Lake Angikuni.  (Photo: Nicolas Perrault II)

In 1930, trapper Joe LaBelle visited an Inuit village which was located near Lake Angikuni in the Northwest Territories (now Nunavut) of Canada.  But he was met with silence – the entire population of the village had disappeared without a trace.  Seven dead dogs were discovered, lashed to some tree stumps (starved to death, as confirmed by the RCMP), and nearer the lake shore a stone cairn was found.  The cairn had been opened, but no body was discovered inside.  The RCMP determined that the village had likely been abandoned for at least two months when LaBelle arrived.

The story of the Lake Angikuni disappearances was first read by many in Frank Edwards’ Stranger Than Science and is now one of the classic cases of Fortean literature.  But as more cautious investigators have found that Edwards’ credibility is at times dubious, the disappearances at Lake Angikuni are in need of closer examination.

A composite photograph used to illustrate the original 1930 article.

The story seems to have originated in an article appearing in several newspapers in 1930.  According to that article, by Emmett E. Kelleher, LaBelle entered the village from the lake itself.  The village was a tiny one, consisting of only six tents, and as he entered he was met only by two half-starved dogs.  The bodies of seven other dogs were lying around, not lashed to trees as in Edwards’ account.  The trapper began exploring the village:

I’ll admit that when I went in the first tent I was a little jumpy.  Just looking around, I could see the place hadn’t known any human life for months, and I expected to find corpses inside.  But there was nothing there but the personal belongings of a family.  A couple of deer parkas (skin coats) were in one corner.  Fish and deer bones were scattered about.  There were a few pairs of boots, and an iron pot, greasy and black.  Under one of the parkas I found a rifle.  It had been there so long it was all rusty.

The trapper investigated the other tents, followed all the while by the two dogs.  He found no sign of any of the around 25 inhabitants of the village.  He caught some fish in the lake, which he fed to the two dogs, and moved on.  Superstitiously, he wondered if the tales the Inuit told of an evil spirit called Tornrark were true.  He asked all the other Inuit he encountered on his trapping excursion if they knew anything, and all agreed Tornrark ws responsible.

Other events provided tantalizing clues, but nothing concrete: a few months prior, another Inuit village to the north near Lake Aberdeen had taken in a boy who had been wandering in the wilds.  To the south, a badly frostbitten Inuit named Saumek was found near the Hudson Bay Railway in Manitoba.  Thinking he might know something about the fate of the Angikuni villagers, authorities attempted to question him, but he muttered only something about Tornrark and refused to say anything more.

In the next mention of the incident, a 1976 article by Dwight Whalen appearing in Fate magazine concluded that the entire incident was invented by Kelleher, but as the article remains unfound it’s unclear what his basis for that assumption was.  In 1988, though, John Robert Colombo in Mysterious Canada concluded the same, citing a January 1931 RCMP report by Sergeant J. Nelson which indicated they were doubtful upon further investigation as no other trappers or Inuit corroborated the story, and while Joe LaBelle was a real person, he worked in a region far from the lake and was unlikely to have been there.  Kelleher, moreover, was known for writing fantastic stories, and the photo at the top of the composite, said to be a photograph of the abandoned village, was actually a photograph of Churchill, Manitoba, taken in 1909.  Researcher Garth Haslam in his write-up of the Angikuni event concurs with Whalen and Colombo’s assertions, citing a common sense inconsistency in the details: if there were at least seven dead dogs around, why were the two which followed LaBelle so badly starved?

For its part, the RCMP has no knowledge of this report, but as they also state on their website that the story was invented by Frank Edwards, they’re also apparently unaware of the 1930 article so that shouldn’t be taken as gospel.

Explorer Farley Mowat visited Lake Angikuni in 1948 and found a cairn constructed in a non-Inuit style, partially open and containing pieces of a flattened wooden box with dovetail joints at the corners.  He theorized that the cairn had been built by Francis Crozier, captain of the HMS Terror.  Survivors from the Terror were known to have reached King William Island, nearly 450 miles due north of Lake Angikuni.

Torngasuk, from Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal.

The evil spirit Tornrark, mentioned in the original account, was doubtless meant to be the bear-god Torngasuk, also known as Torntik, Torngarsoak, Tungrangayak, etc. who was a sky deity and one of the most prominent members of the Inuit pantheon.  He seems to have actually been a beneficial figure, often invoked by angakoq (Inuit shamans) to grant good luck or to heal the sick.  His devilish nature seems to have derived not from reality, but from Collin de Plancy’s 1868 Dictionnaire Infernal, in which he appears as a devil.  Presumably, he was given a demonic nature because, as I found with the spirit Mesingw among the Lenape (likewise a beneficial spirit often called a demon), his “savage” appearance more befitted a demon than a “proper” deity to European eyes.