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Expeditions

Ungava Unknown: Retracing the Carnegie Expeditions in Northern Quebec


Conor Mihell

Between 1901 and 1958, Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum sponsored 25 expeditions in northern Quebec and Labrador. This obscure institution established ecological baselines long before Canada invested any research in the area. The team’s eight-week canoe journey retraces the 1938 Carnegie expedition. With the help of indigenous guides, expat Canadian biologist Arthur Twomey and Carnegie curator J. Kenneth Doutt experienced the “pitiless Ungava triumvirate — scarcity, hazard and solitude” on a quest to discover a freshwater seal described by local Inuit. Twomey’s forgotten 1942 travelogue Needle to the North is an epic tale of hardship, culminating with the first documentation new species of mammal in a subarctic wilderness of vast lakes and powerful rivers. The team has already spent 15 weeks over three summers exploring its myriad waterways by canoe. Their 2018 route covers 1,000 kilometres, following Twomey’s path from the Hudson Bay coast to the Seal Lakes before striking north and descending the little-known Innucsuak River.

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