The Angikuni Mystery: The Case of the Missing Village

ufo_inuitCanadian culture is defined along the terms of our modern society, but there’s much more to our identity than our often mocked accent, our maple syrup and our penchant for plaid flannel shirts.

Much of our history is rooted in the traditions of our native, or First Nations population.  A large part of that population is Inuit, whose culture has strong oral traditions and a kinship with the land.

Nunavut, Canada’s largest, northernmost and newest territory (distinct from a province only in the way it derives legal authority), is currently home to some 30,000 Inuit.  In the 1930’s however, and thanks to the Angikuni Mystery, that number is at least 30 people high.

The story, first published in The Danville Bee, a newspaper of the north, and written by reporter Emmett E. Kelleher, broke on November 27, 1930.[1][2]  Is seems the day before, Kelleher had been regaled by the story of a northern trapper named Joe Labelle, who told of an entire village of Inuit that had gone missing.

As Labelle tells it, he attended the village on the shores of Lake Angikuni, a village he frequented in his travels, expecting a warm welcome, but as he approached the group of elk skin tents he had an odd feeling.  The air of the place just gave him “the creeps”.  Upon entering the small shanty town, Labelle was greeted by two starving and emaciated Husky’s, and venturing further, he found a full team of seven dogs that had apparently starved to death.

Traditional Inuit (summer) shelter

Traditional Inuit (summer) shelter

His calls into the village went unanswered as he began to search for inhabitants.  Entering one hut, he noticed cooking utensils and pots, apparently with food still in them.  Under a large fur he found a rusty rifle, giving him pause because, according to Kelleher, the Inuit of the time valued their rifles over nearly everything, and leaving such a tool behind would be unheard of.

Examining another tent that had been virtually destroyed by wind, he found the skins of several foxes, ruined by rain and mud, accompanied by another rifle.  Rust on the rifles gave him the impression that the village had been deserted some 12 months prior, and judging by the size of the camp, it appeared there had been at least 25 people living there.

His mind reeled trying to understand the mystery; where had they gone?  Had they simply moved on?  Unlikely, with all of the items left behind.  Did they all drown in the nearby lake?  Also unlikely, as there would undoubtedly be bodies to be found.  His next discovery sent chills down his spine.

His thoughts turned to foul play as he stumbled across an Eskimo grave with a cairn built of stones.  One side of the grave had been removed, stone-by-stone and the body was missing.  Labelle couldn’t imagine a reason for desecrating the grave of a loved one, and he was reminded of an old Inuit superstition.

Eskimo’s, of the time and some still today, believe there is an evil spirit that haunts their villages.  Tornrark, who has an “ugly man face with two long tusks sticking up from each side of the nose”, is feared by many Inuit, who wear special charms in the hopes of warding him off.[3]

Labelle stayed in the camp for that afternoon, trying to figure out the mystery.

“There were no signs of any struggle.  Everything looked peaceful.  But the air seemed deadly.”

Following Kelleher’s story in the Bee, the authorities were notified and the RCMP initiated an investigation and search.  No one was ever found, nor were any clues as to the reason for their disappearance.

The original headlines in the Danville Bee. The included photo was found to be another village entirely, from 1909.

The original headlines in the Danville Bee. The included photo was found to be another village entirely, from 1909.

This story caused quite a stir in the area, but soon succumbed to fleeting attentions and was lost to further curiosity.  Until it was published in Frank Edward’s 1966 book, Stranger Than Science.[4]  Edwards telling of the story, taken directly from the original article in the Bee, rejuvenated the mystery and sparked some amateur investigation into the details.

Inquiries with the RCMP failed to come up with any evidence of the initial search, and the RCMP officially deny that there was one, and even that there ever was a village of that size in the remote area of Angikuni.  Very few records exist regarding Inuit populations in the territories from that period, so it’s nearly impossible to empirically prove that the camp existed, let alone that its inhabitants disappeared.

Suspicions of a supernatural influence at work were put forward not only be Labelle, but also by Whitely Strieber in his 1989 novel Majestic, and by Dean Koontz’s 1983 horror novel Phantoms.  More recently Nigel Blundell and Roger Boar wrote a detailed accounting of the Angikuni Mystery in their 2010 book The World’s Greatest UFO Mysteries, where they add to the growing lore associated to the event.

Many modern tellings of the story have embellished the facts, claiming reports of strange lights in the sky, mass grave robbing and over 1000 people having vanished.  But the original mystery holds a hauntingly simple narrative, and though Labelle and Kelleher refrained from speculating on the fate of the Eskimos at Angikuni, one’s mind does tend to conjure ideas of alien abduction or supernatural mayhem.

We have only Labelle’s first hand accounting of the mystery.  Having been a trapper for over 40 years, Labelle was of a type of man that isn’t known for telling yarns.  Many trappers of the time lived solitary lives, seldom coming into contact with other people outside of these small Inuit villages, and beyond an actual member of the village, Labelle was uniquely qualified to understand the nuances of Inuit life and traditions.

The lack of official records on the search and the village does little to sway the belief of those who identify with the mystery.  Considering the time frame, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know the truth of it, but the notion than an entire village of people could disappear, almost overnight, is a disturbing one to be sure.



[1] Kelleher, Emmett E. (1930-11-30). “Vanished Eskimo Tribe Gives North Mystery Stranger Than Fiction”. The Bee.

[2] Newspaperarchive.com, The Danville Bee – November 27, 1930: http://newspaperarchive.com/danville-bee/1930-11-27/page-7

[3] Colombo, John Robert. Ghost Stories of Canada. Dundum (2000)

[4] Edwards, Frank. Stranger Than Science (5th printing ed.). Bantam Books Paperback (1968). pp. 18–19

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Martin J. Clemens

I also blog at at Mysterious Universe!
Writer, Canadian, Fortean Addict...and lover of science and history. "As for me...I know only, that I know nothing..."
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  • doris chapman

    Perhaps they were taken to Mars.

  • Martin J. Clemens

    Hi Doris! Thanks for reading. It is possible that they were taken to Mars…or maybe Sirius, because of the many reports of strange lights and craft in the sky over that area at the time and in the years following.

  • Graham

    Hi,

    Currently planning to update Wikipedias account. What month did Ewards state this dissapearance took place in?

    Reading the account in the Danville Bee I think this took place in Summer since it mentions Labelle being in a canoe before arriving at the empty camp.

  • Martin J. Clemens

    None of the sources gives any information about when, exactly, Labelle came upon the deserted village, but it would have to have been mid-summer, otherwise it would have been a very difficult trek. The story in the Bee doesn’t actually even say that it happened that season. It could conceivably have taken place years before.

    I was unable to narrow it down beyond that, unfortunately. Edward’s story is entertaining, but the best source for this mystery is the original article, as it alone contains Labelle’s relatively unaltered statement.

  • Graham

    Thanks,

    It is interesting to note that the RCMP page on the lake and the story seem to be referring to the later UFO based stories rather than the original version.

    The reason I am concerned about the timing is that there is a Rense.com version of the story that aside from stating that the settlement had a population of 2000 states that the RCMP found the village sled dogs buried “…under a 12-foot-high snow drift.” (http://rense.com/general11/dis.htm)

    I had this suspicion that Edwards might have ‘amped up’ the story by setting the discovery in the same month as the newspaper article (Which I assume to be his source).

    Also the ‘grave robbing’ aspect of the story is there from the original account (I cannot access the newspaperarchive.com page at present to confirm), but the original mentions a native cairn being disturbed.

    As a final thing, I know for a fact that villages were abandoned in that part of the world due to lack of food (Or the deaths of the inhabitants due to starvation.) did occur in that part of the world. There is a rather poignant exhibit in Scotland of artifacts recovered from one such village in the 19th C.

    http://www.mcmanus.co.uk/content/collections/database/childs-bow-and-arrow