Confessions of an Igloo Dweller by James Houston

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Confessions of an Igloo Dweller by James Houston

8vo. pp. xiii, 320. 40 illustrations by Houston. hardcover. dw. (fine condition). [Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995].

First Canadian Edition.

ISBN-10: 0771042728 / ISBN-13: 9780771042720


These memoirs of James Houston’s life in the Canadian Arctic from 1948 to 1962 present a colorful and compelling adventure story of real people living through a time of great change. It is extraordinarily rich material about a fascinating, distant world.

Houston, a young Canadian artist, was on a painting trip to Moose Factory at the south end of Hudson Bay in 1948. A bush pilot friend burst into his room with the news that a medical emergency meant that he could get a free flight into the heart of the eastern Arctic. When they arrived, Houston found himself surrounded by smiling Inuit – short, strong, utterly confident people who wore sealskins and spoke no English. By the time the medical plane was about to leave, Houston had decided to stay.

It was a decision that changed his life. For more than a dozen years he spent his time being educated by those kindly, patient people who became his friends. He slept in their igloos, ate raw fish and seal meat, wore skin clothing, traveled by dog team, hunted walrus, and learned how to build a snowhouse. While doing so, he helped change the North.

Impressed by the natural artistic skills of the people, he encouraged the development of outlets in the South for their work, and helped establish co-ops in the North for Inuit carvers and print-makers. Since that time, after trapping as a way of gaining income began to disappear, Inuit art has brought millions of dollars to its creators, and has affected art galleries around the world.

In the one hundred short chapters that make up this book, James Houston tells about his fascinating and often hilarious adventures in a very different culture. He tells of raising a family in the Arctic (his sons bursting into tears on being told they were not really Inuit), and of the failure to introduce soccer to a people who refused to look on other humans as opponents. He tells about great characters – Inuit and
kallunait – who populated the Arctic in these long-lost days when, as a Government go-between, he found himself grappling with Northern customs that broke Southern laws.

A remarkable, modestly told story by a truly remarkable man.