Born in San Francisco in 1888, Bernard Hubbard and his family moved to the Big Basin Redwood area south of San Francisco when he was ten years old. Bernard began to explore the woods and mountains of California at a time when travel to the country involved a sometimes wild ride on a Calistoga stagecoach pulled by six horses.
He attended St. Ignatius College and Santa Clara University, and entered the Jesuit order in 1908. Five years later he was teaching Latin, English, mathematics and ancient history in a Jesuit college in east Los Angeles. He also coached baseball and football. The Order next sent him to Mount St. Michael's House of Philosophy in Spokane, Washington. Outside Spokane he studied sections of a 200,000 square mile field of lava beds. He accompanied another priest, a scientist, on expeditions through the ColumbIa River Basin in eastern Washington, areas of Idaho and Montana, Glacier Park and the Yellowstone region in Wyoming.
Father Hubbard also made many trips to Europe. He studied theology in Innsbruck, Austria, and spent his holidays and summer vacations exploring alpine peaks and glaciers. His guides named him "Gletscher pfarrer", Glacier Priest, a title he carried all his life.
In 1926 Hubbard returned to Santa Clara as a professor of Greek, German, and geology. He began exploring the Alaskan wilderness in 1927, financing his trips with proceeds from lectures describing his adventures. His exploits were written up in such publications as National Geographic, The Saturday Evening Post, and The Literary Digest. The "Glacier Priest" wrote popular accounts of his travels, and shot numerous photographs and thousands of feet of film, providing a valuable record of Alaska in the 1930s. Over the next 30 years he led Alaska research expeditions, studied glaciers, volcanoes, anthropology and other subjects. Most of his life was spent lecturing and teaching around the world.
At the age of 67, Father Hubbard suffered a stroke and was paralyzed. Three years later, he recovered and returned again to Alaska. He climbed in and out of boats with some difficulty, held his movie camera with his limp right hand and worked it with his good left hand.
Father Hubbard's home base was Santa Clara University. He lived in Santa Clara during the latter part of his life and deposited there the vast collections of data, photographs and motion pictures created during his explorations and adventures. He was planning yet another summer trip to Alaska when he died in 1962
Hubbard's King Island Expedition
In 1937 and 1938 Father Hubbard lived on King Island, with his boats, dogs, expidition members, and more than 100 tons of supplies and equipment. During this expedition, he continued his glacier research and captured the King Island people on film. The King Islanders took him on a 2,000 mile open-water trip by umiak (skin boat) in his attempt to prove that the Eskimos, from Nome to Barter Island, shared a common language.
Hubbard's arrival on the Island had an impact on the community. Among his supplies were powerful electric generators and engines to power his moving picture equipment and light the hall he constructed to show his films, as well as to give power to other parts of the village. He constructed buildings for the villagers and introduced oil burning stoves to replace the dirtier and less efficient coal burning units they had been using.
Hubbard made several long documentary films and took thousands of still pictures of almost every aspect of King Island life, including native funerals and the celebration dance of success at bear hunting. Bogojavlensky and Robert W . Fuller, who published a number of Hubbard's still photographs in 1973 in their book "Polar Bears, Walrus Hides, and Social Solidarity", praised their high quality. "The ethnographic and historical significance of these photographs is enormous....To our knowledge, there exists no comparable photographic record of an aboriginal sovereign state in all of Arctic ethnology."
While on King Island Hubbard also supervised the erection of the bronze statue entitled "Christ the King" at the top of the island mountain. This was the realization of a dream of Father LaFortune, King Island's resident priest for over twenty years. King Island carvers presented Father Hubbard with two ivory carvings of "Christ the King." He took these with Eskimo greetings to Pope Pius XII.
Hubbard's stay on the island generated controversy. After his party left, Joseph McElmeel, the General Superior of the Alaska mission, wrote "Just at present Father Lafortune has the task of overcoming the bad influence of the Hubbard party on the island last winter. The seculars with Father Hubbard should never have been taken there. Father Hubbard has admitted to me that he can no longer control them as he used to. Even non-Catholics in Nome spoke to me about the danger that the King Islanders would be affected by the stay of the Hubbard party. The too frequent moving pictures developed a craze for pictures in the Islanders. On their visit to Nome this summer it was observed by seculars that they were no longer as simple as they used to be. Father Hubbard is a hard-working man, but he should not be permitted to come to the missions with the type of men he brought this year." The accusations, however, apparently were not very serious because Hubbard and four others, including Edgar Levin, were welcomed back in the summer of 1940 for more photographic work, and to make further improvements to the village.
Sources for these notes include:
Renner, L. L. (1979). Pioneer missionary to the Bering Strait Eskimos: Bellarmine Lafortune, S.J.. Portland, Ore.: published by Binford & Mort for the Alaska Historical Commission.
Senungetuk, V., and Tiulana, P. (1987). A Place for Winter: Paul Tiulana's Story. Anchorage, AK: CIRI Foundation.
Yocom, M., Kaplan, L. D., Alaska Native Language Center. (1988). Ugiuvangmiut quliapyuit: King Island tales : Eskimo history and legends from Bering Strait. Fairbanks, AK: Alaska Native Language Center and University of Alaska Press.
Material from the archives of Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA.