4. Aberdonian’s Arctic Feat

Taken from the People’s Journal, Saturday January 8th 1938
Aberdonian’s Arctic Feat - Navigates North West Passage – Fate of his wife
An Aberdonian, Mr Ernest J Gall, has the honour of being the first to penetrate the Bellot Strait, a hitherto unexplored part of the North-West Passage, by ship.

By his feat he made history, for he was thus able to make contact with another vessel, the Nascopie, which had navigated the North-West passage from the East, Mr Gall having sailed from the West.

Thus this North-West passage, which had been the will-o’-the-wisp after which explorers have chased fruitlessly for one hundred years, was traversed, from end to end, in one season, for the first time. At the same time the Aberdonian played his part in the establishment of the most northerly of the Hudson’s Bay Company stations at the farthermost point of Boothia Peninsula & Fort Ross. (Click for Links) See other link here for Somerset Island by Mário Gonçalves.

It is indeed a striking coincidence that an Aberdonian should have played so prominent part in this outstanding event, for it was from Aberdeen that Sir Leopold McClintock sailed in the Fox in 1857 in search of the missing Sir John Franklin, who, with his many companions, lost his life in seeking for the North-West Passage. Several times McClintock tried to force his way through Bellot Straight, but failed.

This week I chatted with the Aberdonian, who is Mr Ernest J Gall. Immediately after his feat he left for home on vacation, and was living with a cousin at 86 Salisbury Place, Aberdeen. He revealed to me that actually his achievement was a hollow triumph, for just as he was leaving Cambridge Bay to the south of Victoria Island, and was heading towards Bellot Strait, tragedy crossed his path.

He is captain of the Hudson’s Bay Company vessel Aklavik, and all the year round he roves from post to post with supplies. On those trips his wife, a young American lady whom he married five years ago accompanied him.

On this occasion of the bid to navigate the North-West Passage Mrs Gall, in order that the ship might travel as light as possible, undertook to run the diesel engine. The Aklavik was moving from Cambridge Bay when there appeared on the scene a scooner with supplies which the Aklavik had to convey North. The Aklavik went forward to meet the other, and there was an immediate response to Mr Gall’s “slow ahead” signal. A few minutes later he signalled again, but this time there was no reply. Sensing that something was wrong, Mr Gall ran below and there, beside the engine, he found his wife lying dead. She had been overcome by a heart attack, although to her husband’s knowledge she had never previously been ill. But Mr Gall did not turn back. Too many other plans would suffer if he failed. At Cambridge Bay he found a missionary and two nurses, and Mrs Gall was given a Christian burial on that desolate shore. With anguish at his heart the Aberdonian lost no time in pushing on, his wife’s place being taken in the engine room by an Eskimo girl.

Several times the Aklavik was in danger of being nipped by the ice, but the most exciting moment of the trip was at the western entrance to Bellot Strait when the engine failed. A swift current flowed, and disaster threatened as the little vessel was swept towards the rocky shore. I the nick of time a faulty part of the engine was replaced but the rest of the trip had to be made at half speed, with mechanical improvisation due to stripped gears. The ship which they met after leaving Bellot Strait was the 2500 ton Nascopie; the Aklavik was a 30 ton schooner. Soenate?? of great excitement accompanied the meeting, which was a fitting celebration. For 15 years Mr Gall has been employed in the far north, and during that time except when on leave, he has never been south of the Arctic Circle.

Shortly after leaving school he went to Hudson Bay Company. For a period of two years he was trapping on his own, and mineral exploration also engaged his attention for a time. Copper was the quest, although in the same locatality another company found pitchblende, from which radium is extracted, in fair quantity. He was on board the s.s. Baychimo when she was nipped by the ice, and the crew had a thrilling experience before they were rescued. This vessel is stated to be still adrift in the ice which trapped her – a sort of “Flying Dutchman” of the Arctic. Mr Gall, in his little scooner, has probably travelled farther than any other Hudson’s Bay man, for he has been on the move all the time, going from post to post with supplies. He revealed to me that by the establishing of a post at Fort Ross (LINK) the company now had a complete chain of stations from coast to coast. That had been the company’s ambition for years. Although they had succeeded in navigating the Bellot Strait, it would not always be possible to use it. The conditions had been very favourable when he ventured through. Mr Gall who is known in North Canada as “Scottie”, hailed originally from Fraserburgh. Both parents are dead.

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