The Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1918 was the first multi-disciplinary scientific expedition to the Canadian Arctic and an important event in the history of two of Canada's National Museums and the Geological Survey of Canada. The impact of the Expedition on the local people was considerable.

The Expedition was the inspiration of anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Initially, Stefansson planned to continue work in the western Arctic begun during the Stefansson-Anderson Expedition of 1908-1912 and to explore for unknown lands in the Beaufort Sea under the American Museum of Natural History. Aware of the sovereignty issues raised by the potential discovery of new islands in the Canadian Arctic, Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden arranged to fund the Expedition as a Canadian enterprise. The Director of the Geological Survey of Canada successfully urged the inclusion of scientific research to be done along the Canadian Arctic mainland coast.


The official objectives resulted in the division of the Expedition into two parties: the Northern Party led by Stefansson, to explore for new lands north of the mainland, and the Southern Party, led by Dr. R.M. Anderson, an Arctic zoologist, to conduct the scientific research on the northern mainland. Two government agencies were assigned responsibility for the Expedition: the Department of Naval Service and the Geological Survey of Canada. It was to be a three-year expedition, employing fourteen scientists from several countries, as well as captains and crews.

Getting Started

The Expedition set out from Victoria, B.C. in June 1913, on the ex-whaler, Karluk, under the command of Captain Robert Bartlett. Two schooners, Alaska and Mary Sachs, were purchased at Nome, Alaska, to handle the increase in men and supplies due to the expanded aims of the Expedition. It wasn't long before things started to go wrong. The ice conditions off the north coast of Alaska were severe in 1913 and Karluk was one of several ships that became trapped in the ice. Karluk was crushed, and sank. The two smaller Expedition schooners were able to navigate in shallow water as far as Collinson Point, Alaska, where they overwintered.

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