The Canadian Arctic Expedition—100th anniversary

At the beginning of the 20th century the Canadian government, led by Sir Robert Borden, wanted to strengthen Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic, in response to the presence of the United States and Russia in the North. The Canadian Arctic Expedition was established by Order-in-Council 406, dated February 22, 1913, under the responsibility of the Ministry of Naval Services and other government bodies.

The expedition was comprised of two groups, each with its own objective: the Northern Party, led by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, was responsible for geographic exploration of the Arctic to ensure Canadian sovereignty in the western part, while the Southern Party, led by Dr. Rudolph M. Anderson, focused on scientific discovery.

V. Stefansson on board the Karluk.

V. Stefansson on board the Karluk. Source

Rudolph Martin Anderson.

Rudolph Martin Anderson. Source

An expedition fraught with challenge

On June 17, 1913, the expedition set sail from Esquimalt Harbour in British Columbia aboard the Karluk headed for Herschel Island in the Beaufort Sea. In August, the ship became trapped in ice and drifted for over four months, eventually sinking in Siberia. The ship’s captain, Robert Bartlett, describes the final days of the voyage in his book Northward ho! The last voyage of the Karluk. Stefansson’s decision to leave the ship on September 19, 1913, to continue his exploration occurred in a climate of crisis. Stefansson’s departure remains a source of controversy and debate among historians.

The Karluk sails near Esquimalt Harbour.

The Karluk sails near Esquimalt Harbour. Source

To find out more

The following are some of the archival documents and government reports that constitute the information resources related to this expedition.

For consultation on-site at Library and Archives Canada:

Available online from Library and Archives Canada:

Other sources:

Please note that the majority of the documents are available in English only.

For more information, be sure to visit the virtual exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Civilization: Northern People, Northern Knowledge: The story of the Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913-1918.

Visit our Flickr album for more photographs.

2 thoughts on “The Canadian Arctic Expedition—100th anniversary

  1. Glad that you are drawing attention to this anniversary. There were some very striking images in the Flickr album. One question – should the Karluk not be identified as C.G.S. Karluk rather than H.M.C.S. Karluk? See The Seabound Coast: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Navy 1867-1939 Vol. I, by William Johnston, William G.P. Rawling, Richard H. Gimblett and John MacFarlane and Usque ad Mare: A History of the Canadian Coast Guard and Marine Services, by Thomas E. Appleton.

    • “Thank you for this question regarding the Karluk. An examination of documentation reveals that the terms CGS, HMCS or just plain ‘Karluk’ have been used interchangeably, although a definitive answer proves elusive. We consulted with LAC archivists who indicated that it is HMCS.

      A photo in this online publication: the Naval Service of Canada and Ocean Science, by Mark Tunnicliffe, (PA-074048, Title: Pilot house aboard the HMCS Karluk, August 1913) displays : HMCS Karluk.

      Additionally, the publication “The ice master: The doomed 1913 voyage of the Karluk” includes a drawing by William McKinlay of a “Plan of a lower deck of HMCS Karluk”, and a reference to the “Karluk chronicle: the official newsletter of the HMCS Karluk”.

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