Exploration in the Canadian Arctic

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Introduction MP-0000.50.1 M993X.5.1358.2 M993X.5.1357 P316_A.03 MP-0000.597.111 M993X.5.1348.2 MP-0000.597.209 M989.89.1


François Cartier and Guislaine Lemay, McCord Museum, 2005

Exploration in the Arctic took many forms. As early as the 17th century, European whaling ships travelled Arctic waters in search of whales to supply the markets for oil and baleen. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the search for the Northwest Passage became a preoccupation, and numerous expeditions were launched, including John Franklin's. When his ship failed to return, a new era of exploration began as others set out to search for Franklin and his crew.

In the late 19th century, the Canadian government was very concerned about the presence of foreign whalers in Canadian waters. Sovereignty over the Arctic became an important national issue that led to the posting of government officers in the North. Competition in the fur trade also stimulated exploration and the establishment of trading posts. As Canada grew, so did its economic ambitions and its need to assess northern mineral wealth, and this led to a wave of scientific exploration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other explorers, driven by personal ambition, set out in search of adventure. All these exploratory expeditions contributed to our understanding of the Arctic continent - a world both fascinating and forbidding