David Pelly first visited northern
Canada in 1977, on a canoe trip, in
search of the larger wilderness experience. Having grown up in
southern Ontario, he learned to canoe in Shield Country, and developed
an attachment to the outdoors at a young age. Perhaps it is not
surprising that, as a young man, he went north seeking a greater
adventure. The North got under his skin, as they say, so
immediately after the 1977 expedition
on the Back River - one of the North’s
wilder and more remote big rivers - he began looking for ways to
return. A couple of years later, he got his first magazine
assignment, which took him along the Arctic coast, stopping at several
locations from the Mackenzie delta in the west to the mountains of
Baffin Island in the east. He soon found that writing about the
North gave him the excuses he needed to be there, to travel, to meet
people, and to learn. With that, a life’s work began.
In 1982, David organized and led a 52-day canoe trip down the Kazan
River, with a group of paddling friends, terminating at Baker
Lake. As he says, “At the end of that trip, everyone else with me
had jobs or families to return to. I didn’t. So I set up my
tent in the middle of town, made some popcorn, and soon had many new
friends.” One thing led to another, in the way of all small
towns, and in particular the North. Having seen the
archaeological evidence of former occupation on the banks of the Kazan,
David now met the people themselves, and so began his connections to
Inuit friends and his fascination with the culture.
For several years in the mid-1980s, his life revolved around Baker
Lake. “My first teacher there was David Mannik. I owe so
much to him and his family.” In the course of his time in Baker
Lake, David established himself as a frequent contributor to Canadian
magazine, honed the techniques of conducting
interviews, wrote his second book Qikaaluktut,
and began doing contract work for the territorial government.
Over the years, he has completed research and writing contracts
for Parks Canada, both the Nunavut
and NWT territorial governments, the Inuit Heritage Trust (IHT),
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), the Nature Conservancy of Canada,
and World Wildlife Fund Canada, among others.
In 1989, David met his wife, Laurie, on the Thelon River, while on
assignment for Canoe
to do a story about the Thelon Sanctuary
- Canada’s oldest and largest fully protected wilderness area which
was, at that time, under threat. They returned together to the
Thelon valley on several subsequent canoe trips, came to know the area
and its history well, and developed an abiding concern for its
future. The result was David’s fifth book, Thelon - A River
, the river valley’s story, published in 1996.
By that time, they were living in Cambridge Bay, on Victoria Island in
the high Arctic. During his six years resident in this community
of 1300 people, 80% Inuit, 1200 miles from the North Pole, David
continued his research and writing activities, wrote his sixth book, Sacred Hunt
, served as a volunteer Director of
the Kitikmeot Heritage Society
an array of projects for that organization, including the development
and design of a new Culture & Heritage Centre in Cambridge Bay.
David continues to spend much of his time in the Arctic, on a variety
of projects, contracts and assignments. “It was a canoe that
first took me there,” he says, “but it is the land and the people that
have kept me coming back. I can’t imagine not having the North as
a big part of my life.”
Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal
Awarded "for dedication to the preservation of Inuit oral history and
traditional knowledge [and for his] many works to help increase Canadians'
understanding of the North."
See also "OralHistory.pdf"
David Pelly has been appointed as a Fellow of the Royal Canadian
Geographical Society, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (in
Great Britain), and a Research Associate of the Frost Centre for
Canadian Heritage Studies at Trent University, in Peterborough,
Ontario. He won First Prize in the Canadian Historical Writing
Contest for an article based largely on oral-history. His work
has been nominated on several occasions for both the National Magazine
Awards and the Canadian Archaeological Association's Public Writing
Award. He has received both Canada Council and Nunavut Arts
Council grants in support of writing projects and was awarded a Canada
Council Travel Grant to lecture at several venues in Scotland for the
Royal Scottish Geographical Society. In 1994, he was selected by
External Affairs for the Cultural Personalities Exchange
See also "DavidPelly.pdf"