1853, the men of a British Navy enterprise under the command of
Captain Henry Kellett, H.M.S. Resolute, and Francis Leopold
McClintock of H.M.S. Intrepid constructed a storehouse on
Dealy Island, off the south coast of Melville Island in the Western
Arctic Archipelago. Kellett and his men were part of the Belcher
Expedition of 1852-54. This was the British Admiralty's final search
for the Northwest Passage Expedition of 1845, led by Sir John Franklin,
which had failed to return to England. Kellett's orders were to
deposit provisions at a cache for expeditions in dire circumstances.
Built with one hundred tons of local sandstone,
the double walls of the storehouse were filled with sod and roofed
with canvas and coal bags, supported by posts.
The cache or "Sailors Home" was
stocked with a complete inventory of supplies used in mid-19th century
arctic exploration. The provisions, ammunition, and fuel were sufficient
to sustain a party of 66 men on full allowance for 210 days. It
is interesting to note the items used by British explorers at this
time: 123 varieties of food including six tons of flour, over two
tons each of beef and bacon, over a ton each of sugar, preserved
meats, vegetables and potatoes, and 600 pounds of Normandy pippins
(dried apples) for dessert. Clothing deposited at the storehouse
included 66 pea-jackets, 108 sets of woollen underwear, 129 pairs
of boots and 143 pairs of mitts. Two Hudson Bay muskets and ammunition,
an inflatable "Halkett" boat, medical supplies and instruments,
and a Union Jack were also placed in the storehouse.
Also remaining from Kellett's expedition are a large cairn on the
island's summit, the graves of three men, and two sledges and an
abandoned whale boat of the H.M.S Resolute
Kellett left a plan of the stores in the cache
and a message for those who might use it. "This is the house
that Jack built ... under especial patronage of my Lords Commissioners
of the Admiralty. Here, Royal Sailors and Marines are fed, clothed
and receive double pay for inhabiting it."
Although the expedition was unsuccessful in
locating traces of Franklin's passage, spring sledging parties of
1853 from H.M.S. Resolute and H.M.S. Intrepid located
the H.M.S. Investigator under the command of Robert McClure,
which had been beset in ice at Mercy Bay on northern Banks Island
for the summers of 1851-52, and rescued the crew. Records of the
expedition include descriptions of physiography, geology, biology
and Inuit customs.
Captain J. E. Bernier of the D.G.S. Arctic visited the storehouse
in 1908, while on a voyage to establish Canada's sovereignty over
the Arctic Islands. He found that many of the provisions were well-preserved.
He repaired the roof of the structure, and replaced decaying items
with new ones. The two useless muskets were substituted with two
Ross rifles and 1000 rounds of ammunition; the muskets as well as
the two sledges left by Kellett were given to the National Museum
of Man. Bernier's men also carved a message on a rock near the storehouse.
Since the turn of the century many expeditions
have visited and used the cache. Members of the Canadian Arctic
Expedition of 1913-18, led by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, stopped there
in 1917. They removed the roof which hastened the destruction of
the storehouse's contents by exposing them to the elements. A patrol
of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1929 used meat from the
cache to supplement their rations of dog food. The RCMP schooner,
St. Roch, commanded by Staff Sergeant Henry Larsen, anchored there
in 1944, and ten years later, the island was visited by two icebreakers,
the H.M.C.S. Labrador and the U.S.S. Burton Island.
"Placed in the arctic by men in wooden sailing vessels, the
storehouse retained its usefulness in the age of aircraft and automobiles."
By the mid-1970s, humans and nature had caused
serious deterioration to the building and its contents. A team of
archaeologists, conservators and architects decided that the best
way to ensure the longevity of this heritage resource was to preserve
it in place. Artifacts which had been strewn outside the building
were removed and conserved and now rest at the Prince of Wales Northern
Heritage Centre in Yellowknife. Items in the storehouse were left
in place and sealed beneath an insulated floor. The building was
repaired and stabilized and the walls reconstructed as closely as
possible to the original.
These fragile remains were declared a site
of territorial historic significance in 1978 under the Historical
Resources Act and are protected from any disturbance by the
Northwest Territories Archaeological
Sites Regulations.. Removing artifacts or altering structures
destroys unique information from the past.
Captain J. E. Bernier. Report on the
Dominion of Canada Government Expedition to the Arctic Islands and
Hudson Strait on Board the D.G.S. "Arctic". Ottawa: Government
Printing Bureau. 1910.
C. R. Harington. "The Cache on Dealy
Island". Canadian Geographical Journal, Volume LXVIII, No.
3, pp. 74- 83. 1964.
Robert Janes. "The Preservation
and Ethnohistory of a Frozen Historic Site in the Canadian Arctic."
Arctic, Volume 35, No. 3, pp. 358-85. 1982.
Robert Janes. "A Frozen Glimpse
of British Exploration in the Canadian Arctic." In Collected
Papers on the Human History of the Northwest Territories edited
by M. J. Patterson, C. D. Arnold and R. R. Janes. Occasional Paper
No.1 of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, Yellowknife,
Northwest Territories. 1985.
Henry Kellett. Proceedings of Captain
Kellett, C.B., H.M. Discovery Ship Resolute. In: Further Papers
Relative to the Recent Arctic Expeditions in Search of Sir John
Franklin and the Crews of the H.M.S. Erebus and Terror, pp. 69-106.
Presented to Both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty.
London: George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode. 1852.
George Frederick McDougall. The Eventful
Voyage of H.M. Discovery Ship "Resolute" to the Arctic
Regions in Search of Sir John Franklin and the missing crews of
H.M. Discovery Ship "Erebus" and "Terror", 1852,
1853, 1854. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts.