Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Read More

The rigours of the Arctic climate demanded strength and fortitude. From shelter to food to transportation, many of the people who ventured to the North owed their survival to the ingenuity of the native people.


Many and varied were the homes occupied by the Stringers during their time on Herschel Island. Their residences included a sod hut, a whaling warehouse, and a snow house. Surprisingly, the snow house offered good protection from the elements.


Snow houses or iglo-piyoapk were made from hard, frozen snow. The intense Arctic cold and strong winds compressed the snow and gave it the consistency of slabs of fine grain sand. Using a knife with a blade about a foot long, the Inuvialuit cut uniform blocks of snow about a foot square and 2 to 6 inches thick. Two men worked together, one inside and the other outside. The blocks were placed in a circle and built up like bricks. With each tier the blocks were slanted inwards and the house took the shape of a beehive. Water, sprinkled between each block, froze solid to form a weld which made the shelter firm and airtight. The door was made by cutting out of a piece of snow about 2 foot square at the bottom of the wall. This block was reserved for closing the doorway at night. A low wall of snow was built around the snow house as well as a tunnel for added protection from the piercing wind.


Much of the inside of the snow house was reserved for sleeping. The bed was a low platform of hard packed snow covered by board or willow mats that kept the polar bear and caribou skins off the snow.

Today, some Inuvialuit still build snow houses.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Sod houses were made from driftwood that floated down the Mackenzie River and was deposited on the shores of Herschel Island. Four large vertical corner posts were joined at the top by smaller horizontal posts. These made up the frame of the house. Vertical logs were then placed against the frame. The smaller logs were laid across the top to form the ceiling. This structure was covered with sod, moss, dirt, and glazed with ice. The window, often in the middle of the ceiling, was made of the oily intestine from a bearded seal, walrus, bear or moose. The houses were partially submerged and whenever possible, built into the side of a hill which provided additional insulation.

A deep tunnel led from the outside to the house interior. The tunnel came up through a trap door in the floor of the house. This allowed the house to stay warm and comfortable and cold air, which does not rise, was trapped in the tunnel. The tunnel could be up to 20 feet in length and about 2 ½ feet high.

The houses, usually designed to hold two or more families, consisted of a central shared room and a sleeping platform for each family. One platform was at the rear of the house and Read More
Sod houses were made from driftwood that floated down the Mackenzie River and was deposited on the shores of Herschel Island. Four large vertical corner posts were joined at the top by smaller horizontal posts. These made up the frame of the house. Vertical logs were then placed against the frame. The smaller logs were laid across the top to form the ceiling. This structure was covered with sod, moss, dirt, and glazed with ice. The window, often in the middle of the ceiling, was made of the oily intestine from a bearded seal, walrus, bear or moose. The houses were partially submerged and whenever possible, built into the side of a hill which provided additional insulation.

A deep tunnel led from the outside to the house interior. The tunnel came up through a trap door in the floor of the house. This allowed the house to stay warm and comfortable and cold air, which does not rise, was trapped in the tunnel. The tunnel could be up to 20 feet in length and about 2 ½ feet high.

The houses, usually designed to hold two or more families, consisted of a central shared room and a sleeping platform for each family. One platform was at the rear of the house and the opposite end of the house. Each family had a separate heating and cooking lamp with a rack over it for drying clothing. The common area was for sitting and talking, mending clothes, making tools, cooking, and eating.

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Photo of a Sod House Window

Sod House Window

The Manitoba Museum

H5-3-10
© The Manitoba Museum


Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Read More

With the closest doctor hundreds of miles away, whaling captain Hartson Bodfish realized that the health and the lives of the crew depended on him. He brought with him a medical library and "a set of the finest surgical instruments" that he could find.


Frostbite, the freezing or partial freezing of some part of the body, was a constant problem. If gangrene, a consequence of frostbite, set in, the affected area often had to be amputated in order to save the patient’s life. Bodfish became very adept at performing amputations. He described one incident,


"We took off his toes and both heels. The first plan was to take off both his feet, but I argued against it, because I knew that if any part of the foot was saved it would be much easier to attach artificial feet. My advice was taken, and the man was able to get fixed up so that he could walk with just a cane."


In another instance, Bodfish gives a gruesome account of having to amputate his own toe when no one on the ship was willing to perform the surgery for him -


"My foot was numb from the accident. I knew that the longer I waited, the more painful the amputation would be, so, with the steward and cabin boy looking on and groaning, I whetted up my knife and cut it off myself. The way it was injured made it necessary for me to unjoint the bone from my foot, too, but I did it, and there was considerable satisfaction in having performed my own surgical operation."


Bodfish would generally begin each operation by giving his patient a large drink of whiskey and then administering the chloroform. He felt the anesthetic worked better with the whiskey.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Read More

In preparation for their stay in the North, Isaac Stringer took courses in dentistry, obstetrics, and minor surgery. His wife Sadie contributed to this cause by studying nursing at Grace Hospital in Toronto.


One of Stringer’s first operations was the removal of a whaler’s two crushed fingers. Sadie assisted and changed the dressings until the hand healed. They often pulled teeth, stitched up wounds, and attended to other medical emergencies. Sadie gave birth to her second child, a son named Herschel, while living on the Island. She had only her husband to assist her.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white photo of Sadie Stringer Dressing Frozen Feet

Sadie Stringer dressing the frozen feet of Robert Ship.

Yukon Archives

78/67 #38
© Yukon Archives


Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Read More

"As the sun rises higher and has more power in the months of March and April, to walk long over the snow in the sunlight becomes distressing to the eyes from the dazzling brightness."… "The effect of this is to produce after a time, acute inflammation of the eyes. These in the end may be so entirely closed as to involve temporary blindness, accompanied by much smarting pain.


- Bishop William Carpenter Bompas, 1870


"…imagine your eyelids packed solid full of cambric needles, all pointing inward and each one pricking every time you wink…I wasn't entirely blind but I couldn't see very well.


- Captain Hartson Bodfish, 1888


These graphic descriptions illustrate the painful effects of snow blindness; intolerance to light caused by exposure of the eyes to ultraviolet rays reflected off the snow or ice.


Many of the missionaries and whalers who went to the North suffered from varying degrees of snow blindness. Isaac Stringer was, at one time, so severely affected by snow blindness that he had to leave the North for a few months in order to recuperate.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Interactive flash animation of Snow Blindness

A case of Snow Blindness

Old Log Church Museum

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Read More

On site treatment for snow blindness varied. The whalers found that drops of molasses or fine sugar in the eyes worked, but not very well. Boracic acid was found to be completely ineffective. The Inuvialuit would sometimes flood the eyes with smoke from burning heather. According to Bompas, the cure was as bad as the ailment.


"…The inflammation generally lasts three days after which it gradually subsides. In the meantime it may be ameliorated by dropping one drop of laudanum into the eye, though the sensation of this is like an application of liquid fire".


The best medicine for snow blindness was preventive medicine. Initially the whalers wore smoked eyeglasses, but switched to the snow goggles used by the Inuvialuit which they found to be more effective. The Inuvialuit made their snow goggles by hollowing out a piece of wood and cutting narrow slits, about 1½ inches long, in the surface. The insides of the goggles and the slits were blackened which caught the light, deadening the glare. These goggles allowed a good field of vision but protected the eyes from the damaging reflective light.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white photo of a man wearing snow goggles

Man wearing snow goggles

Arctic Eskimo, C.E. Whittaker, page 64

© Arctic Eskimo, C.E. Whittaker


Colour photo of snow goggles

Snow Goggles

The Manitoba Museum

H5-3-8
© The Manitoba Museum


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Identify a variety of reasons that led to the exploration of the Canadian North;
  • Identify the difficulties encountered when living in the Great North;
  • Explain the possible repercussions of those difficulties;
  • Analyze the relationships between Aboriginals and Europeans that led to many explorations;
  • Analyze the desire to spread the Christian faith in Canada and the results obtained, as well as the links and relationships that this created with indigenous peoples.

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans