December 9, 2011. 6:01 pm • Section: Civic Lee Speaking
Recent Posts From This Author
- If Canada wants to show its sovereignty in the Arctic, look to the St. RochPosted on Dec 9, 2011
- Should Vancouver taxpayers pay for Olympic Village residents’ energy bills?Posted on Dec 8, 2011
- New skating rules: Protecting our children too much?Posted on Dec 6, 2011
- Vancouver’s “cheap n’ easy” council inauguration still a puzzlePosted on Dec 5, 2011
Vancouver’s decision to put some much-needed money into restoration and repair of the building housing the historic RCMP schooner St. Roch comes at an interesting time for Canada. The federal government is spending a lot of energy trying to bolster its sovereignty claims to the Arctic just as global warming is reducing the permanent ice pack and other countries are renewing their interest in a northern trade route and increased resource exploration. Most Canadians likely are unaware that one of the country’s strongest links to those claims is sitting right here in Vancouver in the form of the restored St. Roch. On Thursday I wrote how the city is planning to put $1.4 million into repairing the St. Roch’s A-frame home at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, as well as put in a new fire suppression system. I wrote that the vessel was the first to transit through the Northwest Passage and the first to circumnavigate North America.
I was only partly right. I received the following letter from Doreen Larson Riedel, the daughter of Henry Larsen, who was the captain of the St. Roch. She notes that while her father and his crew were the first to transit the Northwest Passage from west to east, it was Roald Amundsen and his crew 30 years before who actually traversed the Northwest Passage in their ship Gjøa. St. Roch’s crew were the first to transit the Northwest Passage both ways. But I think what Larsen, his crew and the RCMP did during the war years is perhaps more historically relevant. For many years they literally anchored the Canadian government at the top of the country — indeed at the top of the world. Through winter and summer there they were, locked in ice, anchored in bays or sailing from village to village. Here’s Ms Reidel’s letter.
“I was absolutely delighted to read in your article of today in The Vancouver Sun that finally the A-frame housing the St Roch is going to be repaired. The leakage problem has been a major contributor to the progression of dry rot in my father’s “Ugly duckling”. “St Roch was not, however, the first ship to transit the North-west passage. That achievement, going from east to west though the southern route, belongs to Roald Amundsen and his crew (1903-6). Henry Larsen with his St Roch was the second to traverse that route almost 30 years later (1940-42) — but from west to east — when they were sent to maintain Canada’s Arctic sovereignty during the war years. Larsen and the St Roch crew were the first to complete the transit of the more northerly deep water route in 1944, a route which can accommodate ships with a much greater draft. Indeed these two trips along with the first circumnavigation of the continent are historic events of national and worldwide importance.
“But the role of Henry Larsen and the St Roch and her crew that is unfortunately largely overlooked was the maintenance of Canadian sovereignty over her Arctic. Few Canadians realize that for most of her 20 years of Arctic duty as an RCMP floating detachment, Henry Larsen and the crew carried out the myriad of activities on behalf of various federal government departments, activities which are the essence of a country’s’ claim to sovereignty — not conquest or exploration, but governance.”