Photostory #326: Eskimo Celebration at Pelly Bay: Christmas in a Snow Cathedral

Doug Wilkinson
National Film Board of Canada
Release Date
December 11, 1962
CMCP fonds
Credit Line
Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography fonds, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives
Main Text
As the last few thinly sliced days of December slip away, a few score Canadians -- the Eskimo hunters of Pelly Bay on the edge of the Arctic Islands -- draw in closer amid the deep chill and stillness, find comfort in the warmth of their fellow men. Small in number, remote and alone as few of their people remain today, they know full well the value of comradeship when beset by nature in its harshest mood. Far from the glitter and bustle that is Christmas in a distant world, the Pelly Bay Eskimos make their simple preparations for a day or two of fun, feasting and spiritual peace. Under a specially-built, wide-domed snowhouse the Eskimos celebrate their Christmas with storytelling, dancing, games, small gifts, laughter, joy of companionship, worship. Each family gives it share to the feast. Hard-won caribou meat and fish, beans, boiling black tea, some stored up candy -- this is their holiday fare. Through the day-long bleakness of the arctic winter, the faint glow of oil lamp and candles in the snowhouse is the only sign of life for thousands of square miles. Here, on the fringe of the world, their glimmer of light shines out, a symbol of their calm, strong spirit. Under the crystal-sharp, never-setting polar stars, the Eskimo hunters and their families, patiently waiting out the long northern night, enjoy the welcome interlude of peaceful joy which is Christmas as Pelly Bay.