Day 1: Heading North – Cambridge Bay (Aug 28)

Today we left Edmonton to fly north to Cambridge Bay where we would board the Akkademik Iöffe for our Arctic expedition. Cambridge bay has always been an important stopping and starting point for those exploring the Arctic. John Rae wintered here in 1851 and so did Captain Richard Collinson in HMS Enterprise from 1852-53. Both were searching for the lost Franklin expedition. Roald Amundsen also visited Cambridge bay in 1905 on his historic transit of the Northwest Passage. Amundsen’s second arctic ship Maud, which was purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Company, sank here in 1930. Recent work by a Norwegian team has lifted the wreck off the bottom of the water; they plan to eventually repatriate the remains of the ship to Norway.

 

Upon arriving in Cambridge Bay, we were delivered to the Elders’ Centre where we were welcomed by some locals, coffee, and fresh bannock. Our group of eager adventurers was given an introduction to the hamlet of Cambridge Bay and its some 1600 inhabitants. We learned how the community has changed in recent history with the increase of Arctic tourism and climate change. In years past, muskoxen were often seen on th e outskirts of the town and a yearly hunt would take place. The haul from the hunt would then be brought into town to process the meat. However, the expansion and development of Cambridge Bay has resulted in the muskoxen moving farther and farther away. Government regulations only permit the killing of muskoxen if they can be brought to a processing location within a certain time after the kill. As a result of the expansion, the yearly hunt can no longer take place as the muskoxen now live too far away to be brought back in a timely manner.

 

Before we boarded the ship, we were split into groups and given the opportunity to explore Cambridge Bay on our own or with local guides. Collin, who was leading my group around, has lived there for 30 years. He explained that everything is built on permafrost so most houses use foundations of “cribbing” – stacked cinder blocks – which need to be adjusted every 5 years to accommodate for the natural shifting of the ground levels.

 

It was a real treat to visit the community hall where the Nunavut Arts Festival was in full swing. Artists from across the territory gathered here to display and sell their works. There was even a demonstration of harvesting and spinning qiviut (muskox down) by artist Elizabeth Kolb. The final stop in town was the Arctic Coast Visitor Centre, which has information about the region, souvenirs, and artifacts on display. Two of the artifacts on display are a wheel from the St. Roch, and a model of the St. Roch, both from the VMM’s collection. As part of a grant that the VMM received, we created booklets telling the story of why the St. Roch travelled through the Northwest Passage and had the text translated into Inuktitut and Innuinaqtun. I presented one of these booklets to a gentleman by the name of Ipeelie Ootoova who works at the Visitor Centre and after speaking to him I learned that the stepfather of his great-grandfa ther was Joe Panipakuttuk, the Inuit guide who helped Henry Larsen on the 1944 journey of the St. Roch from east to west through the Northwest Passage.

 

At 2:30, all members of our expedition party gathered at the shore to be taken by Zodiac to the Iöffe. A quick detour on the way to the ship took us by the looming hulk of the Maud, now fully raised out of the water. We learned that earlier in the week, one of the black pontoons used to raise the wreck broke loose and its lonely dark shape floating in the bay was mistaken for a sea creature (the Loch Ness monster on vacation?).

 

On board the ship we were introduced to the staff and settled ourselves into our rooms to rest and prepare for the adventure ahead of us.

 

Words and photographs by Duncan MacLeod – Curator, Vancouver Maritime Museum