It was only 60 years ago that people began to settle in Whale Cove — recently enough that some of the hamlet’s first inhabitants are still alive to recount the story of its origin. The community is one of several towns the federal government created through forced relocations beginning in the 1920s.

A photo of Whale Cove taken while Kivalliq News editor Cody Punter was visiting the community in the summer of 2018.
Cody Punter/NNSL photo

The Ahiarmiut were forcibly relocated several times, beginning in 1950. In 1957, despite warnings from the Ahiarmiut that the settlements chosen for them were not conducive to hunting, they were dropped off in another unfamiliar location with almost no provisions. Seven Ahiarmiut died from starvation that winter. (The Ahiarmiut would have to wait more than six decades — until Jan. 22 of this year — for the federal government to issue an official apology following a $5-million settlement for its role in their displacement.) In 1958, 17 Inuit died of starvation at Garry Lake, a community northwest of Hudson Bay, after government officials failed to respond to repeated warnings about the dire conditions.

That year, the government created a new permanent settlement along the coast between the communities of Rankin Inlet and Arviat, where it planned to build facilities such as a school and a general store. Inuit from across what is now Nunavut, including survivors of the famines, settled there, and the community of Whale Cove was born.

Although its origins were built out of tragedy, today Whale Cove is a tight-knit community that is known for having hockey teams that travel hundreds of kilometres by Ski-Doo to play in tournaments. It also has one of the lowest suicide rates in the territory.

In Februrary 2019 Kivalliq News editor Cody Punter and Suzie Napayok-Short travelled to Whale Cove to record oral histories of six residents. Over the next six weeks, we will be publishing those interviews, which include two of the community’s first inhabitants, one of whom unfortunately passed away last year.

These are the Words From Whale Cove

ed. note: A version of this story appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of The Walrus. See next week’s paper for the second part in the series.

Agnes Teenar

Agnes Teenar (Annissi Tiinnaaq) was one of Whale Cove’s oldest residents before passing away last year. Her family was one of the first to move to the community when the Canadian government began relocating Inuit there in the late 1950s.

Agnes Teenar (Annissi Tiinnaaq) after being interviewed at her home in Whale Cove in February 2019. Teenar was one of the first inhabitants of the community after her family was forcibly relocated from Mallirualik, near Back River. She passed away last year.
Cody Punter/NNSL photo

My name is Agnes. The Catholic priests baptized me with that name. I stopped using my Inuktitut name after I got baptized.

When I was young, we lived at a camp called Mallirualik, near Back River. I spent a lot of time outdoors and to this day I love being outdoors. We lived in snow houses in the winter. There were different sections attached to a central igloo. In the summer, we had seal skin and caribou tents. We sewed them together ourselves. We even used the underarms of the caribou pelts for windows.

There wasn’t always a lot of food around where we lived. We would go long distances by walking. The elders would have walking sticks, the adults would carry our knapsacks, and the dogs would carry the bundles of our supplies hanging on their sides. Our men made the decisions on where to travel and when, so we would follow wherever the caribou might be in the summer.

I have had two husbands over time. I eventually remarried after my first one died. My first husband was sent off for tuberculosis treatment to a sanatorium, and he never came back. To this day, we don’t know where he is or what happened to him.

It was my father-in-law that suggested to me that it was time to move on and marry Teenar. I was quite nervous because Teenar was already promised to another woman. He really wanted to marry me. He didn’t want to be married to the one he was promised to.

We got along really well. In fact, the Catholic priest here came along and said, “You two seem to make a peaceful couple.” I gave Teenar the freedom he needed. I didn’t keep him tied down, and I let him do what he wanted when he wanted, and I think that was the basis of our peaceful union.

We came to Whale Cove by Peterhead boats. There was absolutely no one living here. We were the first family. Shortly after we arrived, Sam Arualak’s family came. It was so good to be here. We used to dance a lot every day. We liked dancing so much, and the houses we had were so tiny, that we’d have to empty out the houses to make room for dancing. That husband of mine would take me and swing me right off the ground in a circle. He was a big man. One night we did so much dancing — you’re not going to believe this — but we actually broke the floor. My goodness, that’s what we did.

I had 11 children. My oldest daughter was removed from Back River to go to residential school in Chesterfield Inlet. She came back much older.

I was a young adult when I became a culture teacher at the school. I was also a midwife. One time, we had a very frightening experience when a woman fainted while delivering a child, and she stayed in that state for a long time. Thank God I kept working on the woman and she came to.

She eventually moved to Arviat. Her little girl became an adult. When she found out who I was and that I had helped to deliver her, she named her little girl after me. I see her occasionally. That one that caused her mother to faint is an adult now, and she’s fine too.

I do worry about my children and my grandchildren — my family. My grandchildren would like the status of the Qablunaat. It hurts that they don’t speak Inuktitut. It’s all I ever heard spoken when I was raised. I hope they have good lives and that they can show loving and caring and sharing, and that’s what I try to tell them to live with. And I hope for the same for our community of Whale Cove.

I don’t say much about politics. I’ve tried to live a life of no conflict. That’s how I became 87 years old, I think. It’s best to be peaceful. That’s what I hope for my children, my descendants in the community, that they can live in peace in the years that are coming upon us.

(Translated from Inuktitut)

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One reply on “Words from Whale Cove: Agnes Teenar”

  1. I loved hearing Agnes’ life story and wish so much that I knew her. What a rich life she led — this world certainly needs more people like her. Thank you.

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