The North-West Passage Conquered

Sailing the North-west Passage around the coasts of the American continent was for long an explorer’s ambition. George Woodcock describes how Amundsen realized it in 1906; Sergeant Larsen, R.C.M.P. in 1942-44.

After three winters in the ice, Roald Amundsen in 1906 was the first explorer to navigate the North-west Passage. In 1942, after two winters in the ice, Staff-Sergeant Henry Larsen of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police guided his ship, the St. Roch, into Halifax harbour, having been the first to sail through the Passage from west to east. He had followed roughly the same direction as Amundsen.

In the summer of 1944 Larsen returned in the opposite direction, using a more northerly route than Amundsen, and performed what was perhaps the most striking feat of all; in eighteen days he threaded through the great northern archipelago which had taken his predecessor three years, and became the first explorer to navigate the Passage within a single season.

One reads the accounts of these journeys with admiration, but at the same time with a sense of the tragic irony that the journey hundreds of men strove for more than three hundred years to complete, and on which so many of them died, should have been achieved in the end with so much ease.

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