On today’s date in 1770, the third expedition led by Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) fur trader Samuel Hearne departed from Prince of Wales Fort, near present-day Churchill, Man., in an attempt to find a passage across the “Barren Grounds” by river or sea.
The Barren Grounds (also known as the Barren Lands) refers to the vast sub-Arctic tundra located in northern Canada (mostly within the territory of Nunavut but also including parts of the Northwest Territories). Hearne’s success as an explorer is owed to his adaptation to the Indigenous way of life, which was closely related to the seasonal movements of buffalo and caribou, which was their only source of food.
With the help of Chipewyan chief Matonabbee, Hearne travelled to Alcantara Lake, located in the south-eastern portion of the Northwest Territories. On July 14, they reached the Coppermine River after heading further north; however, Hearne soon realized the river’s shoals and falls would make it useless for navigation. Three days later, on July 17, Hearne became the first European to reach the partially frozen Arctic Ocean over land in North America.
On June 30, 1772, Hearne’s expedition arrived back at Prince of Wales’s Fort.
Hearne departed on his first expedition from Prince of Wales Fort on Nov. 6, 1769, but was forced to return in early December after exhausting his supplies; being deserted by his Indigenous guide; and seeing his health suffer from the extreme cold. He departed on a second expedition on Feb. 23, 1770, but was again forced to return. He reached the fort at the end of November. On Dec. 7, 1770, he departed on his third expedition.
Hearne died of edema in November 1792. He was 47 years old.
ANNUAL COMMEMORATIVE MEDALLION
In 1969, Canada’s Sherritt Mint honoured Hearne on its annual commemorative medallion. The sterling silver medallion has a weight of 12.8 grams and a 32-mm diameter.