Lockie Burwash: Explorer
The story of a great Canadian whose adventuring in the Far Places of the North ranks him as one of the foremost explorers of our time
LAST September, when Lockie Burwash, M.E., F.R.G.S., flew over 2,000 miles of Arctic coast line, searched Boothia Peninsula and King William Island for documents of the Franklin expedition, and returned to civilization at Edmonton, his exploit caught the imagination of the Canadian people, became the outstanding news of the day. The name Burwash was blazoned on the front pages from Halifax to Victoria, publicity syndicates offered fabulous sums for exclusive stories of the adventure. Ten days brought Burwash to Ottawa; a concise report of the trip was issued by the Government; public interest waned. Yet the flight over Arctic seas, more difficult and in many ways more dangerous than the flights of Lindbergh or Kingsford Smith, was the least arduous and to Burwash the least notable of six expeditions into the Arctic. In definite achievement it was the most disappointing. To Burwash it was a pleasure jaunt entailing little hardship, on which he enjoyed his grapefruit every morning, and yet 400 miles of the trip was flown over heavy, surging floe ice, where motor trouble would have meant death.
He Cracked Open the Arctic
LOCKIE BURWASH is Canadian born; educated in Canadian schools and a Canadian university. He is
one of Canada’s greatest explorers, probably her greatest living explorer. He will live in history as the man who reduced the Arctic from a shadowy land of ice and snow and Eskimos to the terms of the geologist, botanist and biologist. He found the Arctic shrouded from the world by supposedly unconquerable obstacles of cold, storm and barrenness. He leaves it, if he is really through with exploration, docketed and card-indexed.
Other Arctic explorers worked in the spotlight of world interest. Civilization lay back in comfort and marvelled at dashes to the pole, hasty retreats, months spent in organizing supply bases.
Burwash has not enjoyed such fame. But as a result of his work, millions of dollars in the next twenty years will pour into the far North; railways will be built along trails he has broken; communities will grow up; the Arctic will
begin to yield fabulous wealth held secret since dawn of time.
Sixteen years in the Arctic stamp Burwash as the last of the traditional explorers, the last of those who longed for wider horizons, longed to break new trail, to adventure where no one had gone before. He is in direct descent from Mackenzie, LaVerandrye, Thompson, Franklin, Peary, Scott, Rasmussen, Amundsen, Nansen, Shackleton, Stefansson, Bernier and a host of others. All risked their lives, many died, adding to the human knowledge of the earth and its inhabitants. Today there are no unknown regions remaining to be explored, and the place of the traditional explorer is being taken by the scientific expedition.
Thirty Years in the North
BURWASH has received little publicity but has accomplished more than most of his predecessors.
He has walked and mushed 25,000 miles in the Arctic, tramped thousands of miles over territory never before seen by white men. So well has he come to know the Arctic that today, if you whisked
him out of Ottawa and set him down anywhere on the Arctic coast, he would within twenty-four hours identify his surroundings and work his way out. His capacity to work his way out has become a byword. In all his years of exploring he has never had to be rescued. There has never been a relief expedition for Burwash.
This broad-shouldered mountain of a man has been equal to the heaviest burden of Arctic travel. Combining physical courage with a keen, cautious mind, he has never attempted an expedition that was not planned in minute detail. He knows the Northern seasons, the habits of the Eskimo, his seasonal movements, where he may be found in winter or summer. In all his Arctic wanderings Burwash relied upon native help; this being one of his greatest contributions to the technique of Northern exploration. Moreover he brought to his profession unrivalled equipment. He was a geologist, botanist, biologist.
Yet the Arctic at best, is a moody, sullen mistress, turning with lightning speed on the traveller, lashing him with blizzards, blinding him with sun glare. No one can ignore the fickle whims of the Northland. The best of explorers occasionally are caught in a tight corner when instant decisions must be made, desperate chances accepted. Burwash has known these moments,
has made his decisions taken the chances, still alive to tell the —although once, attempting to cross ice from Foxe Southampton Island, sudden storm piling the floe ice grinding threatening to break the close formation send Burwash drifting sea, marooned on and faced with death starvation or There, on a straining, stable ice surface, of icy water below, snow, Burwash made story will be told
hundreds of fathoms of icy water below, shut in by driving snow, Burwash made his decision—but the story will be told in the proper place.
A Unique Record
IF YOU would appreciate the achievements of this man of the North, follow his footsteps on a map.
1897—As a mining engineer he explored the Yukon.
1899-1912—High official in Gold Commissioner’s office in Yukon.
1915-1917—Served in Canadian Expeditionary force: was invalided home after being severely gassed.
1921-22—Proceeded down the Mackenzie River to Fort Norman, where he established Government headquarters and supervised drilling for crude oil. Oil discovered, he
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Lockie Burwash: Explorer
continued down stream to Herschel Island and Arctic Sea.
1923-24—Sailed with Bernier on H. M.S. Arctic to Ellesmere Island, most northerly island in Canadian group. Worked as far north as 79 degrees latitude. Came back to Pangnirtung on Baffin’s Island and spent two years in intensive exploration, concluding with trip across main body of the Island from Cumberland Sound to Foxe Channel. Endeavored to cross channel to Southampton Island but failed.
1925-26—Proceeded down the Mackenzie River to Arctic Sea and then by land right around the north coast of the Dominion, down the west coast of Hudson Bay to Chesterfield Inlet and Fort Churchill, farther south to Moose Factory, north on the east side of Hudson Bay, through Hudson Strait and around the coast of Labrador to Newfoundland and home by the St. Lawrence.
1927— Geological expedition along the east side of James and Hudson Bays, including inspection of iron deposits on Belcher Islands.
192829—Proceeded down the Mackenzie River to Arctic Ocean, travelled by schooner to King William Island and Boothia Peninsula—where Franklin and many of his men died—and made first hand observations of the magnetic pole, which he definitely located on the east coast of the peninsula. Returned to Coppermine River and carried out investigations of copper deposits, coming south to civilization across the barren lands.
1930—Proceeded down the Mackenzie River to Fort Norman; made detailed investigation of geological formations between Great Bear Lake and Coppermine River; thence by airplane to Boothia Peninsula, photographing 2,000 miles of coastline, and returned to civilization via Edmonton.
So much for his physical labors within the Arctic circle. To what purpose were these explorations? What did they achieve?
Sovereignty rests upon discovery, exploration and occupation. Burwash, by his systematic invasion of the North, strengthened immeasurably Canada’s claim to ownership of the Arctic Islands lying to the north of this continent.
He made the first authentic, reliable study of the Eskimo language, habits, mentality, and social customs.
He discovered that the pre-Cambrian shield, the mineral treasure chest of Canada, is twice as large as anyone hitherto suspected, actually runs north to the Arctic Ocean along a front of 1,000 miles, and extends still farther north along the east coast of the Boothia Peninsula.
He discovered evidence indicating that the northwesterly stretches of the shield are richer in precious metals than the southerly and presently developed areas. He is now of the opinion that, far from being a barren waste, the Canadian Arctic, because of its natural resources, is essential to the future progress and wellbeing of the world.
He made the first thorough study of plant and animal life in the Arctic. He proved these Northern areas really to be friendly to man and able to sustain population.
He made the first unhurried and scientific study of the magnetic pole, and finally disposed of rumors, current for scores of years, as to the fate of the Franklin expedition of 1847.
From Varsity to the Yukon
BURWASH was born in 1874 of a patrician family, being the son of Chancellor Burwash, for many years head of Victoria University, now part of the University of Toronto. He grew up
in the shadow of the university he was later to attend and from which he was graduated, a mining engineer, in 1896.
At college the future explorer was an ardent footballer, playing scrimmage for the Varsity champions in ’95. The lure of the gridiron persists to this day. Burwash has made forced marches to reach Toronto in time for the intercollegiate finals. He vividly remembers the stars of that far day; Eddie Gleason, Jack Hobbes, Billy Barr, Tiny Counsel, Clancy, Curtiss, Kennedy and McLennan; and Father Fallon, coach of Ottawa College, who in the 90’s baffled Burwash and his team mates, with a whirl play.
It was a queer twist of fortune that sent him into the Arctic. He was attracted by reports of silver discoveries in Mexico, decided he would try his luck in the South. There was a trading company with headquarters in Hamilton, Ontario, which was interested in the Mexico mining fields and Burwash got a job. Twentyfour hours before he was to start south, the president of the company asked him to change his destination from Mexico to the Yukon, where the gold strike was attracting thousands of miners. Burwash agreed and a few weeks later was entering the Arctic for the first time.
Except for hurried visits he did not return to civilization for fifteen years. Then, shortly after the outbreak of war, he joined the army, with the rank of major, and served until 1917, when he was gassed and invalided home.
He was then forty-three years old, and it might have been thought that his career as an explorer was ended. Not so. Burwash took life easy until 1921, when he was once more on the trail. He went to Fort Norman to supervise the search for oil pools, deep hidden in the earth. Oil was discovered—the one and only pool of crude oil found in the Dominion up to date. The wells were capped because, in the absence of transportation, no market is available.
Next year his major expeditions began. Between 1923 and 1929 he covered the whole Arctic mainland and many of the islands. In these years, with the aid of his searching eyes, the Canadian Government learned more about the Arctic and its inhabitants than ever previously was known.
The trails he blazed across the North already have been outlined. Never a day in these long years of travel but had its perils. The record, however, is too long to be given in chronological sequence.
His major discovery was proof of the true extent of the pre-Cambrian shield. In one small area, between Great Bear
Lake and Coppermine River, the deposits are so rich and varied that Burwash confidently expects construction of a 900mile railway within a few years. Elsewhere in this area of 500,000 square miles of mineralized land which he was the first to appraise, there may exist dozens of potential Cobalts, Rouyns, Porcupines and Flin Fions.
The Northland’s Treasure House
T) URWASH has proved that there are D untold stores of radium, copper, nickel, and cobalt in the Great Bear Lake district. The presence of radium-bearing ores in hitherto unequalled quantities and richness is a fact of world-wide importance, since it is an essential in modern medical treatment of disease.
And copper deposits! Burwash found several ore bodies in the Great Bear district which assay forty to fifty per cent pure copper, compared with ten per cent or less in the richest of our present mines. This mining area is in the northwesterly corner of the Northland.
Surveying the whole territory, one observes, as did Burwash, smoke rising from the ground at a score or more widely separated points. Near Fort Norman the earth belches smoke, caused by the burning of coal. These coal deposits, like others on the Arctic coast line and in the interior, have been burning for centuries. When Mackenzie first explored, in 1779, the river which bears his name, the Fort Norman coal field was burning. It is burning today, will be burning a hundred years hence. No one knows how these coal fields were ignited, but Burwash investigated several deposits and reports the coal to be equal in quality to the best Alberta fuel, suitable for domestic use.
Northeast of Great Bear Lake is the Coppermine River, the waters of which are colored by minute flakes of copper. Whence comes this free copper? When Burwash investigated the Coppermine Valley in 1929 he found huge nuggets of pure copper—one nugget he estimated at 600 pounds. When chatting with him at Ottawa, he opened a drawer in his desk and took out a solid wedge of copper weighing at least two pounds. He had picked it up along the banks of the Coppermine.
Burwash believes this free copper comes from an incredibly rich deposit hidden in Arctic tundra. The spring ice flow, he thinks, gouges chunks of the soft metal from harder mineral matter with which it is surrounded. These chunks are carried by the ice and deposited in the Coppermine Valley. It is only necessary
to trace the course of the ice to discover this treasure trove. Already mining companies are on the job; on this quest the McAlpine party were trapped in the North.
Scattered across this westerly section of the Arctic, Burwash found waterpower sites and coal deposits. There will be no difficulty in a mining development if adequate transportation is provided.
Eastward, the mineralized area continues to the shores of the Hudson Bay. At the top of the Bay is Southampton Island, and here again are coal deposits. These deposits, coupled with the coal discoveries on James Bay, in the opinion of Burwash, are of national economic significance, particularly in view of the early opening of the Hudson Bay route—in which he is a firm believer. The Belcher Islands on the east coast of the Bay contain iron-bearing ore. Here in Hudson Bay are coal and iron—the two essentials of civilization.
This reads like a natural resources guide book, but the career of Burwash is like that. He has been there, seen, tapped hitherto unsuspected treasure with a prospector’s pick.
Checking Up on the Magnetic Pole
'T'HE 1929 expedition to the magnetic -*• pole was his greatest scientific achievement. For scores of years navigators had wondered why the compass wavered, became untrue in Northern waters. A powerful magnetic point, at a distance from the true North pole, was suspected and suspicions were confirmed by Sir James Ross who, in a brief visit to Boothia Peninsula, roughly located the centre of the magnetic disturbance. Burwash fixed the magnetic pole in 1929 when he spent many days on the actual site making observations. He found the centre of disturbance shifts amazingly, as much as thirty miles, from day to day and hour to hour, and in his opinion it is caused by a highly magnetized structure deep down in the earth.
And his work among the Eskimos! No one had the remotest idea of the extent of Eskimo population until Burwash in 1926 took a census of the Arctic. He fixed the number of Eskimos at 5,000, concluded the race was gradually decreasing. Burwash lived so long in the Arctic that he speaks the Eskimo language, is at home in an igloo, thoroughly understands Eskimo customs and habits. The Eskimo, says Burwash, is entirely ignorant and unmindful of the world in which he lives.
“Their range of ideas, as far as the earth goes, ends with the Indians’ country—a land far away from the sea. As for the King, the Empire and Canada, they know nothing. They could never understand me when I told them they were citizens of Canada, subjects of a great King. I tried to explain this many times, and the only success I had was to leave the impression that King George was a super-medicine man.”
The Eskimos on the two extremes, east and west, have met the white man and are gradually learning the white man’s ways. In the central area of the Arctic they are absolutely primitive. They know nothing of money, have no need of it. They live on land in sealskin tents in summer, and in winter they go far out to sea, where seals abound, and live in snow igloos.
“The Eskimo,” he said, “is not quarrelsome, but you must not take liberties with him. If you look at an Eskimo he will smile at you. If you don’t smile in return he is worried and when worried might do anything. There was a case where an Eskimo killed a man, and when brought to court by the R. C. M. P., he
said that his smile had been unreturned so he had killed rather than be killed.” Love does not enter their lives. They trade wives freely, the only essential being that the husbands are satisfied. Good looks count for nothing. A wife is chosen because of her capacity to work. Eskimos, says Burwash, used to kill their female children because they would never make hunters, trappers or fishermen. He is unable to say definitely if this practice continues today, but strongly suspects that it does.
The Franklin Expedition
WHILE Burwash has found adventure in all his exploits—searching unknown territory for precious metals, graphing the magnetic pole, studying the Eskimo, one of his most romantic tasks was his effort to solve the mystery which shrouds the fate of the Franklin expedition. Burwash has traversed the bleak Arctic islands where many of the expedition perished, has opened cairns left by the ill-starred crews of the Erebus and the Terror, has mushed over the probable death trail of the survivors who made one last desperate effort to break through the Arctic to the south. He has brought to Ottawa torn bits of navy uniform, rope ends, rusted knife blades, shreds of tents, bags of decayed pemmican.
But one ghastly memento of the Franklin expedition remains apart—a human skull. Crossing the base of Boothia Peninsula in 1926, his eye was caught by a glistening white object at the bottom of a lake. He fished it up and found a skull. Scientists pronounced it to be the skull of a white man, and today it rests in the North West Territories Museum at Ottawa. Near it is a portrait of Franklin. The resemblance is amazing. One can almost imagine it is Franklin’s skull—something in the contour of the head, the setting of the eye-sockets.
The story of the skull is obvious. Burwash reconstructs the scene. Franklin’s men pushing southward across land in twilight; men falling in their tracks, their comrades without means or strength to aid. This man fell on the ice surface of a little lake. Summer melted the ice, saving his skeleton from the teeth of wild animals. His body sank and remained
there until Burwash came along that
Talking to Burwash in his office Ottawa, the temptation is to overlook man and think only of his achievements. He has braved the open Arctic trails in, year out. Caught in a blizzard on ice in Foxe Channel, he held his waited his chance, gave up his objective, returned to Foxe Island fortunate not leave his body in Arctic seas. Again, rendered immobile on Boothia Peninsula by the sudden death of twenty-two of dogs—due to a strange Arctic dog plague —he abandoned his supplies and won way by forced marches to an Eskimo settlement and safety.
Yet, again, while crossing from Arctic sea to Hudson Bay he felt onset of snow blindness. Calling apparently unlimited physical vitality, he made a forced march, without reaching his destination before his completely failed.
Burwash, the man, quiet and spoken, rarely shows the dogged sistence, the stark courage which carried him to nearly all his Northern objectives, enabled him to surmount all obstacles. Silken white hair, faded blue eyes, cut, well-molded features, massive shoulders, an athlete’s tapering body—he is a distinguished figure of a man. He aging gently. They say at Ottawa that making the fruitless airplane quest September for Franklin relics, he cluded his major work in the Arctic. Burwash rather agrees and speaks short summer expeditions to be carried out by aid of planes. He has talked way before, but chances are that important information is required, the need is urgent, Burwash will Arctic trail again.
A few days ago the writer raised question of the future. Burwash chatted about it. The suggestion was made he had done his bit, made his contribution. Age sometimes is an iron shackle the North.
“You may get into a tight corner. strength may fail, and you will be gone.”
Burwash smiled, glanced out at Choieau turrets, seemed to listen to clatter of the trams along Rideau Street.
“Yes?” he answered questioningly, and then a pause. “Well, most of us go that way.”