Town celebrates historic polar trek

The hometown of Capt. Bob Bartlett, possibly one of the world’s most adventurous seafarers, provides an idyllic contrast to the conditions he encountered during his famous Arctic expedition a century ago.

With its white picket fences and narrow roadways

BRIGUS, N.L. — The hometown of Capt. Bob Bartlett, possibly one of the world’s most adventurous seafarers, provides an idyllic contrast to the conditions he encountered during his famous Arctic expedition a century ago.

White picket fences, air tinged with salt water and flocks of mallards greet visitors to Brigus, a town of 800 that overlooks Conception Bay, about 90 km west of St. John’s. It’s also the focal point of provincewide festivities this year marking Bartlett’s 1909 trek to the North Pole.

In a time before icebreakers, Bartlett embraced hardship and flirted with danger like few others as he broke ground for the better-known American explorer Robert Peary.

In the years leading up to his famous journey, he endured a shipwreck, an onboard boiler explosion and ran out of coal while at sea, using whale blubber and anything else that would burn to fuel his return home. But such mishaps appear only to have stoked his desire to take on the North.

“It’s all right while you’re exploring. You get used to rotten meat, frozen fingers, lice and dirt,” Bartlett wrote in one of his journals.

“The hard times come when you get back.”

The town he came back to is believed to have been settled in 1612, making it one of North America’s oldest non-aboriginal communities and a picturesque snapshot in time, with its cottages, stone walls and winding, narrow lanes that harken back to the 19th century.

“It is, historically, a very significant town, very reminiscent of an English village,” said Corey Boon, owner of the Bumble Bee Bed and Breakfast.

“It hasn’t changed to become a tourist mecca. It is still itself.”

That may change a little this summer when, beginning July 11, the Arctic schooner Bowdoin will be in Brigus for three days as part of the Bartlett 2009 celebrations.

The wooden vessel, the smallest designed specifically to traverse the Arctic, made its maiden voyage to Baffin Island a decade after Bartlett’s 1909 expedition. It will visit 12 ports throughout Newfoundland and Labrador until Aug. 16.

In 1909, Bartlett was commissioned to cut a path for Peary, sailing through rough seas and sledding over desolate ice to within 240 km of the Pole. It was closer to the top of the world than anyone had ever confirmed reaching.

After ordering Bartlett to turn back, Peary continued north himself and reported reaching the pole on April 6.

His announcement triggered controversy from some experts, who said it was impossible for him to confirm that he had arrived at his target, but the U.S. Congress and several scientific organizations have since officially recognized Peary’s achievement.

Bartlett continued his own journeys to the Arctic and quickly became a celebrated figure whenever he returned to Brigus.

Hawthorne Cottage, his childhood home and a National Historic Site of Canada, served as his rest stop before he ventured out to sea again.

The town also hosts an annual four-day festival in August celebrating the blueberry. The event takes on carnival-like atmosphere, with fireworks, folk music, raffles and a pie-eating contest.


On the web:

Just Posted

$15 million central Alberta mansion still on market

One of the most expensive Lacombe County residences is still on the… Continue reading

Two contentious Red Deer land rezonings are moved ahead by city council

Gunn Street and 51 Street land rezonings discussed

Open house on proposed addictions treatment centre to be held at former Red Deer nightclub

Community is invited to learn more about the $2-million project on May 2

Sri Lanka expats wait to reconnect amid social media block

NEW YORK — Viji Devadas hasn’t heard from her nephew in Sri… Continue reading

US expands probe into air bag failures to 12.3M vehicles

DETROIT — U.S. auto safety regulators have expanded an investigation into malfunctioning… Continue reading

Oh, yes! Nurse, Raptors look to finish series with Magic

DENVER — In response to an early call, Toronto coach Nick Nurse… Continue reading

Delay of game calls, goalie interference top worst rules for NHLers: survey

The pace and excitement of 3-on-3 overtime isn’t just a thrill for… Continue reading

Avengers get epic send-off at ‘Endgame’ world premiere

LOS ANGELES — There were more than a few sniffles from the… Continue reading

Writers’ Trust launches program pairing rising writers with established mentors

TORONTO — The Writers’ Trust has launched a program that gives five… Continue reading

Family: A potpourri of Easter egg hunts, music and politics

The election is a thing of the past. Albertans have spoken. They… Continue reading

Sri Lankan-Canadians mourn victims of terrorist attack in their homeland

Sri Lankan-Canadians were gathering Monday to mourn those killed in a massive… Continue reading

Residents along Saint John River told to remain on alert as floodwaters rise

FREDERICTON — People who live along New Brunswick’s Saint John River are… Continue reading

Prince Edward Island voters to cast verdict on new electoral system

CHARLOTTETOWN — Canadians are expected to learn late Tuesday whether the cradle… Continue reading

Most Read