Northern Knowledge: The Canadian Arctic Expedition

In the summer of 1913, after leaving Nome, Alaska, Canadian explorers mapped most of Arctic Canada. The First Canadian Arctic Expedition ranks as one of the boldest undertakings in the history of exploration. To know more about this story, visit the exhibit Northern People, Northern Knowledge, produced by the Canadian Museum of Civilization and Leave us your comments below, and tell us why this History Matters to you.

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Why did Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden finally decide to fund the first official scientific Expedition into the Canadian Arctic?

It’s 1913. The Expedition prepares to leave from Nome, Alaska. Organized by anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, it was originally to be sponsored by the U.S. National Geographic Society and the American Museum of Natural History.

Keenly aware of possible sovereignty disputes, with any new land discovery, Prime Minister Borden steps in with government funds and declares the Expedition a Canadian enterprise.

Made-up of explorers, scientists and Inuit, the Expedition divides into two groups. The Northern Party, led by Stefansson, discovers the last new islands in Canada’s High Arctic. While zoologist Dr. Rudolf Anderson, leading the Southern Party, collects thousands of animal, plant and fossil specimens.

For 5 years, the Expedition gathers valuable knowledge, and a fabulous collection of early Inuit artifacts, that ultimately help open up Canada’s Arctic to the world. It also introduces modern western technology to its remote culture, as rifles, tools, utensils and even one of the Expedition’s schooners, the North Star, are all left behind.

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2 Responses to Northern Knowledge: The Canadian Arctic Expedition

  1. James caputo says:

    Wasn’t the William Wakeham expedition to the Arctic the first official Canadian sponsored expedition?

    Please explain.

  2. harknessd says:

    Thanks for your comment James – Before the Canadian Arctic Expedition, there were several arctic expeditions with varying degrees of Canadian government support. Wakeham’s may well have been the first, others include the voyage of the Neptune (with A.P. Low) and numerous voyages by Captain Joseph Bernier. The Canadian Arctic Expedition was the first *major, scientific, multidisciplinary expedition*.

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