OOLIGBUCK (Oolibuck, Ouligbuck, Oullibuck, Oulybuck, Ullebuck), Inuit hunter, interpreter, and guide; m. twice and had at least three children; d. 1852.
The first known reference to Ooligbuck is in May 1824, when he arrived at the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Churchill (Man.). He was engaged by the officer in charge, Hugh Leslie, to accompany Captain John Franklin* on an overland expedition to the mouth of the Mackenzie River (N.W.T.). Ooligbuck, whose wages were 50 made beaver per annum, spoke no English but was to help with the hunt and be company for the Inuit interpreter Augustus [Tattannoeuk*]. The expedition spent the winter of 1825–26 at Fort Franklin on Great Bear Lake (N.W.T.). Ooligbuck passed his time hunting, but, unaccustomed to wooded country, he was not very successful. In the spring the expedition proceeded to Point Separation in the Mackenzie River delta where, on 4 July 1826, the party split into two groups, one under Franklin going west and the other under John Richardson* and Edward Nicolas Kendall* going east towards the Coppermine River. Ooligbuck accompanied Richardson, whom he impressed with his skill as a boatman as well as with his cheerful manner and excellent temper. His presence also reassured the Inuit encountered during this journey of 1,455 miles that the disposition of the exploring party was friendly. During the winter of 1826–27 the expedition made its way southeast overland to Norway House (Man.), where, in June, Ooligbuck and Augustus took leave of Franklin to return to Hudson Bay.
On his return to Churchill in September 1827 Ooligbuck entered the employ of the HBC, providing services which varied from hunting seals to weeding turnips in the company garden. In November 1829, having learned to speak English, he agreed to act as interpreter for a party being led by Nicol Finlayson* with instructions from HBC governor George Simpson to establish a fort at Ungava Bay, and on 23 November he left for Moose Factory (Ont.). After the Ungava Bay post, Fort-Chimo (Que.), was completed in the summer of 1830, Ooligbuck stayed on there as an employee of the company and he helped in opening up trade with the Inuit. Furthermore, since the food supply was frequently precarious, his highly developed hunting skills were deeply appreciated by the men stationed at the fort.
In the autumn of 1837 Ooligbuck agreed to accompany another overland expedition to the Mackenzie and Coppermine rivers and to act as interpreter. Unable to join the group until 13 April 1839, he was none the less warmly greeted by Peter Warren Dease* and Thomas Simpson, the leaders of the party, who described him as a “valuable and unhoped for acquisition.” During the summer of that year he accompanied the exploring party which descended the Coppermine River and surveyed the coastline as far east as the Castor and Pollux River, to the southeast of King William Island (N.W.T.).
When the expedition ended, Ooligbuck remained in the Mackenzie River district and in 1840 accompanied John Bell* up the Peel River to establish Fort McPherson (N.W.T.). Passing the winter of 1841–42 at the HBC fishing post at Big Island, Great Slave Lake, he did not return to Churchill until 1843. In 1846 both Ooligbuck and his son William were engaged as hunters and interpreters for the HBC expedition led by John Rae* to explore the northern coastline between the Castor and Pollux River and the Fury and Hecla Strait. It became apparent, however, that Ooligbuck’s physical strength was weakening and he was unable to maintain the arduous pace of sledge exploration. Returning to Churchill on 31 Aug. 1847 with the expedition, he continued in the service of the company, despite Chief Trader William Sinclair*’s opinion of him as a “poor slow being in everything he does,” until June 1848 when he left to live with his people. In January 1853 William Mactavish*, chief factor at York Factory (Man.), reported that Ooligbuck had died late in 1852.
Probably one of the most travelled Inuit of his time, Ooligbuck rendered important services to the explorers who charted the northern coastline of North America. During the first half of the 19th century there were probably fewer than ten Inuit capable of acting as interpreters, and Ooligbuck was among them. Furthermore, as a skilled guide and hunter he made life easier and safer for the explorers. None the less, he steadfastly maintained his identity as an Inuk despite his constant contact with the HBC. He refused to attend church at Churchill and, showing strong feelings of kinship, he demanded the company of at least one other Inuk during his travels. In 1961 Ooligbuck Point (N.W.T.) was named in his honour by the Canadian Board on Geographical Names.
PAM, HBCA, B.42/a/151: ff.32, 38; B.42/a/155: ff.11, 16d; B.42/a/156: f.1d; B.42/a/157: ff.6, 7d; B.42/a/179: f.14d, 3 Dec. 1843; B.42/a/185: f.4, 29 Nov. 1847; f.17, 7 June 1848; B.157/a/1: f.2d, 17 Aug. 1840; B.186/b/34: f.30; B.200/a/26: ff.6d, 9d, 28 Aug. 1841; B.200/b/13: f.16; B.200/b/16: f.6; B.200/b/17: ff.10, 10d, 30 July 1843; B.239/a/141: f.23, 2 Nov. 1829; B.239/b/104b: f.10, 22 Jan. 1853; B.239/c/3: 20 June 1837; D.5/5: f.133. R. M. Ballantyne, Ungava: a tale of Esquimaux-land (London, 1857). John Franklin, Narrative of a second expedition to the shores of the polar sea, in the years 1825, 1826, and 1827 (London, 1828). Letitia Hargrave, The letters of Letitia Hargrave, ed. M. A. MacLeod (Toronto, 1947). Northern Quebec and Labrador journals and correspondence, 1819–35, ed. K. G. Davies and A. M. Johnson (London, 1963). John Rae, John Rae’s correspondence with the Hudson’s Bay Company on Arctic exploration, 1844–1855, ed. E. E. Rich and A. M. Johnson (London, 1953). Alexander Simpson, The life and travels of Thomas Simpson, the Arctic discoverer (London, 1845). Thomas Simpson, Narrative of the discoveries on the north coast of America; effected by the officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company during the years 1836–39 (London, 1843). Cooke and Holland, Exploration of northern Canada.