(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange has just returned from a very unusual place with some very unusual names.
(LANGE) I love the scene in Huckleberry Finn in which Huck is trying to explain to Jim that French people don’t speak the way he and Jim do. “S’pose a man was to come to you,” he says, “and say Polly-voo-franzy – what would you think?”
“I wouldn’t think nuffn,” replies Jim. “I’d take en bust him over de head.”
So suppose I were to say to you, “Hey, Jack! I just got back from Kangiqsualujjuaq.”
You’d no doubt ask where it is and how to spell it. You might say, “Yeah, right!”
But it’s true. It’s a village on Ungava Bay in the Canadian territory of Nunavik. Some friends and I were there just last week; and my unscientific polling since then has revealed that almost no Ameri- cans know where Ungava Bay is either. Too bad, because it’s spectacular country, north of tree line and directly south of Hudson Strait and Baffin Island, and it features the world’s greatest tides – greater even than those of the fabled Bay of Fundy, that we’ve all heard about.
Nunavik – which means “our land” in Inuttitut, the native language – comprises all of Quebec north of 55 degrees latitude. It was created in 1975 to recognize the natives’ right to the land. The European names for its few settlements reverted to the originals, but there’s a certain lack of originality evident in the renaming. You have to be very careful to get everything in print when you book any reservations there. The villages are named, for example: Kangirsuq “The Bay”; Kuujjuaq “Big River”; Kangiqsujuaq “The Large Bay”; Kuujjuarapik “Little Big River”; and finally Kangiqsual- ujjuaq “Very Large Bay,” where we ended our three-week canoe trip down the George River. All these names pale, however, beside that of my favorite, Quaqtaq, which means “intestinal worm.” Without Googling it, you’ll have to imagine how that village got its name.
Our trip this year had some historical significance. It was just 100 years ago this summer that a feisty young Canadian widow named Mina Hubbard, with four Cree guides, traveled by canoe from the coast of Labrador upstream to the headwaters of the George River, and then down the mighty George. As we retraced her journey downriver, through country virtually unchanged since 1905, we read from her journal each day. She occasionally mentions roaring rapids and waterfalls and complains of rain, wind, cold and rave- nous clouds of black flies and mosquitoes. That hasn’t changed either.
But we made it! The last two miles into the village, the weather gods, just to show they have a sense of humor, threw both the wind and the tide against us. But my paddling partner and I – two tough old septuagenarians we – fought our way to the boat landing in Kangiqsualujjuaq just ten minutes before the Ungava tide emp- tied the whole bay. That would have been a very muddy portage.
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.
Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.