Page Heading for Arctic Archipelago



As surprising as it may seem, in these early times, the temperate shores along the American eastern seaboard, though immanently conducive to human habitation, were practically ignored in favour of the cold and frozen northern parts of the North American continent. I am not totally sure why this was the case; it could be that the Spanish and the natives made it more risky than sailing through the great mounds of ice found in the high north1; it could be that a short route might be found over the top to the orient; more likely, however, it was the prospect of profits to be made in the trade of animal pelts made luxurious by the cold and long winters of northern, North America.

The navigational aids available to these very early explorers were limited, though a few important ones were known to navigators very early on. The compass is one, a principal piece of equipment for any explorer in ancient times, and yet these days. It has long been available; the ancients discovered that the air was full of a magical force which could be detected by the use of a "lodestone," one of only two minerals that is found naturally magnetized. The orientals discovered the consistency of the earth's magnetic field. A very light piece of lodestone was allowed to swing; thus a direction could be followed: south/north, east/west, and points in between, invaluable to a sailor going along in a featureless sea. A sexton was another of these invaluable navigational aids which could be used to determine north/south distances (latitude). Incidentally, it was only with the development of an accurate time-keeping-piece, which did not come along until the late 18th century, could a navigator calculate distances west to east (longitude).

Before we get into examining the early individuals who explored the high north, we are first obliged to deal with the Scandinavians. Their discoveries took place in the tenth and eleventh centuries, indeed as far back as the year 1000.2 As I have written before:

"Norwegians -- though there be very little record of it -- visited the most northern parts of eastern North America over a thousand years ago. Indeed, maybe before the Norwegians, the Irish paid a visit; or maybe, in classic times, the Greeks. However, what we do know, pretty well for sure, is that the Norsemen first came to Iceland, then as the decades and centuries unfolded they traveled beyond Iceland, to Greenland; then again, beyond Greenland to the shores of Baffin Island and Labrador3; then again, swinging south, in their frail vessels, down they came along the upper coast of eastern North America. Whatever motivated these northern Europeans to keep extending their northern voyages, and exactly when they might have made them, are further matters on which we are obliged to speculate."4
It is not necessary to go into the voyages of Jacques Cartier (1534-42) or that of Humphrey Gilbert (1583) at this place, as I have dealt with them in my work, just quoted above.

Well now, let us turn to the individual early arctic explorers, in turn, chronologically: The Early Artic Explorers


1 Travel by sailing vessel in the arctic is difficult. One, however, should not assume it was just a breeze in the tropics: it was not. Sailing in the tropics was more unhealthy than sailing in northern waters. To begin with the ships were subject to being eaten by worms; and as for the crew, they soon had not a thing to eat themselves, "fish, cheese, bread, bacon, beans and wine became often inedible owing to heat and damp." In the north one can usually find fish, seals and running game which can be kept frozen.

2 Barrow, A Chronological History of Voyages ..., p. 23..

3 It is stated that Labrador is a Portuguese word meant to describe the inhabitants of the region. (Barrow, A Chronological History of Voyages into the Arctic Regions, p. 42.)

4 See my work in this area. Further, Barrow, in his work, A Chronological History of Voyages ... , covers it off at pages pp. 1-13.


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Peter Landry