pups when I left Cambridge. Kanayuk from Cambridge Bay went with me as a guide to Gjoa Haven. A man by the name of Tiitaa, a Nittillimmuit came with me as a guide from Gjoa Haven to Ikirasak.

The journey began April 22, 1946 from Cambridge Bay to Gjoa Haven. … We left with the young man Tiitaa and his wife for Ikirasak. During our journey I took very ill and with the windy weather it was difficult. We went for two days and two nights without food. … Though I was ill I wanted to keep on going… We left at night and the next day we made a camp. Aariak and Tiitaa had just left to go seal hunting when a large polar bear came to the camp. … I took my gun and tried to shooting it but missed … I unchained all the dogs and let them run after the bear but when I tired running I was so weak that I kept falling down. The dogs finally stopped the animal and I shot it. I walked back feeling very sick and my lungs were sore and burning. I walked for a while then saw Tiitaa and Aariak  returning… I found out that a shaman was trying to kill me, but he killed himself instead and I got better when he died.

In June we started off for Fort Ross... On our way we met Taqulik, a former Cape Dorset Eskimo. When we got to Fort Ross where there were also white people and we were told to stay there until the ship came in. All through that time I caught seals and earned money from the skins. … Finally the Nascopie came and soon we were all on our way to Pond Inlet. … We had left Pond Inlet in 1944 and here we were coming back in 1946. It was hard for me to talk to my own people when we first got back because I kept talking in Western dialect, I had been away that long.”


Referenced Cited:

Petrone, Penny, ed. Northern Voices – Inuit Writing in English. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.

Panipakuttuk, Joe. “The Reminiscences of Joe Panipakuttuk.” North, xvi (January/February 1969), 10-17.