The 2019 Arctic Return Expedition

In March 1854, Orcadian explorer John Rae set out from Naujaat (Repulse Bay) in the central Canadian Arctic. Together with the Inuk William Ouligbuck and the Ojibway Thomas Mistegan, Rae discovered both the catastrophe that had engulfed the failed Franklin expedition and the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage. In doing so, he accomplished one of the most significant expeditions in the history of Arctic exploration. 

Rae and his companions find evidence of the doomed Franklin expedition. Image courtesy of HBC archives.

On March 30th 2019, the Arctic Return Expedition team set out from Naujaat on skis to retrace the route taken by John Rae in 1854. Rae’s success was due in great part to his willingness to learn from the Indigenous people of the region. He traveled incredible distances with patience, humility, respect and honesty. The aim of the Arctic Return journey is to bring awareness to, pay tribute, and honor John Rae, one of the greatest Arctic explorers of all time. 

On April 27th, team members David Reid and Richard Smith successfully reached Point de la Guiche. This was the point at which Rae determined that King William Island was infact an island, and therefore discovering the missing link in the first navigable North West Passage. 

It took the team 29 days to complete the 650 km journey enduring blizzards with 70kmh winds and extreme temperatures with wind chill down to -50 degrees. The conditions took their toll, and the two other members of the team, film maker Garry Tutte and adventurer Frank Wolf, had to withdraw due to suffering foot injuries.

Following the successful completion of the journey, both Reid and Smith have a renewed appreciation and respect for the skill, courage, strength and determination of Rae and his companions William Ouligbuck and Thomas Mistegan; coupled with respect for the challenging terrain and environment. 

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Inuit of the communities of Naujaat, Kugaaruk and Gjoa Haven, for their advice and assistance. Special thanks to our families, friends, sponsors, and to all those who followed and supported the expedition.

The journey continues now as we work raising awareness of Rae, his accomplishments, the John Rae Society in Orkney and the restoration of the Hall of Clestrain. 


An Arctic Landscape. Image courtesy of Eric Brossier.
Steady, methodical, determined. Image courtesy of Eric Brossier.
Landscape very similar to that expected during Arctic Return. Image courtesy of Hugh Dale-Harris.
Using Nature's pathways. Image courtesy of Hugh Dale-Harris.

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