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.
Also known as the Barren Lands, the area includes the vast sub-Arctic tundra 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 local Indigenous culture, which was closely related to the seasonal movements of buffalo and caribou—among their only food source.
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. He had not only exhausted his supplies but was deserted by his Indigenous guide and quickly suffered 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 eventually died of edema in November 1792. He was 47 years old.
In 1969, Canada’s Sherritt Mint honoured Hearne on its annual commemorative medallion, which was first struck in 1966.
It was available in nickel, silver and gold versions.