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Bon Voyage Lyubov Orlova! The research project “In the footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab” thanks you.

(Version française de ce texte)

Hello everyone,

After more than two years rusting in the St. John’s harbor, the cruise ship Lyubov Orlova is now on its way to its final resting place: the Dominican Republic where it will be dismantled. But, from what I’m reading, chances that it will indeed make it to the Dominican Republic are slim. Shortly after leaving the St. John’s harbor, the rope tying it to the tugboat towing it to the Caribbean broke. The Lyubov Orlova is currently drifting with no one on board. What a sad ending for this ship which will be remembered by so many of us as the one that brought us to the Arctic or to the Antarctic.

In Sept 2012, I spent a week in St. John’s and while walking along the harbor front I was shocked to find the Lyubov Orlova in such a pitiful state. I had forgotten it was still there after its seizure by the Canadian authorities in 2010. Its owner owed over $250,000 to Cruise North and over $300,000 to the Russian crew who hadn’t received their wages for months.

The Lyubov Orlova in St. John's harbor. Sept 2012.

The Lyubov Orlova in St. John’s harbor. Sept 2012.

The Lyubov Orlova in the St. John's harbor. Sept 2012. So sad to see the poor shape it is in.

The Lyubov Orlova in the St. John’s harbor. Sept 2012. So sad to see the poor shape it is in.

The Lyubov Orlova rusting. Sept 2012.

The Lyubov Orlova rusting. Sept 2012.

For me, the role the Lyubov Orlova played was more than just being the transport vessel for my 2009 vacation along the Labrador and Nunatsiavut coast. It is on board that ship that I met the individuals who introduced me to the Abraham Ulrikab story (the story of the 8 Inuit from northern Labrador who were taken to Europe in 1880 to be exhibited in zoos). Since then, uncovering the events that happened in Paris, where five of the eight Inuit died, has become my main activity. Is it a coincidence that the life of the Lyubov Orlova is ending when that of the “In the footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab” project is about to take off? More on that in a later post.

The departure of the Lyubov Orlova for its last voyage therefore represents a great opportunity to tell you more about how this research project started. But let me start by identifying the three circumstances that, in 2009, made me decide to go on the cruise along the Labrador coast:

  1. Cruise North was having a 2 for 1 sale for all of its cruises to the Arctic.
  2. Since my first trip to Newfoundland in 1994 (where I found some brochures about Labrador), I had been dreaming of taking the ferry along the Labrador coast all the way to Nain.
  3. In the January-February 2009 issue of the magazine Above & Beyond, photographer Michelle Valberg had published an article on Nunatsiavut. Her images of Hebron and the Torngat Mountains had stunned me and confirmed my desire to explore this part of our country that is so little known.

So, on July 2, 2009, I boarded the ship with 5 friends. As the ship was leaving the St. John’s harbor, I noticed a gentleman who was carrying two Canon cameras around his neck. He was all over the ship taking photos. I was intrigued as to who he could be. My intuition was telling me that he had to be some well-known photographer.

Hans Blohm on board the Lyubov Orlova. July 2009.

Hans Blohm on board the Lyubov Orlova. July 2009.

The next day, when I saw him wearing a Pangnirtung hat identical to mine, I knew I had to talk to him. Turned out that he was master photographer Hans-Ludwig Blohm and had been traveling across the Arctic for more than 30 years. Hans & I became friends instantly.

Hans Blohm & France Rivet on board the Lyubov Orlova. Approaching Hebron. July 2009.

Hans Blohm & France Rivet on board the Lyubov Orlova. Approaching Hebron. July 2009. Photo by Micheline Leblanc.

As the ship approached Hebron, Hans told me about the story of Abraham Ulrikab. He highly recommended that I go to the ship’s library and grab a copy of “The Diary of Abraham Ulrikab” he had donated. The book had been written by his friend Hartmut Lutz, the German version of it had been published by his sister and Hans’ photos of Hebron and Nunatsiavut appeared in both the English and the German editions.

The Lyubov Orlova anchored in the Bay of Hebron, Labrador

The Lyubov Orlova anchored in the Bay of Hebron, Labrador

I was stunned by the story of these two Inuit families who had agreed to go to Europe to be exhibited in zoos. I did not remember hearing about such practices of displaying human beings in zoos. The Inuit were to tour Europe for a year. Unfortunately, all died of smallpox just a few months after setting foot on European soil. Three of them died in Germany. The other five in Paris. I was fascinated by the story but I kept wondering what happened in Paris. The book was totally silent on that chapter. It basically only stated that the Inuit had been admitted to the hospital and died.

On board the ship I also met Zippie Nochasak, our Parks Canada guide. Zippie’s family originates from Hebron and wears the same name as the first of the Inuit to have died in Europe, Noggasak, a 15 years old girl.

Just before disembarking the Lyubov Orlova, Zippie and Hans’ paths crossed. Suddently, Zippie had the impression she had seen him somewhere. She ran to the ship’s library, grabbed a copy of the book on Abraham and quickly flipped to the very last page. Indeed! It was the man she just saw! Zippie ran back up, found Hans and introduced herself. Having recently discovered the book herself, Zippie was still very much shaken by her reading of it. For her, it was clear that the Inuit who died in Europe had to be members of her family. What a lucky day it was to meet a person who contribute to the book. As for Hans, he was simply stunned to stand in front of a person who could possibly be related to Inuit who died in Europe 128 years earlier.

Zippie Nochasak and Hans Blohm on board the Lyubov Orlova. July 2009.

Zippie Nochasak and Hans Blohm on board the Lyubov Orlova. July 2009.

A few months later, as Zippie was in Ottawa for a short stay, the two of us paid Hans a visit and chatted about the Abraham story. French being my mother tongue and as I have always loved doing research and digging in archives, I promised Zippie and Hans I would try to research what happened in Paris. Three years and a trip to Paris later, I can now confirm that a fascinating chapter needs to be added to the story.

If it hadn’t been for the Lyubov Orlova, I would never have met Hans or Zippie. I most likely would never have heard of the Abraham Ulrikab story and would not be engaged in the most fascinating story I have ever researched.

So that we can all remember the Lyubov Orlova in its better days, here are a few photographs taken in July 2009 as we were cruising along the Newfoundland and Labrador coast.

Lyubov Orlova in the fog near L'Anse-aux-Meadows. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in the fog near L’Anse-aux-Meadows. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova near the Wonderstands. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova near the Wonderstands. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova anchored near Makkovik. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova anchored near Makkovik. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in Makkovik. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in Makkovik. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in Nain. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in Nain. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in Nain. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in Nain. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in the Bay of Hebron. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in the Bay of Hebron. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in the Saglek Fjord. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in the Saglek Fjord. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in the Nachvak Fjord. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova in the Nachvak Fjord. July 2009.

Bon voyage Lyubov Orlova!

Lyubov Orlova, Labrador Sea. July 2009.

Lyubov Orlova, Labrador Sea. July 2009.

To find out more about the Lyubov Orlova’s last voyage:

2013-01-23 Abandoned cruise ship finally leaves St. John’s
2013-01-24 Lyubov Orlova adrift off Newfoundland coast
2013-01-26 Orlova not Transport Canada’s responsibility
2013-01-27 Tugboat for Lyubov Orlova sent back to St. John’s
2013-01-30 Drifting cruise ship moves closer to oil platform
2013-01-31 Lyubov Orlova moves further north of SeaRose platform
2013-02-02 TSB to investigate Orlova case – St. John’s Port Authority refuses to take ship back into port
2013-01-03 Lyubov Orlova adrift once again
2013-02-05 Orlova is no prize for salvagers, expert says
2013-02-06 Orlova may be intercepted on the other side of the pond
2013-02-11 Owner asks government to help find drifting ship
2013-02-18 Lost cruise ship serves new purpose
2013-02-21 Lyubov Orlova, Russian Ghost Ship, located off the coast of Ireland
2013-02-23 Orlova’s emergency beacon activated

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