Gallery - Past Exhibitions - 1998 - Buchanan Bay, Ellesmere Island

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Half way up the east side of Ellesmere Island, about 50 km. from Greenland lies Bone Home, oil on canvasa series of deep fiords I'll call Buchanan Bay. (also called Alexandria Fiord) It has long been considered the jewel of sea-kayaking experiences in the Canadian High Arctic and it became my destination for an expedition in the summer of 1998. The trip was outfitted by the Wilderness Adventure Company (formally called Black Feather).

This is one of the very few places in the eastern Canadian High Arctic where in summer open water is the rule rather than the exception. The relatively shallow water in these bays are heavily agitated by strong tides and currents, producing an open water effect called a polynya. The up welling of the nutrient rich waters attracts a huge numbers fish, birds and marine mammals. Subsequently this Arctic oasis attracted Paleo-Eskimos going back 4000 years.(This area is now uninhabited.) Evidence of Thules, Dorest and Independent 1 cultures are scattered everywhere through out the land. (read Peter Schledermann, Voices in Stone, '97) The RCMP also established their most northerly outpost here in 1926. The number and quality of the these sites and the human history they represented significantly added to what already was a major influence in my work. Other ideas for my work can come from unexpected sources; some which are not particularly wanted.

Rogue, etching Although polar bears, cold water, wind and ice are obvious dangers when kayaking in the Arctic; one of the greatest "unseen" threats is from a rogue walrus. The Latin name for walrus, Odobenus rosmarus means toothwalker. The name walrus comes from the Scandinavian hvalross meaning whale horse. Normally they are mussel and clam feeders, hunting in small family groups. However occasionally an outcast or rogue male walrus will become extremely aggressive and carnivorous, hunting seals, young walrus and even humans. Experiences from walrus attacks are deeply etched in the minds of all Inuit hunters. At 3000 lbs., with three foot ivory tusks, in the water the rogue is a lethal meat torpedo. In Buchanan Bay I added my own rogue experience to the stories I had read and heard over the years.

I was paddling up front in our folding tandem kayak with my partner Sandy MacDonald. It was the second day of the expedition; we had just rounded Thorvald Peninsula heading west into Hayes Fiord when we realized that a walrus was following (stalking) us. The rest of the group was about a half a kilometer ahead. The large pinnipeds surfaced 100' to our rear, lifted his shoulders out of the water, glared at us and snorted loudly. He then dove directly toward us. We continue paddling, stopping five minutes later (during which time he hadn't surfaced) to get a can of bear mace out of the cockpit. That was when he hit us; from below on the back star board side. The boat was lifted and jostled but our heavily ladened kayak didn't roll. In the commotion the huge walrus surfaced beside us, sucked in a fresh supply of air and dove back under our boat. We then paddled furiously to shore. We felt fortunate our fragile, fabric covered kayak wasn't damaged and that we didn't join him in the icy Arctic waters.