Friday, June 18, 2010

Arctic and Sub-Arctic Mail During the Centennial Period

This article deals with the following topics :
1. The Canadian Arctic and the Cold War
2. Arctic Navigation
3. Arctic Research
4. Expeditions
5. Events

1. The Canadian Arctic and the Cold War

a) Alert

Alert is the most northerly, permanently inhabited location in the world, located only 817 kilometres from the geographic North Pole. The station was first settled in the early 1950s as a weather station of the Joint Arctic Weather Station (JAWS) System.

On Sept. 1, 1958, Alert began its operational role as a signals intelligence unit of the Canadian Forces. At that time, it became the Alert Wireless Station and was under the command of the Canadian Army. During the Cold War, Alert was strategically important because of its proximity to the Soviet Union. Alert was the closest point in North America to the northwestern area of the Soviet Union. At its peak, CFS Alert had upwards of 215 personnel posted at any one time. The station became a key asset in global intelligence sharing , with Alert being privy to many secret Soviet communications regarding land-based and sea-based ICBM test launches and many operational military deployments.

Upon the unification of the Canadian military forces, the Alert Wireless Station changed its name to Canadian Forces Station Alert (CFS) on February 1, 1968

The cover below was sent by a member of the armed forces from CFS Alert in 1968:

Alert to Ottawa, February 7, 1968

Return Address: C.F.S. Alert Alert, N.W.T. via Ottawa, Ont.

The most famous civilian resident of the area also used the Alert post office for his communications:

Alert to Northallerton, England, December 12, 1968The Message:

The Alert cachet was stamped on the back of the card:

Alert Cachet stamped on the back of Santa's card

b) Hall Beach (Distant Early Warning Line)

Hall Beach businesses such as "the Bay" benefited from the military presence in the community.

Hall Beach to Yellowknife, January 11 1972

2. Arctic Navigation

a) Icebreakers

Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers assisted maritime traffic move safely and quickly through, or around, ice-covered Canadian waters.

i) CCGS Sir Humphrey Gilbert

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship CCGS Sir Humphrey Gilbert was an icebreaker built in 1959 by Davie Shipbuilding. Ltd., Lauzon, P.Q. The ship was then assigned to the Newfoundland Region to provide servicing of fixed and floating aids to navigation, ice breaker support, and search and rescue in both Newfoundland and Arctic waters. CCGS Sir Humphrey Gilbert was retired in 2001 She was sold to private interests and has been given the name Polar Prince.

A cover mailed from the CCGS Sir Humphrey Gilbert:

The CCGS Sir Humphrey Gilbert handstamp was applied to this letter to Toronto which received the Clyde, N.W.T. MOON cancellation on March 31, 1971

Clyde, N.W.T. (MOON), March 31, 1972

Return Address:

ii) CCGS d'Iberville

CCGS D'Iberville was in service from 1953- 1983.

From CCGD D'Iberville and mailed at Resolute, N.W.T, August 14 1968

b) SS Manhattan Voyages : Canadian Sovereignty over Arctic Waters

The SS Manhattan was an oil tanker owned by the Humble Oil and Refining Company. It was the largest ship in the U.S. merchant fleet and after being converted to an icebreaker it was used to navigate a route through the Northwest Passage in an attempt to determine whether it would be commercially feasible to transport oil from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

i) Northwest Passage Voyage 1969

The Canadian government was not asked permission for the SS Manhattan's voyage. This raised a political problem for the government because Canada considered the waters of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to be internal waters. Canada nevertheless gave unsolicited permission and provided the Canadian icebreaker CCGS John A. Macdonald to escort the vessel.

The SS Manhattan became the first commercial ship to cross the Northwest Passage. The Manhattan crossed the passage from east to west, entering the Arctic's Parry Channel on September 2 1969. One single token barrel of crude oil was loaded at Prudhoe Bay on September 20, 1969, and the ship returned east the next day, arriving in Halifax in November.

The card reads:
"Artist's conception of S.S. Manhattan's maiden voyage to open commercially the Northwest Passage."

Barrow, Alaska, September 25, 1968

SS. Manhattan Maiden Voyage Cachet
Mailed at Resolute, NWT, October 28 1969

The Manhattan was escorted by the Canadian icebreaker CCGS John A. Macdonald and the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker CGC Staten Island.

Handstamps from both icebreakers were applied to this cover, also mailed from Resolute on the eastbound trip, October 28 1969:

ii) SS Manhattan Second Voyage : 1970

A second voyage by the SS Manhattan in April 1970 prompted Secretary of State for External Affairs Mitchell Sharp to inform the House of Commons that Canada had agreed to permit a second voyage of the SS Manhattan. In 1973 the Canadian Government claimed that the waters of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago were internal waters on a historical basis.

In her second voyage, the SS Manhattan spent several months researching navigation through Arctic ice.

SS Manhattan second voyage cachet
Montreal, April 19 1970

 3. Arctic Research

a) Tanquary Fiord Defence Research Board (DRB) Camp

Operation Tanquary was initiated by the DRB in 1962 with the establishment of a research base camp at Tanquary fiord. From thid base, the DRB coordinated a wide-ranging program of scientific research, for which studies were undertaken over much of northern Ellesmere Island. Much of the program focussed on sea ice research, but also included studies in meteorology, oceanography, glaciology, biology, and archeology. Operation Tanquary concluded in 1972.

Harold Serson (1926-1992) was a technical officer for the DRB who established a reputation in remote arctic science operations and logistics.

Mailed out from Tanquary Fiord and cancelled at Resolute on May 14, 1970

Names of researchers H. Serson M. Springate printed on the envelope. The letter was flown out by "D/H Otter RWV Pilot J. Lafrance"

Resolute MOON cancellation, May 14, 1970

b) Hudson Project 1970

The CSS Hudson (now CCGS Hudson) was built in the early 1960s for the Canadian Oceonographic service. She was the largest vessel built at that time specifically designed for research purposes. On November 19, 1969 the Hudson began an 11 month, 58,000 mile cruise, known as "Hudson 70", the first ever to circumnavigate North and South America. More than 122 scientists from many countries obtained valuable chemical data in the Atlantic, physical data in the Chilean fjords, gravity data in the Pacific and geophysical data in the Arctic.

By late August 1970, the Hudson entered the Beaufort Sea where scientists studied the geology of the seafloor. Hudson completed the circumnavigation in October 16, 1970.

Departure : Halifax November 19 1969

"Hudson" 70 cachet

Argentina, January 20 1970

Papete, Tahiti, May 19, 1970

Victoria, August 11, 1970

Resolute, N.W.T., October 1 1970

Arrival, Halifax, October 19, 1970

Souvenir cover signed by Captain David W. Butler and Chief Scientist Dr. Cedric Mann

4. Expeditions

a) The Plaisted Polar Expeditions

Ralph Plaisted from Minnesota lead a snowmobile expedition to the north pole from Eureka, N.W.T., on March 28 1967. A blizzard forced the party to turn around on May 4, 1967, 370 miles from the pole. Plaisted launched a second snow machine expedition to the pole in 1968 which was successful.


Eureka, May 7 1967

Plaisted Expedition 1967 cachet


Eureka, N.W.T., April 22, 1968

Plaisted Expedition 1968 cachet

b) Monzino Expedition to the North Pole 1971

Italian businessman Guido Moninzo led 27 men to the pole in an attempt to recreate Peary's expedition. They left Cape Columbia with dog sleds on April 2 reaching the pole on May 19.

Alert, April 1971

Alert "Next to the Pole" cachet stamped on back of Monzino cover.

c) British Air Force Ellesmere Island Expedition 1967

The British Air Force Mountaineering Association engaged in a climbing expedition on Ellesmere Island in 1967.

Eureka, NWT, Money Order Office Number (MOON) handstamp "55390" June 20 1967

Royal Air Force, Tanquary (Fiord), Ellesmere Island Expedition June 19, 1967

5. Events

a) Dog Sled Mail Runs

i) Cold Lake Mission to Fort Good Hope

"100 Miles by Dog Sled"
Fort Good Hope, April 11 [1968]

ii) Centennial Eastern Dog Run

Churchill to Baker Lake, April 1970
Cancelled at Baker Lake, April 20, 1970

b) Boy Scout Jamborees i) Arctic and Northern Scout Jamboree 1968

Yellowknife, August 3 1968

Jamboree Post Office handstamp, August 3, 1968

ii) Northwest Territories Jamboree 1973

Fort Smith, N.W.T., July 3 1973

c) 1970 Royal Visit

Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Prince Charles and Princess Anne, visited Manitoba and the Northwest Territories in 1970.

Fort Smith, July 6 1970

Bad weather resulted in the cancellation of the visit to Tuktoyaktuk on July 6, 1970

Frobisher Bay, July 7, 1970

Pine Point

Yellowknife, July 8 1970