The Force in the North

Herschel Island

The Yukon’s most northerly detachment was on a windswept island in the Beaufort Sea. The detachment at Herschel Island originally opened to monitor American whalers. In its final years, the detachment was a dog-breeding station, supplying dogs to various RCMP detachments across the North. The detachment operated from 1903 to 1933 and 1948 to 1964.

Inspector Constantine of the NWMP reported that 12 whalers with 1,000 to 1,200 crewmen had wintered in the area of the mouth of the Mackenzie River and Herschel Island in 1895-96. The crewmen spent several months from September to July with little to do. The annual re-supply vessel brought in a supply of liquor and part of this was traded for carvings and young women. He also reported that some crewmen deserted and made their way down to the Klondike. The NWMP lacked the manpower to patrol Herschel at that time. In 1903, Superintendent Constantine went to the Yukon to examine the threat posed by the Alaskan Order of the Midnight Sun and also to go to San Francisco and Seattle to find out more about the Herschel Island whalers. Constantine found an old friend, Captain M. A. Healy, now the commander of the San Francisco Naval District. He told Constantine that whiskey trading among the northern whalers was largely stamped out but two vessels carried liquor, chiefly on the Siberian coast. Constantine established a post at Fort McPherson under Sergeant Francis Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was instructed to make a patrol to Herschel Island and establish a police post if necessary. Fitzgerald made the trip in August 1903 with Constable Forbes Sutherland and an interpreter. They established a post at Herschel where the men lived in sod huts. They found 7 whaling vessels at Herschel but only one of them was suspected of bringing in liquor or debauching the Inuit.  In 1904, the winter mail run from Dawson to Fort McPherson was extended to Herschel Island.  (Jim Wallace, Forty Mile to Bonanza: The North-West Mounted Police in the Klondike Gold Rush. Calgary: Bunker to Bunker Publishing. 2000:116-18, 232-33.)

In 1952, Jim Hickling was posted to Herschel Island. At that time, the island was basically deserted, but the NWMP moved in to assert Canada's claim of ownership to the Island and the surrounding Arctic Ocean. Jim talks about his time at Herschel in the attached video clips.

The Herschel Island detachment closed for good in 1964.