The wooden schooner, Mary Sachs, was the third ship purchased by the Canadian
government in 1913 to support the Canadian Arctic Expedition. Stefansson wired
Ottawa from Nome in July, stating that Karluk and Alaska were both
overloaded and suggesting that another schooner be purchased at Nome rather than
at Herschel Island as originally planned. There were "many excellent gas
schooners for sale cheap, account hard times" (Stefansson telegram July 1913,
National Archives of Canada). Approval was given, Mary Sachs was purchased for $5,000, and she
was ready to sail the next day. Mary Sachs was to be a tender to both parties
and was incidentally to carry out oceanographic work.
A 30-ton, 60-foot schooner with twin propellers, Mary Sachs
was built at Benicia, California (near San Francisco) in 1898 (official number
92847). Although the early history of Mary Sachs is not completely known,
the following gives some idea of her life before the CAE.
In 1904 Mary Sachs was chartered by Charles Madsen,
a 20-year-old Danish immigrant, for a trading voyage to Siberia. The owner of
the Mary Sachs offered Madsen the schooner on a commission basis. She was
sturdily constructed, wide of beam, shallow draft, and with a centreboard to prevent
her from drifting sideways in a strong wind, but had no auxiliary engine at that
time. Madsen sailed her through the Bering Strait and westward along the Arctic
coast, stopping at Chucki villages to trade for furs, ivory and whalebone. After
returning to Nome, Madsen began looking for another ship, as Mary Sachs
then lacked the auxiliary engine needed to cope with the dangers of ice and storms
of the Bering Sea (Hunt 1975). Mary Sachs next became a
boat for the US postal Service.
At the time of her purchase by the Canadian Government, Mary
Sachs was owned by Captain Peter Bernard (though the Bill of Sale gives Etta M.
Bernard as owner) and operated by him in Alaskan waters. When he sold her to the
CAE, it was with the provision that he might buy her back at the end of the voyage.
Captain Peter Bernard was hired as master at $125 per month during the summer
When Mary Sachs sailed from Nome she was heavily loaded.
On deck were cans of fuel, ten sleds and eight dogs. Stefansson decided to send
Chipman as far as Herschel Island on Mary Sachs to command the schooner,
as Captain Peter Bernard was not a navigator. Chipman's diary provides more details
of the ship:
"Mary Sachs 36 tons registered 63' 9" over
all. 19' 8" beam. 4' 8" deep 6' 6" draught loaded. Has 68 tons
on now. Twin screw 2 - 30 H.P. Union Engines. Supposed to do 7 knots. 8 bunks
forward, 6 aft. sold for $5000 and Peter Bernard keeps 1/3rd interest and gets
her back at the end of the three years. We have 350 cases gasolene & distillate
on board" (Chipman Diary, August 3, 1913).
Like the Alaska, Mary Sachs got only as far as
Collinson Point near the Alaska-Yukon boundary in 1913. There the two CAE schooners
were caught in heavy slush ice and frozen in for the winter by the middle of September.
Finally reaching Herschel Island in summer 1914,
Mary Sachs, under the command of Expedition photographer
George Wilkins, took a load of supplies and equipment across to
Banks Island, stopping first at the Baillie Islands. They
were to meet Stefansson and his three men who had crossed the Beaufort Sea ice
from Alaska. During the trip, she damaged her hull in a gale and had great difficulty
in weathering the storm. Leaking badly, with one propeller shaft broken, and an
engineer who was often drunk, the ship did not provide a pleasure cruise.
"A heavy breeze increasing to a gale had sprung up, accompanied
by sleet and fog. Our compass was very erratic, and the steering of the boat even
more so. Thompson is the only one on deck that can manage the wheel. Billy keeps
the boat swinging from side to side, making almost 45 degree turns, and I have
seen Captain Bernard make a complete circle in one watch" (Wilkins Diary,
August 15, 1914).
They brought the supplies ashore just east of Cape Kellett at
one of the few places where it was possible to haul a ship ashore for the winter
and were soon joined by Stefansson and his party who had landed on Banks Island
in June. Work was started on a hut for winter quarters and Mary Sachs was winched
up out of the water part way onto the beach. This camp alongside Mary Sachs
became a winter base for the Northern Party of the CAE from 1914 to 1917. In 1914
the camp, known as Kellett Base, was manned by Bernard, Crawford, Thomsen and his
family, and Baur.
Adrift, Beached, Abandoned
"A heavy blow today from S.E. large ice being blown ashore
The Mary Sach broke adrift from her fastening owing to heavy Swill. She
was secured after 6 hours work by all hands Think she will be wrecked sometime
this fall as she is in a poor place A Sail was sighted this PM which proved a
2 masted schooner resembling the Polar Bear. She was headed for Cape Kellett Mr.Steffansen
left this PM to intercept her there A heavy swell on at 8 PK. Temp +38 [F] Bar
29.82" (Baur Diary, August 1915).
It was not until the summer of 1917 that Mary Sachs
again became a focus of activity. The returning members of the Northern Party
began preparations to leave Banks Island on Mary Sachs while awaiting Stefansson's
return from the north. Aarnout Castel recorded in his diary the efforts made to
repair the engines, repair damage to the hull, complete the caulking, and the
final re-rigging and painting of the ship. For a month, Castel, Andersen, Binder,
and Masik worked steadily on preparing the ship for the open water season.
Unfortunately, it was all wasted labour. Soon after the arrival
of Henry Gonzales, captain of the Polar Bear, the Sachs was taken on a short trial
run, then Gonzales ordered her beached by driving her ashore. Then, through a
series of misunderstandings or deliberate misreading of orders, Gonzales commanded
the men to cut up the mast of Mary Sachs for firewood, remove the wheelhouse,
and use the ship's planks to build a hut for the winter. The wheelhouse was set
up on shore for use as a hut by Binder and Masik, who were going to stay on Banksland
for the winter to trap
foxes. This was obviously a benefit to them, but a loss for both the Northern
Party and the Canadian Government.
The whole party then left for Herschel Island on the Polar
Bear, just days before Stefansson arrived on foot from the northeast corner
of Banks Island. His companions, Noice, Eimu, and Knight, arrived the next day.
"Aug 20 Cape Kellot Base Arrived here at 7:30pm, having
travelled WxS 15 miles. Saw the ship at a distance of 8 miles and travelled along
the ridge which runs out to Kellot. Due to the nature of the country we could
not see the ship again until we within 600 yards of her. Then to our dismay we
noticed first that the ship was listed over to one side then that the ship had
only one mast. She was sunk, with her nose upon the beach. Her rigging was tangle
of cut ropes and cables swaying back and forth in the wind. Yes the Sachs
was a wreck our hopes were dashed to the ground. The place had a deserted dismal
desolate look. Not a soul in sight no dogs everything dead -
Coming a little closer we saw a fox playing around some boxes no it was too
black for a fox it must be a pupy. And a pupy it was then other dogs came into
sight and finally a man emerged from the wheelhouse of the ship which had been
moved up on the beach. It was Mr. Stefanson. He had a tragic story to tell; a
tale of starvation and death, of insubordination and trickery" (Noice Diary,
August 20, 1917).
When James Crawford arrived at Kellett Base on 26 August 1917
with the schooner Challenge, Stefansson, needing a ship to travel out,
bought Challenge for $6000 and gave Crawford all the CAE supplies on Banks
Island, including the wreck of the Mary Sachs.
When Stefansson met up with Polar Bear and Captain Gonzales
a day after leaving Kellett, he was given Gonzales' version of why Mary Sachs
had been wrecked. According to Gonzales, he had chopped out the mast and put the
ship on the beach because his galley stove had been short on fuel, and that the
Sachs was no good, anyhow, and that he did not have the time to tow Mary
Sachs to what was then called "Baur Harbour," now Sachs Harbour.
He also felt that Binder and Masik would have more important things to do than
to keep pumping the ship to keep her afloat. The engines of Mary Sachs
were indeed not in good condition only one was working well but as Stefansson
pointed out, many a sailing ship in the days of the whalers had gone from Cape
Kellett to the Pacific without the use of engines.
Mary Sachs after the CAE
The presence of the ship on the coast of Banks Island was a
beacon for Inuvialuit trappers, who soon started to make an annual trip to Banksland
for trapping. The already established houses and the ready supply of wood that
Mary Sachs provided was of considerable use to those early inhabitants.
Elder Persis Gruben, who arrived at Mary Sachs with
her father, Lennie Inglangasak, in 1928, described the remnants of the Mary
Sachs and the CAE camp:
"Where we landed, there was a little house. It was a pilot house from an
old ship. Beside it, there was a house made of iron, sheet iron, maybe a warehouse.
Those were old camp grounds with two big engines on the beach that belonged to
the Mary Sachs. The pilot house became a house, the windows were round
portholes and we had flooring. Polar bears would peep through portholes... All
camped at the pilot house, Inualuyak's family put a stove in it... Dad fixed the
little house made of iron sheet (left from the Canadian Arctic Expedition) and
put windows and a flooring. At that time gas cans were square and in wooden boxes,
we use that for floor, but towards the bed there was no flooring" (Persis
Gruben, in Nagy 1999, Aulavik Oral History Project on Banks Island, NWT: Final Report).
Elder David Bernhardt of Kugluktuk also remembers seeing the
wheelhouse of the Mary Sachs on the land when he first came to Banks Island in
about 1929. The keel of the schooner was there too, pushed up on the beach by
ice (David Bernhardt Interview, Kugluktuk, September 2002).
When Jimmy Memorana of Holman first came to Banks Island, he
remembers seeing "lots of barrels, round wood (at Mary Sachs) and a big kind
of muffler, long like pipe. The wheelhouse of Mary Sachs with round windows, covered
with polar bear and muskox skins, when first there, the door was a muskox skin"
(Jimmy Memorana Interview, Holman, September 2002).
Frank Carpenter of Inuvik suggested that the people used dynamite
to break the ship up further, so that they could use the wood. Fred
Wolki built a large workshop at Blue Fox Harbour north of Cape Kellett using
wood from the Mary Sachs. This workshop was dismantled after Fred's death
and used in building a storage shed at Sachs Harbour. In later years, people from
Sachs Harbour and other camps continued to visit Mary Sachs to obtain pieces
of brass or copper from her engines for use in making ulus or knives (Fred Carpenter
interview, Inuvik, September 2002).
The final destruction of Mary Sachs probably took place
in the late 1930s. Geddes Wolki, an Elder from Sachs Harbour, remembers seeing
the long timber keel of Mary Sachs on the beach at the time of his earliest trips
to the area with his grandfather in the 1940s. He describes the remnant as being
oriented along the beach (east-west) with the curved part of the bow still attached
(Geddes Wolki Interview, Sachs Harbour, September 2002).
Mary Sachs Today
Today "Mary Sachs" is a community picnic ground and
hunting spot 15 km west of Sachs Harbour, at the end of the road leading towards
Cape Kellett. In spring and fall it is an important goose-hunting area. Each year
on July 1st, the people of Sachs Harbour gather at Mary Sachs Creek for a community
celebration of Canada Day.
It is a suitable place to celebrate history, as it was here
that the ship, which became the namesake of both Sachs Harbour and Mary Sachs
Creek, was hauled up on the sandy beach in the fall of 1914 to establish the first
"modern" camp on Banks Island. The ship's wreckage provided a focus
and materials that would not have existed had the ship sailed away in 1917 as
Several remnants of Mary Sachs can still be seen just
west of Mary Sachs Creek. Two large parts of the Union engine blocks, part of
a propeller shaft, a large water or fuel tank, and bits of rusty pipe are the
main items there that are probably ship fragments. Many smaller fragments including
glass, nails, and pottery are scattered around the area. Still obvious are the
foundations and the corrugated iron walls of the sod huts, built by the CAE personnel
and used later by white trappers and finally by Inuvialuit hunters and trappers
In 1967 several parts of the Mary Sachs engines were
incorporated into the centennial cairn erected on the hillside above the town.
The schooner Mary Sachs is also commemorated by the official name "Mary
Sachs Passage" near Cross and Barter Islands on Alaska's north coast.
Views of the ice and ocean at Mary Sachs in September 2002,
88 years to the day after the schooner Mary Sachs arrived at Banks Island:
The Mary Sachs unloading at Banks Island in September 1914