Christmas in Cambridge Bay 1935

RCMP Veterans’ Association

Veterans Helping Veterans and Their Families

This information is being provided to all Association Members

The St. Roch in Cambridge Bay – 1935

Dear Association Members,

The daughter of Supt. Henry Larsen, Doreen Riedel Larsen has found an unusual story from amongst her fathers writings.

She observed, “A few weeks ago I was looking through some of my Dad’s memoirs for information related to Radio contact with St Roch and came across this Christmas related story which we thought you might enjoy .

It was a description of  Christmas celebration at  Cambridge Bay 1935. .”

This is a wonderful Christmas story and provides some insight into the significant role the Force has played in the North.

James Forrest
Director of Communications
RCMP Veterans’ Association

Supt. Henry Larsen
The St. Rock in ice

Doreen Larsen notes that

“In those days, Inuit would come  from near and far to  trade and exchange news and gossip, and join in the fun and feast provided for them by the various white establishments.

The Inuit  not having had any Christmas festivities or celebrations of their own before that time, now looked forward to it every year with great expectations.

It was the first time that the St Roch had wintered there and it was arranged that they should join in a common effort with the two traders and make preparations.

A Santa Claus had not made his appearance here before. Mrs Paisley, the wife of one trader, sewed a huge red garment complete with Tuque, while Frank Willard (crew member) and  Doreen’s father,  unraveled a piece of new manila rope for a handsome mustache.and whiskers.

Presents were gathered together from the traders, from Rokeby-Thomas (the Anglican minister) and the St Roch stores  in order to get some little thing for every one large and small:

Gifts items such as candies or gum for the kids, sewing needles, fish hooks, bars of soap, a few cigarettes, files (always in great demand),  perhaps even a good pocket knife or a box of ammunition for a favorite  hunter, were collected from the few Qallunaaq residents of the settlement.The Eskimos did not expect much in those days, but delighted in any little thing they would receive.

The story then continues with her Dad’s observations,

 “By Christmas Eve there were at least 250 or 300 Eskimos gathered, counting big and small, and at least 600 dogs.

The shores in front of the two trading posts had been converted into a little city of snow houses, beautifully built and arranged for the occasion by the Eskimo men, who went into the project heart and soul, as did their wives, all decked out now in their best clothes for the various visits to take place.

I have found that the Eskimos like to display a good deal more showmanship than they are generally given credit for. The Eskimos had been told to look for Santa arriving from the sky around 9 p. m. but not by reindeer.

It was clear all day and the thermometer indicated thirty-five below.

In the afternoon Tommy Welsh  broadcast a program over the ship’s station to residents in the western Arctic. Luckily R.C.M.P  Headquarters  in Ottawa were out of range.  [for concern about misuse of supplies ?]

 By nine o’clock that night most of the natives had been waiting  patiently outside of their igloos for at least an hour having been warned to stay away from the ship until Santa Claus arrived. But where was he? They were eager to see him come scooting across the skies. The death-like stillness of the cold Arctic night was only broken by the occasional yelp of a husky or the abrupt tang of cracking ice and all the Eskimos were outside their igloos, searching the skies for the stranger who was to arrive bearing gifts for their children

Even the dogs sensed something was up and held their tongues for the moment. No one had ever seen Santa Claus, some had heard of him and the police, who never lied, said he would come.

They were prepared for anything to happen.

Suddenly there was a   great  noise and before Eskimo or dog had time to comprehend, there was what seemed to be a terrific explosion high in the air and the bay was flooded with a brilliant white light which broke into hundreds of little stars as half dozen of our signal rockets shot into the starlit sky, one after the other in quick succession.

Every Eskimo and dog froze where they stood. The lights slowly faded away. Some dogs yelped. A few Eskimos sighed in relief, too scared to make a move, still trying to adjust themselves to the sight they had seen or heard.

W000shhh, crash went another one of these unearthly visitations and then that ghost-like light. That was it.

Some women headed for shelter with their small children, but most of the Eskimos were still outside, too scared to do anything else, when Santa Claus in his Red garments, well padded front and back and with the flowing beard started across the ice, escorted by flaming blue and red signal flares, carried by the boys on long poles. held high in the air. Here was Santa Claus at last and heading for the Hudson’s Bay Co. Post, there to be greeted by Frank and Alice Milne, who assured the Eskimos that Santa Claus was indeed a friendly person and had come to greet them and to distribute presents.

A mailbag,  filled beforehand, was ready as the crowd was ushered into the roomy H.B.Co warehouse to be ready for Santa Claus. This drew the adults forth from security but children were unimpressed with the white-man’s talk or promises.

All it took  was the sight of Santa Claus built on the most generous proportions with a beard of a size to match and a color they had never seen before,  and a howl went up as they clung to their mothers.

I was accompanied by Johnny Cheetham , who had completely blackened his face and was decked out in a fancy  dressing robe, and carrying   the bag of presents for me as I went from one to the next, shaking hands with all and giving each one a present.

The candy soon enticed   the children to come forward and forget their fears. The  very small ones, still on their mothers back for warmth and comfort, extended their grubby little hands out through the parka hood to shake hands with Santa Claus and receive a present.

I tried to greet every one of the men and women somehow, but was hesitant  to say too much as they would soon recognize my voice.

Some of the older men and women peered intently into my face, perhaps recognizing my eyes, whilst old Kitapko put his hand on my huge padded belly, wondering if it was real.

The whole thing was a great success.

All the Eskimos became Santa Claus fans from then on.”

Cambridge Bay Today 

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