Did You Know? - Scottish music

accordionScottish whalers brought their music to Baffin Island in the 19th century. The catchy tunes and rhythms caught on right away with Inuit. They've been playing it and dancing to it ever since.

Scottish music - part of Inuit life for over a century

Whaling: big business comes to the Arctic

From the mid-19th to the early 20th century, whaling ships from Britain and the United States visited Baffin Island and Hudson Bay each year. They were after the massive bowhead whale, which supported a major industry - oil for lubricating machinery, lighting city streets, and manufacturing, and baleen for making buggy whips, carriage springs, pot handles, and corset stays for fashionable Victorian women.

Music in the Arctic - the Scottish way

Flag of ScotlandMusic was part of life on a whaling ship. The men sang shanties while they worked, and for entertainment they played the music of their homeland on the fiddle, flute, and accordion.

Frozen in

Whaling ships would spend the winter frozen into the Arctic ice, and Inuit often camped nearby. For them, the ships were a source of manufactured goods and imported foods. Inuit supplied the whalers with fresh meat and warm caribou-skin clothing, and during the whaling season they crewed some of the whaleboats. In return they received items like rifles, ammunition, knives, flour, tea, molasses, tobacco - and accordions.

Scottish music - the Inuit way

Flag of NunavutInuit liked the whalers' music and some became expert at playing it, giving the old jigs, reels, and strathspeys a new feel. They learned many tunes, composed their own, and passed the music down through the generations. The last Scottish whalers returned home about a hundred years ago, but the music remains. Now Inuit call it Inuktitut music - music the Inuit way.

Learn more:  The Forgotten Story of Inuit Whalers

Related Story:  Accordian music offers brighter future to Nunavik teen

Back to past editions of Did You Know?