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Atwood, Belugas & Dundas Harbour: Why sail the Northwest Passage?

DAY EIGHT: Dundas Harbour 
Sept. 12

As the ship neared the foot of Croker Bay, voyagers crowded onto the deck, dazzled by the sunshine magnificence of Croker Glacier, essentially an ice river pouring down from the Devon Island ice cap. This was our first look at big ice and we liked it. The bay takes its name from John Wilson Croker, who served as first secretary of the Admiralty in the early 1800s.
In 1818, some distance to the west of here, Royal Navy Captain John Ross attached the name Croker to the Croker Mountains, which apparently extended across Lancaster Sound. When these mountains proved to be a fata morgana, an Arctic mirage, the British Admiralty shifted the name to this deep bay on Devon Island. Oh, and to the Admiralty, John Ross became persona non grata.
Late in the morning, Margaret Atwood entertained with an autobiographical talk she called My Life & Writing (1939-2015). She started with her ancestors, traced her childhood through old family photos, and followed the trajectory of her career from poetry readings at the Bohemian Embassy in Toronto, through The Handmaid’s Tale, a breakout book that made her “a little bit famous,” and on to the recent story collection Stone Mattress, which drew on a previous Adventure Canada voyage for its title story. In response to a question about why she kept writing, Atwood answered, “Why stop?” Writers are driven not by external rewards, but by a desire to do what they do.
Afternoon sunshine accompanied us to Dundas Harbour under a clear blue sky. The abandoned RCMP post was our destination. It faces southwest over Bernier Bay, so-called in commemoration of a 1906 stopover by Joseph Bernier. Here we found half a dozen beluga whales cavorting within five metres of the shoreline – an attraction that alone was worth the price of admission.
 At the RCMP site, several buildings remain standing: a detachment building (two-person living quarters), a separate house for Inuit hunters, two latrines, a couple of storehouses, and a dog corral. The main residence, which features considerable graffiti, contains a few bottles and several books, the most curious of which is  Dog Crusoe and His Master by Robert Michael Ballantyne.
These buildings were erected in the 1920s to signal Canadian sovereignty. Passenger Dave Story drew attention to what, beyond the dog corral, appears to be the lay-out of yet another large square dwelling, marked by stones (probably a tent-like communal centre for Inuit hunters). On a hill overlooking these buildings stands a white-fenced cemetery containing two old graves marked by new gravestones.
Here we find the graves of constables Victor Maisonneuve (1899-1926) and William Robert Stephens (1902-1927). The first committed suicide, the second died while hunting. The HBC rented the outpost briefly in the 1930s, and the RCMP maintained it until 1951, when it moved to the less isolated Craig Harbour. The Mounties continue to maintain the cemetery. In 1944, during the return voyage of the St. Roch through the Northwest Passage, Henry Larsen called in here. , , ,
Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.