Author Tags: Maritime
At the height of the Great Depression, two Inuit fox trappers had the tall ship North Star built to carry their winters’ catch of furs to markets in Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, and Aklavik. More than one hundred similar ships were built but North Star was the largest, and it remained afloat the longest. .
During the Cold War the Canadian Federal government asked North Star's captain to fill his ship with volunteers and sail to a remote island four hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, holding it to assert Canadian Arctic sovereignty. Its captain was awarded a special medal by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
North Star was used to re-assert Canadian Arctic sovereignty twenty years later while tasked with surveying the controversial B.C./Alaska boundary. Under her second owner the ship was chartered by Dome Petroleum and became one of the first, if not the first, private vessel used for surveying the Beaufort Sea for oil and gas deposits.
North Star was subsequently used for sail-training with Innu for the purpose of readying them for working in the oil and gas industry in the Arctic. One of her more memorable charters was by a group of scientists from Cambridge University who went in search of mermaids in the North Pacific.
R. Bruce Macdonald and his wife purchased the ship in 1996 and raised four children aboard, logged thousands of miles in the Pacific NW and entered her into numerous classic boat and tall ship festivals. North Star was named the Canadian International Good Will Ambassador in her last entry in a tall ship festival.
“Wherever we sail,” Macdonald says, “it seems that someone will knock on the boat and share their memories of their time aboard the ship, usually in the Arctic.” Such stories became the impetus for R. Bruce Macdonald’s North Star of Herschel Island: Last Canadian Arctic Fur Trading Ship ($46.95, $36.95).
During his research, Macdonald also traveled to the High Arctic and stayed with Inuit elders who shared their memories and their personal photo albums related to the ship. There are over 120 photos in the book, most never previously published.
After a book launch in the office of the M.P. for the Western Arctic in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Macdonald raised enough money via on-line crowd funding to travel twice across western Canada, presenting slide shows to promote the ship in book stores and museums.
Fittingly, Macdonald visited the Vancouver Maritime Museum, now the home of the RCMP’s St. Roch which was in the Arctic with North Star. The St. Roch’s Captain, Henry Larson was good friends with North Star's captain.
“We have moved the ship to Heritage Harbour Marina at the Vancouver Maritime Museum,” says Macdonald, “where at high tide North Star and her old Beaufort Sea friend, St. Roch, can see one another.”
R. Bruce Macdonald is the former long-term Contributing Editor and columnist for Sailing Canada magazine. He has published two hundred articles in dozens of magazines and journals including Cottage Life, Pacific Yachting, Canadian Yachting, Vegetarian Times, Ocean Navigator and Canadian Living. He also contributed research for the PORTS Cruising Guides. Other Canadian authors who have written about North Star include Pierre Berton, Gordon Pinsent and Farley Mowat.
North Star of Herschel Island: Last Canadian Arctic Fur Trading Ship (2012)
Hardcover $46.95, Softcover $36.95, e-book $9.95
" A helluva great book about a helluva great ship!" – Farley Mowat