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Kapitaikallak - Captain Joseph Elzear Bernier "the greatest Canadian navigator"

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  • George Lessard
    Map may help defend Arctic sovereignty Explorer who drew map led numerous expeditions into Arctic waters around Canada Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2008
      Map may help defend Arctic sovereignty
      Explorer who drew map led numerous expeditions into Arctic waters around Canada
      Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service
      Published: Friday, August 01, 2008
      The rediscovery of an important century-old map of the Canadian Arctic
      created by Quebec explorer Joseph-Elzear Bernier -- the legendary ship
      captain credited with cementing Canadian control over its polar
      frontier -- gave Prime Minister Stephen Harper an opportunity Thursday
      to reassert his government's determination to defend Canada's Arctic

      Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (L) unveils a recently
      rediscovered map drawn by Canadian explorer Captain Joseph Elzear
      Bernier at the Garnison de Levis, July 31, 2008.

      Parry's rock. A Canadian landmark located at Winter Harbour on
      Melville Island. It was the farthest point west through the Northwest
      Passage that Britian had ever reached when William Parry wintered
      there in 1919. The rock is engraved by his expedition. In 1909, the
      Canadian Bernier visited the rock and claimed the Arctic in the name
      of Canada. There is a plaque on the side commemorating the event. The
      beaver is still a mystery.

      Joseph Elzéar Bernier
      Suite aux nombreux commentaires reçus via le courrier électronique
      concernant le Capitaine Joseph Elzéar Bernier, j'ai décidé de partager
      cette belle histoire que j'ai retrouvée.
      Ce sont des extraits du livre "Bernier, Capitaine à 17 ans" de
      Gilberte Tremblay, Éditions Leméac, 1959.

      * Bernier, Capitaine à 17 ans (1)
      * Bernier, Capitaine à 17 ans (2)
      * Bernier, Capitaine à 17 ans (3)
      * Bernier, Capitaine à 17 ans (4)
      * Bernier, Capitaine à 17 ans (5)
      * Bernier, Capitaine à 17 ans (6)
      * Bernier, Capitaine à 17 ans (7)
      More at...

      Canadian Polar Expedition to be in Charge of Skilled Navigator Instead
      of Scientist
      B.S. OSBON
      July 1, 1906, Sunday
      New York Times - First Magazine Section, Page SM2, 1718 words
      THE Canadian Government steamer Arctic, formerly the German exploring
      steamer Gauss, is manned and provisioned at Halifax, and ready to
      start for the polar regions in a few days, under the command of Capt.
      Joseph Elzear Bernier, who commanded her on her last cruise, and who
      on his return from the present trip will take her around the Horn and
      fit her for a voyage to the North Pole via Bering Straits. [ END OF
      view full articleNote: This article will open in PDF format

      Bernier Family Genealogy Forum

      October 26, 2001
      Kapitaikallak's abiding legacy
      Inuit and Québécois celebrate Capt. Joseph Bernier, Wilfred Caron, and
      the enduring ties connecting Pond Inlet to the people of
      L'Islet-sur-mer, Quebec.
      MONTREAL — When Rhoda Ungalaq took to stage at a Quebec City music
      festival a few years ago to perform an Inuktitut song that her mother
      taught her, she was astonished to find a Québécois man jumping up on
      stage to sing the song with her.
      She discovered that her song, Ilititaa, is actually an Inuktitut-cised
      version of an old and well-known French sailors' song "Il était un
      petit navire," or "There was a little boat."
      This is just one example of the long history of contact between Inuit
      and francophones in Nunavut, as the legacy of the great Arctic
      explorer, Capt. Joseph Elzéar Bernier, becomes better known.
      Ungalaq's mother had learned Ilititaa from her mother, whose
      common-law husband was Wilfrid Caron, a Québécois sailor who travelled
      with Bernier.
      Caron was a member of an expedition that sailed around the Eastern
      Arctic from 1904 to 1911. Its leader, Capt. Bernier, was Caron's
      More at....

      Arctic Justice
      By Shelagh Grant

      Captain Joseph Elzéar Benier with audio and animations
      Title: Ilititaa: Bernier, His Men and the Inuits
      [Click here to see website
      http://www.ilititaa.org/_en/main.html ]

      Description: The story of sea Captain Joseph-Elzear Bernier, his
      explorations of the Arctic and his influence on the creation of the
      Arctic territories. Includes information about the formation of
      Nunavut. Click on the buoy (main menu) to find a link to the Inuktitut
      Topic: People

      Subjects: Explorers / Arctic / Nunavut / Bernier, Joseph-Elzear / Inuit

      Made by: Musée Maritime du Québec
      Via the http://www.museevirtuel.ca/

      Kapitaikallak - Captain Joseph Elzear Bernier

      Captain Joseph Elzéar Benier was born January 1st, 1852, in
      L'Islet-sur-mer. Son of a long family tradition of captain au long
      cour, his dream was to reach the North Pole. However, his greatest
      merit was in asserting Canadian sovereignty on the whole arctic
      archipelago, from 1904 to 1925.

      Capitaine J.E. Bernier

      "This is the year 2000, tells Nutaraq Cornelius from Pond Inlet. This
      happened long, long ago. After many, many years there is still some
      pieces left. Kapitaikallak still has not been forgotten by Inuit up to
      now. We still know about him. We have heard about him. He is not
      - Nutaraq Cornelius, Pond Inlet, 2000.

      The Inuit elders has not forgotten about Kapitaikallak, captain Joseph
      Elzéar Bernier. As a matter of fact, they do remember many colorful
      stories about him. Kapitaikallak is a legend among the Inuit of North
      Baffin, in Nunavut.

      Bernier made four arctic expeditions on the account of the government
      of Wilfrid Laurier to assert canadian sovereignty on the whole arctic
      archipelago, from 1904 to 1911.

      Afterwards, Bernier organized three private trips to Pond Inlet,
      between 1912 and 1917, to establish a trading post at Igarjuaq by the
      name of "Berniera". Wilfrid Caron, his nephew, stayed at this station
      until 1919, and worked for H.T. Munn until 1922.

      From 1922 to 1925, the good old captain went back to government
      services by carrying out the first annual Eastern Arctic Patrols.

      More.. with pictures at...



      Joseph-Elzéar Bernier (1852 - 1934)

      Joseph-Elzéar Bernier was born in L'Islet on New Year's Day 1852. He
      was part of a line of captains on the south shore of the St. Lawrence.
      His baptism with the sea occurred at the age of two when his parents
      took him to Cuba on a ship captained by his father. At 17, his father
      presented him with a ship that he had had built, to train him.
      Joseph-Elzéar took it as far as Ireland, where he brought wood. For
      many years before undertaking his voyages to the Arctic, Bernier
      crossed the Atlantic, piloting new ships built in Quebec for England
      on their maiden voyages, a job requiring specific expertise. In 1871,
      Bernier was in Connecticut when Charles Francis Hall left for his last
      polar expedition. As of that moment, northern navigation became his
      primary interest and he built his personal on board library with books
      and maps on Arctic voyages.

      For many years, at the end of the last century, Bernier tried to
      persuade the Canadian government of the importance of taking
      possession of the islands north of Canada. Finally, in 1904, he bought
      a German ship for the government, which he named the Arctic, and
      filled it with provisions for five years. He planned to go around Cape
      Horn and enter the Arctic through Bering Strait. However, as he was
      leaving, the Department of Marine and Fisheries countermanded the
      expedition and sent him to Hudson's Bay with the Royal North-West
      Mounted Police to stop a defrauder and to set up posts for this police
      force. In spite of his disappointment, he would later write that this
      voyage was useful as they conducted studies on ice and on navigation.
      "But so far as I was personally concerned the first arctic voyage of
      real importance to me was that of 1906-07, [...]" (Bernier 1939, 306).


      His explorations and his activities allowed Canada to establish its
      sovereignty over some 740 000 square kilometres in the Arctic and to
      sensitize the Canadian public to the political and economic importance
      of the Far North. It has been written of Captain Joseph Elzéar Bernier
      that he was the "the greatest Canadian navigator".

      With images available via the National Archives of Canada...
      More at...

      Joseph-Elzéar Bernier
      Arctic Mariner

      by Murray Lundberg

      Between 1904 and 1911, Captain Joseph Bernier did more than any
      other person to solidify Canada's claim to the Arctic Islands. Going
      beyond just his presence as a government agent, he unveiled a plaque
      on Melville Island in 1909 that made that statement in bronze.


      Bernier and his crew spent the winter of 1906-1907 at Baffin Island,
      then the winter of 1908-1909 at Melville Island. On July 1, 1909,
      having for 5 years made the regular presence required by most
      international definitions of sovereignty, Bernier unveiled a plaque on
      Melville Island which officially claimed the Arctic Islands for

      Bernier again wintered over in 1910-1911 (at Arctic Bay), then
      that summer rejoined the private sector, setting up a trading
      operation on Baffin Island.

      Postage stamp


      More at...


      oseph Elzéar Bernier (1852-1934) / Finnie, R.S.
      Arctic, v. 39, no. 3, Sept. 1986, p. 272-273, ill., 1 port.
      ASTIS record 32626

      PDF of full story at


      ... Joseph Elzéar Bernier belonged to the fading era of wooden ships
      and iron men. His father and grandfather were sea captains and
      shipbuilders. He attended school in L'Islet until he was 14 and then
      went to sea. Three years later he became master of his vessel. After a
      hundred voyages to many ports he came ashore to accept the unlikely
      position of governor of the Quebec jail. This fitted into Bernier's
      scheme, for it gave him time to read and to study. Since 1872 he had
      been fascinated by arctic exploration, so now he absorbed all of the
      published accounts of British, American, Danish, and Norwegian
      expeditions. In 1898 he gave a lecture before the Quebec Geographical
      Society expounding on both how he might reach the North Pole by ship
      and dog-team and how he might sail through the Northwest Passage. This
      created a stir. He resigned from the jail and started campaigning. ...
      What appeared to be a key to the realization of his dreams in 1904 was
      the availability of a stoutly built 650-ton sailing ship with an
      auxiliary steam engine. This was the Gauss, named for a German
      astronomer and magnetician, built in Kiel in 1901 for a two-year
      Antarctic expedition that had been successfully completed. Bernier
      purchased her for the Canadian government at a bargain price of
      $75,000 and sailed her to Quebec, where she was renamed Arctic. But,
      alas, the government had surprising and disappointing plans for
      Bernier. Instead of heading his own expedition to the North Pole, he
      was to serve only as master of the Arctic for a year-long patrol of
      the Northwest Mounted Police into Hudson Bay to control foreign
      traders and whalers. However, this interlude gave Bernier experience
      in arctic travel and living, standing him in good stead for the
      future. His ship performed well, so he was now ready for whatever
      northern responsibilities he could assume. ... On his 1908-1909
      expedition Bernier took the Arctic through half the length of M'Clure
      Strait. It was invitingly open and he might have realized his dream of
      sailing through the Northwest Passage, which Roald Amundsen had
      already done with a much smaller vessel by a more southerly route in
      1903-1906, but Bernier lacked authorization to proceed and reluctantly
      turned back. On his next voyage he had the authorization, but this
      time M'Clure Strait was ice-choked. ... In 1912, ... he had left the
      service of the government to engage in a private gold-hunting and
      fur-trading venture around Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, ... In 1922 the
      Arctic was refurbished for the first of a series of annual government
      expeditions to the Eastern Arctic Archipelago. Bernier, who had found
      no Baffin gold and was now 70 years old, was glad to be placed in
      charge of his old ship again. The tasks of the expeditions were to
      maintain sovereignty among the arctic islands (showing the flag, as it
      were), establish new posts of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and
      reprovision and rotate the men at existing ones, see to the health and
      welfare of the resident Inuit, and conduct scientific investigations.
      ... In 1927 Bernier commanded two tugs towing a dredge and steel scow
      from Halifax to the Hudson Bay port of Churchill. That same year he
      was granted a government pension of $2,400 annually, plus a medal,
      rewarding him for what he had done to strengthen Canada's title to
      arctic islands whose potential value was still beyond anyone's dreams
      - except perhaps his own. On December 26, 1934, at the age of 82,
      Joseph Elzéar Bernier died. Despite having been thwarted in his early
      ambition of going to the North Pole or through the Northwest Passage,
      he had earned a niche in the history of Canadian arctic exploration.



      Time ripe to remember defender of the North, historian says

      Phil Couvrette , CanWest News Service

      Published: Sunday, November 25, 2007

      As Canada seeks to assert its Arctic claims, the founder of a Quebec
      historical society says the time has never been better to honour an
      explorer who helped the country claim a huge chunk of the North.

      In the late 1800s, Quebec-based captain Joseph-Elzear Bernier tried to
      persuade a young Canada of the importance of claiming sovereignty over
      the islands of the North. The British government had formally ceded
      the land in 1880 but the Canadian government had yet to exercise its
      jurisdiction there.

      Bernier's expeditions eventually helped the country claim sovereignty
      over 750,000 square kilometres in the Arctic, says Jeanne Coude of the
      Levis regional historic society. Coude has been prodding various
      governments for years to erect a monument paying homage to a man
      sometimes called "the greatest Canadian navigator."


      "Like Bernier (trying to reach the Arctic), I will do everything I can
      to get a monument worthy of him," Coude said. "He was the last Jacques
      Cartier - after him there were no more lands to claim."

      At the turn of the 20th century, Bernier finally persuaded the
      government of the need to claim the islands - such as Baffin and
      Ellesmere - amid obvious signs U.S. and European explorers were out to
      do the same.

      Canada is currently locked in a furious claims rush with Russia, the
      U.S., Denmark and Norway over parts of the Arctic. Many countries do
      not recognize Canada's sovereignty in the Northwest Passage.


      Bernier made 12 trips to the Arctic and spent eight winters there
      between 1906 and 1925. He hopped from island to island, sometimes
      finding documents left behind by his predecessors, and conducted
      topographic surveys while officially claiming the island for Canada.

      Bringing Canadian law to the region, Bernier issued permits to
      whalers, hunters and fishermen in the area and helped establish
      numerous RCMP posts. His travels enabled him to establish contacts
      with Canada's Inuit communities, transporting food and other articles
      in remote areas.

      More at


      Joseph-Elzéar Bernier

      Un article de Wikipédia, l'encyclopédie libre.

      Aller à : Navigation, Rechercher

      Joseph-Elzéar Bernier (né à L'Islet le 1er janvier 1852 et décédé à
      Lévis le 26 décembre 1934) est un capitaine de navire et un
      explorateur canadien. Ses descendants se sont renommés la famille
      Janvier, en l'honneur de sa date de naissance.


      1 Carrière maritime et judiciaire
      2 Grand explorateur marin au service du Canada
      3 Le capitaine Bernier s'installe à Lévis
      4 Dernier voyage à titre de capitaine
      5 Décès
      6 Honneurs et distinctions
      7 Sources

      Via / more at:


      L'Encyclopédie de l'histoire du Québec

      The Quebec History Encyclopedia

      Captain Joseph Elzéar Bernier

      BERNIER, Captain Joseph Elzéar, J.P. - Master Mariner, Explorer for
      Department of Interior, Ottawa. Born L'Islet, P.Q., Jan. 1, 1852, son
      of Captain Thomas Bernier and Célinas Paradis Bernier. Educated:
      Christian Brothers, L'Islet Village. At the age of seventeen (1869)
      was appointed Captain to every part of the world. Has made ten trips
      amongst the Arctic Islands during which all the Islands have been
      visited, taken possession and occupied. Now in command C.G.S. Arctic,
      of Ottawa. Has made two hundred and fifty-six trips in all parts of
      the world, covering about four hundred and thirty-eight thousand miles
      without any trouble, equalling [sic] twenty-one times the distance
      around the world. Has been employed by all Provincial and Federal
      Governments. Was Master of one hundred and seven ships during
      fifty-four years. Governor of Quebec Jail for four years. Dock Master
      of Lévis for three years. Married Rose de Lima Caron, Nov. 8, 1870
      (deceased, 1917); secondly, Alma Lemieux, July 1, 1919; one son
      (deceased). Societies: Royal Colonial Canadian Institute, London ,
      Eng.; Quebec Geographical Society, and many others. Catholic.
      Residence: 27 Fraser Street; Levis, P.Q.

      Source: Prominent People of the Province of Quebec, 1923-24, Montreal,
      Biographical Society of Canada, Limited, undated and unpaginated.
      Correct French spelling and accents have been restored.



      Joseph-Elzéar Bernier
      Our Northern Heritage


      Speech delivered by Captain Joseph-Elzéar Bernier (1852-1994) to the
      Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, 7 October 1926.

      [Bernier claimed the Arctic Archipelago for Canada July 1, 1909]
      Source: Empire Club of Canada. Addresses Delivered to the Members
      during the Year 1926 (1927).


      He told how the natives were invited to the ceremony of taking
      possession of the islands. They were given luncheon on board the
      Arctic, and he told them that they had become Canadians, and were now
      the same as himself, and were his brothers. He suggested that they
      make up their requisition for anything they wanted, and he would see
      what could be done for them. He promised to buy from them what he
      wanted, and give value for what he bought. When they came to luncheon
      they thought it was a good thing to be a Canadian. During and after
      the meal the Captain got the Eskimos one by one, especially the old
      heads, and gave them pencil and paper and asked them to mark down
      where they came from and what they had seen. The Eskimos would put
      down a dot and would say, through the interpreter, "There is an island
      here, and plenty of salmon; then there is a nice little bay here, then
      another island." Then after an hour's time the Captain would see the
      Eskimo sweating, and he would say, "Now, we will have a cup of tea or
      a smoke," and after that the Eskimo would work at the chart till he
      finished. Thus the Captain got charts made by all the old heads. The
      Eskimo trackings are not like ours; they always go on a straight line,
      but on questioning them through the interpreter the direction
      according to the sun was found, and also how fast they travelled. The
      way to ascertain the latter point was to find the number of dogs used.
      In the Summer, with a kyack. they make five miles per dog;when they go
      on a hunting trip, if they have 10 dogs they make 10 miles; if 5 dogs.
      5 miles. In that way the Captain got knowledge of places which he had
      not visited.

      When the Eskimos got through with their charts the Captain would ask
      the interpreter to find out whether the natives found any copper or
      other ore, and asked them to bring it in. Sometimes they brought
      baskets full, and sometimes they found iron, and they would say. "It
      is nice; it glitters." Sometimes they would bring in a piece of copper
      pyrites; sometimes a piece of coal; then they would show on the chart
      where it was found, and the explorers' men would go and find surface
      coal, and on trial some of it would burn readily like lignite, and it
      was used on the boat, and was similar to Sydney coal. The coal was
      frozen to a depth of 9 or 10 feet, and when it came in big pieces it
      would crumble when put in the sun. In these ways the explorers got
      knowledge of every place where they had wandered for 8 years, and thus
      gathered a great deal of information.

      [...] More at:

      Bernier Of The North

      January 1, 2006, by Hugh A. Halliday

      The Arctic Archipelago, explored at great cost by Britain, had been
      virtually presented as a gift to Canada in 1880. Some cabinet
      ministers would have preferred to decline the gift, but Sir Hector
      Langevin had argued that Canada's future lay in the Far North. The
      settlement of the Alaska Boundary Dispute in 1903 (Canadian
      Reflections, November/December) made it apparent that sovereignty
      anywhere could not be taken for granted, and the High Arctic began to
      look more vulnerable. The most basic expression of such sovereignty is
      "use it or lose it." In the first instance of doing just that, the
      Laurier government turned to Joseph-Elzéar Bernier.Canadians are prone
      to complaining that "we have no heros" or that "nobody tells us about
      these people." In Bernier's case, books have been written. T.C.
      Fairlie and C.E. Israel published a biography, The True North: The
      Story of Captain Joseph Bernier in 1957. Gilberte Tremblay wrote
      Bernier, capitaine à 17 ans in 1959 and Jack Tremblay's book, Captain
      White Bear: The Story of Captain Joseph Bernier, appeared in 1967.
      Bernier has also had his name on a Canadian ice-breaker and a 1977
      commemorative stamp, and the Musée maritime du Québec at
      L'Islet-sur-Mer has featured his exploits for 30 years. Hopefully, a
      more recent biography, Joseph-Elzéar Bernier: Capitaine et Coureur des
      Mers by Marjolaine Saint-Pierre, will prevent him from again falling
      into the abyss of national amnesia.


      Bernier made three further trips to exercise sovereignty in what was
      to become known as the Eastern Arctic Patrol. The 1923 voyage marked
      the first time a Canadian court was transported to the Arctic to try a
      murder case.


      More at...


      Broadcast on Radio-Canada

      Joseph-Elzéar Bernier est un de nos illustres navigateurs au long
      cours, un témoin de la tradition des grands voiliers. Capitaine à 17
      ans, il a parcouru toutes les mers du monde. Explorateur de l'univers
      du Grand Nord, sa contribution à la souveraineté canadienne dans
      l'Arctique est indéniable.

      More with audio of the broadcast...



      By Bill Twatio

      In his long career, he crossed the Atlantic 269 times, winning the
      famous Blue Ribband 22 times for record crossings. He commanded over a
      hundred ships in his 60 years at sea. He was admired and emulatated as
      a master mariner and arctic explorer by the greatest explorers of his
      day - Raoul Nansen, Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, Peary and Byrd - all
      whom were his friends.

      Joseph-Elzear Bernier was born on New Year's Day 1852 beside the St.
      Lawrence River at L'Islet, Quebec. He was raised in the days of the
      tall ships and both his father and grandfather had been shipmasters
      before him. He sailed with his father for the first time into the
      Mediterranean and Black Sea at the age of four - in time to witness
      and remember the siege of Sebastopol during the Crimean War. He was a
      ship's boy at 12 and master of schooner at 17 - probably the youngest
      skipper in the world.

      In 1871, Bernier happened to be docked in the Potomac River not far
      from the yard where the "Polaris" was being fitted for its ill-starred
      polar voyage. He later credited this chance encounter with sparking
      his interest in arctic exploration and began to spend his spare time
      devouring accounts of earlier expeditions.

      Slowly, a plan began to take shape in his mind. He concluded that a
      ship sailing into the ice pack north of Siberia would be carried by
      polar currents across the top of the world close to the North Pole.
      "With perseverance and with brave men, we shall certainly overtake our
      predecessors and plant our flag on the northernmost point of the
      globe," he declared time and again as he championed his theory in
      speeches across the country. After a long campaign, spending several
      thousand dollars of his own money, the Laurier government agreed to
      sponsor his voyage north in the summer of 1904 aboard the barquentine
      more at

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      Ottawa, 1910. 1st Ed. xxix + 529pp. 2 ports., 4 folding maps, numerous
      ills. [without portfolio of plans]. Some very light browning, original
      gilt lettered cloth, spine sl. bumped. ¶ Joseph-Elzéar Bernier Arctic
      Mariner (1832-1954 ). Between 1904 and 1911, Captain Joseph Bernier
      did more than any other person to solidify Canada's claim to the
      Arctic Islands. Going beyond just his presence as a government agent,
      he unveiled a plaque on Melville Island in 1909 that made that
      statement in bronze.
      Offered for GBP 100.00 = appr. US$ 199.00 by: Francis Edwards
      Booksellers - Book number: 184364
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