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


Mast head

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Cambridge Bay

A team of underwater archaeologists from the Vancouver Maritime Museum conducted a series of dives to document the shipwreck Baymaud off Cambridge Bay. Baymaud sank in 1930 after a short but famous career in the Arctic. The project was the first to map a shipwreck in the Arctic.

DiversBaymaud was built in Kristiana (now Oslo) Norway as the ship Maud in 1917 for explorer Roald Amundsen. Amundsen was the first explorer to navigate the Northwest Passage and to reach the South Pole. He designed Maud to freeze in and drift in the ice. Amundsen's intended destination was the North Pole. The First World War and the fear of German submarines led Amundsen to sail for the Bering Straits by way of the Northeast Passage, across the top of Europe and Asia. It proved to be a mistake.

The ship was frozen in thick ice on the coast of Siberia for two years. Amundsen nearly died on the expedition, once when mauled by a polar bear, the other when he nearly succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning while taking scientific observations alone in a unventilated tent. When Maud arrived at Nome, Alaska on 27 July 1920, the ship became the second to navigate the Northeast Passage. But the North Pole remained an elusive goal. Two other attempts also failed, and Maud retreated with damage to her propeller. Amundsen finally abandoned the expedition in 1925.

Maud was seized by creditors in Seattle and sold at an auction. The Hudson's Bay Company purchased the ship to supply its Arctic outposts. After refitting in Vancouver, and with a new name, Baymaud sailed for the Western Arctic in June 1926. It never returned. After freezing in for the winter of 1926-1927, the ship was moored close to shore and used by the Hudson's Bay Company as a floating machine shop, warehouse and wireless station. Twice a day, the wireless operator, W. G. Crisp, sent out regular weather reports through the R.C.C.S. Mackenzie network. These were the first regular winter reports by radio from Canada's Arctic coast.

Baymaud developed a leak and sank at its anchorage in the winter of 1930. A small portion of the ship remained above the ice and water, and the masts, rigging and cabins were stripped from the hull. The rest of the ship was allowed to settle into the water. Today, only a small area of the wreck's starboard side rises above the waves. The rest of the ship lies in seven metres of frigid water.

The wreck, largely intact after 66 years on the ocean bottom, is beginning to fall apart, and experts fear that within the next two to five years Baymaud will disintegrate. But the icy waters of the Arctic have preserved paint on the hull, rope and barrels inside the ship's forecastle, and details such as the ship's signal letters and tonnage carved on the match hatch beam. The team discovered the ship's steering gear lying on the remains of the deck, the anchor chain running out of the bow and on to the bottom, the stub of a mast lying against the hull, and machinery toppled in the hold. The engine, a 240-horsepower, four cylinder diesel, still sits in the engine room.

St Roche Historical sources had hinted that Baymaud had inspired the design of St. Roch. Architect Tom Hallidie, who designed St. Roch, supervised the refit of Maud and drew plans of the Norwegian vessel in February 1926. Two years later, he was handed the task of designing an Arctic schooner for the Mounties. Maud's hull and fittings had survived years of heavy ice during Amundsen's expedition, and so Hallidie copied the ship's lines and several construction details while planning St. Roch. These included a round, egg-shaped hull, thick ironwood planks that formed an extra layer of ice sheathing on the hull, a large cabin aft, a single-screw diesel engine, a rudder that could be lifted up through a special well to avoid being snapped off by ice, and thick beams to brace the hold against the crushing pressure of ice floes. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner, St. Roch, is now a National Historic Site preserved ashore at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. St. Roch, under the command of Henry A. Larsen, was the second ship to navigate the Northwest Passage (1940-1942), and the first to transit the passage's more northerly route (1944).

The team, led by underwater archaeologist James Delgado, Vancouver Maritime Museum, included Robert Delgado, Michael Paris, Jacques Marc and David Stone from the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia. The project was funded by the territorial Department of Economic Development and Tourism. Drawings, photographs and underwater video footage of the wreck will form part of a new display at the Arctic Coast Visitor Centre in Cambridge Bay.

Mount Pelly Territorial Park, Cambridge Bay

A survey of the proposed Mount Pelly Territorial Park, east of Cambridge Bay, was conducted by Andrew Stewart for Avens Associates of Yellowknife and the territorial Department of Economic Development and Tourism. Local initiative to establish a Natural Environment Park has lead to a series of coordinated studies by separate investigators on archaeological heritage, oral history, and botany.

Four people, including field assistants Richard Epelon and Bert Maksagak of Cambridge Bay, walked much of the 16 square km park area. Coverage was concentrated on lake edges around the base of the esker that forms Mount Pelly and level terraces associated with marine strandlines that encircle the esker. More than 100 surface features were found, including over forty tent rings and tent rectangles, more than 30 caches, and 16 shelters or waiting places. Most of these features lie near the base of the esker or on the lowermost strandlines. Many of the caches are small (less than a metre square) and carefully built as if they were intended for reuse. One small boulder feature contained the bones of at least two loons but it is unclear whether the birds had originally been placed there or just the bones. Future research, particularly oral history, will focus partially on the use of these features. Few artifacts predating the 1960s were found. One of the artifacts is a lance or spear head made from iron, brass, wood and repaired with twine. No stone tools were found. Although Thule fall and winter houses and Palaeo-Eskimo artifacts have been found within 10 km of Mount Pelly, no similar structures were found during this survey. It may be that Mount Pelly was used for thousands of years but mostly during the warm season as a place where people waited for game and caught waterfowl and fish.

Oral history is also being recorded as part of the overall investigation of Mount Pelly coordinated by Avens Associates. Consultation with elders in Cambridge Bay (which occurred before and immediately after the survey and which is continuing under the direction of historian David Pelly) provided evidence for interpreting some of the boulder features as possible equipment or winter clothing caches. Some preliminary findings of the oral history research suggest that people fished in the Mount Pelly area during late spring and early summer while moving inland from their winter camps on the sea ice to the south. It may be possible to explain the large number of caches in the context of this seasonal pattern of movement. Results of the oral history research will be integrated into the interpretation of archaeological features in the proposed park to show the history and land use of this area by Kiilinikmeot, the people living on Victoria Island.