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.
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.
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:
- Documents from the Ministry of Naval Services
- Private records from members of the expedition, including documents from John R. Cox, Kenneth G. Chipman, Rudolph M. Anderson and Diamond Jenness
Available online from Library and Archives Canada:
- The map Discoveries in the Arctic Sea, 1616-1927 identifies the islands discovered by Stefansson and the Northern Party. A number of places bear the names of members of the expedition.
- Scientific reports are available online via the Internet Archive site.
- A comprehensive account of the story of this expedition can be found in the book by Stuart Jenness, Stefansson, Dr. Anderson and the Canadian Arctic Expedition, 1913-1918: A Story of Exploration, Science and Sovereignty, published in 2011.
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.