Showing great respect for the technical prowess of the Inuit, Ruskell describes their ability to carve elaborate winter quarters from snow and to fashion sun goggles from driftwood, using the crudest of tools. He appreciates the Inuktitut language, characterizing it as “beautiful and very complicated, but with the lilt and rhythm of Greek poetry.”
Occasionally, Ruskell’s writing style seems almost naïve: for example, the opening lines of the book sound like an exclamatory travel brochure: “The lure of the Arctic! It has a fascination which defies description.” But unevenness in style and periodic gaps in explanation can soon be forgiven, for on the whole, Breaking the Ice is an informative, and at times humorous, window into the world of the Inuit of northern Quebec and Baffin Island.
Samuel Poyntz in The Church of Ireland Gazette, July 1998:
One of my many clerical autobiographies enjoys the romantic title of Donald the Arctic (1956) – the story of a bishop whose Diocese covered a territorial area of two and three quarter square miles. Bishop Donald Fleming had the task of recruiting young priests who were prepared to live in the “middle of nowhere” for the sake of ministering to the Eskimo and the few white people who chose to work in the vast snowbound wilderness, e.g. Hudson Bay Compay staff, the Royal Canadian Mounted police, etc.
The Church of Ireland diaspora has made no small contribution to the world Church. Now and then one comes across a publication which tell of commitment, adventure and courage amidst untold risks and dangers undertaken by one of our own. Arnold Ruskell’s reflections on his ministry to Inuit people is a tale of an unforgettable experience from 1946-1851, “laced with vivid memories which have endured for nearly half a century.”
Born near Arklow, educated at Portora Royal School and T.C.D., after curacies in Templemore, Co Tipperary, and Monkstown, Co Dublin, the author left his native land for two reasons: 1) out of a genuine commitment to extend Christ’s Kingdom and to try to build upon the work of the Anglican Church in the Arctic which dates back to midway through the nineteenth century and 2) a love of adventure – the challenge to reach areas almost inaccessible at that time and to accept untold risks and dangers. His story tells of a contract to spend three years in the Eastern Arctic – a commitment which extended to five years before returning to the bright lights of Toronto. A postscript of how he settled back into our Western style of life would have been interesting!
This is the story of a young man – a talented athlete who once dreamed of winning the Irish quarter mile, brought up in “the garden of Ireland,” and who adapted to long sled journeys to visit Inuit camps, battling against roaring winds, blizzards, sub-zero temperatures, adrift on an ice pan, monotonous food diet supplies – which sometimes ran dangerously low. After 45 years, Arnold Ruskell had recounted his personal story, gleaned from his diaries of those years spent in the Arctic, which is no place for the fainthearted. Former parishioners, friends and many others will be rewarded in reading this story. For those used to our comfortable centrally heated homes and church plant, it may stir a few consciences as we realize what others have risked and done for Christ’s sake and the Gospel.
The author spent from 1946 to 1951 as an Anglican missionary in Fort Chimo and Lake Harbour in the Eastern Arctic. His flock, the Inuit, lived the life of their ancestors, untarnished by outside influences.
The Inuit were reserved, stoic and fatalistic, yet cheerful, resourceful and generous. Still fascinated by the people and their ability to survive in a hostile land, the author has, forty-five years later, written this story from his diaries of those years.
His acceptance by the Inuit and his affection for them, create indelible memories. Tales of dogsleds careening into frigid waters, of winter travels, of good times and bad, help illustrate the changing and unchanging face of the North.
“A compelling read as both history and drama.” The Great Haller, Bishop Strachan School.
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