Canada C3 and the Legacy of the Canadian Arctic Expedition

By: David Gray, Canada C3 Staff
September, 2017

As the Canada C3 Expedition sails around Canada’s three coasts to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, we also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the final explorations of the Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE) of 1913-1918. It is a fitting time to bring this largely unknown, Canadian and intriguing arctic story to the people of Canada.

On Leg 9 (between Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay) and on Leg 10 (Cambridge Bay to Kugluktuk), we passed through several places where the CAE left their footprints in one way or another.

The CAE was the largest multi-disciplinary scientific arctic expedition ever, and it opened the Canadian north to a fascinated world. It had a profound impact on Canadian and world science, and on the people of the western Arctic. A fantastic story of scientific and geographical exploration, it is also a story of a unique meeting of cultures.

I have been researching the CAE for over 15 years and have visited several CAE sites in the western Arctic, particularly on southern Banks Island where the Northern Party of the Expedition established their headquarters between 1914 and 1917.

For me, being able to take part in the Arctic legs of Canada C3 was a special blessing, as it allowed me to visit and document places I have longed to reach for many years. It was especially significant to be on Leg 10, as that was not part of my original summer’s plan.

This year, I was to be part of a small sailboat expedition with the goal of reaching important CAE sites along the Northwest Passage and on northwestern Banks Island. Alas, the expedition boat developed engine difficulties that required the cancellation of the planned western part of the expedition through the Northwest Passage to Banks Island. Fortunately, I was able to work as a programming team member on Canada C3 for Leg 10, allowing me to reach several important CAE sites.  

The five CAE-related sites that Canada C3 was able to explore illuminate the incredible connections that link us to the people exploring these same areas 100 years ago. Here’s a bit about each of these five unique sites:

LEG 9

1. Gjoa Haven (Uqsuqtuuq), Nunavut: Louie Kamookak and Mike Siberia singing in my pocket.

Mike Siberia, an Inuk from East Cape, Siberia, was hired by Dr. Anderson, CAE biologist and leader of the Southern Party, at Herschel Island in the summer of 1914. As assistant engineer on the CAE schooner Alaska, Mike was paid $30 per month, more than the other Inuit with the Southern Party of the Expedition because of his greater involvement. Mike collected specimens for Dr. Anderson and once shot four polar bears in one day. He travelled with the expedition as far east as Tree River (Kogluktualuk) and Banks Peninsula (Tigarik). 

Long after the end of the CAE, Mike Siberia was working for the Hudson’s Bay Company near Gjoa Haven as an interpreter. Kugluktuk Elder, David Bernhardt, told me during an interview in 2002 about what happened before Mike died by suicide.


Mike was hired as a cook in the early 1930s. He became a great sourdough pancake maker. He began to drink the alcohol that was formed from the rising sourdough overnight. From there he began to make “brew” in a big washtub. After a drinking party one winter night, Mike fought with his best friend and locked him outside. Overcome by remorse after his friend froze both feet, Mike shot himself.

Louie Kamookak, the well-known Inuit historian from Gjoa Haven, has visited Mike’s grave and on board our Canada C3 ship, he shared with me the details on how to locate it. What I really wanted to do was to play, at his grave, a recording made in 1915 of Mike singing a Russian song. Unfortunately, we could not stop at the site because of timing issues. I had to be content with interviewing Louie about Mike’s story and playing the recording to him. Louie translated some of the chatter between the songs: “He’s saying ‘What shall I sing, what shall I sing?’”

Several times in the next few days, in a quiet moment, I could hear Mike singing and laughing, from my own pocket, as I had forgotten to turn off my iPhone!

2. Cambridge Bay (Iqaluktuuttiaq), Nunavut: Patsy Klengenberg and the wreck of the Aklavik

Patsy, son of Danish trader Christian Klengenberg and Kenmek, an Alaskan Inupiat woman, was a student of CAE’s anthropologist Diamond Jenness while spending a year with the Southern Party. Patsy collected birds and mammals for Dr. Anderson and learned the techniques of preparing bird and mammal skins for museum specimens. He learned English and other skills well enough to later become a successful businessman and trader.

“Although barely sixteen years of age he was strong and hardy, an excellent traveller and a skillful and fearless hunter. Probably no better interpreter could have been found anywhere along the Arctic coast” (Diamond Jenness 1922).

After the CAE, Patsy sailed his own boat between Coronation Gulf and Herschel Island and ran a trading post on Wilmot Island. While working for the HBC, Patsy took part in the first commercial use of the Northwest Passage travelling on the schooner Aklavik from Gjoa Haven through the Bellot Strait to Fort Ross where they met with the Nascopie and exchanged furs and trading goods. The HBC presented members of that crew with an engraved silver cigar box. While in Gjoa Haven, some of the Canada C3 team met one of Patsy’s descendants who showed them Patsy’s silver box, a prized family heirloom.

Patsy later purchased the Aklavik from the HBC. Sadly, Patsy died after a fire and explosion on the Aklavik at Cambridge Bay in 1946. He was able to save his son but did not survive his own attempt to reach shore. An island in Coronation Gulf is named after him. The remains of the Aklavik rest in shallow water near where the Canada C3 ship was anchored in Cambridge Bay and I was very excited to be able to film the wreck using my GoPro camera from a Canada C3 zodiac.

LEG 10

3. Banks Peninsula (Tigarik), Nunavut: CAE banners and Anavik.

Our next stop was Banks Peninsula, named Tigarik in Inuktitut, meaning “index finger” because of its shape. It was here that Dr. Anderson, who was travelling by dog team with Adam Ovayuak and Mike Siberia, met up with John Cox, Ikey Bolt, and Kohotok and family, who had been surveying the local copper deposits. On May 18, 1916, they visited a group of eight Copper Inuit who were living in a large caribou skin tent on the coast. Most of them belonged to the Kilusiktogmiut, the Copper Inuit who lived near Bathurst Inlet and spent the winter on the sea ice north of Bathurst Inlet.

Dr. Anderson recorded that the Inuit were fishing for tomcod through holes in the ice and tide cracks, and catching many Arctic ground-squirrels (siksik) using traps and snares. Amongst the Copper Inuit, a man named Anavik and two other men had .44 rifles but little ammunition. A man named Adiakak had only a bow and not much else. A man named Aitok had visited traders to the east, and all had white man’s goods: knives, saw, HBC blankets and pots. Anderson made 23 photographs of the people, showing their clothing, their camp and the now famous photo of Anavik, wearing bone snow goggles.

This wonderful photograph of Anavik appeared on the ceremonial banners along Confederation Boulevard in Ottawa in 2013, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the launch of the CAE. The photo was also used on the poster and website for the exhibition I curated for the Canadian Museum of Civilization and Canadian Museum of Nature: Expedition Arctic 1913-1918.

So, it was exciting for me to land at the spot where we thought the photograph had been taken, based on Anderson’s map. Although the sun was setting as we arrived, it was awesome to be in that special place and to do a quick survey with Jaypootie and Jimmy, our bear guards. Many of us took photos with one of the CAE Anavik banners, wearing a modern pair of Inuit style snowgoogles made of muskox horn from Banks Island.

4. Cape Barrow (Haninnek), Nunavut: Adventure and Photographs

The next stop relating to the CAE was near Cape Barrow (Haninnek) at the northwestern corner of Bathurst Inlet. The place was a sheltered cove where the scientific parties of the CAE camped in both 1915 and 1916 and where a photograph featured on a 2013 CAE commemorative coin produced by the Royal Canadian Mint was taken.

When we arrived off Cape Barrow, the wind and uncharted waters made anchoring and a zodiac ride impossible. The decision was to find shelter in an inlet farther west, anchor and consider the options. Fortunately for me, Canada C3 Expedition Leader Geoff Green approved an excursion in the Hurricane – our scientific work boat more capable in rough seas than the zodiacs. With Scott at the helm, Jaypootie (bear guard), Natta (photographer) and I set out into the great waves. It was an exhilarating trip with salt spray flying as we hit each wave. I thought we might have to turn back at one point, but Scott with his great skills got us through the worst area and into shelter behind an island. We searched down the long inlet on which the 1920s map showed the camp, but found nothing which matched the photos I was carrying. Out to the rough seas again, we ran over to the next smaller inlet and soon found the site, clearly identifiable by the structure of the rocks.

There was no sign of the camp, and only one rusty fuel can hidden in the rocks to show the past human presence. We found signs of caribou, Arctic hare, Arctic ground squirrels and grizzly bears. It was exciting to take photos and videos of the site, matching up the 100-year-old photos with the current view, our orange Hurricane boat contrasting with the CAE schooner, North Star, with CAE members Wilkins and Natkusiak on the deck.

5. Tree River (Kogluktualuk), Nunavut: Copper Inuit Fishing Camp and Kanoyuak’s Kayak

Anchored near the mouth of the Tree River in Port Epworth, we could see with binoculars where a 1915 Copper Inuit fishing camp described by Dr. Anderson might be located. After our trip up the Tree River to the fishing lodge, we landed on the land east of the possible camp and again used an old photograph to confirm the position, without actually going onto the site. As it had not yet been determined to be an archaeological site, we did not want to intrude. We took lots of photos and videos of the area from a distance.

With help from Pam Gross, a Canada C3 participant and Director of the Kitikmeot Heritage Centre, we also photographed the site where a kayak belonging to Kanoyuak was pulled up on the rocks in 1915. This kayak was later purchased by Dr. Anderson and is now in the collections of the Canadian Museum of History. Its identity and origins had been lost for many years until research for the 2011 CMH exhibit found the critical information in Anderson’s field notes.

What’s Next?

Because the start of World War I shifted all focus away from the CAE’s return, the expedition stories have mostly slipped away into history. Bringing these stories back to the people of Nunavut and the N.W.T. will continue to build a sense of pride in the achievements of their ancestors. We plan to tell this wonderful Canadian story through film, focusing on the local Inuit and Inuvialuit men and women who contributed so much to the expedition’s success, as well as the expedition seamen and scientists.

I am most grateful to the Canada C3 participants, project team and ship’s crew for their enthusiasm and great contribution to the CAE project.

For more information on the CAE, you can visit the Virtual Museum of Canada online exhibition Northern People: Northern Knowledge at  www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/cae/indexe.shtml  and my own CAE website at www.canadianarcticexpedition.ca