M978.76.26 | Hair ornament

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Hair ornament
Anonyme - Anonymous
Central Arctic
Inuit: Iglulingmiut (Sallirmiut)
1865-1900, 19th century
5.7 x 3 cm
Gift of the Estate of Mr. John M. Kinnaird
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Ornament (95)
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Keys to History

The impact of the whaling industry on the Inuit was profound. Because many Inuit were employed in the industry as pilots, hunters, dog-team drivers and seamstresses, their families moved close to the whaling stations, where they had access to trade goods. However, this proximity to Europeans also resulted in the spread of diseases to which the Inuit had no immunity. Epidemics of measles, typhus and scarlet fever swept through their populations. In 1902-03, the Sallirmiut of Southampton Island in northern Hudson Bay were wiped out by disease.

The influx of whalers also put a strain on local resources. To provide meat for the ships' crews, caribou herds were over-hunted and many Inuit came to rely more and more on European goods. Scholars estimate there were 146 whaling voyages to Hudson Bay between 1860 and 1915, of which 105 over-wintered. By 1905, the whaling industry was dying because Arctic whale stocks had almost completely collapsed. The last whaling ship in Hudson Bay, the A. T. Gifford, burned and was lost with its entire crew in 1915.

  • What

    This hair ornament made of ivory is decorated with a motif of incised dots. Carved conical or spherical pendants originally hung from holes at the base, while the upper holes were used to suspend the ornament to the hair.

  • Where

    This small ivory hair ornament comes from Southampton Island, Nunavut.

  • When

    This hair ornament was probably collected on Southampton Island between 1925 and 1926 but made prior to 1903.

  • Who

    Historic period accounts indicate that this style of hair ornament was unique to the Sallirmiut of Southampton Island, Nunavut. The Sallirmiut inhabited three islands in Hudson Bay - Southampton, Coats and Walrus - and maintained a culture distinct from the mainland Inuit. They lived in stone and sod houses, and hunted seal, walrus, whales, polar bear and caribou, as well as fish and birds.