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Northern People, Northern Knowledge - 
The Story Of The Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913 - 1918
The Impact of the Expedition
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The Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE) had a considerable impact on the northern communities of both the Inuit and Inuvialuit, and also in the south where the new knowledge opened a new world. Inupiat hunters from Alaska, such as Natkusiak, moved into the Canadian Arctic as employees of the CAE, married local women, and stayed behind when the Expedition left. Trading for artifacts introduced new tools, guns, and various utensils to the Copper Inuit. Fox trapping was established as a local industry and lifestyle. Two of the Expedition schooners were left behind, forming a focal point for camps and settlements. The abandonment of the Mary Sachs on southern Banks Island, and Natkusiak's acquisition of the North Star, along with the introduction to fox trapping, resulted in the increased use of Banks Island by the Inuvialuit.

The four islands discovered in 1915 and 1916 by Stefansson's Northern Party were the last major new islands discovered in the Canadian High Arctic and the only major Canadian islands discovered by a Canadian expedition. Several other unknown islands were discovered from the air after the Second World War, during flights to complete aerial photography of the north. The CAE ice trips confirmed that Croker Land (northwest of the Arctic islands) and Keenan Land (north of Alaska) do not exist. The regular soundings of ocean depth during the ice trips also established the nature of the polar continental shelf.

The Southern Party returned with thousands of specimens of animals, plants, fossils and rocks, thousands of artifacts from the Copper Inuit and other cultures, and about 4,000 photographs and 9,000 feet of movie film, covering all aspects of the expedition and its objectives. This material has been used in countless scientific projects and publications, including identification keys and guides. The photographs have been, and continue to be, used in many publications and the film footage taken by Wilkins has appeared in many television and National Film Board productions. Many of the artifacts and specimens collected, including some of the larger mammals that were mounted by taxidermists, have been shown in permanent and travelling exhibits in museums across Canada.

Fourteen volumes of scientific results were published, as well as many scientific papers. Four books have have been written on the Karluk disaster and the subsequent rescue from Wrangel Island, but much of the story of this first major Canadian scientific expedition to the Arctic still remains in expedition diaries. Of all the diaries kept during the Expedition (there were at least twenty), only Diamond Jenness' has been published in full (Arctic Odyssey). Books about the Northern Party include Stefansson's The Friendly Arctic, Noice's With Stefansson in the Arctic, and Montgomery's re-telling of Lorne Knight's Adventures in the Arctic. A book written for young people in 1925 by Violet Irwin, based on Stefansson's diaries, The Shaman's Revenge, tells much of the story of the Northern Party, focussing on the events on Banks and Melville Islands, including the destruction of the Mary Sachs. The only books about the work of the Southern Party are Jenness' The People of the Twilight and Dawn in Arctic Alaska.


Cover of a typical CAE report. Source: David Gray

Establishing Sovereignty
The Canadian government was clearly concerned with establishing Canada's sovereignty over any new lands discovered by the CAE. The Honourable J.C. Patterson was paid an annual salary of $2,400 for seven years (1914-1920) "for investigating titles to British possessions in Arctic seas." Patterson was a former Minister of the Militia and Secretary of State, and also served as Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba between 1895 and 1900.

The concern was justified. Many of the Arctic islands transferred to Canada from Britain in 1881 had been discovered and mapped by Otto Sverdrup, a Norwegian explorer. American explorers had travelled extensively on the "Canadian" islands where few Canadians had been. At the same time that Stefansson was exploring the Arctic islands from the west, the American explorer Donald MacMillan was following in Sverdrup's footsteps, and also confirming that Peary's "Crocker Land," north of Axel Heiberg Island, did not exist. From his base in Greenland, MacMillan visited Ellef Ringnes Island in April 1916, just three months before Stefansson arrived there to find his cairn and messages. (Note: It was Captain Robert Bartlett, former captain of the CAE vessel Karluk, who brought MacMillan's party home in 1917 on the ship Neptune.)


Bernard Harbour
The site of the CAE Southern Party's headquarters became a Hudson's Bay Company store (1916-1932) and the base of the Anglican mission to the area in the summer of 1916, soon after the CAE left; the Mission closed in 1928. Later an RCMP post (1926-1932) was established. With this attraction, more of the Copper Inuit families focussed their activities in the area. The construction of a Dew Line site and airstrip increased the numbers of people there, but when the site closed, most people moved to Coppermine, now Kugluktuk. Aime Ahegona of Kugluktuk maintains a cabin close to the fishing creek near the site of the CAE headquarters.

CMC CD2001-250-027

The Fort McPherson, a Hudson's Bay Company boat, about to leave for Bernard Harbour with building materials to establish a trading post there, Herschel Island, Yukon Territory. August 4, 1916. GHW 51372. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

Sachs Harbour
Sachs Harbour is the most northerly community in the new Northwest Territories. The harbour was first described by members of the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1918, who briefly anchored the expedition schooner Mary Sachs behind the sandspit in August 1914. At that time there were no people living year-round on the island, though archaeological sites along the coast dating to the Thule period show that the area was occupied some 500 years ago. The traditional name Ikaahuk ("where you go across to") refers to both the movements of people from Victoria Island to Banks Island to hunt, and the later seasonal use of the Island for fox trapping.

After the departure of the Canadian Arctic Expedition in 1917, fox trapping activity on Banks Island increased and several seasonal camps were established along the coasts by people who travelled from the Mackenzie Delta and Victoria Island. During the time known as "the Schooner Days," Sachs Harbour provided a place where their schooners could be hauled up safely with the protection of the large sandspit at the mouth of the Sachs River. The present name for the harbour first appeared on official maps in 1946.

Inuvialuit trappers first wintered at Sachs Harbour in 1932 and in the winter of 1941 there were seven families living in the camp at Sachs Harbour. After a short period of little use, activity was renewed in the early 1950s. An RCMP post was established at Sachs Harbour in 1953 and a post office and weather station in 1955. The name of the village became official in 1955. In 1958, Fred Carpenter, who built the first cabin at Sachs in the late 1930s, established a store and trading post to serve the eight families trapping there.

At Sachs Harbour, the 1960s brought more major changes to community life. People began spending their summers there and the last schooner trip to Sachs Harbour occurred in 1961. In 1966 the whole of Banks Island was registered as a group trapping area in which only members of the Sachs Harbour Hunters' and Trappers' Association had the right to trap. In 1967, as part of a centennial project, a cairn incorporating several parts of the engines of the schooner Mary Sachs was erected on the hillside above the town, commemorating the founding of Sachs Harbour.

Although there were no muskoxen seen on Banks Island during the CAE, by the early 1970s the muskox population of Banks Island had increased dramatically and muskox hunting was permitted. Beginning in 1981, a new industry for Sachs Harbour was established; the commercial hunting of muskoxen as a sports hunt, and the development of a local meat industry. Although people no longer overwinter at the outcamps, they have been extensively used as part of the local trapping and hunting lifestyle. The current population is about 330 people, mostly Inuvialuit.

The economy of Sachs Harbour is primarily based on hunting and trapping with tourism increasing in importance. The establishment of Aulavik National Park on northern Banks Island is an important development for tourism.


Sachs Harbour, Banks Island. June 1996. Source: David Gray


Snowmobile and komatik (with muskox hide), Sachs Harbour, June 1996. Source: David Gray


Muskox head and robe (hide), Sachs Harbour, June 1996. Source: David Gray

In Memory
The official memorial plaque listing all those who died while on CAE service; "In Memory of Those who Perished - Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913-18" was dedicated in 1926 and displayed in the National Archives building in Ottawa. When the building was torn down, the plaque was lost. This memorial plaque could be redone, with Pipsuk's name added.


Historic Sites memorial plaque. Source: Canadian Museum of Nature