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Northern Venture Part 2: To North Star Harbour, August 7, 2013

posted August 13, 2013

Sorry that I am running a little behind here. This is the second part of the story of our major overland trip. Part 1 ended in the wee hours getting a reasonable sleep in the tent of snores. The morning of the 7th started with a return to the graves on the hill to video in the fog. The moisture in the air helped us decipher more of the inscriptions. On the return to camp, we encountered Snow Geese in the fog which provided an interesting shot of one wavy line of walking geese joining another standing line of motionless geese. With camp packed up we headed to the coast and the site of the Sea Otter Harbour village. This site is an incredible testimony to the life style of the Inuvialuit “Schooner Days” of the 1930s to the 1960s. The first thing I saw was a massive iron rudder from one of the schooners. Artifacts representing the trappers’ life were everywhere: fox traps, primus stoves, tools, food containers, parts of boats, and wooden tent doors small enough for hobbits. Most items were either broken or rusted beyond use, and it seemed clear that when the inhabitants moved from here, they took what was useable, and left what was not. John Sr told us about the use of some items, and related stories of the people who lived here. John Jr sat in the outline of his maternal grandfather’s tent-house, where someone had laid out some interesting objects on the house door, which we called “The Museum.” Just as we were about to leave John Sr found a piece of freighter canoe that had been repaired with two strips of thin brass. Ten minutes earlier I had found a brass primus stove with two strips cut from the tank. I have to believe the pieces were from the same stove, but there was no time to go back and check!

And then it was on to our next objective, Meek Point and Terror Island, both named by McClure during the search for Franklin. Terror Island, named for Franklin’s ship, was used by the CAE as a site for caching supplies on their way north. Storkersen established his “Half-Way Station” here in the winter of 1914-1915. This last leg of the journey was not as rough, with some fast travel along the beach toward North Star Harbour, with Terror Island visible in the distance. We did have to back track around a major lake/lagoon as the outflow river had broken through the beach and was too deep to cross. At Meek point, the Sachs Harbour Hunters and Trapper Committee has built a cabin for use in winter mainly as people come here to hunt wolves and polar bears.

We had a quick look and survey of the historic camping site at North Star Harbour before going to the cabin for a late meal and the night. North Star Harbour is not actually named for the schooner North Star which was part of the CAE, but is named for a later schooner purchased in the mid 1930s, which was named after the first North Star. Now named the North Star of Herschel Island, she is still a working vessel based in Victoria, BC.

After setting up camp in the cabin and another great meal of caribou, potatoes and doughnuts (thanks Brenda), we drove up to the high ground where we could overlook Storkerson Bay, named by Stefansson for his most able assistant and traveling companion. It was a wonderful time for me. A cool breeze blowing from the icy sea, Terror Island shining in the sun and encircled by ice, Storkerson Bay completely ice-choked, and two Arctic hares who ran then stopped and looked at us long enough for a quick video. Looking out at all that ice, we knew for certain now that no boat was getting to the north end of the Island by this coast, this month!

Having read about these places in Expedition diaries for years, and now being here, after the disappointment of realizing we would not be going up this coast by boat as planned, was pretty impacting, to say the least. To top it all off, over on the next knoll I spotted a pile of rocks that looked man-made. I walked over to the rocks realizing that this pile could have been a cache or simply a signal made by men of the CAE. These things are hard to date. It could have been older than CAE times, or more recent. In any case, it was a suitably moving end to another historically adventurous day on Banksland.