In July 1999, Jacob Partridge celebrated the anniversary of his homecoming to Kuujjuaq. Fifty years ago he returned from his hospital internment in the south.
The youngest of eight children, he was named Imaapik at birth. His family lived out on the land near Quaqtaq and came into the settlement of Kuujjuaq (Fort Chimo) only to trade for goods. When Imaapik was two years old he couldn't walk and was still crawling. When he began to talk he complained about a pain in his hip. His parents decided to take him to Kuujjuaq for medical treatment.
His mother was the keeper of the family's disc (identification) numbers and knew which disc belonged to which person. When they were getting ready to take little Imaapik to the nursing station, his mother looked frantically through the collection of discs, afraid her baby would be denied treatment without it, but couldn't find the one belonging to him. Jacob had been using a disc for a soother and assuming it was his they brought it with them. It turned out to be her grandson Jacob Kadlak's disc.
The nurse couldn't identify Imaapik's ailment but knew he had to be sent south for treatment. The nurse convinced his parents to send him south and wrote his name down as Jacob. His mother argued through an interpreter that that was not his name, but the nurse didn't understand about the mistaken disc number. Finally, his mother, Siasi, burst out in Inuktitut, "Okay! Call him Jacob so he can be sent out to be cured!"
Jacob vividly remembers how sick he was when he first arrived in hospital. He had terrible diarrhea from the strange food he was eating. His system had been used to a healthy diet of mother's milk, fish, seal and caribou meat. The cow's milk and cooked vegetables were hard for him to digest.
He was treated in Halifax for Tuberculosis in his left hipbone, then transferred to Toronto. He was in the hospital for almost seven years, undergoing several operations and spending five years in a body and leg cast. Even when he was better one leg was shorter than the other and he ended up walking with a limp. When he was eight, the doctors pronounced him cured and said he could go home. But Jacob didn't know where ‘home' was being a small child when he'd arrived. The nurses brought him a map of Canada and asked him to show them where he came from. He had no idea. He had never even seen a map before. Finally, sobbing in embarrassment, he pointed to the prettiest colour on the map: blue. His finger had touched Ungava Bay. He was lost.
The Partridge's never knew what happened to their son. They wrote a letter attempting to learn of his whereabouts and five years later it found its way to the hospital in Toronto. It was written in syllabics and a Cree Indian lady patient was the only one who could read it. She asked Jacob questions that later helped to confirm his home base.
One of the nurses, who had worked in the hospital with Jacob, got a job at the nursing station in Kuujjuaq. While she was there she happened to hear about a Partridge family that lived out on the land. The name wasn't common and she wondered if there was any relation to the little Inuk boy in the Toronto hospital.
One day when the Partridges were in town, the nurse sought them out to ask if they had a little boy, Jacob, who was taken south to the hospital? The answer was no. But then, Siasi Partridge recalled the argument she'd had years ago with another nurse who had changed Imaapik's name to Jacob. It was her little boy. "Yes, yes," she said to the nurse. "He is my son".
The nurse contacted the hospital and Jacob was flown up in the Summer of ‘49. Seven years after he had been taken south, a plane brought him north again to Kuujjuaq. He remembers that day so vividly.
The Hudson's Bay Company used to sell red plaid, woolen material that the women used as shawls. When the people of the village heard that Imaapik Partridge was coming home the women lined up along the shoreline in their red shawls to welcome him. It is a powerful memory for Jacob: crossing the river by motorboat and seeing this beautiful stream of bright red, then coming ashore and shaking every single person's hand, babies included. It was a marvellous welcome home.
By Jesse Skene
S. 2000. "Jacob Partridge." Above and Beyond May/June: 13.
Copyright (1999) Osborne, S. (Special thanks to Jesse Skene)