A trapper by the name of Joe LaBelle approached the village of rough-hewn huts and tents, near Anjikuni Lake in what is now Nunavut, Canada. He has friends here and was stopping by to not only visit, enjoy a meal and some company but also to find respite from the cold. After his long journey on this Arctic night in early November 1930, he was much anticipating his visit.
Shouting out a greeting to announce himself only an unnerving silence greeted him back. There were no fires, no cries of fishermen and children, even the oft rowdy dogs were quiet. As he grew closer he noticed that none of the chimneys smoked. Spying some bright embers he made his way towards them expecting at least one or two people.
All that greeted him was a blackened stew.
A hunter and tracker of some experience he had trouble making sense of what he was seeing. It rattled his nerves yet piqued his curiosity as well.
Checking the huts he discovered that they were well stocked with guns leaning to the side near the door, half-finished meals and mould covered pots of food were found as well. In a few of the huts clothing was discovered - one with a needle sticking out of it as if in the middle of a stitch. Despite the mouldy food, the huts were in good condition. No signs of any damage, violence or fights.Credit: Firstpeoplesofcanada
Baffled he moved to the storehouses - they were filled. The kayaks used for fishing were sitting battered in the waters near the rocky shores. People, sleighs and dogs all leave tracks and he started to search for any indication of which direction the entire tribe may have went on their spontaneous and highly irregular migration.
No signs of damage to the huts, nor any sign of a struggle, blood or of a planned mass exodus. Just empty huts with life interrupted. One does not just leave the safety of huts, food and fires without clothing and guns without an incredibly good reason, it was suicide in this environment. But clearly something made them leave in a hurry without (all) their supplies.
As cold and fatigued as he was, he turned on his heel and headed out of the now ghostly village, forgoing the comfort of food and warmth to stumble for hours through frigid cold to the nearest telegraph office many miles away. Arriving frostbitten and exhausted all he asked for were the Mounties and when they arrived hours later he told them his tale.
The Mounties Arrive
The Mounties (aka the RCMP – Royal Canadian Mounted Police), did go to the village to investigate Mr. LaBelle's claim and found not only the abandoned village but discovered a few more things, that LaBelle had missed.Credit: Collections Canada
The village burial grounds had been dug up and bodies removed. This alarmed the Mounties more than the missing people - it's taboo in the Inuit culture to dig up their dead.
Never mind the fact it is mid November and the permafrost is most likely 8-10 ft thick. The stones used to mark the grave were found piled neatly up beside the frozen gaping hole.
The Mounties posted a search party post hast to find evidence of where they may have gone, though no tracks nor any sign of where they went, when and why was found.
A shout goes up as a grizzly discovery is stumbled upon. The dogs - a lifeline of the Inuits and the sole means of transportation - were found buried under 12 feet of snow dead of starvation and tied off to scrubby growth no more than 300 feet from the edge of the village.
The Mounties puzzled could not figure out why the people of this village left their animals, food, clothing and guns … all important, if not key, to survival in the North.
And if this was not strange enough, the officers at the scene described pulsing bluish lights on the horizon above the village. Those present were all in agreement that the lights were not those of the Aurora Borealis.
Two weeks after their initial investigation, the RCMP came to the dubious conclusion that the villagers had left at least 8 weeks earlier, based on berries found in the pot.
The 'News' Hits The Fan
Up until this point, the story was mostly unknown even though it was printed in other news papers of the time. But it wasn’t until November 30, 1930 that the Halifax Herald ran an article written by Emmett Kelleher titled ‘Tribe Lost in Barrens of North: Village of Dead Found by Wandering Trapper Joe LaBelle.’
This one article sparked a frenzy of interest in this story and it became an infectious tale. From the article in Joe's own words:
“I felt immediately that something was wrong… In view of half cooked dishes, I knew they had been disturbed during the preparation of dinner. In every cabin, I found a rifle leaning beside the door and no Eskimo goes nowhere without his gun… I understood that something terrible had happened.”
An RCMP Sergeant J. Nelson reopened and re-investigated the case a few months after the original investigation in the midst of the renewed media attention.Credit: Danville Bee Newspaper
It's uncertain if he ever made it to the village itself or even spoke with Joe LaBelle, but he was quick to dismiss the entire tale with no more evidence than the word of an unnamed man at a trading post called Windy City. This unnamed man stated that no other trapper has mentioned this abandoned village, and that LaBelle himself is from the Southern half of North West Territories and probably never even seen this village.
Sergeant J Nelson's last word on the matter?
“The case of the missing village rests upon the story of an inexperienced trapper told to an imaginative and not to conscientious newsman”.
Though honestly, that was a pitiful investigation and clearly trying to quell interest in the story.
It worked though.
For nearly thirty years the tale went quiet and forgotten from memory till an American author Frank Edwards came across it and included it in his book. The interest generated from this book prompted the RCMP in 1959 – 1960 to state that the author fabricated the entire tale.
"The story about the disappearance in the 1930′s of an Inuit village near Lake Anjikuni is not true. An American author by the name of Frank Edwards is purported to have started this story in his book Stranger than Science. It has become a popular piece of journalism, repeatedly published and referred to in books and magazines. There is no evidence however to support such a story. A village with such a large population would not have existed in such a remote area of the Northwest Territories (62 degrees north and 100 degrees west, about 100 km west of Eskimo Point). Furthermore, the Mounted Police who patrolled the area recorded no untoward events of any kind and neither did local trappers or missionaries.” RCMP
In 1976 Fate Magazine ran a well-written article about this mysteriously disappearing village and did verify the existence of the RCMP records of the original investigation in 1930. The report stated that the abandonment of the village was seasonal or permanent abandonment and nothing more. No mention of lights, dogs, lack of tracks or the supplies left behind.
Even as recently as the early years of 2000, the RCMP website did list a statement on its' website about this tale.
It should be noted that at least one other newspaper in Alberta (the one pictured) ran a similar article and story on November 27, 1930 and did not receive nearly as much attention. Alberta is closer to NWT and tend not to view it as a mysterious place, as Halifax did, but rather simply, that it was a harsh place. The further the story moved away from NWT the more popular it became.
Many versions of this story exist in print and now, online, that talk of thousands of people missing – men, women and children, graves dug up by the dozen and entire sleigh teams of dogs dead.
Even if you just go off the few early reports and articles that it was only one or two dogs that died, a few dogs were emancipated but alive, only one open grave was found and the thriving village was actually ‘six skiene tents’ … it's still a interesting mystery with lingering questions that defy answers.
What The Facts Are
The Inuit in 1930 were still largely a nomadic and semi-nomadic people and culture. Even today, many of the people living in Nunavut hold to this way of life.
There is without a doubt a few of these empty, abandoned permanent style villages around the far Northern reaches of Canada. The tribe would often leave one area migrating with the animals that they depended on for life, only to return to the area at a later time when the animals returned.Credit: EnigmasdaCris
The Inuit lived in a harsh and unforgiving environment. Dogs, guns, clothing and food were necessary for travel, hunting, warmth, protection and every day survival. These are not the kind of items you leave behind. They were not luxuries, but lifelines.
So, what exactly are the facts of this tale?
Well, a hunter and trapper went to visit a village he knew to be a fishing village of nomadic to semi nomadic people in November of 1930 in an area of Canada now known as Nunavut. The village was found in a state of rushed abandonment with supplies left. The Mounties investigated and determined it was a seasonal or permanent abandonment.
Everything else is … well either creative fiction, shameless add-ons to support a theory or questionable facts.
I'll be the first to admit that this could very well be nothing more than a simple tale in which fact, creative writing, myth and imagination are all intermingled making it a wild tale.
But even if we break the story down to its earliest facts, there are still some real questions that need answers.
There are at least two very important questions that need answering.
The first is why the rush, why leave food out, guns behind, dogs tied up at the edge of the village?. What inspired the need to leave as abruptly as they did and without supplies?
This question strikes at the heart of the mystery and I have yet to come across a single truly plausible explanation whether it's a wild one or a very simple and realistic one.
The second question is how much of a role did the media play in the creation of this near legend of a simple story of a nomadic people and an abandoned village?
Early articles and reports state that Joe LaBelle stumbled upon ‘six skeine tents’, that later turned into ‘thriving fishing village’. Anjikuni Lake is made out to be something like Lake Ontario. The bluish lights appeared in later stories with no sources, often on pro alien sites – as do tales of glowing cylinders.
Many more questions are just begging to be asked …
The kayaks found battered up on shore raised some red flags for me. It's November in Canada's Arctic, the small landlocked lake that is Anjikuni Lake would have been frozen over and if indeed there were kayaks - this would likely be the furthest inshore that they were used in their entire history.Credit: EnigmasdaCris
Just how experienced is Joe Labelle with life in the North, its ways and customs. Is he easily spooked, gullible or calm and logical?. When did he usually visit this ‘village’?, was it earlier in the year or later? One news article did quote Joe LaBelle referring to an Inuit demon by name.
The embers Joe originally seen - if the Inuit were gone eight weeks earlier as the RCMP state, how does one explain the embers? Freak luck or was there recently another visitor before Joe who found nothing odd or out of the ordinary about the village and paused to eat and rest before moving on? Were the embers creative fiction to lure the reader in deeper?.
The burial ground is repeatedly called dug up and body removed. It is quite possible that the hole never had a body put into it but simply one prepared for someone who may have been dying. It seems to me that the hole was seen and immediately the idea was – a body removed, though no evidence to show this was true.
What Could Have Happened
Oh the theories are endless – some quite creative and thought out, others silly.
People and even groups of people disappearing into thin air is not new, whether they disappear mid step or while you briefly look away, there are a slew of unexplained disappearances with eye witnesses. The people of this village near Anjikuni Lake seemingly disappeared without a trace while in the middle of chores, eating and other daily activities.
Many Canadian alien enthusiasts would love to have a Northern Roswell in their very own back yards, no doubt about it. And later versions of this tale started to include cylinder objects and pulsing blue lights, all these variations were popping up on pro alien sites. While Northern Canada is famous for its light displays known as the Aurora Borealis, it is highly unlikely that aliens are responsible for the loss of the villagers.
In Inuit culture, there are demons who are only seen and known to shamans. These demons can infect the dogs, and animal sacrifices were performed to keep the demons at bay. It has been brought forth that perhaps the village came to believe the dogs were demonized and thus left to starve and die. The Inuit were a deeply spiritual people with a superstitious culture.
There is a high likelihood that the media took a simple story that captured its
readers imaginations and ran with it. Creative word choices such as thriving village in place of the actual description of ‘six skeine tents’ most certainly helped things along. As the story aged and with each successive re-telling of the tale added more elements that were more fanciful than true, such as flying objects and bluish lights.
This is my contribution to the possibilities, I had not seen it mentioned. There could be a chance that some freak storm was approaching the village (tents) and the occupants left before the storm to more secure shelter, maybe they built igloos to ride out the storm with the intent to return.
Yep you read it right. They simply moved on to their next location, Joe was unaware that his friends were nomadic and it was a big build up of nothing much. A nomadic people moved on and human nature took over when an inexperienced person stumbled upon the empty village.
What do you think happened? Let us know in comments.
Where in the World is Anjikuni Lake and Nunavut
In 1930 Nunavut did not exist it was simply known as North West Territories. Anjikuni Lake is not for the non adventurer. It is rugged, desolate and isolated.