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Priest's 'irresistible' photos capture Nunavut history

09/14/2011 02:50 EDT | Updated 11/14/2011 05:12 EST

A unique collection of “irresistible” images from Nunavut's past is on display in Iqaluit.

The exhibit of drawings and photographs by Guy Mary-Rousselière, a French-Canadian priest and anthropologist, opened Tuesday night at the Nunavut legislature.

Mary-Rousselière, a Roman Catholic missionary, worked in the Arctic for almost 50 years before he died in 1994. Much of that time was spent in Pond Inlet.

The exhibit includes portraits and drawings made by Mary-Rousselière in the 1940s and ‘50s. Curator Lorraine Branson brought the images from Churchill, Man., where many were kept in storage.

"We've been dreaming of this for a while, to have it somewhere that more people could see,” Branson said. “We receive a lot of people in Churchill, being an international tourism destination, but to have this in Nunavut where quite a few people pass through here, we appreciate this opportunity very much."

The 31 images depict people and landscapes from many parts of Nunavut, including Pond Inlet, Baker Lake and Igloolik.

Mary-Rousselière sent some of his photographs to National Geographic magazine in 1968, which found them so stunning, it published them with an accompanying article about how the federal government’s efforts to settle the Inuit altered their culture and lifestyle. In his 1998 memoir, former National Geographic writer and editor Thomas Canby recalled finding the photos “irresistible” and “technically excellent.”

“The story they told was priceless. Through the lens of his camera, Father Guy-Mary Rousselière had recorded a unique and poignant chapter of Inuit history: the closing moments of their traditional life as subsistence hunters and fishermen, and their irreversible transition to a new, settled life shaped by a well-intentioned but not infallible government to the south,” Canby wrote.

The exhibit runs until December at the legislative assembly building.

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