In the spring of 1909, in addition to his responsibilities in the Yukon Diocese, Bishop Isaac Stringer assumed the burden of the Mackenzie River Diocese. Bishop Reeve had retired in 1907 and there was no replacement forthcoming until 1913 when Bishop Lucas was consecrated. In the interim, Stringer included this region in his regular rounds of Episcopal visits.

In early September 1909, returning from the Mackenzie River Diocese to the Yukon Diocese, Bishop Stringer, accompanied by Charles F. Johnson, set out from Fort McPherson to Dawson City. Ahead was a 500 mile trek through muskeg, dense bush, and over a steep mountain divide. They were dressed in light clothing and carried provisions for 8 days though they expected to complete the trip in five days. Little did they know they would be lost in the mountains for 51 days and be on the brink of death.
In the spring of 1909, in addition to his responsibilities in the Yukon Diocese, Bishop Isaac Stringer assumed the burden of the Mackenzie River Diocese. Bishop Reeve had retired in 1907 and there was no replacement forthcoming until 1913 when Bishop Lucas was consecrated. In the interim, Stringer included this region in his regular rounds of Episcopal visits.

In early September 1909, returning from the Mackenzie River Diocese to the Yukon Diocese, Bishop Stringer, accompanied by Charles F. Johnson, set out from Fort McPherson to Dawson City. Ahead was a 500 mile trek through muskeg, dense bush, and over a steep mountain divide. They were dressed in light clothing and carried provisions for 8 days though they expected to complete the trip in five days. Little did they know they would be lost in the mountains for 51 days and be on the brink of death.

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

They chose to take the well-known route via the Rat River and McDougall’s Pass. They arranged for 2 native guides to take them to the head of the Rat River. At this point one guide turned back and the other, Enoch, continued on with them to Rampart House on the Porcupine River. From there Stringer and Johnson planned to continue on their own to Dawson City.

The group travelled down the Peel River in canoes to the mouth of the Husky River and from the Husky to the Rat River. On the fourth day Enoch became ill and the Bishop felt obliged to take him back to Fort McPherson. Here he secured another guide but this delayed the group by a week.

When they reached the divide at Loon Lake, the last guide turned back. Stringer and Johnson felt confident that they would be able to find their way to Rampart House as they had travelled this route many times before.
They chose to take the well-known route via the Rat River and McDougall’s Pass. They arranged for 2 native guides to take them to the head of the Rat River. At this point one guide turned back and the other, Enoch, continued on with them to Rampart House on the Porcupine River. From there Stringer and Johnson planned to continue on their own to Dawson City.

The group travelled down the Peel River in canoes to the mouth of the Husky River and from the Husky to the Rat River. On the fourth day Enoch became ill and the Bishop felt obliged to take him back to Fort McPherson. Here he secured another guide but this delayed the group by a week.

When they reached the divide at Loon Lake, the last guide turned back. Stringer and Johnson felt confident that they would be able to find their way to Rampart House as they had travelled this route many times before.

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white photo of Bishop Stringer and Charles Johnson

Bishop Stringer and Charles Johnson hiking shortly after their rescue.

Anglican Church Collection, Yukon Archives

89/41 #114
© Anglican Church Collection, Yukon Archives


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They navigated the Rat River in their canoes, but progress slowed as the river increasingly began to freeze. They persevered, hoping to reach the Porcupine River. Provisions were dwindling, snow was falling, and the weather was rapidly getting colder. After 6 days they realized they were covering only about 5 miles a day and were becoming exhausted. They then decided that it would be best to return to Fort McPherson, directly across the mountains, a distance of fewer than 100 miles. It was now September 24th.


Their first thought was to try to reach LaPierre House where they knew there would be food and shelter and possibly some natives to guide them to safety. After 3 days of fruitless searching they reverted to the Fort McPherson plan and struck out across the mountains.


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The men desperately looked for a pass through the mountains; their progress hindered by partially frozen rivers, heavy snow, and fog that blocked familiar landmarks. After many days above the tree line with no wood for fire, little water, and only 2 blankets for warmth, they were still on the west side of the mountains.


It was a waking nightmare of coldness, wetness, hunger, and privation. The men also realized that their compass was unreliable due to their proximity to the magnetic pole.


Descending backwards to the tree line, Stringer and Johnson paused to make snowshoes to make the travel easier. Johnson who was good with an axe and knife created the frames and the Bishop, using every available piece of leather, laced the snowshoes. After 3 days labour they had two pairs.


Somehow, as they were about to run out of food they managed to catch a ptarmigan, sparrow, red squirrel, or find berries under the snow. Each day starvation was only inches away.


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There came a day when no food was to be found; thus it was that the Bishop decided it was time to eat his boots. It is well known in the North that the skin of an animal that has not been tanned can be eaten and will sustain life. Both men had brought their light, hairless, sealskin boots with walrus skin soles. The boots were cut into pieces that were then boiled for hours and then roasted. Stringer recorded the details of this tasty repast in his diary -


"October 17 - Travelled 15 miles, made supper of toasted rawhide sealskin boots. Palatable. Feel encouraged.


"October 18 - Travelled all day. Ate more pieces of my sealskin boots, boiled and toasted. Used sole first. Set rabbit snares.


"October 19 - No rabbit in snare. Breakfast and dinner of rawhide boots. Fine. But not enough.


"October 20 - Breakfast from top of boots. Not so good as sole. Very tired. Hands sore. Tied up Mr. Johnson's fingers"


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Heading due east, climbing range after range on October 20th the men reached a large river. Johnson cut a hole in the ice and as the water was flowing north they concluded it must be the Peel River. They crossed it and further along discovered some sled tracks and then some freshly cut poplar poles. They staggered on and arrived at the campsite of William Vittrekwa, Charlie Cluwetsit, and Andrew Cloh.

The journey had lasted 51 days and each man had lost 50 pounds. The two emaciated travellers were unrecognizable. Finally one of the campers, hearing Stringer’s voice said: "I think it must be the Bishop."

Without delay Andrew Cloh took them to his house and they soon had a meal of roasted fish and rabbit. When the travellers had temporarily eased their hunger, two good dog teams were harnessed and they were quickly on their way to Fort McPherson, about 20 miles downstream. Relieved and overjoyed Stringer wrote -

"I think I never enjoyed a ride of any kind so much. For weeks we had been accustomed to the dull facing of difficulties, generally with all the odds against us. Now to sit comfortably in a cariole, with good dogs before and a strong driver behind, to glide smoothly and swiftly over a good trail seemed perfect happiness."


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white photo of Bishop Stringer and Charles F. Johnson

Bishop Stringer and Charles F. Johnson shortly after their ordeal.

Old Log Church Museum

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


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This journey was undoubtedly the most harrowing experience in the Bishop’s life. It was some time before he could speak publicly about it. Ironically in 1911 when he was delivering a graphic description of the journey to a crowded audience in the Odd Fellow’s Hall in Dawson City, four Royal North West Mounted Police known as The Lost Patrol, lay dead in the snow in the same locality where he and Johnson had been lost two years before. Stringer was visibly shaken by the news. He later wrote in his diary -

"It is a sad day with many unwritten and unspoken chapters. No one will ever know the full story of the struggle…Felt sad and depressed all day. Tried to read letters but found it difficult to do anything."


© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

It was customary for the Royal North West Mounted Police to make the journey from Dawson City to Fort McPherson and back carrying the mail in each direction. At the time of Bishop Stringer's lecture, the police patrol under Inspector Fitzgerald, had been away for some time and was overdue. A group of natives travelling in the area 10 days behind the patrol reported that they had seen no sign of the men. Several weeks later, a search party found their bodies frozen in the snow. For more information about this failed Royal North West Mounted Police expedition, please refer to the book, The Lost Patrol, by Dick North.
It was customary for the Royal North West Mounted Police to make the journey from Dawson City to Fort McPherson and back carrying the mail in each direction. At the time of Bishop Stringer's lecture, the police patrol under Inspector Fitzgerald, had been away for some time and was overdue. A group of natives travelling in the area 10 days behind the patrol reported that they had seen no sign of the men. Several weeks later, a search party found their bodies frozen in the snow. For more information about this failed Royal North West Mounted Police expedition, please refer to the book, The Lost Patrol, by Dick North.

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white photo of Memorial to members of the Dawson Lost Patrol

Memorial to members of the Dawson Lost Patrol

Old Log Church Museum

© Old Log Church Museum 2002. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Identify a variety of reasons that led to the exploration of the Canadian North;
  • Identify the difficulties encountered when living in the Great North;
  • Explain the possible repercussions of those difficulties;
  • Analyze the relationships between Aboriginals and Europeans that led to many explorations;
  • Analyze the desire to spread the Christian faith in Canada and the results obtained, as well as the links and relationships that this created with indigenous peoples.

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