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Destination Arctic: 1913

Lesley Sturla © Lesley Sturla


This Arctic wolf was shot in 1915 by zoologist Rudolph Anderson after it attacked the camp. It is now in the museum's collections.

Jennifer Doubt © Canadian Museum of Nature


This Arctic poppy (Papaver keelei) was collected in 1914 by Fritz Johansen. The labels show that the species has been reclassified by other researchers over the decades.

One hundred years ago, a team of ambitious scientists ventured to the frozen and merciless Far North to survey, document and study the geography, natural history and peoples of the Canadian Arctic.

Arctic research and exploration is a rugged pursuit, even in 2013. But a century ago, these men bravely pushed forward through danger and tragedy with limited resources in what was the first-ever Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE). The Canadian Museum of Nature—then under the direction of the Geological Survey of Canada—was a core part of it and still safeguards many of the specimens collected from 1913–1916.

The plants, birds, mammals, fishes and other marine life acquired during the landmark expedition stand out as permanent records of a milestone in Canadian science. Among the remarkable finds are rare Ivory Gull eggs (they may be the first collected in Canada), an aggressive wolf that was shot after attacking the sled dogs and later mounted, as well as muskoxen, polar bears, wolverines, minks, Arctic hares and voles.

More than one thousand botanical specimens were brought back: vascular plants, as well as mosses, lichens and algae. These acquisitions laid the groundwork for the growth of the museum's formidable collection of Canadian Arctic plants, which today is the best of its kind in the world, and is housed in the museum's National Herbarium of Canada. You can see a lovely selection of century-old plants in the upcoming photo exhibition Flora of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, launching in April.

Today, collections of Arctic material housed at the museum's research and collections facility in Gatineau, Quebec, are consulted by researchers around the world. Museum scientists continue to add to knowledge of the Arctic through collections-based fieldwork, both on the land and in the oceans. This work is undertaken through national and international collaborations, such as those during International Polar Year, or through museum-led initiatives such as the Arctic Flora Project that most recently saw museum botanists exploring the Soper River on Baffin Island.

With 2013 marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the expedition, there will be many stories and celebrations this year to honour Arctic research, the bold work of the scientists who blazed the trail 100 years ago and the remarkable culture of the northern peoples. In November 2013, an open house of the museum's research and collections facility in Gatineau, Quebec, will offer a rare chance to see firsthand some of the museum's Arctic treasures collected over the past 100 years.

Read more about the amazing history of the Canadian Arctic Expedition and the involvement of the Canadian Museum of Nature at the Virtual Museum of Canada's online exhibition Northern Peoples, Northern Knowledge.