Roald Amundsen’s “The North West Passage”; Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship “Gjöa”, 1903-1907


Attempts to find the Northwest Passage—a water route from Europe to Asia through the Arctic archipelago north of the Canadian mainland—began as far back as the late-15th century. After numerous failures, many involving disaster and great loss of life, the Northwest Passage finally was successfully navigated in 1903–6 by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (1872–1928). Amundsen and a small crew of six left Christiania (present-day Oslo, Norway) in the converted 47-ton fishing boat Gjöa on June 16, 1903. They proceeded to the west coast of Greenland, across Baffin Bay, and on to King William Island, where they spent nearly two years, conducting scientific experiments and carrying out a sledge expedition of almost 1,300 kilometers to uncharted regions to the north. The Gjöa finally left King William Island on August 13, 1905 and headed west, before stopping for the winter at King Point on the northern coast of the Yukon Territory, in northwest Canada. After their third winter in the Arctic, Amundsen and his crew resumed their journey on July 2, 1906. They arrived in Nome, Alaska, on August 31, having completed the first successful navigation of the Northwest Passage. This book, first published in Norwegian in 1907, is Amundsen’s account of the voyage. It includes much detailed information about the Eskimo tribes that Amundsen came to know and from whom he learned many Arctic survival skills. Presented here is an English-language edition of the book published in 1908.


Father Franz Van de Velde


VOL. 55, NO. 4 (DECEMBER 2002) P. 407 – 408
FRANZ VAN DE VELDE, O.M.I. (1909 – 2002)
Franz Van de Velde, O.M.I., a Roman Catholic missionary
well known in the Kitikmeot and northern Hudson Bay
regions, died in Marelbeke, Belgium, on 22 February 2002
at age 92. Member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate
religious order, cultural historian, author, and genealogist,
Father Franz (Frans) was born in Belgium on 28 November
1909 to Arthur Van de Velde and Gabriella Lanens de Lier.
He graduated from a Jesuit secondary school in 1929, but
chose to join the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a world-
wide missionary order founded in France. He took his first
vows as an Oblate on 8 September 1930, in Niewenhove,
and was ordained a priest by Bishop Rassneur on 8 Sep-
tember 1933 in Velaines, Belgium.
Father Van de Velde received his obedience to minister
in the Hudson Bay Apostolic Vicariate in March 1937, and
on 26 May 1937, with Bishop Arsène Turquetil, he boarded
in Le Havre en route to New York, Mon-
treal, and Churchill. After overwintering in Repulse Bay,
Northwest Territories, he arrived in Pelly Bay (Kugaaruk)
on 23 April 1938. Father Pierre Henry, who had established
the Pelly Bay mission on Simpson Peninsula in 1935,
introduced him to ministry in the Kitikmeot region. Father
Franz spent the next 50 years of his life in the Canadian
Arctic, mainly in the Pelly Bay and Kitikmeot region until
1965, when he moved to Igloolik. On 12 April 1958, he
became a Canadian citizen in a ceremony at Pelly Bay, with
Justice Jack Sissons presiding. His last missionary man-
date in the Churchill Hudson Bay Diocese (1969 – 86) was
to Sanerajak (Hall Beach), where he established the Coeur
Douloureux et Immaculé de Marie parish in 1969.
A Canadian Arctic Producers publication,
Candian Inuit
, described Ataata Vinivi (his Inuktitut name) as
a missionary, ethnologist, author, and explorer. An avid
chronicler of many things, he contributed some 35 articles
, the Churchill Hudson Bay diocesan maga-
zine, on a wide range of topics, such as Inuit legends, acts
of revenge and retribution, hunting stories, snow and its
uses, and Arctic wildlife encounters. His article on Inuit
rules for sharing seal meat after a hunt has been reprinted
in several other journals. A project dear to his heart was the
transliteration and translation of the autobiography and
memoirs of his faithful guide, Bernard Irqugaqtuq. He
held Bernard and his wife Agnes Nullut of Kugaaruk in
highest esteem.
The celebrated
Netsilik Eskimo Film Series
, shot in
Kugaaruk in the early 1960s, and directed by Dr. Asen
Balikci, could not have been made without the help of
Father Guy Mary-Rousselière and Father Van de Velde.
Currently distributed in video format by the National Film
Board of Canada, the film series remains a valuable edu-
cational asset to this day.
In 1984, the Government of Canada officially adopted
the Inuktitut names of 313 Arctic geographic features, a
decision based on Father Van de Velde’s efforts to record
Father Franz Van de Velde, O.M.I., at the age of 70, photographed at Sanerajak,
(Hall Beach), N.W.T., April 1979. (Photo: Ron Dervoir, Co-op Manager.)
some 600 names he had collected from 1938 to 1958 in the
Kugaaruk–Taloyoak–Gjoa Haven area. Because these names
are descriptive, Father Van de Velde wrote, “With all the
Eskimo names in their proper places, the country is an open
book for living and travel.” He certainly recognized the
value of traditional ecological knowledge. His painstak-
ingly recorded genealogical records of the Pelly Bay people
back to the time of Roald Amundsen (1903 – 06) occupy
4250 handwritten and typed pages. Photographs of elders,
now kept in the local government offices of Kugaaruk,
came from his vast, carefully annotated photograph collec-
tion, now located in the Oblate Archives in Ottawa. Any
archivist knows how rare it is for a donor to send identified
photographs! His collection remains a splendid legacy for
the Kitikmiut and for all the people of Nunavut.
As the only permanent white resident at Pelly Bay until
1960 (when a federal school opened there), Ataata Vinivi
stayed close to his parishioners, and he became their
strongest advocate when he felt new developments from
the South would adversely affect them. When he was
convinced the cause was just, be it a protest about fuel
barrels dumped in a lake by the DEW Line station (Site 26)
or perceptions of inadequate health care delivery, he was
tenacious, and at times abrasive. Yet he deeply appreciated


people of good will, like RCMP Captain Henry Larsen,

who were dedicated to advancing the interests of northern


Father Van de Velde was befriended and aided by many

individuals associated with the DEW Line stations in

Sanerajak (Fox Main) and Pelly Bay (Site 26), as well as the

Borealis Mine near Hall Beach. His many contacts with

people outside the North brought wonderful gifts, such as

the bell mounted in the old stone church in Pelly Bay and

some rare northern books donated by the American botanist

Margaret E. Oldenburg. Those volumes have since found

their way to the Eskimo Museum library in Churchill.

Ataata Vinivi promoted the production of Inuit art in the

Kugaaruk–Repulse Bay area, and especially that of mini-

ature stone pieces and exquisitely carved ivory scenes set

on walrus tusk boards. He knew this region well from his

many trips with the


to the H.B.C. trading

post at Repulse Bay. Father Van de Velde’s family in

Belgium and collectors such as the late Dr. Jean Paul

Drolet were beneficiaries of his keen eye and interest in

promoting Inuit art. Some of the finest items he purchased

are on display at the Eskimo Museum in Churchill.

Father Van de Velde had a good, strong stature and large

hands that showed the consequences of many years of

working in the extreme cold. Seeing his striking white beard

and twinkling eyes, you could easily imagine him as your

grandfather. He and his Oblate confreres, especially Father

Rogatien Papion, have faithfully encouraged and kindled

my own interest and understanding of the North. Their

collaboration has been a consistent support for my work.

Father Van de Velde knew the value of the data that he had

collected, and he carefully deposited originals or copies of

his reports in the Archives Deschâtelets, Ottawa, the Uni-

versity of Leuven archives in Belgium, and the Diocese of

Churchill Hudson Bay headquarters at Churchill.

Several university professors and graduate students

based their own theses on fieldwork done in conjunction

with Father Van de Velde and the people of Kugaaruk. He

himself had a special confidence in Dr. Cornelius Remie,

a scholar who has made major contributions to our under-

standing of the religion and culture of the Pelly Bay region.

Father Van de Velde’s latest and last project was a joint

paper with Dr. Ian Stirling, the chief polar bear biologist

with the Canadian Wildlife Service, who has completed

their article on the bears of Simpson Peninsula and their

denning habits for a future issue of


. Father Van de

Velde also worked tirelessly with film crews in his home

country to promote the cause of the northern missions.

Father Van de Velde was honoured by Belgium as

“Knight in the Order of the Crown” (Decoration de Cheva-

lier de l’Ordre de la Couronne) in Ottawa on 25 February

1986. He received the Order of Canada award from His

Excellency Edward Schreyer on 11 April 1984. In 1981,

Princess Margriet unveiled a granite sculpture dedicated

to him in his Flemish hometown of Landskouter. Carved

by Belgian artist Frans Heirbaut, it depicts Ataata Vinivi,

an Inuk woman, and the famous Pelly Bay stone church.

Father Van de Velde retired from northern parish min-

istry in 1986 and spent the rest of his life in Belgium.

Sidonie and Barthelemy Nirlungayuk have been faithful

leaders in his beloved St. Peter’s Parish at Kugaaruk since

the late 1960s. On learning of Father Van de Velde’s death,

Sidonie wrote:

Ataata Vinivi always helped people, most of all those who

were very poor. He gave them food and clothing, and

helped them in so many different ways. I believe we all

saw him not only as our priest, but also as someone who

had many unusual skills. He did everything. He was for us

a builder, hunter, teacher, doctor, manager, administrator,

social worker, and sometimes even a police officer. I

remember many things, but most of all his words:


people, and pray for them!

Last year, Mr. Ovide Alakannuark, MLA for the Akulliq

riding in Nunavut, spoke to the Legislative Assembly about

Ataata Vinivi’s kindness and generosity. Indeed, this leg-

endary figure, described by Bishop Reynald Rouleau as

“an example of immense determination,” has left an indel-

ible mark on the spiritual and cultural landscape of Nunavut.

Note: A more comprehensive article about Father Van de

Velde’s life, written by Father Charles Choque, O.M.I.,

will be published in issue no. 64 of




TANGHE, O. 1981. ‘Nog Even voor je strerft’…ontmoetingen met

Ataata Vinivi, laatste Noordpoolpionier. Maarkedal: Ceres.

VAN DE VELDE, O.M.I., F. 1958. Vitipik of Eenetwintig Jaar

Eskimo met de Eskimo’s. Waregem: Vitgaven Voorposten

Paters Oblaten. (re-issued as Vinivi of vijftig jaar Eskimo met de

Eskimo’s. Nazareth: Schaubroek, 1987.)

———. 1970. Canadian Eskimo Artists: A biographical description of

Pelly Bay. Yellowknife: Government of the Northwest Territories.

———. 1980. Eskimo’s mensen zonder tijd: Met een reisverslag

van H.K. H. Prinses Margriet en Pieter van Vollenhoven. Bussem:

Van Holkema a Warendorf; Apeldoorn: Semper Agenda.

VAN DE VELDE, O.M.I., F., and JACOBS, L. 1972. Eskimo’s op

de grens van oud en nieuw (AO-boekje 1404, 14 April 1972).

VAN DE VELDE, O.M.I., F., and MITCHELL, E. 1970. Canadian

Eskimo Artifacts. Ottawa: Canadian Arctic Producers, 1970 (re-

issued as Canadian Inuit Artifacts, 1973).


T.S., REMIE, C.H.W., and NEWELL, R.R. 1993. One hundred

fifteen years of Arviligjuarmiut demography, Central Canadian

Arctic. Arctic Anthropology 30(2):1 – 45.

Lorraine E. Brandson

Curator, Eskimo Museum and Editor, ESKIMO

Box 10, Churchill, Manitoba

R0B 0E0


Kitikmeot Explorers

Kitikmeot Region

In 1770 and 1771, Samuel Hearne, with a Chipewyan guide, Matonabbee, travelled overland from Churchill to the Coppermine River, becoming the first white man to reach the Arctic Ocean. To his horror, his Indian companions massacred a group of Inuit, their traditional enemy, near the mouth of the Coppermine River at the site known since as Bloody Falls. Hearne’s amazing trek proved that no Northwest Passage would be found from the low latitudes of Hudson Bay.

The Arctic coast was mapped between 1819 and 1846. Franklin mapped 900 kilometres of coastline east from the Coppermine River to Coronation Gulf; in 1826, Dr. John Richardson mapped from the Mackenzie River to the mouth of the Coppermine. The British government’s objectives were to promote geographical exploration, scientific research, and to confirm its territorial claims. Mapping was continued by George Back in 1834, by Thomas Simpson and Peter Warren Dease from 1836 to 1839, and finally by Dr. John Rae in 1845-46.

Important sea expeditions were also carried out. In 1819, Parry sailed through Lancaster Sound to Melville Island where he wintered. Ten years later Captain John Ross, in the Victory, became icebound in Prince Regent Inlet and remained there for three years. He and his crew got on well with local Inuit who hunted with them, supplied them with food and taught them Inuit travel techniques.

In 1846, the ships of the Franklin Expedition got caught in the ice northwest of King William Island. The crews abandoned the ships after 18 months and made a futile effort to reach the South; all 105 men died of starvation and scurvy. Beginning in 1847, numerous search expeditions visited the Arctic, producing a wealth of information on the area. In 1854, John Rae, having heard Inuit tell stories of the expedition’s fate, took the news back to England. Countless books have been written on the Franklin story and the subsequent searches, and the fate of Franklin has passed into northern mythology.

In 1903, the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, seeking to locate the North Magnetic Pole, passed two winters on King William Island in the harbor that he named Gjoa Haven after his vessel. The Gjoa reached Nome, Alaska, in 1906, becoming the first ship to complete the Northwest Passage.

The westernmost reaches of Nunavut were the last to be explored by non-Inuit. Whalers based at Herschel Island gradually extended their whaling grounds east, and one, a Dane named Christian Klengenberg, passed the winter of 1905-6 trading off Victoria Island. Between 1908 and 1912, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, intrigued by Klengenberg’s stories of fair-complexioned Inuit on Victoria Island (later sensationalized by newspapers as the “Blond Eskimos”), explored in the area. In 1913-18, Stefansson returned to Coronation Gulf and Victoria Island with a large multi-disciplinary scientific party on the Canadian Arctic Expedition. A New Zealand-born anthropologist, Diamond Jenness, accompanied this expedition and in 1922 produced a classic of northern ethnographic literature, The Life of the Copper Eskimos, which many scholars considered the best description of a single Inuit group.

Independent fur traders wasted no time in establishing posts in the central Arctic. Christian Klengenberg established a post near the mouth of the Coppermine River in 1916 and, in 1919, another one on Victoria Island. In 1920, he wintered his schooner at Bathurst Inlet. His descendants today live in Kugluktuk (Coppermine) and Holman Island. Other traders gradually moved into the area overland from Great Bear Lake, and were soon followed by geologists and trappers.

In November of 1913, two Oblate priests, Jean-Baptiste Rouvire and Guillaume LeRoux, were murdered by Inuit near Coppermine. The crime, caused by misunderstanding on the part of the Inuit and insensitivity on the part of the priests, was investigated and two Inuit were taken to Edmonton in 1917 for trial. They were sentenced to life imprisonment at Fort Resolution, but were released in 1919. An inevitable result of this case was the establishment of new police posts and the undertaking of regular patrols in the region.

The Hudson’s Bay Co. opened a post at Bernard Harbour in 1916, Cambridge Bay in 1921, and King William Island in 1923. The Coppermine post was established in 1927 and Bathurst Inlet in 1934. The latter closed in 1964 and the buildings are now a naturalist’s tourist lodge. Pelly Bay is the only place in the region where the Hudson’s Bay Co. never established a post. In 1935, Father Pierre Henry built a famous stone church there. The community remained very isolated until 1961, when a school was built.

As elsewhere, missionaries arrived at about the same time as the traders. An Anglican mission was established in Coppermine in 1928, and both Anglicans and Roman Catholics built churches in Cambridge Bay in the 1920s.

Knud Rasmussen of the Fifth Thule Expedition travelled through the area in 1923 and 1924 with his Greenlandic assistants, Miteq and Arnarulunnguaq. Rasmussen produced detailed ethnographic monographs on the Netsilik and Copper Eskimos.

Spence Bay (now Taloyoak) has a curious history. In 1934, the Hudson’s Bay Co. moved Inuit from Cape Dorset, Pangnirtung and Pond Inlet to Dundas Harbour on Devon Island to trap foxes. Two years later, the post was abandoned and the Inuit were moved to Arctic Bay, and from there to Fort Ross. That post proved difficult to resupply because of ice conditions, and in 1947 it closed. Most of the Inuit relocated to Spence Bay.

As elsewhere in the Arctic, Inuit largely abandoned camp life and moved into communities in the 1960s in conjunction with government housing programs and the construction of schools. In 1981, the territorial government designated Cambridge Bay as the regional administrative centre, and the community has grown steadily since.

Toward Nunavut

In this decade, the Nunavut land claim has been settled and the Nunavut Act, proclaiming the advent of the new territory of Nunavut, passed. Inuit are a majority in their homeland. Today Inuit and qallunaat approach the millennium determined to create a vibrant new territory, aware of both its past and the promise of its future.


*Reproduced from the Nunavut Handbook