M978.76.38 | Harpoon

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Anonyme - Anonymous
Central Arctic
Inuit: Iglulingmiut
1928-1930, 20th century
Ivory, metal, wood, hide
5.2 x 125 cm
Gift of the Estate of Mr. John M. Kinnaird
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Harpoon (21)
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Keys to History


European whaling in the Arctic regions began in Davis Strait in the 17th century. Hunting activities were confined to the Eastern (Greenland) side, until the expeditions of John Ross (1818) and W. Edwards Parry (1819), who crossed Baffin Bay and continued on to Lancaster Sound. By the 19th century, Dutch, German, English, Scottish, American, Russian and Canadian ships were fishing across the Arctic seas.

These areas were dangerous, and many ships were crushed by ice. So the whalers began spending the winters in sheltered harbours hoping to get an early spring start to the whaling season. After 1850, permanent shore stations were built, such as those at Kekerton and Blackhead Island in Cumberland Sound, on the east coast of Baffin Island, Nunavut. Over-wintering was also a risky business, although hiring Inuit hunters, to supply food, and seamstresses, to make clothing, increased the whalers' chances of survival. From 1890 to 1908, Herschel Island (Yukon) was a whaling hub; it was here that whaling ships, guided by Inuit hunters, discovered a population of bowhead whales, prized for their oil and baleen .

  • What

    The Inuit were specialized hunters of large sea mammals, especially seals and whales. They hunted these marine mammals using a toggle-head harpoon, an implement designed to secure a detachable point, or head, to the prey animal. A line attached to the head allows the hunter to retrieve the quarry once it has been struck. Attached to the leather harpoon lines are several sealskin floats inflated with air, which the animal drags as it tries to escape. When the whale is exhausted, the hunter kills it with a long-handled lance.

  • Where

    This whaling harpoon was collected in Pond Inlet, Nunavut.

  • When

    This harpoon was probably made and used between 1928 and 1930.

  • Who

    Made by the Iglulingmiut (Foxe Basin, Nunavut), the harpoon was collected by John M. Kinnaird, a Hudson's Bay Company apprentice clerk stationed at Southampton Island from 1925-26 and Pond Inlet from 1928-30.