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Northern People, Northern Knowledge - 
The Story Of The Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913 - 1918
Canada's Little Arctic Navy: The Ships of the Expedition
Karluk | Alaska | Mary Sachs | Polar Bear | North Star | Challenge | Gladiator | Umiak and launches
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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 fleet.

CMC CD2001-250-028

Three CAE schooners – North Star, Alaska, and Mary Sachs – at Herschel Island, readying for departure, Yukon Territory. August 10, 1914. GHW 51434. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

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 Expedition Navy."

"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.

  • Video:
    Herschel Island buildings
  • Video:
    The Alaska arriving at Herschel Island, with the North Star behind
  • Video:
    Local people walking ashore from boats