Posted in New thinking

The Nunavut Landscape: maps and dreams

Every Spring, Heather and I head North to help with grandchildren. Andrew takes off on multi-day dog sledding trips and often Julia has to lead school trips to the South. This year, since the end of February, I have spent time in England, Nova Scotia and soon, Nunavut. This blog completes a trilogy on the landscape: the Royal Landscape of England with its emphasis on commodity and property; the Nova Scotia landscape with the emphasis on the harvesting on Crown land; and now the landscape of Baffin Island.

In the latest Guardian Weekly, Katharine Norbury reviewed a new book by Tim Dee, Ground Work: a collection of writing on places and people.


One of the essays is by Hugh Brody. In the words of the reviewer:

“Hugh Brody in meditation on the idea of home recounts his experiences of mapping the northern Baffin region of the Canadian Arctic to show all the places in which Inuit have hunted for seal, walrus, narwhal, caribou, hare and polar bear. He records the places where they gathered blueberries, cranberries and the eggs of Arctic terns. And to what purpose ?”

“To develop a legal basis by which the Inuit people might lay claim to the land that has sustained them  for millennia.”

As Norbury concludes, ” one does not need to be a farmer, or a conservationist to justify a relationship with the wild. We just need to learn to look properly, and to find the common ground”.

Imagine if Hugh Brody and others had conducted similar studies with the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia. Would there be a different attitude towards the land? Heather Stewart had the idea that we take the work of Dave and Paulette Whitman and map the history described in their first chapter, The Mi’kmaq of Paradise and Area. Or we could research the name, Eel Weir Lake; or talk to Roger Lewis at the Nova Scotia Museum about the location, construction and importance of eel weirs to the nomadic culture. Another resource would be the book by Trudy Sable and Bernie Francis The Language of this Land, Mi’kma’ki.

From our time in Haida Gwaii, we know that the Haida culture was instrumental in stopping the logging of old growth forest on the island and along the coast of Northern British Columbia.

This week, reading Lesley Choyce Seven Ravens, I was reminded of the importance of raven to the Haida. Choyce tells the story of walking from the south shore inland until he has seen seven ravens. He then ends his journey and turns back for home.


Maps and Dreams is the title of Brody’s classic book. We can still dream about other cultures and the way they understand the landscape. We can still think about maps which help us find our way through the wilderness.

Now I am ready to see the changes in Iqaluit: to the landscape, the buildings and the people.

Thanks to the Road to Georgetown team. Heather Stewart for sharing in many of the ideas and experiences; likewise Edward Wedler for his creative input.

Tim Dee. 2018.  Ground Work: writings on places and people. Jonathan Cape.

Katharine Norbury. 2018. Wonder all around us. The Guardian Weekly 09.03.18. p. 36

Dave and Paulette Whitman 2016. The Valley Chronicles. Tales of the Annapolis Valley. Bailey Chase Books.Paradise.

Trudy Sable and Bernie Francis. 2012. The Language of this Land, Mi’kma’ki. CBU Press.

Lesley Choyce. 2009. Seven Ravens Two summers in a life by the sea. Wolsak and Wynn.

Hugh Brody 1992. Maps and Dreams. Douglas and McIntyre.

Roger Lewis is  Curator of Ethnology at Nova Scotia Museum



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s