100th Anniversary of Amundsen’s Northwest Passage

It’s been 100 years since Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s revamped 68-foot herring sloop Gjøa reached the Bering Strait to complete an exploration of the Northwest Passage, a long-sought seaway that claimed the lives of many explorers before him. When Amundsen and his crew first saw a ship sailing in the opposite direction they understood that they had conquered the passage. Although his route was not commercially practical at the time due to distance and draft (it was restricted by shallow Arctic straits), Amundsen had indeed reached the other side of the continent.

To mark the occasion Canadian Ambassador to Norway Ms. Shirley Wolff Serafini and Inuit Art Foundation president Mattiusi Iyaituk presented Norway with an inuksuk, a traditional Inuit sculpture. The inuksuk, a structure built of stacked stones, will reside at the Norwegian Maritime Museum in Oslo, where Amundsen’s sloop Gjøa sits on display. The gift of the inuksuk is significant in that these aboriginal sculptures often served the Inuit as navigation markers on the otherwise featureless Arctic landscape. The gift also recognizes Amundsen’s tie to the Inuit community that began when he and his crew wintered over in a natural harbor on King William Island at a place his men ended up calling Gjøahavn, a name that the Nunavut community know today as Gjøa Haven. Amundsen’s successful passage through the Arctic may have been due in part to his adoption of some of the Inuit’s traditional ways and approaches to Arctic navigation.

Amundsen’s legacy endures, especially in Gjøa Haven, where members of his expedition set up sites for scientific observations to study the position of the magnetic North Pole, and even fathered a few children during their stay.

As a result of global warming and the diminished ice pack, the route that Amundsen pioneered may become a viable passage through the Arctic.

By Ocean Navigator