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The Story Of The Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913 - 1918
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Polar Bear

The schooner Polar Bear was built for Captain Louis Lane and his associates in 1911 by the E.W. Heath Company of Seattle. Powered by a three-cylinder gasoline engine, the 81-ton schooner was modelled after Gloucester fishing schooners. Polar Bear made two trading voyages to the Siberian Arctic, then was outfitted for a whaling voyage in 1913. In the heavy ice of 1913, she overwintered near Barter Island with Elvira and Belvedere, not far from where the two CAE schooners, Alaska and Mary Sachs, were overwintering. During her second whaling voyage in 1914 (one of the last whaling voyages) she encountered members of the CAE several times.

In August 1915 Stefansson chartered Polar Bear from Captain Lane (who had met Stefansson at Banks Island) to go to Herschel Island and Bernard Harbour. Then, realizing that the steep charter fees of $1,000 per day were approaching the purchase price, Stefansson decided to buy the Polar Bear for $20,000. As part of the deal, Stefansson also bought Gladiator from Fritz Wolki for $6,000 and gave the smaller schooner to Lane as part payment for Polar Bear.

"During my absence the Polar Bear has arived and have been waiting for Mr Stefansan three days the ship is loaded with supplies and have been bougth by the Commander also another Boat 'the Gladiator' have been bougth from Capt Volki and 50 more dogs have been bougth from various parties making us 90 with what 'Wilkins' has got in the North Star. My informant Capt Lane also brougth me mail from home and several of my relatives in the States" (Storkersen Diary, August 29, 1915).

"He [Stefansson] also bought the Polar Bear for $20,000 with the North Star thrown in, besides paying Louis Lane $12,000 for the hire of the boat. Another purchase was the Gladiator, a gasolene schooner, from Fritz Wolki, for $7,000. The Polar Bear reached Banks Island on the 3rd day after we left, but V.S. stayed at Baillie Island with the Gladiator for another 6 days waiting for an Eskimo Alingnak and his wife. When they arrived at Kellett he transferred to the Polar Bear and as the North Star was not available Louis Lane had to take the Gladiator to go out with" (Wilkins Diary, October 29, 1915).

Polar Bear wintered during 1915-1916 at Armstrong Point, Victoria Island. Stefansson wanted her to winter at Melville Island but she was unable to break through the ice into McClure Strait.

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CAE Schooner Polar Bear in winter quarters in the ice near Armstrong Point, northwest Victoria Island, N.W.T. April 26, 1916. GHW 51152 (photo by J. Hadley). Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

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Clearing snow from the decks of the Polar Bear; Captain Gonzales, Knight (with cap), white fox skins drying on lines, Armstrong Point, northwest Victoria Island, N.W.T. April 26, 1916 (photo by J. Hadley). GHW 51157. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

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Deck of the Polar Bear, a real clutter of objects around the mast, no snow; may be Armstrong Point, northwest Victoria Island, N.W.T. May 1?, 1916. GHW 51164 (photo by J. Hadley). Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

The next summer Polar Bear was supposed to reach Melville Island, but again ice conditions did not permit this. The winter of 1916-1917 she actually spent farther south on Victoria Island at Walker Bay. Polar Bear left Victoria Island in the fall of 1917 with the members of the northern support parties. They cruised to the Baillie Islands, back to Banks Island, and eventually connected with the other support party at Kellett Base camp. There Polar Bear helped pull the restored Mary Sachs off the beach, before Captain Gonzales ordered the latter to be dismasted, driven ashore, and abandoned.


CAE schooner CGS Polar Bear, on the beach at Walker Bay, Victoria Island. June 1917. JH 63491. Source: Canadian Museum of Nature

Stefansson arrived at Kellett Base, purchased the Challenge, and caught up to Gonzales and the Polar Bear. Gonzales left the Expedition at Baillie Islands and Polar Bear continued west with Stefansson assuming command.

At Herschel Island in early September 1917 most of the Inupiat and Inuit helpers and William Seymour were paid off. Polar Bear proceeded west with Hadley as master, and Castel and Masik as 1st and 2nd officers. In mid-September the schooner ran aground on Barter Island, Alaska and spent the winter there. The next spring Polar Bear was damaged and virtually sunk by flooding meltwaters. Under the command of John Hadley, she was successfully extracted from the ice and repaired. It was on 22 July 1918 that Pipsuk, an employee of the Expedition, was drowned while tending the Expedition's fishing nets.

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Polar Bear, aground and listing about 30o, Barter Island, northern Alaska. July 1918. JH 50670. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

Polar Bear finally left for Nome in early August. Still under Hadley's command, she was then sailed to St. Michaels, Alaska, prepared for winter and repaired so as to be ready for sale (Hadley Diary 1918). She was sold to Jafet Lindeberg of Nome for $5,000 in 1919.

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Hauling the Polar Bear onto the shipway, ship upright and braced, ladder leading to its deck, St. Michaels, Alaska. September 1918. JH 50682. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

After leaving the service of the CAE in 1918, Polar Bear again went into the Siberian trade. There she was encountered again by two former members of the CAE, August Masik and Arnout Castel. Castel was trapping at the mouth of the Kolyma River in the winter of 1920-21, and took photos of Polar Bear along with his smaller schooner Belinda in July 1920 (R.M.Anderson files Canadian Museum of Nature Archives). Masik had joined a party of traders who wanted help in salvaging the Polar Bear, which had run aground at the mouth of the Kolyma River in 1920. He wintered there in 1921-22, doing some repair work on the schooner and running a trapline under permit from the Communists (Masik and Hutchison 1935).

Polar Bear was eventually recovered and used by the Soviets between 1925 and 1928. Renamed Polyarnaya Zvezda (Pole Star), she was used to move materials and people along the Arctic coast to the Lena River. She was reported to be unfit for going to sea in 1929 and probably ended her days at the Lena River (Barr 1988).


Schooners Polar Bear and Belinda at Cape Serdre, Siberia, bound for the Kolyma River, July 1920 (photo: Aarnout Castel). Source: Canadian Museum of Nature