Just 29 and 28 years old, respectively, siblings Eric and Sarah McNair-Landry are already seasoned Arctic adventurers. Having grown up in Iqaluit the children of polar explorers, their missions, including Northwest Passage crossings and visits to both the North and South poles, were encouraged from a young age. “Iqaluit is a place where people train for polar expeditions,” says Eric, “so it’s given us such an edge in the outdoor world.”
It’s an edge the duo relied on repeatedly during their most recent expedition — a two-month-plus kayaking journey across Baffin Island. What made the adventure particularly noteworthy is that the siblings — who were joined by Dr. Katherine Breen, a member of the Wilderness Medical Society, and Erik Boomer, a professional kayaker — travelled in traditional 5.8-metre Inuit kayaks, inspired by 4,000-year-old artefacts. They also made the kayaks by hand, with no nails, screws or glue, bending the wooden struts and sewing thin canvas around the hulls, then coating them in polyurethane.
“There’s such a disconnect between sea kayaking of now and old,” says Eric. “Inuit are the inventors of an entire Olympic sport and don’t get any credit in that.”
With funding from The Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Genographic Project Legacy Fund, which supports the preservation of indigenous artefacts and farming techniques, the crew crafted their boats at a local Iqaluit high school and held public demonstrations to get the whole community involved.
The expedition began on July 15, 2013, in Qikiqtarjuaq on Baffin’s northern coast, and the team put the kayaks to the test starting at the Weasel River near Pangnirtung. They followed ancient hunting trails and eluded polar bears as they paddled 1,000 kilometres of wild rivers, rocky streams and lakes across the island. They arrived at the shores of Cape Dorset 69 days later to a cheering crowd of locals, fireworks and hot showers.
All four paddlers were amazed by the strength and agility of the boats, particularly while carrying 30 days’ worth of food. Boomer even declared the craft his favourite kayak ever. The adventurers hope their mission will help to revive the traditional tool. Says Eric: “We want people in the North to be proud of what they invented and gave the world.”