Arctic Expedition makes John Rae history

THEY MADE IT! Today at 3:45 p.m. Mountain Time, David Reid and Richard Smith called me in Toronto from the John Rae plaque overlooking Rae Strait. They had just completed a 650-km trek from Naujaat (Repulse Bay) to Point de la Guiche. They took just 29 days to complete this prodigious feat in blizzards and with temperatures falling to 30 and 40 degrees below zero.

Today, they left early and covered about 16 km to reach the site where in 1854, accompanied by his indigenous companions William Ouligbuck Jr. and Thomas Mistegan, Rae built a cairn marking his discovery of the final link in what would prove to be the first navigable Northwest Passage.

Reid and Smith were in high spirits as they chatted with me for about twenty minutes. Two other team members, Frank Wolf and Garry Tutte, had been forced to evacuate en route by foot problems.

(Wolf took the photo above before departing.) “It was a shame to lose them,” Smith said. “But their feet . . . . the journey was quite arduous on the body.”

He and Reid have both lost a fair bit of weight, exact amount to be determined.

Reid, a veteran explorer, reminisced about the Arctic Return Expedition being conceived in September 2017 during an Adventure Canada voyage in the Northwest Passage. He and I and Sheena Fraser McGoogan and a few other people got talking over dinner about what he should do next. One idea led to another. . . .

Back in 1999, the late Louie Kamookak led me and one other man in erecting the plaque honoring Rae and his companions. Reid and Smith put up their tent nearby just before they called. The temperature was a balmy 20 degrees below zero, and they will camp on site for the next couple of nights. Gjoa Haven is about 80 km to the southwest. The men have arranged for an Inuk named Marvin to lead a team in picking them up via skidoo from Gjoa on Tuesday. They will give a presentation to the community on Wednesday evening and on Thursday, will fly south to Edmonton, so beginning their journey home — Reid to Ottawa, Smith to Scotland.

From outside their tent, the two men looked across the white expanse of Rae Strait. “On the far side of Rae Strait,” Reid said, “we can see King William Island. Just as John Rae did 165 years ago.”


  1. Pat M on February 1, 2022 at 5:14 pm

    Fantastic!! Congratulations to all involved.

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