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Whaler Turned Trader:
Christian Klengenberg

photo of Christian Klengenberg and his family.
The Trader Christian Klengenberg and his family (1916).
(Diamond Jenness/CMC/36912)

Christian Klengenberg is a very important figure in any discussion of fur trade history in the Kitikmeot, as it was he who opened up Copper Inuit territory to direct trade and contact with his first visit in 1905/06. Klengenberg was a Dane, born in 1869 in the small town of Svendborg, Demark. He began his seagoing career as a sixteen-year-old cook, and visited many places around the world. In 1893 he signed on as cook aboard the trading ship Emily Schroeder, that sailed to the Inupiat village of Point Hope, Alaska for the purpose of establishing a trading post. Here he met his wife Gremnia (Qimniq).

In the spring of 1894 Klengenberg signed on as a pilot of the whaler Orka and travelled to Herschel Island. Though he originally intended to return immediately to Point Hope he was tempted to sign on as a whaler aboard the Mary D. Hume, and spent the summer whaling the Beaufort Sea. During this voyage the Mary D. Hume anchored off Banks Island, and when Klengenberg was ashore he discovered the relatively fresh footprints left there by Inuit. He kept his knowledge of the existence of Inuit this far east secret until he himself could come back to engage in trade with them.

photo of Charlie Klengenberg on board his ship in 1924.
Charlie Klengenberg on
board his ship in 1924.
(Henry A. Larsen/National Archives of Canada/ PA-180912)
It was not until nine years later in 1905 that Klengenberg got his opportunity to return and seek out these Inuit. He convinced whaling captain Charles McKenna to allow him to try and find these people while in charge of McKenna’s trading schooner Olga. Although, McKenna later changed his orders to Klengenberg, the Olga ended up anchored off of the southwest coast of Victoria Island after being pushed off course by a gale.

The Klengenberg family along with the crew of the Olga and three western Inuit families spent the winter headquartered at Penny Bay on Victoria Island. This camp acted both as a trading post, and a base for dog team trips to contact and trade with surrounding Copper Inuit groups.

The next summer Klengenberg returned to Herschel Island with the Olga and resigned as her captain. During the following years Klengenberg stayed in the western Arctic hunting, trapping, whaling and trading, without returning to the Coronation Gulf. It was not until the summer of 1916 that Klengenberg himself moved with his family to the west end of Coronation Gulf. He established a temporary trading post near Cape Kendall to the north of Coppermine. He moved his post several times before settling on Rymer Point (Nuvuk), near Read Island on the southwest shore of Victoria Island in 1919. Among the Copper Inuit he was called Charliuyak. In 1920 Klengenberg set up another post, at Arctic Sound in Bathurst Inlet. A few years later Klengenberg retired to Vancouver where he passed away in the spring of 1931.

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