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Hearne, Samuel - A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort ... to the Northern Ocean (1795)


Author: Hearne, Samuel 

Title: A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean in the Years 1769, 1770, 1771 and 1772 

Year: 1911 (Originally 1795) 

Publisher: Toronto : Champlain Society 

Pages: 514 

Source: Champlain Collection 

Description: "In recent years, Samuel Hearne's A Journey From Prince of Wales Fort to the Northern Ocean has been the subject of considerable academic disagreement. AJ.M. Smith has called the work 'a classic of English prose' (Smith 53), and Maurice Hodgeson has said it exemplifies 'the best characteristics in the genre of travel literature' (Hodgeson 40), claims denied by Dermot McCarthy who insists that Hearne is 'a clumsy and humourless writer, with a meagre vocabulary and an unstinting inability to extend himself beyond his immediate sensory experience' (McCarthy 153). Even Hearne's most negative critics, however, cannot deny the impact that Hearne's work, particularly his description of the massacre of the Inuit at Bloody Fall, has had on Canadian literature as a whole. Hearne's trip to Bloody Fall is a descent into the heart of darkness, a confrontation with all that supposedly civilized European man feared in the new world" (from Hearne and the Inuit Oral Tradition, Robin McGrath).

The Governor of Fort Prince of Wales, Moses Norton, "insisted on planning Hearne’s first two attempts to reach the Coppermine. Unfortunately, his choice of Indian guides was less than astute. The first, Chawchinahaw, was told to conduct Hearne to Matonabbee somewhere in the 'Athapuscow Indians country' but abandoned him shortly after they started out on 6 Nov. 1769. The second attempt began on 23 Feb. 1770 with Conneequese, who claimed to have been near the Coppermine River. He got lost after months of arduous travel northwards into the bleak Dubawnt River country (N.W.T.), and he could not even prevent passing Indians from robbing Hearne and his two Home Guard Crees. The accidental breaking of Hearne’s quadrant simply confirmed the futility of proceeding …

"The third expedition left Prince of Wales’s Fort on 7 Dec. 1770. The hardships Hearne faced on this as well as the two previous expeditions can scarcely be exaggerated. Since the tiny canoes used by the Indians were suitable only for crossing rivers, Hearne and his companions had to make their way by foot across trackless wastes. Hearne himself was burdened by a 60-pound pack made awkward by a quadrant and its stand. Snowstorms hit viciously even in July and he frequently had no tent or dry clothes. On the barren lands it was 'either all feasting, or all famine.' Although he became accustomed to eating caribou stomachs and raw musk-ox, he drew the line at lice and warbles; after long fasts eating caused him 'the most oppressive pain.' Eventually he learned what the Indians already knew from experience – that travel was possible only by patiently following the seasonal movements of buffalo and caribou, their only source of food. Hearne’s success as an explorer was largely the result of his adaptation to their way of life and movement." (Canadian Biography).

See also "Samuel Hearne" from HBC Heritage: Our People (among numerous other sites). 


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