Her Daughter in Tacoma
(News Tribune, Tacoma, WA. n.d.1967).
Determined to make something of
her life, to help her people to
bring housing and kindergarten
education to the town of Inuvik
in the Northwest Territory
these are the goals of Agnes Semmler,
a real going concern
Eskimo interpreter is a visitor
to Tacoma this week at the home
of her daughter, Mrs. Vince Gadbow,
where she is making quite an impression
on her daughters friends.
They find her an attractive, outspoken
woman with lots of things to say
on a lot of subjects.
she was educated at an Anglican
mission, and was married at 19
to an American fur trapper. Ever
since, she has helped to run her
husbands trading post.
She has been a member of the Inuvik
Advisory Council and was the first
woman to run for the Northwest
Territories Council. She was defeated
but not discouraged, she adds.
Her real triumph has been her
family, tow of the three children
born without any medical aid while
she helped her husband with the
fur trapping at Coppermine River
in Coronation Gulf. Mrs. Semmler
explains, When our first
child was born, we chartered a
plane to fly to Edmonton which
cost a fortune - $2000. With the
birth of the other two babies,
I had an Eskimo woman, but she
couldnt do anything. Id
decided Id make it or not.
Survival itself becomes a major
accomplishment in the Far North.
Illnesses doctored from a medical
book and a Bible for prayer helped
Mrs. Semmler surmount overwhelming
When influenza struck throughout
the Eskimo population, we never
lost a soul. Just lucky I guess,
she says modestly.
Recalling her early days at Coppermine
River, she points out: It
was all primitive living. We stayed
in snow houses while travelling
from place to place lighted by
kerosene and gas lamps. I made
sourdough hot cakes, sourdough
bread, cooked northern meat, seal
meat, fox and any kind of meat
running around. I look at the
irons today, pink and blue ones,
and I remember my little sad iron
heated on the stove.
Agnes Semmler returned to Inuvik
with 700 rat pelts that spring
day and turned her guns towards
the campaign. She flew about the
north, frequently acting as chairman
for Tibby Hardies
meetings. Mrs. Hardie won the
seat for the Liberals although
Mrs Semmler observed it was disappointing
not to win the poll at Tuk Tuk
The Eskimos have
a strong prejudice against women
in public life. However,
Mrs. Hardie won such Eskimo strongholds
as Coppermine and Cambridge Bay.
[With her husband, Slim Semmler]
they opened their first trading
post at Coppermine by accident.
It had been a winter of
terrible ice and only one freight
load of supplies had arrived.
When the post was short of food,
and the Semmlers had difficulty
obtaining milk for their baby,
they launched out on their own,
beginning with nothing,
tea, flour, just a few staples.
Later they opened posts at Cape
Krusenstern, Read Island, Cambridge
Bay and Tuktoyaktuk.
It was like a chain store venture
in the Arctic. The managers [Agnes
and Slim] would pay visits to
the trading posts, twice taking
3 children by dog team across
to Tuk. Once the journey took
two weeks. The second trip they
dallied on a holiday, setting
their course by the drift of the
snow, hunting along the way. They
spent 29 days before arriving
at Tuk in June.
You had to check every detail
before you started. If youd
forgotten a box of matches you
couldnt go back [states
Mr. Semmler]. If youd
forgotten a box of matches you
had to go back, Mrs. Semmler
reminded her husband. They cooked
on a primus stove and camped out
in the Arctic night under furs
protected by deerskin tents.
Tuk, the Semmlers expanded
to transport by barge, west to
Aklavik, east to Cambridge Bay.
But the sea stole their business.
They were in Tuk when the sea
assaulted the village, lashing
across this spit of land, demolishing
buildings, drowning dogs.
The sea snatched a rival trading
post and carried it out to capsize
offshore. Nor were the Semmlers
spared. They lost a $100,000 worth
of freight. We were broke.
They came inland to the Mackenzie
Delta and set up a mink ranch
and trading post. Mr. Semmler
strung out his trap lines. Mrs
Semmler set traps near the post
and boasted her own catch of fox.
They had Indian helpers and the
children lent a hand, fishing
to supplement food for the 700
The ranch was on the spongy delta
lowlands and it was Mr. Semmler
who devised poles for a foundation
for the buildings, freezing the
posts into the permafrost. I
dont know, he said.
But later the navy came
to look at the way we had set
up our ranch and so did the government.
Today, all Inuvik stands on poles.