Cape Krusenstern, (Nuvuk), NWT (NU)

Profile of an Inuit Trading Site 1935 -1947

68 degrees, 23' N 113 degrees 55' W




Agnes Semmler


“Visiting 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….The 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 daughter’s friends. They find her an attractive, outspoken woman with lots of things to say on a lot of subjects.

Mission School
…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 husband’s 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 couldn’t do anything. I’d decided I’d make it or not.”

Doctoring by Book
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 odds.
“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” Hardie’s 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 Semmler’s 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 you’d forgotten a box of matches you couldn’t go back” [states Mr. Semmler]. “If you’d 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.

At Tuk, the Semmler’s 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 Semmler’s spared. They lost a $100,000 worth of freight. “We were broke.”

Mink Ranch
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 mink.
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 don’t 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.





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