The Arctic and More

With Canada's Atlantic and Pacific coasts mapped, attention again turned to the Arctic. The desire to find a northwest passage had waned somewhat with the growing suspicion that such a water passage, if it existed, would never be commercially viable. However, Cook's recent voyages, as well as whalers' reports of shifting ice in the Arctic, had piqued European interest in Canada's north. Also, the end of the Napoleonic wars left the British navy without a purpose.

Robert McClure managed to complete the passage partly by water, and partly by land. His success was largely due to the survival strategies he enthusiastically copied from the Inuit. This lesson was hard earned, as the feat was achieved only after several disastrous British military-led expeditions over the better part of a century.

Towards the end of the century, the motives for geographical exploration in Canada became, increasingly, scientific: investigation of climate, flora, fauna, geology and anthropology. Most of the expeditions were made by Canadians, Americans and Norwegians. Some were privately financed, but increasingly government agencies and museums were involved. The Carnegie Museum (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) alone sponsored nine expeditions between 1901 and 1920 to subarctic regions to study bird populations.

John Ross: The discovery of the magnetic pole

John Ross (1777 - 1856)

The explorer John Ross was only nine years old when he entered the Royal Navy in November 1786. The son of a Protestant minister, there was nothing in his background that foretold his long career in the navy or his future exploits. His first experiences were on the Mediterranean and then on merchant ships where he apprenticed in navigation on the high seas before returning to the navy to serve throughout the Napoleonic wars.

In 1818, England was regaining interest in the search for a passage in the northwest of North America following reports brought by whalers from the North Atlantic. They told of having seen unusual quantities of ice blocks coming from eastern Greenland. These masses of ice, of exceptional size, as well as an unusual number of icebergs, had drifted south. Their observations gave rise to the hypothesis that the ice barrier in the Arctic had been reduced, which led the Admiralty and the Royal Society to organize an expedition into Davis Strait and Baffin Bay. They entrusted this expedition to John Ross, with William Edward Parry as first mate. Their mission consisted of going around the extreme northeast coast of America and of sailing to Bering Strait. They were also asked to note the currents, tides, and the state of ice and magnetism and to collect specimens relating to the natural sciences.

In April 1818, Ross left London with two ships and entered Smith and Davis straits and, on August 31, Lancaster Sound. He re-examined the observations made by Baffin two centuries earlier. Thanks to the interpreter John Sacheuse, an Inuk of southern Greenland who had learned English during a voyage to England on a whaling ship, the crew had many contacts with the Inuit along the west coast of Greenland.

Unfortunately, John Ross suffered from mirages of the Far North, and could only see mountains at the far ends of straits. The mountains that he saw on the horizon in Lancaster Sound he named "Crocker Hills". He decided not to go any further, in spite of advice to the contrary given by his subordinates, including William Parry and Edward Sabine. The account of his voyage, published the following year, brought to light Ross's disagreements with his officers, and with the Second Secretary of the Admiralty, John Barrow, over the existence of the Crocker Hills. This controversy discredited Ross in the eyes of the Admiralty.

In 1829, Ross admitted to having drawn hasty conclusions during this expedition and convinced one of his friends, Felix Booth, the distiller of Booth gin, to finance another expedition to the Arctic, this time on a steam ship. Ross brought along his nephew, James Clark Ross, and they and their crew left the harbour in May 1829. Beyond Lancaster Sound, they sailed south into Prince Regent Inlet and went beyond the place where Parry had stopped in 1825. At this point, the Victory became caught in the ice, forcing the crew to spend the next four years in the Arctic. They were the first explorers to survive there for such a long time. Only three men died. During these years, with the help of Inuit who settled close to the ship, they explored the regions to the west and north. During one of these explorations, on June 1, 1831, James Clark Ross identified the magnetic north pole on the west coast of the Boothia Peninsula.

"It must be hereafter remembered in history, and will be so recorded, that it was the ship Victory, under the command of Captain John Ross, which assigned the north-west Magnetic Pole, in the year 1831, and that this vessel was fitted out by him whom [571] I can now call Sir Felix Booth; [...]."

(Ross 1835, 570)

In the spring of 1832, Ross decided to abandon the Victory, and he and his crew walked to the beach where Parry's ship, the Fury, lay shipwrecked. The men built a shelter, which they named "Somerset House." They repaired the Fury's longboats and took off to try to reach a fleet of whalers. Unable to reach Lancaster Sound because of ice, they returned to the Fury. Finally, on August 14, 1833, seeing a break in the ice to the north, they got in their boats and sailed east. On the way, to their great surprise, they spotted the flagship that Ross had been piloting during his first Arctic journey of 1818, the whaler Isabella, now under another captain. In October 1833, Ross finally landed in England.

This impressive experience, as well as the scientific and ethnological information gathered by Ross's team, brought him the renown that he had long sought. Ross and his nephew were received by King William IV, and John Ross became a celebrity in London's salons. He received more than 4 000 letters of congratulations and he was named an honorary citizen of London, Liverpool, Bristol and other cities. Ross also received several other prizes and medals from other European countries. Surpassing all this, he was knighted on December 24, 1834 and became a Companion of the Order of Bath.

All these signs of recognition, however, did not put an end to the controversies that he had aroused. He was reproached for taking credit for his nephew's scientific discoveries. His criticisms regarding the motor of the Victory shocked the manufacturer, who responded in public. John Barrow published further offensive, and somewhat excessive, comments, leading to a war of words. However, these controversies tended rather to make Ross's expedition better known than to harm him.

John Ross gave up exploration to become Great Britain's consul in Stockholm, Sweden, from 1839 to 1846. Back in England, he was one of the first to be publicly concerned with the fate of Sir John Franklin's expedition to the Arctic. The Admiralty refused his offer to go looking for him but, in 1850, the Hudson's Bay Company asked him to head a private expedition that they sponsored to find the explorer. At the age of 72, he undertook a third voyage to the Arctic. Like the other men who had left with the same goal, Ross returned empty-handed in September 1851. The explorer settled in Scotland but spent much time in London, where he died during a visit in 1856.

John Ross's 1829-1833 expedition was beneficial in two ways to Arctic exploration. First, it led to the discovery of the magnetic pole; and second, it demonstrated that it was possible to survive in the Far North. The role of the Inuit, who taught Ross and his team about this harsh environment, was crucial to the explorer's achievements, though it has not been much mentioned historically.

William Edward Parry and the arctic archipelago

William Edward Parry (1790 - 1855)

William Edward Parry was born in Bath, England. In 1803, at the age of 13, he entered the Royal Navy and became a sublieutenant the same year. He served in the English Channel and in the Baltic Sea during the Napoleonic Wars and, promoted to lieutenant in 1810, was sent to protect whalers in the Spitzbergen Archipelago. After having spent the War of 1812-1814 on the east coast of North America, Parry had only one wish -- to go in search of the Northwest Passage. He requested authorization from the Admiralty to participate in the polar expeditions that it was organizing. The Admiralty agreed and supported his four Arctic voyages.

His first expedition was with John Ross. He commanded the brig Alexander, second ship of the expedition, smaller than Ross' sloop, the Isabella. Travelling more slowly than Ross, Parry arrived in Lancaster Sound second, where he noted that "... the swell comes from the north-west compass (that is, south-south-west true), and continues just as it does in the ocean. It is impossible to remark this circumstance, without feeling a hope that it may be caused by this inlet being a passage into a sea to the westward of it." The controversy raised by his observation, which was contrary to Ross's, who had seen mountains at the end of what he thought was an inlet, led the Admiralty to entrust Parry with a new expedition the following year.

Parry left in May 1819 to try to meet Franklin coming over land, and confirmed that there were no mountains such as Ross had seen. He went on to Prince Regent Inlet (which was ice-bound), Barrow Strait, and then a group of islands, which he called North Georgian (now the Parry Islands). For the first time, European ships had entered the Arctic Archipelago. Continuing west, Parry was the first to reach 110º west longitude, off Melville Island, but the ice prevented his going further and he put in at Winter Harbour, on Melville Island, where the freeze-up kept him until August 1, 1820. He then continued west to around Cape Dundas. After having discovered a new land to the south, Banks Island, he had to give up his research because of ice conditions and return to England.

This voyage, one of the most important in the history of Arctic exploration, showed that Lancaster Sound opened a passage to the west, and revealed the complex labyrinth of islands through which the sea route to the west would have to be sought. Parry also proved that it was possible to spend the winter inside the Arctic Circle without being in grave danger. Back in England, in November 1820, he was named Commander and unanimously elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

At the end of April 1821, the explorer again left England for the Arctic. This time, he was to go through Hudson Strait and explore the territory west of Baffin Island. Passing north of Southampton Island, he entered Repulse Bay, then looked for a passage in the bays and inlets west of Foxe Basin, but found nothing. Forced to stop, he wintered close to the coast.

Because of previous experience, Parry had set his ships up to improve living conditions in the north. First, he modified the heating to reduce humidity in the cabins and replaced the sailors' cots with hammocks to allow for better air circulation. Like Champlain in Acadia in the 17th century, Parry became aware of the importance of entertainment to the crew's morale, especially in the perpetual dark of northern winters. Thus, every two weeks, the Royal Arctic Theatre put on a play with costumes and lighting, which the crews of both ships attended. A class was set up for the men to learn to read and write. Others had to go ashore to the observatory every day to take magnetic readings and make other scientific observations. The arrival of a group of Inuit in February created interest for the crew and led to a friendly relationship.

These Inuit told Parry of a strait that led to the sea in the west. When he was able to sail again, Parry got to the strait but found it blocked by ice. He crossed it on foot and got as far as the Gulf of Boothia. He named this strait "Fury and Hecla", after his ships. Hoping to cross it with his ships the following year, he spent another winter in the far north, close to Igloolik Island. But the ice remained and, the following summer, Parry put an end to this expedition. This voyage uncovered a little known sector of the Arctic and provided them with a wealth of information on the culture and way of life of the Inuit.

In 1824, Parry led another expedition, again on the Hecla and the Fury. He wanted to get to Prince Regent Inlet to look for a passage to the southwest. Held up all summer by strong accumulations of ice at the entrance to Baffin Bay, he entered Lancaster Sound only on September 10. Having reached Bowen Harbour, in Prince Regent Inlet, with great difficulty, he stopped there for the winter. In July of the following year, the shifting of the ice made crossing the inlet particularly difficult and dangerous. The Fury was pushed on shore and sustained serious damage. Unable to make repairs, Parry abandoned it and took the crew aboard his ship. Faced with poor sailing conditions, he opted to return to England. Nevertheless, he had collected important information on the probable location of the magnetic pole and on arctic fauna. In 1830, John Ross's expedition would be saved thanks to the Fury's shipwreck, and it would find the location of the magnetic pole.

"The more leisure we obtained to consider the state of the Fury, the more apparent became the absolute, however unfortunate, necessity of heaving her down. Four pumps were required to be at work without intermission to keep her free, and this in perfectly smooth water, showing that she was, in fact, so materially injured as to be very far from seaworthy. One third of her working men were constantly employed, as before remarked, in this laborious operation, and some of their hands had become so sore from the constant friction of the ropes, that they could hardly handle them any longer without the use of mittens, assisted by the unlaying of the ropes to make them soft."

(Sir W.E. Parry 1840, II: 144)

Parry conducted a last voyage in 1827 to reach the North Pole by crossing the ice in the Spitzbergen archipelago. He was the first to reach 82º45' N but he did not reach the North Pole. He was knighted on April 29, 1829 at the same time as John Franklin. He then occupied several executive positions at the Admiralty. After a long illness, he died at Bad Ems, near Koblenz, Germany, on July 8 or 9, 1855. For his contribution to furthering knowledge on the Arctic, as a navigator and explorer, Parry is considered comparable to James Cook and to James Clark Ross.

The tragedy of Sir John Franklin

John Franklin (1786 - 1847)

At a very young age, John Franklin wanted to join the navy. His father, a cloth merchant, began by being opposed to this career but then helped him enter it. Born in 1786, in Spilsby, England, Franklin left school at the age of 12 to become a sailor on board a merchant ship. A year later, his father entered him as a volunteer in the Royal Navy, but took him out the following year to let him join the expedition of one of his uncles, Matthew Flinders, to the coast of Australia in 1802-1803. On his return, Franklin went back into the Royal Navy and served in its ranks until the end of the Napoleonic Wars. He then expressed an interest in taking part in Arctic explorations. After a first, unsuccessful, expedition beyond the Spitzbergen archipelago, he conducted three voyages in search of the Northwest Passage for the Admiralty. He never returned from the last one.

In 1819, Franklin left on an expedition to explore the coast of the Arctic Ocean eastwards, starting at the Coppermine River. To get there, he took a Hudson's Bay Company ship, landed at Fort York and passed through Cumberland House, Saskatchewan, and then through Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, the latter a North West Company post. He recruited Native guides and hunters but too few in number because conflicts between the two fur companies made labour hard to secure. Moreover, Franklin found that the hunters could not provide him with the promised supplies, a fact which did not bode well. Nevertheless, in the summer of 1820, he got as far as Winter Lake, where he spent the winter. In this place, which he called "Fort Enterprise," Franklin, gripped with the problem, among others, of having too few provisions, reacted badly and infuriated both the Native people and voyageurs. Luckily, ensign George Back calmed everyone by acquiring provisions at Fort Chipewyan. Still, these provisions did not suffice and the men were starving when they reached the mouth of the Coppermine River in 1821.

"We were all convinced of the necessity of putting a speedy termination to our advance, as the hope which we had cherished of meeting the Esquimaux and procuring provision from them could now scarcely be entertained; [...] I announced my determination of returning after four days' examination, unless, indeed, we should previously meet the Esquimaux, and be enabled to make some arrangement for passing the winter with them."

(Franklin 1823, 385)

Franklin sent two Native people, Tuttanuak and Hiutiruk, to ask for help from the coastal Inuit, whom they had sighted. The latter, frightened, ran away and did not return. Franklin followed the coast as far as the Kent Peninsula. Hungry and without resources, he returned. As the canoes were damaged, the crew had to walk. Nine men died. Another, suspected of cannibalism, was executed. At Fort Enterprise, the food that they had counted on was not there. Back found Native people, who helped the explorers. On his return to England, in the fall of 1822, Franklin would be greeted as a hero.

Before leaving on his second expedition, Franklin sent, through Hudson's Bay, a large quantity of provisions and a number of watercraft that had been built especially for his voyage. He left London in 1825 and went through New York. In June 1826, leaving from Fort Franklin, on Great Bear River, he split his men into two groups and went down the Mackenzie River to its delta. He and Back skirted the coast westwards with 14 men while Richardson and Kendall went east. Franklin went half of the way planned to Icy Cape before deciding to return because of the cold. He thus missed the ships that had come to meet him. For their part, Richardson and Kendall managed to draft the map of the coast west of the Coppermine River. In 1827, Franklin published the accounts of his voyage for which he was rewarded, among other things, with a knighthood on April 29, 1829.

"[...] many of them had their legs swelled and inflamed from continually wading in ice-cold water while launching the boats, not only when we accidentally ran on shore, but every time that it was requisite to embark, or to land upon this shallow coast. Nor were these symptoms to be overlooked in coming to a determination; for though no one who knows the resolute disposition of British sailors can be surprised at their more than readiness to proceed, I felt that it was my business to judge of their capability of so doing, and not to allow myself to be seduced by their ardour, however honourable to them, and cheering to me."

(Franklin 1828, 143)

On May 19, 1845, Franklin left the Thames River with two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, and 134 men. He left well equipped for this new expedition: food for three years, including a large quantity of canned food, as well as ships heated using a pipe system and with propellers powered by a steam engine. Each ship was fitted with a dining room arrayed with porcelain, crystal and silverware as well as a large library. The ships headed, as planned, towards Lancaster Sound. Europeans saw them for the last time in Baffin Bay on June 26.

From 1847 to 1859, of the some 30 major expeditions to find Franklin, only four found signs of his last expedition. In 1850, Horatio T. Austin and William Penny learned from the Inuit that Franklin spent the winter of 1845-1846 on Beechey Island in Barrow Strait. In 1854, John Rae of the Hudson's Bay Company was informed that the expedition was in difficulty in the area around King William Island and found traces that confirmed this fact. In 1859, Francis L. McClintock found other traces and human remains on the same island as well as two brief notes.

These sources also show that, after having left Beechey Island, Franklin went around Cornwallis Island and south through Peel and Franklin straits. In September 1846, in Victoria Strait, his two ships were irretrievably caught in the ice northwest of King William Island. Franklin died there in 1847. Under the command of captain Francis R. M. Crozier, the survivors abandoned the buildings in 1848 and almost all died of hunger, scurvy and lead poisoning from the canned food while trying to get to the continent. The few men who were left died shortly thereafter at Starvation Bay on the Adelaide Peninsula. By getting on the continent, these last had effectively managed to traverse the Northwest Passage. But the first to claim this exploit would be members of the research expedition conducted by Robert McCLure between 1850 and 1854.

Franklin is a controversial hero. Some have criticised him for exploring Canadian shores without taking into consideration the lessons and experiences of the first explorers in either the Arctic or in the St. Lawrence. Others have reproached him for his blindness in carrying out instructions even when he endangered the lives of the people with him and for his rigid attitude towards Native people and Inuit. Franklin's expeditions nevertheless expanded knowledge of the Northwest Territories and parts of the Arctic.

Robert McClure finds the Northwest Passage

Robert John Le Mesurier McClure (1807 - 1873)

Born in Wexford, Ireland, Robert McClure never knew his army captain father, who died five months before his birth on January 28, 1807. However, he was lucky to have as guardian his father's comrade in arms, John Le Mesurier, who sent him to study at Eton and Sandhurst. McClure went into the navy in 1824, and his first voyage to the Arctic, in 1836, was as mate on the Terror, a ship commanded by George Back. The expedition got as far as Foxe Channel, where the ship was ice-bound. The damage to the ship was sufficient to force the crew to re-cross the Atlantic, barely reaching the Irish coast. For the following twelve years, McClure worked on the Great Lakes and then in the West Indies.

In 1848, the first expedition to find John Franklin left London. McClure was First Lieutenant aboard the Enterprise, one of the two ships of the expedition led by Sir James Clark Ross, who was sailing aboard the Investigator. The ships were caught in the ice in Lancaster Sound. Ross then took sledges and went in search of Franklin but McClure, who was ill, did not go with him. Without knowing it, Ross was on the right track by going south into Prince Regent Inlet but he did not go far enough. After having spent the winter in Lancaster Sound, the two ships got as far as Baffin Bay. The expedition finally returned to England without any information on Franklin.

In 1850, McClure's third expedition had to get to the Arctic by sailing east after crossing Bering Strait. Richard Collinson, head of the expedition, was on the Enterprise this time, and McClure was in command of the Investigator. The two ships were to meet in Honolulu but Collinson left there before McClure arrived. Intending to meet him, McClure took a shortcut through the Aleutian Islands and arrived at Bering Strait, where Collinson had not been seen. Still thinking that the Enterprise was ahead of him, McClure continued northeast. He reached Banks Island and almost immediately found Prince of Wales Strait between Banks Island and Victoria Island. He sailed into the strait before becoming caught in the ice. During the winter, eager to learn where this strait led, he explored by sledge and discovered that it led to a strait later called Viscount Melville. "Can it be possible that this water communicates with Barrow's Strait, and shall prove to be the long-sought North-west Passage?" he wrote in his journal. The following spring, before leaving this strait, he left an account of his exploits, dated April 21, 1851, on Banks Island. This account would be found in 1917 by Vilhjalmur Stefansson. When daylight returned, the crew searched Banks and Victoria islands for Franklin.

When he could finally extricate himself from the ice, McClure retraced his steps and went up the west coast of Banks Island to double-check what he had found. He entered the strait that bears his name today. The shifting ice again forced him to winter in a bay, which he called Mercy because it allowed him to escape ice pressure. He would never get his ship out of Mercy Bay, however.

In the spring of 1852, McClure reached Winter Harbour, on Melville Island, by sledge. He found the writing that Parry had carved on a stone in 1819. McClure left a message giving his ship's location. One year later, Henry Kellett, commander of the Resolute, one of the ships in Sir Edward Belcher's expedition, read this message and sent one of his lieutenants, Bedford Pim, on foot across the ice to look for this ship. Pim found the Investigator as well as McClure and his men, who were suffering from malnutrition and scurvy.

McClure was walking on the ice with an officer, close to the ship, "[w]hen within about two hundred yards of us, this strange figure threw up his arms, and made gesticulations ressembling those used by Esquimaux, besides shouting, at the top of his voice, words which, from the wind and intense excitement of the moment, sounded like a wild screech; and this brought us both fairly to a stand-still. The stranger came quietly on, and we saw that his face was black as ebony, and really at the moment we might be pardoned for wondering whether he was a denizen of this or the other world, [...] as it was, we gallantly stood our ground, and had the skies fallen upon us, we could hardly have been more astonished than when the dark faced stranger called out, 'I'm Lieutenant Pim, late of the "Herald", and now in the "Resolute". Captain Kellett is in her at Dealy Island!,'

"To rush at and seize him by the hand was the first impulse, for the heart was too full for the tongue to speak. The announcement of relief being close at hand, when none was suppposed to be even within the Arctic Circle, was too sudden, unexpected, and joyous for our minds to comprehend it at once."

(McClure 1857, 290-1)

In its turn, the Resolute became caught in the ice, and Kellett and his crew had to spend a fourth winter in the Arctic. When the chance came to return to England the following year, McClure wanted to wait longer in the hope of bringing his ship back to England. Kellett, however, who would later pay strong homage to McClure, ordered him to leave it. All returned to England in September 1854. Belcher's disastrous expedition left the rest of its five ships in the Arctic.

After this expedition, McClure was promoted to captain and knighted. Parliament voted to give a sum of £ 10 000 to the officers and men of his ship for having discovered the Northwest Passage. McClure did not return to the Arctic but spent five years in the Pacific. He was made Rear-Admiral when he took his retirement in 1873 and died the same year.

McClure was not wrong. He had found the Northwest Passage and made it known. Though Franklin's crew had discovered another passage four years earlier, they were unable to tell anyone, having all perished on the expedition.

McClure left the writing of his discovery to his comrade, captain Sherard Osborn, using his personal journal and notes. Besides the account of his important findings, McClure left information on his comings and goings, appropriate locations for building supply caches, all to make the Arctic better known. McClure's expedition proved the existence of a Northwest Passage, but it took another 55 years before a navigator would sail it.

John Palliser and Henry Hind: Scientific surveying

John Palliser (1817 - 1887)
Henry Youle Hind (1823 - 1908)

In the middle of the 19th century, United Canada wanted to annex the vast territories contained within the monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Company, from the hydrographic basin of Hudson's Bay to the Pacific Ocean and from the American border to the Arctic. However, Great Britain and its colony first needed to know the value of this territory. In 1857, with no appropriate information on the resources west of the Great Lakes, they sponsored two separate "scientific" expeditions to inform them of populations and fauna, of the potential for roads and navigable waterways and of the possibilities for farming and mining. These explorations bear the names of John Palliser and Henry Youle Hind.

The first, carried out from 1857 to 1860, was the exploration by John Palliser, a rich Irish landowner born in Dublin in 1817. After having studied in several European countries and attained the rank of captain in the British army without ever having had to serve, Palliser spent his days travelling and hunting big game. In 1847, he came to hunt bison on the western plains and to observe the way of life of the Native peoples and fur traders. His adventures, published as Solitary Rambles and Adventures of a Hunter in the Prairies, were published in London in 1853, to great acclaim. Wanting to see the west again, Palliser presented an exploration plan to the London Royal Geographical Society, of which he was a member. The Society was enthused by the project and recommended that the Colonies Ministry send a scientific team with Palliser. His mandate was to explore the plains and mountains close to the 49th parallel, to examine the possibility of building a road between Lake Superior and the Red River and between the Prairies and the Pacific, as well as to observe the natural and human environment. The Colonies Ministry sponsored the expedition and the Hudson's Bay Company provided transport and lodging.

Captain Palliser was accompanied by James Hector, a geologist, naturalist, and doctor; by Eugène Bourgeau, a botanist-collector; and by John William Sullivan, as secretary and astronomer. Lieutenant Thomas Wright Blakiston of the Royal Artillery, a specialist in magnetic variations and ornithologist, joined them along the way.

Palliser's team passed through New York and then stopped for a month at Sault Ste. Marie to study the route of the voyageurs from Lake Superior to Lower Fort Garry on the Red River. Leaving there on July 21, 1857, the group skirted the southern Manitoba border where a Métis guide, James McKay, joined him. Palliser then went up to the area of the Saskatchewan River to winter at Carleton House on the North Saskatchewan.

In the spring of 1858, Blakiston, who had arrived by Hudson's Bay, joined the team, which then went to Irricana, Alberta. There, the group split up to look for practicable passes in the Rockies. After having crossed the North Kananaskis, North Kootenay, South Kootenay, Vermilion and Kicking Horse passes, they all met at Fort Edmonton. During the winter, Blakiston returned to England, Palliser and two friends who had joined him went hunting and visited Native people, and James Hector conducted explorations. That year, Palliser marked his stay at Fort Edmonton with an extraordinary ball organized with the help of the factor's wife.

In 1859, the group returned to exploring along the 49th parallel. In the Cypress Hills, they split up. James Hector tried to find a passage using Howse Pass, which had already been reached by Thompson. Palliser and Sullivan crossed the North Kootenay Pass, then went down the Kootenay River to Fort Colville, in the state of Washington. Returning into British territory, they met Americans who were working on delimiting the Canadian-American border and who told them of a track from Fort Langley, on the lower Fraser River, to Lake Osoyoos. This track was entirely north of the 49th parallel. After having learned of its existence, Palliser considered his mission completed. He boarded a ship in Victoria, British Columbia, headed for Montreal, from which he returned to England on June 16, 1860. His reports, which appeared in 1859, 1860 and 1863, as well as the map that he published in 1865, provided the first environmental and human observations ever published on the southern Prairies and the Rocky Mountains, of Canada. He also identified "Palliser's Triangle," a short grass prairie in southern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan that later proved suitable for cattle grazing.

"The whole of the country which I have travelled from the Columbia to the westward is auriferous; there was hardly a creek of any importance in which more or less gold cannot be washed. This has rendered the prices for all articles of clothing, food &c. enormous, [...] Articles of clothing and food are the only pay with which you can engage Indians for a journey. Money cannot circulate in the country owing in a great measure to the absence of coin."

(Palliser 1860, 16)

The second scientific expedition, sponsored by Britain and the Canadian colony, was conducted in 1857-1858 by Henry Youle Hind, starting from Upper Canada. Born in Nottingham, England, in 1823, Hind also studied in several places in Europe before immigrating to Toronto in 1846. He taught chemistry and geology at Trinity College when the Geological Survey of Canada asked him to accompany an expedition whose mandate was similar to Palliser's but somewhat more modest. He left Toronto at the end of July 1857 with a former fur trader, George Gladman, and an engineer, Simon James Dawson. For the next three months, after having examined the length of the Kaministiquia to the Red River, the explorers conducted surveys in the Red and Assiniboine river valleys.

"All the Indian names of the lakes and tributaries of the Qu'appelle I got afterwards on my arrival at Fort Ellice, from an old Indian seventy years of age, [...] With a peace of charred wood he drew on the floor a map of the Qu'appelle Valley from the Fishing Lakes to the Assiniboine, showing every little creek so accurately that I easily recognised them."

(Hind 1860, 369)

In 1858, Hind and Dawson alone made observations in the Assiniboine, Souris, Qu'Appelle and South Saskatchewan river valleys. Hind was not noted for the quality of his work as a geologist, but rather for his general observations. His work, Narrative of the Canadian Red River Exploring Expedition of 1857 [...], published in 1860, is still a classic description of the Prairies before they were colonized. Subsequently, still pursuing his teaching career, Hind conducted geological inventories, particularly in Labrador in 1861. He would later move to the Maritimes where he would conduct several geological surveys and would write numerous works on geology, the natural sciences and agriculture. He died in Windsor, Nova Scotia, in 1908.

Palliser's and Hind's expeditions demonstrated a new tendency in the exploration of North America: to learn more about the territory with a view to colonizing it. Thus, their accounts, with drawings aimed at the public, also marked a new era in travel literature.

Surviving the Arctic

When William Edward Parry was sent to search for the Northwest Passage through the Arctic in 1819 he was given two ships, ninety-four sailors, and enough provisions to last two years. Included among these provisions were hundreds of tins of canned meat and vegetables, an innovation that went a long way towards ensuring the safe return of the expedition.

In the 18th century, the traditional diet aboard a British naval vessel consisted of three staples: beer, biscuit, and meat. Since water did not stay fresh, thirsty sailors received a ration of beer. Flour was served in the form of ship's biscuit, which tended to be as hard as a rock and infested with insects. As for the meat, it was salted, stored in barrels of brine and as tough as an old boot.

Canning changed all this. The process was pioneered in France using champagne bottles and adapted for tin cans in Britain early in the 19th century. Because it was expensive, canned meat did not penetrate the consumer market for several years, but naval ships were supplied almost immediately. This, combined with fruits and vegetables to avoid scurvy, allowed vessels to range over great distances and remain at sea for many months -- even years -- without their food supplies spoiling.

Canned provisions did not guarantee a crew's safety, of course. The experience of John Franklin's expedition showed that. Three of Franklin's men died during the first winter in the Arctic when the ships were at Beechey Island. When these bodies were exhumed for study in the 1980s, scientists discovered that the men had been suffering from lead poisoning when they died. The probable source of the lead was traced to the solder used to seal the tins of food. While lead did not kill Franklin and his men, it has been suggested that their judgement and stamina may have been impaired because of it. Still, the advent of canned food proved to be an important milestone in the history of Arctic exploration.

Just as important as any provisions sailors brought with them were the survival strategies that they learned from the Inuit. The Inuit visited the ships at their winter harbours, bringing skin clothing, sled dogs, and fresh meat and fish to trade. Europeans eventually adopted the Inuit diet, clothing, and method of sled travel to extend their explorations beyond the summer season of open water. This gradual adoption of the Inuit lifestyle, as well as growing knowledge of the northern map and adaptations made to ships exploring Arctic waters, increased the survival rate of explorers in the Arctic.

Transportation : Northern ships

Wooden ships used for Arctic exploration were strengthened to make them seaworthy for northern sailing. Hulls were covered with a mixture of animal hair and tar to form a watertight skin, then "doubled" with a second layer of oak planking. The bows of the vessels were sheathed in iron plate, while interiors were buttressed with stout beams and timbers to absorb the pressure of the ice that closed in around them. Flues were added to carry warm air from the galley fires to the various cabins below deck.

British naval vessels on their way to the Canadian Arctic customarily followed the 58th parallel of latitude across the north Atlantic to avoid Greenland's southern tip, where ice conditions were notoriously bad. The voyage was made in the spring, when temperatures rarely climbed above freezing. The rigging and the decks were coated with ice and the ships had to manoeuvre carefully around the icebergs that floated slowly southward. Once around the bottom of Greenland, the ships made their way up Davis Strait into Baffin Bay and through the perilous ice pack to Lancaster Sound, the channel that led into the heart of the Arctic Archipelago.

Steam engines were too new to be of much use to the Arctic explorers. The first expedition to use steam was John Ross's in the paddlewheel yacht Victory. The paddles proved cumbersome in the ice and the engine was so unreliable that Ross dismantled it and threw away the parts. However, with the invention of the screw propeller, steam became more popular with navigators. For example, Sir John Franklin's two vessels, the Erebus and the Terror, were equipped with small auxiliary engines. As the century progressed, steam technology became standard in British naval vessels.

When vessels wintered in the Arctic, either by plan or by accident, they had to be transformed from ships into homes. Masts and rigging were dismantled and stored away and decks were roofed over with boards and canvas. Once the ice had closed in tightly around the hull, snow was banked against the sides to provide insulation. Still, the temperature in the living quarters often fell below zero. Breath froze on the men's pillows and it was a constant struggle to stay warm. During the depths of the winter, total darkness descended and nobody stirred far from the ships, but once daylight returned the naval explorers continued their travels using sleds. William Edward Parry first borrowed this form of transportation from local Inuit people, and subsequent explorers used the sleds, drawn by dogs or by crewmen, to travel over the ice and extend the range of their explorations.

During this period of Arctic exploration, several ships were crushed in the ice and sank, including the Breadalbane, the sunken wreck of which was discovered and visited by divers in 1980. There is also the story of the Resolute, which sailed to the Arctic in 1852 as one of many ships sent out to search for the missing Franklin expedition. It was trapped in the ice for two winters and finally the captain and crew left the vessel on sleds, to be eventually rescued. Instead of sinking, though, the empty ship was carried by the ice slowly out of Lancaster Sound and down into Davis Strait, where it was found by an American whaling vessel and towed to New England. The Resolute was returned to Great Britain, and years later some of the timbers from the ship were made into an oak desk that was presented to the American government. This historic piece of furniture has been used in the White House by several presidents.


During the 19th century, the focus of geographical exploration and mapping of unknown areas turned to the Arctic. To the south, the general outlines of the continent and of the river systems were known, and blank areas on maps were gradually being filled in. In the habitable areas of Canada, resource surveys were undertaken and land surveyors gave precision to maps through their surveys of territorial, provincial, county and township boundaries, and farm lots.

In 1818, The British Admiralty decided to undertake the exploration and charting of the Arctic. By this time it was known that there was no practical Northwest Passage, but growing scientific curiosity, and national pride, demanded that the blank northern area on the maps be filled in. Between 1818 and 1847, a two-pronged approach was launched into the Arctic by sea and over land. The sea expeditions, chiefly those led by Ross and Parry, evaluated the Eastern access points and reached the conclusion that Lancaster Sound was the main entry to further exploration. Theirs were also the first Arctic expeditions to make extensive observations of the Inuit and to make use of Inuit mapping skills. The main overland expeditions were by Franklin and Back (1833-37) and -- sponsored by the Hudson's Bay Company -- Dease and Simpson (1837-39) and Rae (1846-47). These journeys charted the northern limits of the Canadian mainland from the Foxe Basin to Alaska. Rae's expedition also showed what a small group of men living off the land could accomplish, in contrast to the massive undertakings sponsored by the Admiralty. Between 1818 and 1847 a large part of the blank areas in maps of Canada had been filled.

In 1845, the attention of the Admiralty shifted again to a major sea expedition, with John Franklin in command of 129 men in two ships. In 1847, when nothing had been seen or heard of them, the first search expedition was sent out. By 1854, after 65 major and minor searches had been undertaken, John Rae returned with proof of a major Franklin disaster. Ten expeditions later, Francis Leopold McClintock confirmed the likelihood that there were no Franklin survivors. An accomplishment of these search expeditions was the charting of the Arctic Islands to 125° west longitude and 78° north latitude.

After 1860, as further geographical details were being filled in around the Arctic Islands, attention shifted to the North Pole. Major American, British and Norwegian expeditions made an attempt to be the first to arrive there. Finally, the American Robert Peary claimed to have reached the Pole on April 6, 1909. A British Admiralty map published in 1896 illustrates the achievements of the 19th century.

While the main aim of all the Arctic expeditions was geographical exploration, most had also scientific interests. Observations on climate, geology, botany, mammals, fish and insects were ordered by the sponsors of expeditions -- sponsors such as the Admiralty, the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society. As reports were published and specimens brought home, scientists had access to them and prepared the first specialized scientific maps of Canada. In 1842 the Geological Survey of Canada was founded and sent out expeditions to expand on previously collected data.

The revolution in scientific reporting took a new turn mid-century when large expeditions were sent out just to collect scientific data. In 1857, the British expedition led by John Palliser and the Canadian one led by Henry Youle Hind made botanical, geological, climatological and topographical observations. Both assessed land quality for settlement purposes and both produced a number of maps showing their observations. These expeditions set a standard for the remainder of the century.

Significant maps of the period

Arrowsmith, Aaron

Map of Countries Round the North Pole... . 1818; 1896.

[Barrow, John]

Map of the Arctic Regions. 1818.

[Map of the Lands Around the North Pole]. 1846.

Blodget, Lorin

Comparison of Temperatures of the Temperate Latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. In Blodget, L. Climatology of the United States and the North American Continent. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1857, opposite p. 210.

British Admiralty

Chart of the North Polar Sea... . (Prepared under the supervision of Captain Washington), 1855 -- revised in 1859.

Devine, Thomas

Map of the North West Part of Canada Indian Territories and Hudson Bay. 1857. (Crown Lands Dept., Toronto, March 1857.) Toronto: Maclear and Co. Lithographers.

Hind, Henry Y.

A General Map of the Country between Red River & LakeWinnipeg...Explored...1858. In British North America, Reports of Progress,.... Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty, August 1860. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1860.


Eskimaux Chart. No. 1. Drawn by Iligliuk at Winter Island 1822. In Parry, W.E. Journal of a Second Voyage... . London: John Murray, 1824, Vol. 2, p. 185.

Isbister, Alexander

Geological Sketch Map of the Northernmost Parts of America. 1855. In Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London. Vol. II, 1855, Plate XIV, facing p. 497.

Logan, William

Geological Map of Canada and Adjacent Regions. 1864.

Palliser, John

A General Map of the Routes in British North America... . 1865.

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