Fred Bruemmer wrote 27 books and more than 1,000 articles in his lifetime, many of them chronicled Inuit life in Canada’s Arctic, reported the Montreal Gazette.
Friend and fellow journalist Ernest Hillen wrote in a 1982 profile for Maclean’s magazine that Bruemmer’s images and stories about Inuit life made him “one of the least-known world-famous men in Canada.”
Bruemmer passed away December 17 at the age of 82.
For 30 years of his life, he spent six months of each year in the far North. The first book he published in 1969 was The Long Hunt, about Inuit and how they hunt polar bears. He went on a 2,000-kilometer, two-month expedition with three hunters to complete the book.
“We traveled by dog team trying to find the polar bears, then to stop a bear you use the dogs,” Bruemmer told Kerem Saltuk during an interview. “That’s basically how they hunted polar bears since time began.”
Saltuk wondered how people reacted to the book about the hunt.
“Very good, it was an unusual book, nobody had ever done anything like that,” Bruemmer told him.
His latest book is Arctic Visions (Key Porter Books 2009), which Bruemmer described to Saltuk as “historical pictures, nobody could take them anymore. That is from a life that no longer exists.”
Bruemmer was able to join the Inuit so often because he accepted them as they were. “In the humblest way I ask, ‘May I join you?’ ” he said in the Maclean’s article. He shared their food: “seal, ducks, eggs, caribou and fish, often raw. I like it,” he said. “I’m a kabloona (white man) with no complaints, advice or questions.”
Spending half the year in the Arctic wasn’t always his life though. Bruemmer was born Friedrich Karl von Bruemmer in 1929 in Riga, Latvia to a privileged German family. His family fled to Nazi-occupied Poland when Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin in 1939. The Bruemmers tried to flee when the Soviets marched into Poland, but they were captured. His parents were murdered and the young Bruemmer was sent to a coal mine in the Ukraine as a slave laborer.
When “you see everybody around you die, and you don’t die, there’s a tremendous feeling of victory. I survived. I did it,” Bruemmer told an interviewer in 2006.
Bruemmer came to Canada in 1951. He worked in a gold mine in Kirkland Lake, Ontario and bought a motorcycle to explore, reported the Montreal Gazette.
“When they got a holiday, everybody else would go south and get drunk and Fred would go up north,” Hillen told the Montreal Gazette.
After a local photographer taught him how to take pictures, Bruemmer quit his job at the mine to work for the Gazette. But he quit shortly after to work as a freelancer.
Bruemmer is survived by his wife, Maud, as well as their children and grandchildren, his sister Heddy, and other extended family.
A funeral will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Philip’s Anglican Church, 25 Brock Ave. in Montreal.
Watch the interview Kerem Saltuk did with Bruemmer here: