Adventure Canada voyagers discover Fort Ross

DAY FIVE: Fort Ross

Sept 9 (Pix by Sheena Fraser McGoogan)

The Ocean Endeavour anchored for the
night where Bellot Strait meets Prince Regent Inlet. Starting at 8:30 in the
morning, we went ashore in zodiacs and made a wet landing at “Fort Ross.” The
site, so named by the Hudson’s Bay Company, comprises two weather-beaten wooden
buildings. Erected in 1937, this was the HBC’s last-built fur-trade post. Ice
conditions made it so difficult to reach that the Company shut it down in 1948,
after two HBC men received no communications or supplies for three years.
Luckily for them, Inuit hunters turned up occasionally to trade Arctic fox-fur
for British goods.

Both HBC buildings have seen better
days, but one of them, originally a storehouse, has been restored. We removed
the planks that bar the front door and retrieved a key from its “secret” hiding
place. Inside we found the old familiar stove, table, chairs and bunk beds.
Inuit hunters from Taloyoak shelter here, and also any passing sailors. Polar
bears have repeatedly ransacked the second building, originally the manager’s house,
and reduced it to an agglomeration of broken windows, peeling wallpaper, and moldy

In naming this outpost Fort Ross, the
HBC was commemorating the early-1830s voyage of John Ross and James Clark Ross,
whose ship, the Victory, got trapped
in the ice near the bottom of Prince Regent Inlet. During the second winter of
entrapment, in 1831, James Clark Ross sledged overland and marked the site of
the Magnetic North Pole on the west coast of Boothia Peninsula. Later, with
supplies running low, the Rosses abandoned their ship and led two dozen men
north past this location to Fury Beach and beyond.

Besides the two buildings, Fort Ross
boasts several sites of interest. The first, to the southwest of the
storehouse, is a series of stone-covered graves which contain the remains of at
least three Inuit who worked with the HBC. The second is a sturdy cairn erected
in 1979 by the descendants of Francis Leopold McClintock, with the help of Stuart
Hodgson, commissioner of the Northwest Territories. The cairn, combining concrete
blocks and steel rods, was built to last forever  “in proud memory of . . . the discoverer of
the fate of Franklin.” McClintock discovered a one-page “Victory Point note,”
the only written record ever to surface, and also some dead bodies. But it is
difficult to see how his sanitized assessment of the demise of the Franklin
expedition – nary a mention of cannibalism – can be regarded as “discovering
the fate.”

Another interesting feature of the
site is a rough cairn, also called McClintock’s Cairn, that stands at the
highest point on a rocky ridge behind Fort Ross. McClintock himself had the
cairn built, though the HBC men who lived here for a decade almost certainly
rebuilt it. Having scrambled upwards, a few of us stood in the wind gazing out
over Bellot Strait, Prince Regent Inlet, and the Fox Islands, so named by
McClintock after his own ship. In the winter of 1858-’59, anyone standing here
would have been able to see the Fox, locked
in the ice not far away; and also a magnetic observatory roughly 200 metres from
the ship, “built of ice sawed into blocks,” McClintock wrote, “there not being
any suitable snow.”

Afternoon found us plying north
through Prince Regent Inlet. We spotted several bowhead whales, a sighting that
Deanna Spitzer described as incredibly rare. In the evening, with the
Explorers’ Dinner in full swing, we passed Fury Beach. Here, in 1825, Edward
Parry was forced to abandon one of his two ships, the Fury, after it was driven
onto the rocks and smashed by icebergs. He was forced to leave the ship and
most of its considerable stores, and to limp home in the companion ship, the

The wreck of the Fury proved
serendipitous for John and James Clark Ross. In 1829-30, they spent four
winters trapped by the ice in Prince Regent Inlet, and ended up surviving
thanks mainly to the provisions from the Fury that remained on the beach. The
two Rosses and their men hauled whaleboats from the southern reaches of the
Sound to Batty Bay, north of Fury Beach. But they found no rescue ships and
retreated to spend their fourth winter at that location. The following August,
1833, they managed to sail the boats out into Lancaster Sound and flag down a
passing whaler.

This story surfaced at recap, which
was highlighted by an “I am Spartacus” moment dedicated to expedition leader
Stefan Kindberg. More than two dozen staff members donned horned helmets and
other Viking paraphernalia and identified themselves as The Great Swede Himself.
This show of affection and solidarity culminated in a rendition of Abba’s Mama
Let’s call it “unforgettable” and pass on . . . to the costume party?
Everyone from Captain James Cook to Jane, Lady Franklin turned out for this
one. Much revelry ensued, and American astronaut Charlie Duke won the
best-costume contest for coming dressed as himself. Second place ended – are
you ready for this? — in an eight-way tie. 

[Are we going again in 2016? You betcha!]

Leave a Comment