Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada

Northern Vignettes

Arctic Harpoons
Beechey Island
Crystal II
Deline/Fort Franklin
Fort Hope
Fox Moth
Kellet's Storehouse
Old Fort Providence
Old Fort Reliance
Stone Church
Thule Village
Fort Journal

Fort Hope

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.

John Rae 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, RaeJohn Kaunak 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 ways.

Halkett boat"My 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 [140] 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. vitulina)

" ... 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)

Rae meeting Inuit 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, 1970

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, 1953.

Richards, Robert L. Dr. John Rae. Caedmon of Whitby, 1985.