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Black and white photo of Inuit couple, Pangullaq with wife Ulujak, Ennadai Lake, 1954.

Gabriel Gély’s Arctic Photographs Donated to the University of Manitoba

December 16, 2020 — 

Gabriel Gély (1924-2020) is best known for his artistic portrayals of Arctic life and for his outstanding contribution to the development and promotion of Inuit art. Until recently, few knew about Gély’s passion for photography and his assemblage of images. A Parisian by birth, Gély resided in northern communities for over 30 years. He died November 27, 2020.

Recognizing the significance of this collection, Dr. Shelley Sweeney, recently retired Head of the University of Manitoba Libraries, Archives & Special Collections, collaborated with Gabriel Gély, his wife Dorothy Myhal Gély, and private collectors Kathyrn Knowles and Susan Howe to facilitate its acquisition by the University of Manitoba.

Following the end of World War II, Gély’s love affair with the Canadian Arctic was sparked by a chance viewing of an Inuit artifact display that was mounted in the windows of the Libraire Sainte Beuve, in Paris. The young ex-soldier and resistance fighter decided to use his savings to travel to Canada in 1952.

By 1953 he found employment as a cook with the Department of Transport (DOT) Canada at several weather stations located at Clyde River (Kanngiqtugaapik), Baffin Island, Ennadai Lake and at Sachs Harbour (Ikaahuk) on Banks Island.

While at Ennadai Lake, he attempted to alleviate the plight of starving families by feeding them from the supplies located in the downstairs area of his workplace. In recognition of his generosity, Gély was given the name Taraami, translated loosely as “Downstairs,” a reference to the location of the DOT supplies.

From 1956 until the late 1980s, Gély held major positions with the federal government as an administrator and arts and crafts advisor for the Arctic region. He also was a self-employed  contractor with the Federal and Territorial governments.

Valued for their subject-matter and artistic appeal, Gély sold some of his photographs to publications such as The Beaver magazine (now Canada’s History magazine). In addition, he raised funds and received a grant for the “Return to Ennadai Lake” project, which documented a visit by Arviat families to their Ennadai Lake homeland. [According to the CBC, “approximately 80 Ahiarmiut families were packed on airplanes and taken from their home near Ennadai Lake”; the Canadian government issued an long-awaited apology in early 2019.]

Gély’s large collection of images span the years 1954 to 1987 and consists of photographs primarily of people and scenes in the following communities from various periods of time: 

  • Arctic Bay (Ikpiarjuk)
  • Arviat, Baker Lake (Qamani)
  • Clyde River (Kangiqtugaapik)
  • Ennadai Lake
  • Gjoa Haven (Uqsuqtuuq)
  • Grise Ford (Ausuittuq)
  • Hall Beach (Sanirajak)
  • Lake Harbour (Kimmirut)
  • Pangnirtung
  • Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik)
  • Rankin Inlet (Kangiqliniq)
  • Repulse Bay Repulse Bay (Naujaat)
  • Sachs Harbour (Ikaahuk)
  • Spence Bay (Talurjuaq)

In total, there are 671 slides, approximately 2125 negatives, 125 proofs and 597 photographs in black and white and colour.

The Archives is presently closed due to COVID restrictions. The Gabriel Gély collection is currently not available online, but the Archives is developing a digitization plan for our return to campus. Please contact the archives for further information on this collection.


Photo references:

  • Gabriel Gély photographed in his  studio.
    Courtesy of Gabriel Gély and Dorothy Myhal Gély©.
  • Gabriel Gély, Mrs. Annie Sewoee (Alikaswa), Mrs. Atasluk and Mr. Yaha, Arviat, 1967.
    Gabriel Gély fonds, A2018-025, Box 1, File 3.
  • Gabriel Gély posed with his camera and hunting guide, Noah. Clyde River (Kanngiqtugaapik), Baffin Island, 1954.
    Gabriel Gély fonds, A2018-025, Box 1, File 12. 
  • Pangullaq (right) with wife Ulujak, Ennadai Lake, 1954. Photographed by Gabriel Gély.
    Gabriel Gély fonds, A2018-025, Box 1, File 2.  
  • Gabriel Gély used his photographs as references for the subjects of his paintings. Ikalujuak carving at Clyde River, 1980. Photographed by Gabriel Gély.
    Gabriel Gély fonds, A2018-025, Box 1, File 9. 
  • Gély’s oil painting of Ikalujuak, 1984.
    Image courtesy of Gabriel Gély.
  • Ekalujuak’s son (left) with Kabloonaq, Clyde River (Kanngiqtugaapik), Baffin Island, 1953 or 1954. Photographed by Gabriel Gély.
    Gabriel Gély fonds, A2018-025, Box 1, File 14. 
  • Atasluk with unidentified child, Arviat, 1977. Photographed by Gabriel Gély.
    Gabriel Gély fonds, A2018-025, Box 1, File 10.

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4 comments on “Gabriel Gély’s Arctic Photographs Donated to the University of Manitoba

  1. Margaret Jessop

    This article is very well referenced and written by someone who also has a personal interest in the subject. I enjoyed the human interest aspect of the relationship the photographer had with the Inuit people- sharing his food etc. well done

    Reply
  2. Sam Bryks

    Wonderful article that tells this history with charm and empathy. The photographs are of very high quality. I hope to see more of Gely’s work online.

    Reply
  3. Kevin Killiktee

    Happy New, I work at Piqqusilirivvik (Inuit Cultural School in Clyde River)I just saw pictures from Gabriel Gély’s Arctic Photographs. is it possible to get digital copy of photos from Clyde River (Kangiqtugaapik)?

    Reply
    1. Betty Dearth - Author

      Thanks for your interest in the Gély collection. The Archives is presently closed due to COVID restrictions. The Gabriel Gély collection is currently not available online, but the Archives is developing a digitization plan for our return to campus. Archives will contact you directly regarding your request.

      Reply

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