Prior to the turn of the last century, the Western Arctic had been virtually ignored by the Canadian government. As far as officialdom knew, there were very few people there, no resources worth exploiting, and no one challenging Canada’s claim to this frozen backwater of the country.

The only people there were the Inuvialuit, who had been roaming back and forth in the area for millennia, with no notice or help from Ottawa.

But when the American whalers entered the scene in the early 1890’s, Bishop Bompas of the Diocese of Selkirk (later Yukon) reported to the Canadian government that the whalers were debauching the natives, selling them alcohol and repeating rifles and--most significantly to the government--freely whaling and trading in Canadian waters without paying any duty on their trade goods or catches.

But it was the fur trade, and the customs to be paid on that trade, and not whaling (which was thought to occur mostly outside of Canada’s three-mile limit), that finally piqued the interest of the government, and prompted them to consider setting up a North-West Mounted Police detachment on Herschel in 1903.
Prior to the turn of the last century, the Western Arctic had been virtually ignored by the Canadian government. As far as officialdom knew, there were very few people there, no resources worth exploiting, and no one challenging Canada’s claim to this frozen backwater of the country.

The only people there were the Inuvialuit, who had been roaming back and forth in the area for millennia, with no notice or help from Ottawa.

But when the American whalers entered the scene in the early 1890’s, Bishop Bompas of the Diocese of Selkirk (later Yukon) reported to the Canadian government that the whalers were debauching the natives, selling them alcohol and repeating rifles and--most significantly to the government--freely whaling and trading in Canadian waters without paying any duty on their trade goods or catches.

But it was the fur trade, and the customs to be paid on that trade, and not whaling (which was thought to occur mostly outside of Canada’s three-mile limit), that finally piqued the interest of the government, and prompted them to consider setting up a North-West Mounted Police detachment on Herschel in 1903.

© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Kayakers

The only people there were the Inuvialuit, who had been roaming back and forth in the area for millennia.

Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch

© Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch


Whaler Ship

American Whalers were trading with the natives and whaling without paying any duty on their trade goods or catches.

Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch

© Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch


In 1903, Superintendent Charles Constantine, who had previously been commanding officer at Forty Mile, Yukon, was selected to lead an expedition down the Mackenzie River to Fort McPherson, where he was to establish a North-West Mounted Police detachment. From there, he was to proceed to Herschel Island, where he would set up another detachment, if he thought it advisable.

There were five men in his party, including Francis J. Fitzgerald.
In 1903, Superintendent Charles Constantine, who had previously been commanding officer at Forty Mile, Yukon, was selected to lead an expedition down the Mackenzie River to Fort McPherson, where he was to establish a North-West Mounted Police detachment. From there, he was to proceed to Herschel Island, where he would set up another detachment, if he thought it advisable.

There were five men in his party, including Francis J. Fitzgerald.

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Charles Constantine

Picture of Superintendent Charles Constantine.

Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch

© Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch


Fitzgerald first came to Herschel Island in 1903. He established the detachment on the Island along with Constable Sutherland in the following year. He was essentially in command on Herschel and on his own during the years when the whalers outnumbered police by about 140 to one.

Poorly supplied and without adequate authority, Fitzgerald maintained the peace in the Western Arctic, reduced the liquor trade to a trickle and managed to keep all parties appeased.

For his tireless efforts, he was promoted to Inspector and returned to Herschel, by his own choice, in 1910. In that same year he made his ill-fated journey on the Lost Patrol which claimed his life.

Since Fitzgerald was the first police officer on Herschel, and faced the greatest challenge, he stands out from all his successors. This does not detract from the efforts of those who followed but there can be only one who was first and blazed the trail for all the rest.
Fitzgerald first came to Herschel Island in 1903. He established the detachment on the Island along with Constable Sutherland in the following year. He was essentially in command on Herschel and on his own during the years when the whalers outnumbered police by about 140 to one.

Poorly supplied and without adequate authority, Fitzgerald maintained the peace in the Western Arctic, reduced the liquor trade to a trickle and managed to keep all parties appeased.

For his tireless efforts, he was promoted to Inspector and returned to Herschel, by his own choice, in 1910. In that same year he made his ill-fated journey on the Lost Patrol which claimed his life.

Since Fitzgerald was the first police officer on Herschel, and faced the greatest challenge, he stands out from all his successors. This does not detract from the efforts of those who followed but there can be only one who was first and blazed the trail for all the rest.

© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Inspector Francis J. Fitzgerald

As the first officer posted to Herschel Island, Fitzgerald paved the way for his successors by diminishing the alcohol trade and keeping the peace.

Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch

© Yukon Territorial Government, Heritage Branch


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Understand the historical purposes for travel to Herschel Island
  • Learn about the significance of the fur trade as the incentive behind the formation of a North-West Mounted Police detachment on Herschel Island

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