Fort Hope, located on the North Pole River
flowing into Repulse Bay, near a place now called Neakongut, was
the winter quarters of Dr. John Rae (1813-93) of the Hudson's Bay
Company and ten men of the Arctic Expedition of 1846-47. A stone
house, four houses made of snow blocks, and two observatories comprised
the original camp. The snow houses with skin roofs held provisions,
fuel, meat, and baggage and were connected by passages under the
snow while the observatories, built of snow with a pillar of ice
in each, were used to study the aurora borealis and magnetic fields.
The walls of the stone house were two feet thick, with three glass
windows. Caribou skins stretched over a frame of wood furnished
the door, and a roof was fashioned with the oars and masts of Rae's
boats, the Magnet and North Pole, and covered with oilcloth and
moose hide. The house proved to be cold with daily indoor temperatures
of -25 C. Despite the weather, the party celebrated Christmas of
1846 with a dinner of "excellent venison and a plum pudding,"
brandy punch, and a game of football. On his next stay at Repulse
Bay in 1853-54, Rae preferred to live in a snow house less than
one kilometre south of Fort Hope.
Charged with exploring the coastline between
Fury and Hecla Straits and the Boothia landmass, Rae's first Arctic
expedition charted 1100 kilometres of coastline around Committee
Bay, revealing that Boothia is a peninsula and that the Northwest
Passage did not lie in this direction.
On his fourth and last expedition to the Canadian
Arctic in 1853-54, Rae
returned to Fort Hope and described it in his journal.
"The stone walls of our house were in much the same state
as we had left them six years before and may remain so for a century
to come." (Richards 1985:95)
He also encountered his path where "it had been my
habit to run and walk smartly up and down of a night to warm my
feet before going to bed." (Newman 1985:3)
Covering 21,000 kilometres, often on foot and
snow shoe, Rae mounted four expeditions into the Arctic, surveying
over 2800 kilometres of coastline previously uncharted by Europeans.
He is respected for his ability to travel rapidly and lightly by
supporting his party on the resources of the land and using Inuit
party have twice wintered without fuel, except for cooking,--once
in a stone house, and once in snow huts; having carried an inadequate
supply of provisions, we obtained by our own exertions, food for
twenty-two months of the twenty-seven we were absent, fully two-fifths
of which ... was killed by myself ... By following the native custom
of using snow houses (which I learnt and caused my men to learn
how to build) to rest in during our spring journeys, the weight
we had to haul was considerably reduced. The bedding for myself
and four men amounted to 24 lbs. ... The bedding...of Captain S.
Osborne's party of eight in spring, 1853, amounted to  lbs.
weight..." (Rae in Richards 1985:185)
Rae's observations of natural phenomena are
also keen. At Repulse Bay, he watched the smaller kind of seal (P.
" ... whilst the ice is forming, keeping
breathing holes open ... by popping up their heads, and then throwing
the water and broken ice on the surface of the flow with their 'flippers',
where it freezes, and thus makes the ice after a time much thicker
round the edge of the hole than elsewhere ... The advantage to the
seal of the ice thus thickened ... is that, when the first fall
of snow takes place, however slight, it drifts over and covers the
opening ... and acts the double
part of concealing him from his enemies and of preventing the cold
from freezing the opening..." (Cooke 1968:175)
On his last foray of 1853-54, Rae learned of the deaths of the members
of Sir John Franklin's expedition of 1845 from In-nook- poo-zhee-jook,
an Inuk, and purchased 45 relics which had belonged to the Europeans.
For recovering and returning this information to Britain, Rae was
awarded the Admiralty's prize of £10,000. His news that Franklin's
men had resorted to cannibalism so affronted Britons' sensitivities
that controversy raged and Lady Jane Franklin opposed the awarding
of the Admiralty's prize to Rae. These Franklin relics are now in
the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh.
Historical and archaeological remains are protected
from any disturbance by the Northwest
Territories Archaeological Sites Regulations. Removing artifacts
or altering structures destroys unique information from the past.
Cooke, Alan. "The Autobiography
of Dr. John Rae (1813-93): A Preliminary Note." The Polar Record,
Vol 14, No. 89, pp. 173-177, 1968.
Houston, C. Stuart. "Dr. John Rae:
The Most Efficient Arctic Explorer." Annals RCPSC, Vol 20,
No. 3, pp. 225-228, May 1987.
Newman, Peter C. "The Arctic Fox".
Equinox, No. 23, September/October 1985.
Rae, John. Narrative of an Expedition
to the Shores of the Arctic Sea in 1846 and 1847. Canadiana House,
Rich, E. E. and A. M. Johnson, Editors.
John Rae's Arctic Correspondence with the Hudson's Bay Company on
Arctic Exploration 1844-1855. London: The Hudson's Bay Record Society,
Richards, Robert L. Dr. John Rae. Caedmon
of Whitby, 1985.