Tuktoyaktuk hasn’t changed since my last visit, a year ago. However, three houses at the Kugmallit Point have been washed away, by the erosion. The facts are there, the shore line is being devoured by the ever intense storms that toss huge blocks of ice, destroying everything in its path. The worst of this, is that everyone here is conscious of Natures constant changes. They all know more houses will be destroyed, families will be relocated, but “tomorrow is another day” so the people here prefer to think of the present, whatever it may be.
But, I’m not here to observe the damage brought about by the climactic changes which are obvious to everyone. I’ve returned to the Far North to track down Father Robert Le Meur, an Oblate priest, originally from Brittany and who moved to the Tuktoyaktuk region, lived there for about 40 years and is buriedin Tuk, the hamlet he loved so much. I’ve returned to gather testimony on this priest from Brittany and soak up as much information as possible of this so peculiar region. For the rest of the year, I plan to write a book on the astonishing career of this man’s incredible destiny.
The first words I heard about Father Le Meur were back in June 2014. Arriving in Tuktoyaktuk’s neighboring village of Inuvialut, built on the shores of the Beaufort Sea, I had just launched an expedition, kayaking solo through the Northwest passage. Hadn’t seen a soul for numerous days as I took advantage of my first true stopover. Weather conditions were dreadful, prompting me to wait a while before going back to sea.
As I walked around the hamlet, which I figured would be a brief parenthesis of this expedition, I was attracted to an astonishing wooden red and grey schooner which appeared to have been dropped on a slightly raised piece of land. «Our Lady of Lourdes» had been painted in large black letters on the vessel. I walked around it and noticed a burial plot identified as: « Father Robert Le Meur» as well as the date «1920 – 1985». The family name of « Le Meur » struck me as it sounded truly Breton. I was stung. What was behind this? A Breton buried in Tuktoyaktuk. I had to know more….
Three years have passed since my « discovery » and every time I go up North, I listen to the people talk extensively of Father Le Meur. He is identified as one of them and got his nickname Okrayoyoaaluk , «the one who speaks well» after learning and speaking fluently Inuvialuktun.
Bit by bit, I have reconstituted this young priest’s peregrination who landed in New-York following the Second World War, crossing Canada and heading to the Far North. I could see him getting onto a barge, heading down the MacKenzie River. Now it’s easier to understand what audacity and conviction were required to reach the front lines of the civilized world after a long and perilous journey not always knowing about the destination. Father Le Meur had the true mind of a pioneer, who far from being a passive observer, was determined to protect the interests of the Inuit communities. He was so involved that eventually « the one who speaks well» still holds considerable sway in the heart of numerous citizens of Tuktoyaktuk today.
And, for those wondering what’s become of the ARCTIC SOLAR expedition, I can assure you that it will hit it’s stride shortly as the latest news are excellent….I’m waiting for the proper moment to release the details of the project. he train of the adventure is back on the track and no need to tell you it feels really great!
stay tuned for the next episode…