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The native people living in the Arctic had to prepare for the long winter when food was not as plentiful. Fish and game taken in the summer or fall was preserved for the long winter months by traditional methods. The whalers and the missionaries depended on the Inuvialuit from Herschel Island and Gwitch'in from the interior for indigenous meat, fish, and berries which they acquired through trade or by other means.


Various indigenous animals contributed to the northern "haute cuisine".


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

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The Inuvialuit regarded roasted caribou tongue as a delicacy. Both Isaac and Sadie Stringer are also reported to have found it flavourful.


Caribou heads were usually roasted with the fur still on. When the skin or fur began to crackle it was pulled from the fire. The heads were said to be very tasty and juicy.


After a caribou was killed, the kidneys were removed and eaten while still warm.


The caribou flesh, juicy and palatable, was boiled or roasted.


The marrow from the shin bones was eaten raw and relished as a confection.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Colour photo of a marrow pick

Marrow pick

Old Log Church Museum

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


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The flukes, the end of the nose, and the spout-holes from the bowhead were highly prized as a delectable treat.


The lean meat of a young bowhead whale was considered very tender and good. The whalers cut steaks from the tenderloin. If the whale was older, they ground the meat and mixed it with pork to make it more palatable.


The blubber, cut into long thin strips, was usually eaten raw and tasted similar to olive oil. An Inuvialuit ate the blubber by putting one end of the strip into his mouth and gripping it between his teeth and lips. Grasping the other end, and holding it just above his mouth he would cut mouthfuls of it off close to his lips, and swallow it.

The Inuvialuit also enjoyed the skin or Maktak from the bowhead which was thick and juicy.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Drawing of marine mammals

Ringed Seal, Walrus, Grumpus, and Bowhead Whale

Old Log Church Museum

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


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The fin of the grumpus whale was said to taste similar to the white of a hardboiled egg.


Isaac Stringer recorded his thoughts regarding this northern treat-
"…. I have seen the children flock around a whale fin or tail and slice a big piece off and eat it with as much rapture and complete satisfaction as a white boy would eat a piece of favorite pie. Such is taste and habit. Well, I may get to like it sometime."


When the Inuvialuit wanted a change in their diet they would eat meat which was "high". Fresh meat, stored where fresh air could get to it but where the sun could not shine on it, underwent a transformation. Rotten walrus meat was said to taste like old, sharp, rich cheese.


Traditionally fish was eaten raw and/or frozen. The Stringers often kept on hand pieces of raw fish to give to their Inuvialuit visitors. It was enjoyed as a treat the way southerners enjoyed ice cream.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Interactive three dimensional model of a lure

Fishing Lure

Old Log Church Museum

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


Drawing of fish

Inconnu, Round Whitefish, and Arctic Charr

Old Log Church Museum

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


Berries and edible parts of plants were collected and consumed regularly.

The Mackenzie Inuvialuit collected Wild Rhubarb, Polygonum alaskanum, which grew in sunny locations along the rivers. The hollow and fleshy stems were juicy and sour and very refreshing when eaten on warm summer days. The stems were ready to eat in mid-June and were at their peak for 2 weeks. The whalers made huckleberry potpie from the huckleberries that were abundant on Herschel Island. The Inuvialuit added them to boiled caribou meat and fat to make pemmican. Captain Bodfish reported that he found the pemmican quite good but very rich.

Cloudberries, Rubus chamaemorus, were crushed and mixed with seal oil and caribou tallow to make "ice cream". Blueberries and cranberries were also collected and often stored with seal oil in barrels or sealskin pokes for winter use.

Liquorice root, Hedysarum alpinum, was another popular food. The juicy and sweet tasting fleshy roots were picked just after the river ice broke in June or just before freeze up at the end of August. The skin was peeled away and the roots eaten raw or cooked with duck or fish oil.
Berries and edible parts of plants were collected and consumed regularly.

The Mackenzie Inuvialuit collected Wild Rhubarb, Polygonum alaskanum, which grew in sunny locations along the rivers. The hollow and fleshy stems were juicy and sour and very refreshing when eaten on warm summer days. The stems were ready to eat in mid-June and were at their peak for 2 weeks. The whalers made huckleberry potpie from the huckleberries that were abundant on Herschel Island. The Inuvialuit added them to boiled caribou meat and fat to make pemmican. Captain Bodfish reported that he found the pemmican quite good but very rich.

Cloudberries, Rubus chamaemorus, were crushed and mixed with seal oil and caribou tallow to make "ice cream". Blueberries and cranberries were also collected and often stored with seal oil in barrels or sealskin pokes for winter use.

Liquorice root, Hedysarum alpinum, was another popular food. The juicy and sweet tasting fleshy roots were picked just after the river ice broke in June or just before freeze up at the end of August. The skin was peeled away and the roots eaten raw or cooked with duck or fish oil.

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Photo of Cloudberries

Cloudberries, Rubus chamaemorus

Photographer: Bruce Bennett

© Bruce Bennett


Photo of Liquorice Root

Liquorice Root, Hedysarum alpinum

Photographer: Bruce Bennett

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


Photo of Wild Rhubarb

left - Fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium; right - Wild Rhubarb, Polygonum alaskanum

Photographer: Catherine Kennedy

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


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When the families of whaling captains began to arrive with them to spend the winter on Herschel Island, interesting food combinations were created. In October 1894 Captain Green’s wife gave a tea party and served the following:

  • Lobster Salad and Olives
  • Oyster Pate and French Peas
  • Veal Loaf with Jelly
  • Chops a la Francais with Saratoga Chips
  • Sea Biscuits
  • Bartlett Pears, with Citron and Sponge Cake & most delicious Tea

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

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To supplement the indigenous foods, the whalers made sure they brought a variety of foods with them to ward off diseases like scurvy. It was not uncommon for a captain to stock the following staples and delicacies on his ship:


allspice, apples, canned and dried apricots, asparagus, bacon, baking powder, beans (dried and canned), corned beef in cans, extract of beef, mess beef in barrels, roast beef in cans, beef tongues pickled, beef (2 barrels), beets, brandy (1 case), pilot bread, brown bread (canned), butter, cabbage (raw, pickled, evaporated), cakes, candles, catsup, cheese, chicken, chocolate, cinnamon, clams, cloves, codfish, coffee, carrots, corn, corn meal, corn starch, cracked wheat, crackers, cranberries, cream of tartar, currants, curry powder, eggs, extracts for flavoring, flour, buckwheat flour, graham flour, dried figs, fruit, ginger, hams, hogs (15), hops, horse radish, Hamburg steak (canned), jellies, honey, lard, lime juice, lobsters, macaroni, salt mackerel, matches, milk, mustard, mutton, nutmegs, nuts, rolled oats, olives, onions, oysters, peaches, peas (dried and canned), pepper, pickles, pears, peanuts, pie fruit, pig’s feet, pork of various grades (salted), potatoes, raisins, rice, rum (1 barrel), sage, salad oil, saleratus, salt for fish, table salt, sardines, sauerkraut, salmon, sausage meat, sausage cases, soap, soda (cooking), soups, squashes, sugar, summer savory, syrup, strawberries, tapioca, tea, thyme, tomatoes, tongues and sounds, lunch tongues, tripe, turnips, vegetables, vermicelli, vinegar, whiskey (1 case), whiskey (1 barrel), Worcestershire sauce, port wine (1 case), hog feed (about seven tons), straw (1 bale). Fresh food included small amounts of beef, mutton, pork, sausage, and bread, enough for the trip north, after which an abundance of fresh food could be obtained.


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

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.

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