Desperate Venture

David Gray (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2009‐015)

The objectives for the Desperate Venture project are to research and document an illegal trapping expedition to Banks and Melville Islands in 1931‐32 by Sandy Austin, a young HBC clerk from Scotland, and Napoleon Verville, a trapper from Edmonton. The project began in 2007 and the initial archives research and travel was completed in 2007‐2008, through funding by Parks Canada and the HBC History Foundation.

In 2008 the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation provided a grant, through their Heritage Preservation Partnership Program, to the Canadian Circumpolar Institute to support my travel, field work (including helicopter survey) and other logistical expenses for additional field and archives. My field work was also supported by the Polar Continental Shelf Program, who provided helicopter support.

In July 2009 I travelled to Sachs Harbour and northern Banks Island for two weeks. I stayed at the Parks Canada Polar Bear cabin in Aulavik for four days (July 14 to 17). I was able to search by helicopter for the cache left by Austin and Verville at Cape McClure in mid October 1931. On July 15, with three observers, we searched 40 km of the northern coast from Antler Cove to Cape Wrottesley, flying back and forth several times, right at the coastline as well as inland along suitable ridges and beaches. Unfortunately, no trace of the cache was found. Geologists working in the area have calculated a shoreline retreat of about one meter every two years. Thus it seems that any cache left at the coastline in 1931 would have been washed into the ocean years ago.

Because of the limited amount of helicopter time available, I was not able to get to the camp and the abandoned schooner Cora at Cora Harbour at the northwest corner of Banks Island. I plan to visit this site in the summer of 2010.

In Sachs Harbour, John Lucas Sr. gave me two items he had brought back from the Cora about ten years ago; a metre‐long piece of the brass propeller shaft and a 21×25 cm brass porthole. The propeller shaft was sent directly to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre and the porthole will be donated to the museum following consultation with the Verville and Austin families.

(Edited by Shelley Crouch, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre)