Canada’s Arctic Tall Ship

north star

North Star of Herschel Island is the last of her brave breed, the sailing Arctic cargo ship. She further distinguishes herself as the only fully rigged ship in Canada, meaning she crosses squares on each of her three masts. Her sails can be handled from on deck ,and it is possible for the ship to be sailed single-handedly, as disasters were sadly common in Arctic waters.

Banks IslandNorth Star was built in 1935 in San Francisco at the Geo. W. Kneass shipyard and shipped to the Arctic aboard the 600 ton trading ship Patterson. She was built for two Inuit fox trappers operating out of Sachs Harbour on Banks Island, outlined in red on the accompanying map. The Island is one of the larger islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, situated in the Inuvik Region, and part of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Northwest Territories.

From 1936 to 1961 she transported the winter’s fur catch to market in early August. She returned to Banks with supplies from Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk in late August or early September while ice conditions still permitted navigation. Except for the three winters she found herself frozen in the ice, each fall North Star was hauled onto the beach to be launched again the following spring. The launch was accomplished by the hand winching efforts of the whole population of Sachs Harbour, using three-purchase tackle over skids of freshly killed seals.

North Star found herself beached in 1961 as cargo flights took over Arctic transportation. In 1967 she was purchased by her second owner and refitted for navigation in the Beaufort Sea. From 1968 until 1973 she served as an Arctic Ocean scientific vessel. Subsequently she worked on the survey of the British Columbia /Alaska boundary, providing ecological adventures, sail training, and mermaid searches.

North Star is now a private vessel, home of her present owners. Her owners kindly make her available at no charge for Arctic history education for both school group tours and historical societies. She sometimes participates in classic and wooden boat shows. Sadly for us, she has left Victoria’s harbour and now calls Vancouver her home port.


North Star carries 3,000 square feet of sail. Her sparred length is 78’ with a length on deck of 58’, a waterline length of 53’ and a beam of 15’. At 30 gross tons and carrying 12 tons of ballast she draws 6’6”. The ship is rigged, ready, and capable of sailing anywhere in the world.