Stefansson and the Canadian Arctic.

Tries to analyze as objectively as possible the roots of antagonism between Stefansson and Canadians—sees a degree of arrogance, opportunism, manipulation, and pig-headedness on Stefansson’s part, but also a competence hard to deny. Sees the debacle of Wrangell Island as the final blow to Stef’s reputation in Canada, but there is much else documented here. By 1924 Stef’s connections with Ottawa and Canada were essentially severed and by his choice he ended his Canadian career.

p. 8, on Stefansson’s early education: Though his primary education was spotty, twenty-seven months in all, Stefansson proved to be quick of mind. It allowed him to read aloud the Old Testament in Icelandic by age six; Icelandic sagas and a local newspaper, Heimskringlia (The Round World), would acquaint this youngster with history, literature, and politics.

p. 19, his first expedition began in Winnipeg, then Edmonton, Athabaska Landing, and Fort McPherson: Before Stefansson knew it, he was heading into the region that was to be his home for more than a decade, armed with a few books which, he hoped, would give him the necessary background for his encounter with the north and its inhabitants: Hanbury’s Travels, the works of Hall, Wrangell, and Franklin, Kleinschmidt’s Eskimo grammar, and four volumes of poetry. His only regret was that he had not provided himself with additional literature on the Eskimo—what little there was to be had. [Source: Peabody Museum VS to Miss Meade, 20 November 1906.]

p. 27: Stefansson’s iconoclastic nature inclined him to reject the tried-and-true methods of describing arctic travels, with their accounts of great suffering and misery that made “appetizing” reading for the morbid few: “Accounts of such sufferings as these are appetizing reading for those who revel in the contemplation of misery; they are also amusing to those who know how easily most of these difficulties could have been avoided; they may even some time come to take high rank as works of humour, should the reading public ever become intelligently familiar with the facts and conditions of the north.” His own writings, he believed, would explode such myths. He once said that most arctic hardships were of two types—those caused chiefly by the ignorance of the trapper in selecting his outfit and refusing to conduct himself like the Eskimo, and those created by the imaginative power of the man who writes an exaggerated account to make his manuscript readable and saleable.

p. 109: We now [31 May 1914] had on hand over 1400 lbs. of bear meat and 2 seals. This may seem a wanton waste of game and bad but Our Plans depend so much on providence that I look upon this much as insurance against want should we need to spend the summer on the sea ice. [Public Archives of Canada, Stefansson Diary, 31 May 1914.]

p. 111, comment by R.M. Anderson about Stefansson’s methods: I can give VS credit of marked ability when he sticks to his trade, but when he decided he could be a geographer and oceanographer with absolutely no training as a dog-musher and pedestrian with literary leanings, he got beyond his depths. [PAC RMA/4, R. M. Anderson to Mrs. Mae Belle Anderson, 17 January 1916. In the 1920s Mrs Anderson mounted a strong anti-Stefansson smear campaign, according to Diubaldo (p. 205-06).]

[The remainder of the book is primarily an analysis of the politics of the Canadian Arctic Expedition (1914-18) led by Stefansson in direct and vehement conflict with his own second in command, R.M. Anderson. Its results were few and its battles intense. He was much admired in America as its Arctic expert. “In Canada, however, Stefansson would continue to be regarded with suspicion. He never, it appears fully understood why” (p. 215).