Monday, March 28, 2011

Labrador loses a gatekeeper of history

When sailors Captain Tommy Cook and Ken Birdwell landed at the Makkovik dock last summer, they were greeted by Uncle Jim, who proceeded to invite the duo to his home. It was not uncommon for Uncle Jim to welcome visitors to the small coastal community of 360.

Uncle Jim remembered

Nearly everyone in Labrador knew ‘Uncle Jim’.
91-year-old James Andersen was a writer, a photographer, a storyteller and a preserver of Labrador history.
The Nunatsiavut elder from the north coast community of Makkovik had the largest collection of photographs from an individual community in Canada.
He began taking photos when a visiting photographer introduced him to the art more than 70 years ago.
Uncle Jim’s achievements were immense. In 2008, an exhibit at the Rooms museum was opened in his honour. The exhibit— "James Andersen: 50 Years of Pictures,"—is a collection of his photographs spanning 50 years.
The photographs are housed at the Museum and owned by the Nunatsiavut government.

An image from the exhibition
An image from the exhibition "James Anderson: 50 Years of Pictures," opening Thursday at The Rooms. The images span 50 years of work documenting life in his community by Makkovik photographer James Andersen. Submitted photo
In 2009 he won the Roger’s Arts Achievement Award for his photography, an achievement celebrated by many including National Inuit leader Mary Simon, who wrote, “Many times when we think of Inuit artists we think of carvers, print makers, or throat singers and drum dancers. Today however we have the opportunity to congratulate and celebrate a different kind of artist, a photographer known affectionately by his community of Makkovik in Nunatsiavut as "Uncle Jim".
One of the places his photographs have been showcased is the Labrador Interpretation Centre in North West River. Mina Campbell-Hibbs, the Curator of the Centre had the opportunity to get to know Uncle Jim.
“I remember when I first called to invite him to the opening, he was so excited because it brought him back so many memories,” she said.
“The thing that came to me was how good his memory was.”
She said when they first met in person, he told her she was already in his heart.
“He said ‘In 1941, when we walked from Makkovik to Goose Bay, we stopped in Mulligan and your grandmother made us pea soup for dinner.”
He went on to tell her how good her grandparents had been to the travellers.
Ms. Campbell Hibbs said Uncle Jim had a general interest in preserving Labrador history and he would encourage others to photograph and videotape events in their communities.
Uncle Jim kept up-to-date on the news of the day in Labrador and he loved to chat with anyone interested in sharing.
Aboriginal Affairs minister Patty Pottle was one of Uncle Jim’s ‘phone friends’—a group of friends on the coast he would call on a regular basis.
“I doubt there’s anyone on the coast who didn’t know Uncle Jim Andersen,” Minister Pottle said.
“He was one of the very few that helped tell the story of the past, with his music, with his stories and with his photographs that he had so proudly taken over the years.”
Uncle Jim’s age did not stop him from being constantly on the move. The retired fisherman and postman attended meetings and gatherings and concerts. Most recently he attended a Nunatsiavut elders gathering in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in October of 2010. He also attended the previous year’s gathering in Rigolet.
“A man like Uncle Jim should live a thousand years.”- Captain Tommy Cook
Minster Pottle, who is from Hopedale— a neighbouring coastal community, said she knew Uncle Jim even before she entered politics, as he would often travel on the ferry to the other coastal communities to attend events. 
She remembered him with his camera, having grown up in the days before the communities had their first television sets.
In a 2009 interview with the Labradorian, Uncle Jim said his two passions were photography and music.
“Take that away from me and I’m finished,” he said.
He was an avid fiddle player and enjoyed listening to other musicians as well as playing himself.
He was known to travel to hear special concerts or choirs.
Uncle Jim enjoyed the arts in general and attended the 2009 Provincial Arts Awards that were held in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Even in his hometown of Makkovik Mr. Andersen was an active community member.
Makkovik AngajukK√Ęk Herb Jacque called Uncle Jim’s passing, “The passing of a legacy for the community of Makkovik.”
“Since the 1930’s Uncle Jim has been taking pictures of everyone, everything and every event in Makkovik,” he said. “He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”
When he heard of visitors to town, Uncle Jim would often travel down to the ferry dock to welcome the newcomers.
Captain Tommy Cooke was one of the visitors Mr. Andersen welcomed over the years. Captain Tommy was on a sailing trip from the U.S. to the Northwest Passage when he first met Uncle Jim. Uncle Jim welcomed him at the dock in Makkovik and invited Captain Tommy and his shipmate to his home for tea.
 “Uncle Jim is a giver,” said Captain Tommy.
He gave the sailors a book of his photographs, a DVD he had compiled of life in Labrador, a musical performance and his time.
“A man like Uncle Jim should live a thousand years,” Captain Tommy said. “Rest in peace my friend.”
Uncle Jim was medevaced to the Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on the weekend of Mar. 19, where he passed away on Wednesday, Mar. 23, just weeks before his 92nd birthday. 
editor@thelabradorian.capeople. Here Uncle Jim is pictured with Ken Birdwell at the dock in Makkovik

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