Pangnirtung's sheep-herder
Donald Mearnes has done it all

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

PANGNIRTUNG (Aug 03/98) - From herding sheep in Aberdeen, Scotland to playing the bagpipes on Kekerten Island and mushing in Pangnirtung, Donald Mearnes and his family are those kind of people who can do anything.

"We used to joke about my wife being the first Inuk who ever lambed sheep and chased cattle and played with the tractor," laughs Mearnes, referring to Meeka, the woman he met and married almost 20 years ago after arriving in Canada in 1980.

Mearnes says he first came to the North with the Hudson's Bay Company on a recruiting drive with 25 other young Scottish men. He ended up in Pangnirtung. After working and travelling around to other Baffin Island communities, Mearnes and Meeka and their two children decided to move back to Aberdeen in 1984 and take up full-time farming.

"It was kind of mixed farming. We'd keep cattle and a little bit of barley," says Mearnes.

Six years later, and after the birth of another daughter, the family felt like they weren't getting ahead of the game, so Mearnes decided to return to school and earn his teaching degree.

Upon graduating, he and his family spent their last pennies and pounds on a trip to Pangnirtung to visit family and friends, and Mearnes says they knew it was time to return home.

"We got back to Scotland and I had a job there for a year and through that year, we said we're going back to Pang and change our lives."

It's been one of the best decisions the family ever made.

Along with giving them the opportunity to buy their own home and offering their children the chance to travel for sports and extra-curricular activities, Mearnes says the community of 1,200 is a wonderful place to be.

"It's a great spot to live. I like the lifestyle. It's a combination of looking after your boat and your dog team and the hunting and the fishing," says Mearnes, who now has a team of 15 dogs that he compares to farming and dreams about taking on various trips around the Arctic.

Once summer wraps up, Mearnes will take over as the vice-principal of the new Attagoyuk high school and judging by the gleam in his eye, he's looking forward to the job.

"It's huge -- 15 classrooms, a shop area, an art room, a huge science classroom, a computer lab, CTS areas, a nursery, offices and, of course, the NBA-sized gym with a stage."

But the promotion also means he won't get to spend as much time as usual in the classroom. Formerly a Grade 6 and 7 teacher, as well as an alternative classroom and English-as-a-second-language instructor, Mearnes says that in particular, he thrived on teaching a course called Northern studies.

Mearnes, with the help of a CD-ROM he produced, taught his students about land claims and the history common to European explorers and Inuit.

All in all, Mearnes is happy to be back home and has no future plans to leave Pangnirtung. "Maybe it's escapism on my behalf but the South is moving far too fast."