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David F. Pelly Writer, Researcher, Historian, Photographer

Arctic Biography
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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 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 north.  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 raison d’être 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 said, “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 connection to Inuit friends and his fascination with the culture.
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For several years in the mid-1980s, his life revolved around Baker Lake and the surrounding country.  “My first teacher there was old Mannik.  I owe so much to him and his family. It was Mannik who really showed me how to live comfortably out on the land in mid-winter, who taught me the necessary skills, while unwittingly opening a window into a whole new cultural reality for me.”  In the course of his time in Baker Lake, David established himself as a frequent contributor to Canadian Geographic magazine, honed the techniques of conducting oral-history interviews, wrote his second book, Qikaaluktut, and began doing contract work for the territorial government in addition to a busy career as a freelance writer focused on the North.

Over the years, he has completed research and writing contracts for numerous agencies: 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 magazine 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 connection to the place and concern for its future.  The result was David’s fifth book, Thelon - A River Sanctuary, the river valley’s story, published in 1996.
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By that time, they were living in Cambridge Bay, on Victoria Island in the high Arctic.  During their 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, and executed an array of projects for that organization, including films, a book, an art exhibition, and the development and design of a new Culture & Heritage Centre in Cambridge Bay.

Throughout all this time, wilderness travel remained at the heart of David’s life. He has led numerous canoe trips in the barrenlands and participated in several other expeditions, notably dog-sled trips in the High Arctic and winter hunting trips across the barrens with Inuit friends.

For many years after leaving Nunavut to live in the South, on the edge of the Canadian Shield just north of Ottawa, David continued to spend much of his time in the Arctic, on a variety of projects, contracts and assignments.

Formal Recognitions
Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal, 2012

9. 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"
  • In 2015, David was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Explorers by Canadian Geographic magazine.
> See also "DavidPelly.pdf"