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Overview

For more than 300 years, the search for a water route via the Arctic as an alternate route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans resulted in nothing but failed attempts and frustrated explorers. The more than 36,000 (!) islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago are separated from one another and Canada’s mainland by numerous Arctic waterways, collectively known as the Northwest Passages or Northwestern Passages. Attempts were consistently made in the early 17th century, but passages west of Hudson Bay remained undiscovered. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsun finally traversed the Northwest Passage in 1903-06 in Gjoa, a relatively ...

For more than 300 years, the search for a water route via the Arctic as an alternate route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans resulted in nothing but failed attempts and frustrated explorers. The more than 36,000 (!) islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago are separated from one another and Canada’s mainland by numerous Arctic waterways, collectively known as the Northwest Passages or Northwestern Passages. Attempts were consistently made in the early 17th century, but passages west of Hudson Bay remained undiscovered. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsun finally traversed the Northwest Passage in 1903-06 in Gjoa, a relatively small ship. He traveled west and south of Lancaster Sound through Peel Sound and along the western Arctic coast through Queen Maud and Coronation gulfs. Today, at least a couple of dozen crafts sail the Northwest Passage, including cargo ships, cruise ships, sailboats and even rowboats. Two British men rowed part of the passage in 2009, leaving their boat in Gjoa Haven, a town along the Northwest Passage named after Amundsun’s ship, with plans to continue the following year. With an increase in interest not only from adventurers, but from travelers keen to explore the renowned Arctic waterway, cruise ships are offering the opportunity to sail it. Ten-day July or August itineraries typically include a portion of the Northwest Passage, sailing from the East (Greenland), the West (Alaska) or from within Canada’s North (Resolute). Site highlights may include Beechey Island, where Sir John Franklin and his men remained trapped from 1845 to 1847 waiting for the ice to clear during his quest for the passage; Cambridge Bay, muskox capital of the world; and Gjoa Haven. Amundsen, the first to traverse the passage, spent two years here living with the Inuit.

Catherine Senecal
About the Expert

Catherine Senecal is the author of Pelicans to Polar Bears, a wildlife viewing guide to Manitoba, and has written about Alberta, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and other places for Michelin Guides, Rand McNally, and Reader’s Digest Atlas.

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Catherine Senecal for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    July and August