Arctic Exploration, 1851-1944
After the disappearance of Sir John Franklin and his crew in 1845, the search for survivors of the expedition continued to motivate Canadian Arctic exploration in the latter part of the 19th century. The British Navy, Lady Franklin's private search groups, various American parties sponsored by scientific societies, public subscriptions, whaling enterprises, and overland journeys by employees of the HBC sought out the shores, straits, and inlets of much of the southern Arctic and of many of the Queen Elizabeth Islands. During the search significant additions were made to the store of scientific and geographical knowledge of the northern part of North America.
British maritime activity was concentrated on both sides of the major passage from Lancaster Sound west through M'Clure Strait. To the south both naval and private expeditions completed the coastal mapping of Victoria, Prince of Wales, and Somerset islands and Boothia Peninsula. Francis L. McClintock and Allen W. Young circled King William Island, where the Franklin party had perished. Venturing farthest north was the British Navy's George S. Nares who dispatched sledge parties over the ice towards the Pole and along the north coasts of Ellesmere Island and Greenland. This northern series of straits and basins was also the setting for most American activity. But it was the most experienced player in the north, the HBC, which gathered the first definite information on the fate of the Franklin expedition when John Rae reached reached Pelly Bay from Repulse Bay in 1854. The HBC followed with a voyage down the Back River to the Arctic coast by James Anderson and James G. Stewart. Other HBC treks, such as those by Roderick MacFarlane, Warburton Pike, and James Mackinlay, were made to further the fur trade.
The exploration and discovery of the Arctic Islands, long associated with the search for a northwest passage, extended further north in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the important voyages were by Scandinavians and Americans. The Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, working for the Canadian government, made the last substantial discovery of new islands in the 1910s. It was not until 1940-4 that an RCMP patrol boat, the St Roch, succeeded in traversing the Northwest Passage both ways. While this voyage was a symbolic expression of Canadian sovereignty in the area, NORAD early-warning stations (Canadians Abroad: vol. III, pl. 57, Societies and Economies in the North, vol. III, pl. 58) testify to the changing geopolitical position of the Canadian Arctic.
Scientific Expeditions and Surveys, 1857-1892
Through the second half of the century much of the more southerly regions of Canada and the Mackenzie-Yukon systems were re-explored and examined by the discerning eyes of scientific personnel attached to British, colonial, and, later, Canadian expeditions. The most important investigations occurred on the Great Plains and in the Cordillera south of the Peace River, and along the arc of the Precambrian Shield from the Athabasca River to the north shore of the St Lawrence. The first large-scale scientific expeditions focused on the southern plains; the John Palliser and Henry Y. Hind surveys of 1857-60 added major information on their hydrography, terrain, vegetation, soils, climate, and geology. After Confederation the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) was the leading national agency to examine the rock and mineral foundation of the new country, and also the complicated network of waterways and terrain features. The GSC published reports based on data gathered by its surveyors as they advanced along rivers, across lakes, and over rock surfaces, marsh, and muskeg, and also prepared detailed geological and mineral reconnaissance studies for large blocks of the country, especially in the west.