By Melanie Moyer.
During the harsh Canadian winter of 1930, battling falling snow and the biting cold a weary fur trapper, Joe Labelle, went in search of a safe haven. When he came to the Inuit village of Lake Anjikuni all was eerily silent. Where in previous visits he had enjoyed the warmth and company of a busy and bustling community, now, there was only an empty village. Upon investigation he found fires still burning, food stocks intact, and the villager’s belongings in place. Yet as the search continued it became clear that the people of Lake Anjikuni had vanished, stranger still, even the dead had disappeared from their graves. So began one of Canada’s most remarkable mysteries, one that continues to haunt the vast northern wilderness to this day.
Claiming the title of the second largest country by sheer mass, Canada has a population of fewer than 40 million people. Much of its lands are extremely isolated or completely uninhabited. Lake Anjikuni is located in the province of Nunavut, which is home to the most northern, continuously inhabited place in the world. And the settlement of Alert sits just 500 miles from the North Pole. So it’s fitting that this chilling story comes from a place so far north and so far from civilization.
Along the shores of Lake Anjikuni the Inuit people made their home. Connected to the Kazan River, the abundance of trout and pike first attracted the Inuit’s to the fertile fishing grounds; and they, in turn, enriched the lands with their culture and mystical tales of spirits and beasts, the most famous being that of the fearsome Wendigo. But then one cold night in November 1930, the stories faded and a terrible silence descended upon the village.
The Vanishing Village
During the particularly hard winter, fur trapper Joe Labelle was exploring the northern part of the country when he decided to seek shelter. He was no stranger to the area, and Lake Anjikuni was an active spot for trappers and trade. But upon entering the village, all Labelle found was silence. After an initial search, it soon became clear the village had been abandoned in a hurry. He found a fire, still smoking, with a fresh stew cooking over it. When he moved to inspect the dwellings of the villagers he discovered weapons, large stocks of food, and their belongings still in place. As to the whereabouts of the approximate 30 men, women and children that had called the village home, Labelle could find no trace.
Suspecting something terrible had happened to the villagers and knowing they would never desert a habitable place for no reason–or leave behind precious resources (upon inspecting of the storehouse, he found it still full of trout). Labelle went looking for evidence of their sudden departure, but he could find no footsteps or prints in the snow. Despite the promise of food and shelter, he could not bring himself to stay in the deserted village and hiked to the nearest telegraph station to send word. Hours later, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived.
As the Mounties traveled to the village, they were joined by trapper Armand Laurent and his two sons. They asked Laurent and his sons if they’d seen anything odd in the area recently to which Laurent admitted he had seen a mysterious gleaming object in the sky a few days earlier. He said the object was airborne and was capable of changing shape and that it had headed in the direction of Lake Anjikuni.
The RCMP troop arrived in the town and met with Labelle. While there, they were able to confirm his strange account and make a few more discoveries of their own. On the outskirts of town, in the village burial grounds, they found open and empty graves. The desecration of a resting place for a body is not only an illegal act in most communities but considered a heinous taboo to the Inuit people. The Mounties did not believe it to be the work of animals given the ground was frozen hard, and that unearthing the bodies would require tools. The presence of stacked rocks next to each grave only added to their suspicions.
The Mounties immediately ordered a search party for the missing villagers but failed to find any evidence of where the missing villagers were or what had happened to them. They did, however, discover a pack of dogs on the outskirts of the village that had died of starvation before being covered by snow. This unnerved the party, considering massive stores of food and shelter were only meters from where the dogs had reportedly died. Though some historical researchers later claimed the dogs had been tied up when they were found, it still leaves the question as to how they managed to die so quickly when it was apparent the village had been abandoned only hours before Labelle’s initial arrival.
Lights in the Sky and Strange Conclusions
As if this tale weren’t strange enough, RCMP officers stated they saw mysterious pulsing lights in the sky above Lake Anjikuni while investigating the scene. Now, lights in the sky of northern Canada is not abnormal. The Northern Lights are a beautiful natural phenomenon that can be seen from even the most southern parts of the country, but the lights these search and rescue men found were not at all like the natural wonder they were used to seeing. The lights they saw on the horizon were blueish and pulsing, quite unlike the Northern Lights. Much like the entire case, the lights were never explained.
After a long and arduous investigation, the RCMP officers used berries found nearby to determine that the villagers had been gone for almost two months. This begged the question: who had been using their village site if they were gone, and why?
The first press account of the ordeal appeared in the newspaper Le Pas, Manitoba where reporter, Emmet Kelleher, first published a story on the disappearance in November 1930. Shortly thereafter, another newspaper, the Danville Bee of Quebec published the story as well. The report that propelled the case into the national spotlight, was the article published in the Halifax Herald that named the abandoned location the “Village of the Dead” in its headline. From there the story circulated to countless newspapers, crossing the continent before eventually fading from common consciousness.
In 1959, author Frank Edwards included the story in his book Stranger than Science. This earned the attention of the RCMP who now claimed the event never happened and that Edwards had made it up to improve book sales. Though many agree that Edwards more than likely embellished much of the story for his book, the fact remains that there are documented press accounts from the 1930s about the disappearance. There are also records of two investigations carried out by the RCMP on the event, with the latter taking place in 1931.
With interest in the case renewed, further research was conducted into the two separate investigations. It was discovered that Labelle was new to the Northern Territories, and not the seasoned trapper he had claimed to be. It also came to light that Emmet Kelleher was well-known to be a sensationalist journalist who had often written stories about the wild North for the sake of a dramatic headline. The final word on the matter paints Labelle as an inexperienced trapper who didn’t have the knowledge or the experience to know what he saw at the abandoned village and that initial newspaper report was largely based on Kelleher’s wild imagination and hear-say. The RCMP ruled the disappearance as a seasonal or permanent abandonment given the nomadic nature of the Inuit people, though they noted it was odd for them to leave behind their weapons and provisions.
Many do not take the RCMP’s official stance with much credence, which has left the case wide open for some colorful alternative conclusions. A popular theory passed around by UFO enthusiasts is largely based upon the accounts of the RCMP officers who witnessed the strange lights in the skies during the initial investigation, that, and the odd flying object reported by the Laurent’s. They speculate that the Inuit’s were the victims of a mass alien abduction, taken directly from their homes. Other theories delve into the Inuit’s core belief system and the malevolent spirits in their pantheon. While the Wendigo is an alluring option, considering it seems to have become the patron forest monster of Canada, some believe the Inuit’s sky god Torngarsuk was responsible, if something otherworldly was indeed involved. Another popular theory is that the members of the village were somehow been pulled into another dimension.
As is often the case, the truth about what really happened at Lake Anjikuni has become distorted. With the passing of time, fact has given way to fiction making the distinction between the two nearly impossible. Yet the story at its heart remains an odd one to tell, with no real conclusion, either rational or supernatural, if it even happened at all. The mysterious fates of those missing villagers is a popular ghost story to share around a campfire, especially when told under the night sky in the wilds of the Canadian north.
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