George Weetaltuk (ca. 1862-1956)


  • Milton M.R. Freeman



Artists, Biographies, Explorers, History, Inuit-Indian relations, Mapping, Weetaltuk, George, ca. 1862-1956, Belcher Islands, Nunavut, James Bay, James Bay region, Cape Hope Islands, Québec


The historic Inuit occupation of the James Bay region is largely associated with the name of one man, George Weetaltuk. This Inuit leader was a respected Hudson's Bay Company pilot, boat builder, and artist, as well as patriarch of the Cape Hope Island Inuit community. His reputation and accomplishments are attested to in various written sources, and his many drawings comprise the earliest extensive collection of Canadian Inuit graphic art. One of the earliest and most widely reproduced of Weetaltuk's sketches is his 1910 map of the (then unknown to map-makers) Belcher Islands archipelago in Hudson Bay. This remarkable map, drawn about twenty years after Weetaltuk had left the Belcher Islands to live in James Bay, led Robert Flaherty to search for and subsequently explore the Belcher Islands during the years 1914-1916. ... Between 1930 and 1950 Weetaltuk gained fame as a canoe and boat builder. He had constructed a sawmill and a steamer on the island for shaping wood, and there he built the renowned Cape Hope Island canoes, which are still being made today in Poste de la Baleine, Quebec, by his descendants. However, especially noteworthy were the three large, masted boats he built; the largest, the Carwyn, was over 50 feet long and was built in 1944 when Weetaltuk was more than 80 years old. The first large boat he built was resold by the Hudson's Bay Company to the Roman Catholic missions, who renamed it Notre Dame de l'Esperance, and under that name it sailed the East Main and Labrador coasts for many years. ... Weetaltuk's woodworking skills resulted in the arrival of many orders for handmade furniture, from cities and towns all over Canada and the United States. The Anglican churches at Old Factory, Quebec, and Moose Factory, Ontario, commissioned him to carve their ornate bishop's chairs. The Cape Hope Island community consisted, for the most part, of Weetaltuk's descendants, and was the most southerly Inuit community in Canada until its relocation in 1960. The community enjoyed harmonious relations with adjacent James Bay Cree communities, and all the Inuit spoke Cree (several spoke French and English too). ...






Arctic Profiles