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Crossing Lancaster Sound

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Muskox, Devon Island. © Martin von Mirbach / WWF-Canon

By Martin von Mirbach and Vicki Sahanatien, members of the Last Ice Area voyage

For the past few days we’ve been exploring Lancaster Sound, the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage.  Our first sheltered harbor was in a protected bay on the southeastern corner of Devon Island.  A short shore walk took us to within close range of four muskox, but our arrival was noted with some displeasure before the biggest male of the group “walked us off” his property in no uncertain manner.

Wildlife were not the only occupants of this perfect harbor. In the 1940s this was the site of the Dundas Harbour RCMP post. The post buildings still stand and remain remarkably sturdy. Stone walkways link the buildings and lead the way to the nearby cemetery where two RCMP officers were laid to rest. Inside the main post building is a written commemoration to the young officers who manned the post.

© Martin von Mirbach / WWF-Canon

People have used Dundas Harbour for many centuries. Prior to the RCMP, Inuit camped and hunted here. 20th century and recent tent rings dot the shoreline and raised beaches, as well as evidence of ancient human use – the Thule. We found three Thule sod houses, intact with the bowhead whale bones that were used to construct the houses. We marveled at this evidence that many centuries ago the Thule hunted 70 tonne bowhead whales using kayaks and harpoons. Seeing these sites demonstrates that this region, like much of the Canadian Arctic is not and never was uninhabited wilderness.

Taking advantage of the continuing stable weather, we set sail that evening along the southern coast of Devon Island, The waters are almost entirely ice-free, except for the occasional iceberg, some of which are large and magnificent.

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