First Commercial Use of the Northwest Passage

Plaque 36 Ernest James

Captain In 1937 Ernest James “Scotty” Gall (1903 – 1996), a resident of Victoria, navigated the historic western leg of the first commercial use of the Northwest Passage. Gall sailed the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) vessel Aklavik northeast from Victoria Island’s Cambridge Bay through Somerset Island’s Bellot Strait to deliver 45 tons of goods to the HBC’s eastern supply ship RMS Nascopie at HBC Fort Ross. Nascopie had transited the Passage from the East.

It was not until 1940-42, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St. Roch became the first vessel to accomplish a complete transit of the Passage Northwest Passage.

HBC Aklavik

HBC Schooner Aklavik, Wikimedia

The 60-foot Vancouver-built schooner Aklavik was equipped with a 35 shaft horsepower (26 kW) auxiliary diesel engine. She had been named after the HBC trading opened in 1912 on Peel Channel in the Northwest Territories,

Though the historic voyage was internationally celebrated, it was a sad one for Scotty. His beloved wife Anna had died at the controls of Aklavik’s diesel engine while awaiting transfer of supplies at Cambridge Bay. Gall continued on to Halifax aboard Nascopie, the first passenger from the Western Arctic. Upon his arrival on furlough in Scotland, Scotty received a letter from Hudson’s Bay Fur Trade Commissioner Ralph Parsons dated October 18, 1937 containing the following congratulatory statement: “This was a most historic occasion, and the important part you played in it reflects much credit on your navigation and mechanical ability.” On June 26, 1938 Parsons sent Gall a second letter declaring:

“It is not often in the present day that such voyages are undertaken, and I think your effort deserves to rank with those of the great explorers.”.

The letter contained a cheque and: “the souvenir I am sending you, as an indication of the Company’s pride in your accomplishment”. It was a silver cigar box engraved: “Presented to, E.J. Gall, by the Fur Trade Commissioner, Hudson’s Bay Company, To Commemorate His Negotiation of, The North-West Passage, September 2, 1937”

Gall’s remains lie modestly at an unmarked location on a pleasant slope in the Royal Oak Burial Park. He was Inducted into the Northwest Passage Hall of Fame in 2017.

For a comprehensive look at Scotty’s life please visit Nauticapedia.