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On July 17 1826, British naval officer Sir John Franklin, sent to map North America's Arctic coastline, came across a tiny Island located one mile off the coast of the Yukon. He named it "Herschel Island" after his friend, Sir John Herschel, a British chemist and astronomer.
The Island measures 9 miles in length and 5 miles in width and is 600 feet at its highest point. It is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel that is easily crossed. The land is treeless, although the beaches are littered with driftwood that floats down the Mackenzie River and is scattered by the ocean currents.
Silt, sand, and clay form the soft foundation of the Island. Ground cover consists of mosses, grasses, low-lying plants, shrubs, and Arctic flowers. During his four years on Herschel Island, Isaac Stringer made an important contribution to the national botanical collection held at the Department of Agriculture in Ottawa. He collected, pressed, and mounted 60 flowers previously unknown to botanists.
There are limited sources of fresh water on the Island. The water used to sustain life in
Herschel Island is the seasonal home to a wide variety of birds and waterfowl. In the summer, herds of caribou and their calves roam the Island. Directly across from Herschel Island on the mainland, a plentiful supply of fish can be found at the mouth of the Firth River. Migrating beluga whales and ringed seals also pass by Herschel Island as they travel along the coast.
Settlement occurred at Pauline Cove on the southeast coast of Herschel Island. A naturally sheltered harbour, whalers chose to anchor their ships here because of its depth and the protection it provided from the unforgiving actions of the ice and the sea.
For two months of the year daily activities on the Island are conducted in continual twilight. The sun disappears below the horizon around November 15 and reappears around January 22.
© Old Log Church Museum 2002