Commemorating the Canadian Arctic Expedition

David R. Gray (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2013-005)

The objective of this project is to locate, document and film the camps and artifacts of the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1918. Work was conducted under the Northwest Territories Class 1 archaeology permit 2013-005. In July 2013, Mitzi Dodd and David R. Gray, with Kyle Wolki as our bear monitor, spent a week investigating the Canadian Arctic Expedition headquarters at Mary Sachs Creek which was occupied by the Northern Party between 1914 and 1917. We measured, mapped, photographed, and documented the major structures and artifacts. There are six major components of the site: the main sod house foundation, three tent platforms, and two other building remnants (including the Mary Sachs wheelhouse). The major large artifacts at the site are: a ship’s water or fuel tank, three engine heads from the Mary Sachs, a portion of a propeller shaft, cast iron stove parts, and several brass or iron spikes and bolts, likely from the Mary Sachs. We also documented a large cross-cut saw that was found on the beach below the site after a storm before our arrival. Small artifacts on the surface of the site include rifle and shotgun shells, pottery and glass fragments, nails and bolts, mammal bones and wood.

Our expedition vessel, the motor-sailor Bernard Explorer, en route from Alaska, was held up by ice and prevented from reaching our land party at Sachs Harbour. This meant our planned ship voyage to the northwest corner of Banks Island was not possible. Instead, Mack MacDonald and I decided to attempt to reach Terror Island, about half way up the west coast, by small boat. On August 3, with three local assistants, we set off from Sachs Harbour in two 18-foot outboard aluminum boats. Unfortunately we could not even get around Cape Kellet. The ice had moved in with the westerly winds, blocking the shore and extending well out to sea.

After a trial day trip to Cape Kellet in an ATV, we set out overland on a three-day trip to try to reach at least some of the CAE northern coastal sites. We used an ATV and trailer driven by John Lucas Sr. and a Polaris Ranger (side-by-side) with John Jr. driving and Mack and I as passengers. We reached and documented major historic sites at Sea Otter and North Star Harbours, and we did see Terror Island and Storkerson Bay. We also found and documented several small unrecorded archaeological and historic sites both on the coast and inland. Following our return to Sachs Harbour, we completed a one-day trip to Blue Fox Harbour where we documented several historic sites on the coast and places visited by the CAE, and located the grave of Fred Wolki, a young member of the CAE in 1918.

In Sachs Harbour we also documented an historic site east of the hamlet and interviewed a number of CAE-related people, both Elders and youth. Documenting the Mary Sachs site was of great satisfaction as this important Canadian historic site is steadily being washed away due to coastal erosion.

Bob Bernard and Paul Krejci on the Bernard Explorer eventually made it as far east as the Horton River on their second attempt, but were unable to cross the Northwest Passage to Banks Island because of the heavy ice. They documented several CAE sites in Alaska, including the CAE’s Collinson Point 1913 winter headquarters, and Pipsuk’s 1918 grave on Barter Island.

As well as hundreds of photographs, we obtained over 10 hours of high definition video of the sites, wildlife and research activities. We will continue to add our findings and photos to our Canadian Arctic Expedition website at www.canadianarcticexpedition.ca

(Edited by Morgan Moffitt, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre)

  • Terror Island from North Star Harbour, Banks Island, August 2013

    2013-005 David R. Gray
  • Inukshuk above the mouth of the Sachs River, Banks Island

    2013-005 David R. Gray