See more of the Virtual Museum of Canada
Northern People, Northern Knowledge - 
The Story Of The Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913 - 1918
New Knowlege: Science of the Southern Party
1913 | 1914 Map | 1915 | 1916
Main Menu



Herschel Island at Last

In the late winter the geographers/geologists Cox, Chipman, and O'Neil, followed the Arctic coast by dog team, east from the international boundary, up the Firth River, and throughout the east and west channels of the Mackenzie River Delta, mapping contour lines and geological formations.

CMC CD95-947-024

John O'Neill (centre), Louis Olsen (left) and Captain Peter Bernard (right) starting east for Firth River, Yukon Territory, from Collinson Point, northern Alaska. February 18, 1914. JRC 39523. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

CMC CD95-936-010

J.R. Cox and launch beached at Akpatviataiak (Escape Reef), western edge of the Mackenzie Delta, N.W.T. May 16, 1914. RMA 38701. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

It was not until early July that Alaska was again floating free in the harbour. Alaska left Collinson Point on July 25 and finally reached Herschel Island ten days later, just ahead of the Mary Sachs. These expedition vessels were the first to come into Canadian waters in the western Arctic flying the Canadian flag. At Herschel Island supplies brought in by whaler were loaded on board. Sailing east again from Herschel Island in ice-free summer seas, Alaska reached her destination at Bernard Harbour, one of the few good harbours on the coast. This would be the Expedition's headquarters for the next two years. Mary Sachs went on to Banks Island in support of the Northern Party.

The members of the scientific staff, with their Inuit assistants, unloaded the Alaska and began to construct their winter quarters.

CMC CD95-939-026

First Copper Inuit visitors, seen from CGS Alaska, after arrival of the CAE Southern Party at their base camp, some supplies and a canoe on shore, Bernard Harbour, Nunavut. September 2, 1914. RMA 38931. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

CMC CD95-953-024

Six Copper Inuit (three adults, three children) on shore watching CAE schooners CGS Alaska and North Star shortly after their arrival at Bernard Harbour, Nunavut. September 2, 1914. FJ 42228. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

CMC CD2000-15-023

First Copper Inuit visitors after arrival of the Southern Party, CAE canoe and supplies piled on the shore, viewed from the schooner North Star, Bernard Harbour, Nunavut. September 2, 1914. RMA 38733. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

CMC CD95-936-023

CAE house with canoe alongside, broadside view from southwest, Bernard Harbour, Nunavut. June 9, 1915. RMA 38725. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization


Bernard Harbour, CAE Headquarters. Source: David Gray

Dr. Anderson started back west with Alaska right away, hoping to collect driftwood for fuel, as well as more coal cached at the Baillie Islands, before winter ice set in. Finding weather conditions very favourable at Baillie Islands, and no ice reported to the west, Anderson continued on back to Herschel Island, to pick up additional supplies. Alaska left Herschel Island for Bernard Harbour in mid-September, and arrived back at Baillie Islands in the midst of a rising gale, heavy snowstorm, and spray freezing on the decks and rigging.

The storm, the worst of the season, delayed them long enough that Anderson was facing the possibility of being caught by winter before reaching the safety of Bernard Harbour. So he decided to put the ship into winter quarters behind the sandspit "As the nights are very dark now, with the moon gone and more or less ice floating in, it is a precarious matter to sail at night now, and as young ice is forming pretty thick and slushy at times now, decided to stay here" (RMA Diary, September 1914).

There were enough supplies on the Alaska for Captain Daniel Sweeney, who had joined as master the previous winter; Daniel Blue, engineer; and Mike Siberia, their assistant, to remain as ship-keepers during the winter. Two fresh whale carcasses on the beach, possibly those killed by the whaling schooner Polar Bear, near the ship provided an abundance of dog food and also attracted a number of polar bears and many Arctic foxes to the vicinity.

During the winter, following Anderson's departure by dog team to Bernard Harbour, the ship-keepers hunted seals and polar bears, retaining the skins for museum specimens and the meat to augment their food supply. Christmas, 1914 on the Alaska was a quiet one, with the major event – the "big feed" – being attended by the crew and fourteen Inuit. On December 31, Alaska's winter crew went out on deck at midnight to see the New Year in, according to the ancient custom. And so ended the second year of the Canadian Arctic Expedition.


CGS Alaska in Winter 1914
original watercolour by David Gray, 1987.
Source: Canadian Museum of Nature