- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Dec 1909, p. 67-76
- Bernier, Captain J.E., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The immense territory in the North that the Imperial Government gave to Canada in 1880. The lack of effort, even by the Canadian people, to use what England had given us. What it cost the British Empire to obtain this land. The speaker, in his expeditions, following John Franklin and those who searched for him. The records of the speaker's expeditions. A display of some of the relics found upon different islands. The first mission to go to Hudson's Bay, and leave some Royal Mounted Police at different quarters, and build two stations. The mission of the second year, to patrol the Northern waters of Canada, and annex the islands during the time that was at his disposal during the summer. Ensuring Canadian control in the north. Our duty to make Canada now, while we can, a greater Canada; doing so by claiming two islands that were sighted by those great men who, like Dr. Cook and Peary, are supposed to have gone and discovered the Pole. Two plans submitted by the speaker for going to the Pole. Stories of surviving off the land. Personal anecdotes from the speaker's expeditions. Details of the time spent in Hudson's Bay. Interactions with the Esquimaux. Lectures given by the speaker in England. Support for the speaker's plans from the Royal Colonial Institute. The names of the islands on which the speaker has placed the Canadian flag. Pointing out other islands on a map on which the speaker would be pleased to place the Canadian flag. The issue of costs. Possibilities of commercial ventures in the North. The extent of natural resources in the North.
- Date of Original
- 20 Dec 1909
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- THE ARCTIC REGIONS OF CANADA.
An Address by CAPTAIN J. E. BERNIER before the Empire Club of Canada, on December 20, 1909.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,
I am sure this is a great honour that you pay to a FrenchCanadian, and I feel it. Ever since we got melted together, I am one Canadian, body and soul, and there are many like me; we stand by our King. After leaving my home in 1866 and wandering around the world for no less than twenty years in different ships, because I was twenty years a sailor; after that time, being rather tired of going about in different climes; I made up my mind to retire. After having accepted a position ashore, I commenced to realize that I was going to dry up like an old fossil.
In 1880 the Imperial Government gave to Canada this immense territory in the North, but nobody made any efforts, not even the Canadian people, to use what England had given us. What they gave us had cost them nearly two million pounds, and the British exploration of the North cost seven hundred and fifty lives; and one hundred and fifty different expeditions were sent to search for one of the greatest men of that time-Sir John Franklin-who gave his life to find the North-West passage. When he was on the verge of doing it, within ninety miles of the American continent, his vessel was beset. He died on board, no doubt broken-hearted. But the expeditions that were sent in search of that great man have given to Canada all the Northern territory; and I am sure it was a simple work to follow these great men who came from the other side in search of Sir John Franklin, and today, I bring to you the records of my expeditions.
So, it was very simple for me to follow their steps. It is so that we know today what they have done, and we have material at our disposal, and we know the ice conditions, and the weather conditions, and I am sure it is just as easy to go to Melville Land today as it is to go to Liverpool--no difference at all. My little Arctic had a bad reputation at one time, but she has earned her epaulets. I made her listen to me the same as a child, because that is a condition a man must have. He must have a ship that will obey; he must know where he is going; and he must have a crew disposed to follow his commands. We need not fear when we know the ice; it moves twice a day sometimes; it is moving all the time, under different conditions; everything on earth is moving, and there is a reason for that. If you will look far enough ahead, it is all written. If you want to know when you are going amongst the ice, whether you can pass, all you have to do is to find how long it is going to remain open. If the ice is thick, of course it opens only now and then. If it is only three inches, it will open twice a day. It will release you. It is only a question of study. Do not put your foot forward unless you know where you are going; you must study your subject, and when you have mastered that subject, follow it fearlessly, and if you have perseverance enough you will come to the end.
These are relics which I have found upon different islands. My mission on the first trip was to go to Hudson's Bay, and leave some Royal Mounted Police at different quarters, and build two stations We did that. We carried out our orders to the satisfaction of the Government. We were fitted to go farther north, but owing to certain conditions we did not get the relief-boat in time. Therefore we were obliged to come back, but the stores on board were used on the second trip so that there was no loss. The second year my mission was to patrol the Northern waters of Canada, and annex the islands during the time that was at my disposal that summer. Going along Greenland, I went into Pond's Inlet to secure Esquimaux and to find the ice conditions, before I went farther; also to meet some of those Scotch whalers who were supposed to be in that neighbourhood. I did see them and collected dues for the Government for fishing. It is not a very large amount, but, in this case, we wanted these people to admit our claims-not only the Scotch whalers, we should not charge them anything because it was their fathers who had given us that land-we had this object in view and wanted Canadian control admitted. There were strangers fishing there, and we wanted them to give a little towards our expenses. It is nothing but right that we should have something as a recognition that these were our lands. I did manage to secure $500 from whaling licenses, and $1,000 for custom house duties on goods that were imported from the other side, and from the United States.
Well, Canada is growing, and mightily fast. We do not seem to realize it here except when we travel. Canada seems to be so great that we have not been able to get to the end yet, and is it possible to think that in the 20th century we won't be allowed to go to the farthest end of Canada? We must do it. It is our duty to make Canada now while we can-to make a greater Canada, and we can do it by claiming two islands that were sighted by those great men who, like Dr. Cook and Peary, are supposed to have gone and discovered the Pole. Well, gentlemen, when I came here some six or seven years ago, I did mention that I wanted to get to the Pole, and I proposed two plans-one to go walking over the ice, up to the Pole and back, for glory. I furnished half the money I had, and I was giving my time to the people of Canada for nothing; that shows you that I was in earnest. I could give no more, but I offered that, and they did not think it was worth while. Perhaps they were right; perhaps to go to the Pole only for glory, would not be worth what it cost; but in the North we have a good deal of spunk and time will prove it. It has already proved that we have got all these Northern, lands annexed. Of course, I did not submit only one plan, but two. The second was a drifting plan to take a ship and put it in the ice, and let her drift with natural conditions, and during that time she would be a perfect observatory. We want an observatory to take soundings and find out what there is during that long drift from ocean to ocean.
When I did submit these plans you do not suppose for a moment that I was not prepared to carry them out -that I had not studied the question. Do you think I would risk my life and the lives of those with me to go about that way on no prepared plan? Oh no! No, sir. I am not in that habit. I am in the habit of going from one part to another. I wanted to have the honour of reaching the Pole for Canada, and at the same time of reaching the islands and giving them to Canada; and if any were discovered to annex them. They were ours; they were given to us by Britain on the 1st of September, 1880. We have annexed them--we want the people to settle there now! I am glad that you approve of that because progress moves not only westward but northward too. Therefore it is a northwest course and that is what we are doing. Immigration is going northwest. We are following the setting sun; we are running towards the light; we are inclined to go that way; and, in doing so, when we scratch the ground we find something in it. In northern Ontario, not so very long ago, there was nothing to speak of. Now, today, what do we see? Silver, as much as you can take out of the ground. Therefore, Canada is today, I consider, one of the greatest countries in the world. Because you have vast, immense places, where you can search for something, and is it possible to think that God did not put on earth in the far north what is good for man to live on?
Everywhere I have been there is something for man to live on. Even on Melville Island I found thousands of musk-ox and deer. We killed no less than 24,000 pounds of fresh meat during our stay there, and we spared many herds because we could not utilize them. We did not kill a single animal we could not use; we left them for those who come after us. I found an American gentleman in the North who had been hunting musk-ox and deer, and one fine night in Baffin Land, inside a bay, I noticed a small light. It was then about the ice a little too hard and knock a hole in the ship, she is in danger if she is not built with water-tight compartments. If the ships are suitably built, there is no doubt you will have a great outlet that way, because the time is not far distant when there will be so much produce in the West that you will have to send it that way, and all goods from the Mother Country will come in that way to supply the demand in the West, so you will have a return cargo.
All the rivers in the North are full of fish, and you can send fish to England, and as soon as your railways are built to the Hudson's Bay, you can bring fish here to Ontario, and have it cheaper than you have it now. The fishing in Hudson's Bay has been reduced very much from twenty years ago, but I am glad to say there is only one American vessel in the Strait. We met that vessel one year. We wandered alongside of her. During that year she caught seven whales, but now the whale fishery is much reduced from what it used to be. Whales are gone to the other side, that is, they have gone through Lancaster Sound, Barrow Strait, Melville Sound, McClure Sound, and on the other side the American whaler comes in from San Francisco, calls in at Herschell Islands, and still proceeding eastward on our territory, she goes as far as Bank Land and Victoria Island. Inside of the Strait they winter sometimes at Cape Haterass and deal with the Esquimaux, selling their trash for skins. Their revenue has been about forty thousand dollars per ship. Now I think it is time that our American cousin should be looked after. That is, he should be asked for that little fifty dollar bill for the present, until such time as we see fit to have a close season, and that I would advise as soon as you can make up your mind to have a close season in those northern waters. In annexing those lands we have annexed probably in the neighbourhood of eight thousand Esquimaux, and when I took possession of Bank Land on the ninth of November, the King's birthday, I told them that they had become Canadians and therefore they were subject to our laws. Well they could not see that, but I tell you they saw it when they came on board my vessel to a dinner to which I had invited them, and they had everything they wanted, and then they commenced to realize that it was a good thing to be a Canadian.
I told them, "If you want to exchange your products we will give you guns and ammunition, and we will treat you kindly, but for that, you have to respect this great man that I showed them, whose photo was in my cabin--Sir Wilfrid Laurier." One of them asked me if he was my father. I said "No, my father was a smaller man than that," but, I said, "That man holds in his hand today everything that belongs to Canada; whatever he says goes; if his Government says we are going to do a thing it is done, because he has the power. He is exactly like a captain when he is on board ship; he can do what he likes but you must remember that he must give an account of himself when he comes home." And it is exactly the same with the Government; they have to render to the public an account of what they have done. I am proud that the present Government has had occasion for striping towards the North. I did work out this problem long ago. If I had come sooner, very likely I might have been farther ahead, but I did not want to come before the Government to ask any help before I was convinced that my plans were correct, and it was only when Nansen returned that I said, "Yes, my plans are now fully developed, and there is the proof; and if I put my ship in the ice, I will come out;" and since that time I have been before the Canadian people from Vancouver to England. I have lectured in England; I am not much of a lecturer; I am more of a worker. Yes, I can do any amount of that.
When I was in England I lectured before the Royal Colonial Institute, and my plans were approved by all the Members, and especially by the President of the Royal Geographical Society, Sir Clements Markham; but, he said, "You have come in the worst time; we are fitting an expedition to find the South Pole, and therefore we leave to Canada the task of going to the en d of your country. "But," he said, "I am proud to see a Canadian here who wants to undertake that task, because there are some doubts as to whether land or water is there." If there was land, and our Government had put our flag on it, it would have remained there, but now, as I predicted, there is no less than two thousand fathoms of water. When I considered the size of Greenland, I concluded there must be a hole in the North, and so there is. And we ask Greenland "How high are you?" And it answers, "I am eleven thousand feet high," and therefore we must look for a deep hole in that North, and we have proved today that Commander Peary has sounded twenty miles from the Pole, and he found no bottom at fifteen hundred fathoms. It is not so important that we put up our flag at the Pole, because it would remain there only a few hours; it would drift to the eastward, and do not be surprised in a couple of years from now if the records left by Peary and Cook are found when they have drifted towards the east coast of Greenland, and what story will these records tell? No more than what is written inside; but if we put our flag up in the North on an island, the farthest north and leave it there, the records will be found many years afterward, as with some records here, that I found that were left in 18i9 and 1820 by that great explorer, Sir William Parry.
These great seamen of England, our forefathers, who actually were the cause of our owning that Northern country today were enticed by money compensation. There was an amount put up by the British Government for the one that would go past the 110th meridian, and that was won by Parry when he passed Cape Bounty. At that time the English government offered 125,000 for the North-West passage, and two years ago I wanted to have permission to make that North-West passage, if I saw the chance; but the permission was not given to me. The present Government could not see their way clear to risk fortythree lives and the good little Arctic to undertake a passage of which we had very little information. But, gentlemen, on this last trip I sailed half-way through that North-West passage, and there was nothing but beautiful water ahead of me. When I stood at the mast-head and called my officers, one by one, and showed them the North-West passage, I had a feeling that I should have gone through. My ambition was on one side, pushing me that way, and duty on the other. When I went down into my cabin and read my instructions I could not see my way clear to risk those lives in undertaking a thing which the Government did not instruct me to do. My instructions were to take possession of Bank Land, not the North-West passage. The time had not matured, but now we have more details, and the reason I come before you is to know your feelings. Are we going now to patrol the waters from ocean to ocean? Are we going to take possession of land as far north as we know today? When these men like Peary and Cook have sighted lands, I think it is our duty to proceed and put our flag on the farthest island. It is for the people of Canada to say, and I am at their disposal for that. (Applause.)
Is it necessary that I should give the names of the islands that I have put the flag on? We have planted our flag on Baffin's Land, Violet Island, Griffith's Island, North Coronet, Bankland, Victoria Island, King William Island, and many others. On the first of July last year, on Confederation Day, I had a slab made and on that slab I wrote, "This memorial is erected here today to commemorate the taking possession of all the Arctic Archipelago." I was doing a wholesale business, taking possession for Canada of all lands and islands to the eastward of the international line between Alaska and Canada on the 141st meridian as far north as go degrees north. The Pole was not mentioned because it is an invisible point, but go degrees north, that is a quarter of the globe, and I claimed all that land for Canada as a whole. It seems that the United States has agreed to that, because she says that we are mistress of all the lands to the North.
There are yet two little islands here on the map, but I am inclined to believe that they are only one by what I know at present. It was sighted by Peary two years ago and sighted again by Dr. Cook, but all he has of it is some photographs, and I have asked him to allow me to have some prints of them so that I can really learn when I go North if he has been there. (Laughter.) At the present moment these two islands are the only ones that we know of where the flag of Canada has never been placed, and it is, for the people of Canada to say if it is their wish that it should be there. Now that we have got this immense Arctic Archipelago, we have to maintain a patrolling service, not so expensive as it is said that we have been, because we are accused of spending too much money. Well, sir, our second voyage cost $34,000, and on this trip, because we were a little larger number, we spent $46,000 for 46 men. You can see how much we had to spend; we had to pay those men. We spent 14 months in the North. There are a good many who would not go for that.
There are immense fisheries on Baffin's Land, especially at the south end toward Cumberland Gulf. There are several rivers which are teeming with fish, and I think a good business could be started in the salmon industry. There is an immense number of seals, but there is not so much value in seals as in salmon. Taken as a whole, there is room for .a good many Canadians. As to the minerals of that country, I would advise the present Government to send on every trip that we go north, somebody who would study the conditions of the land, because a sailor does not know anything about the land. He does not know the value, could not tell the difference between a valuable stone and one that was not valuable. Therefore, it is too much to ask a seaman to undertake that duty. The officers of a ship going to that northern country should be men of experience, each able to do his part at the wheel. Then you bring your result from every officer of that trip, which shall be more than the value of the money that you spent. If we maintain our northern patrolling every year, we will find something which will be valuable, and which will repay Canada for its output and expense.
Gentlemen, I appreciate highly what you have done for the French-Canadians, and there are thousands like me. All they want is the opportunity to how that they are loyal to Canada and the King, and I have left his portrait up there in the cold. I thank you, Mr. President, and all of you, for your kind attention to me, and to forgive me if my speaking is not what it ought to be