Much of the Canadian Arctic Expedition's story could be told
by following the exploits of the ships purchased for the Expedition, especially
the four schooners Alaska, Mary Sachs, North Star, and Polar Bear.
As well as hauling supplies and equipment through the expected trials of heavy
ice and Arctic storms, these ships operated as bases for scientific and geographic
discovery. The ships themselves suffered strandings and sinkings, broken propellers
and reluctant engines, and only one served the Expedition from start to finish.
The Expedition flagship, the ex-whaler Karluk, lasted
only until January 1914. The schooner Mary Sachs, also didn't survive the
expedition, but she gave her name to the community of Sachs Harbour, and parts
of her engines can still be seen there. At the end of the Expedition, the schooner
North Star was given as payment for services to Natkusiak, a hunter and
key member of the Expedition. The Alaska returned safely to Nome in 1916,
loaded with people, specimens, and artifacts. The Polar Bear brought out the last
of the Expedition members in 1918 and ended her northern career in Siberia. Somewhat
surprisingly, an Alaskan umiak proved to be a most valuable member of the CAE
Originally there was to be only one Expedition ship, the ex-whaler Karluk.
However, with the increase in staff and equipment that came when the Canadian
Arctic Expedition was formally taken over by the Dominion Government, more ship
space was required. Thus two additional vessels, the schooners Alaska and
Mary Sachs, were purchased in Nome, Alaska to assist the Karluk
in transporting men and supplies to their areas of operations in the Beaufort
Sea and Coronation Gulf. This little fleet of ships became known as "The
"The Canadian Arctic Expedition Navy now consists of the
Karluk, Alaska, Mary Sachs, five whaleboats (one with power), two other
motor boats, three canoes, two dories, one dinghy and several skin boats"
(Chipman Diary, July 22, 1913).
The tragic story of the Karluk has been told in several books,
but the role of the other ships, especially in the successful explorations of
the Southern Party, has received little attention.
Herschel Island buildings
The Alaska arriving at Herschel Island, with the North Star behind
Local people walking ashore from boats