Canadian Arctic Landscape

5 Facts About The Northwest Passage

The Northwest Passage, which provides a more direct route from Europe, through North America and into Asia is one of the most important shipping routes in the world. It saves time and fuel for commercial vessels and now acts as a popular tourist route for those looking to discover giant icebergs, frozen fjords and fascinating wildlife.

But this watery highway didn’t just appear, it was the subject of much speculation and hard work before it was finally transited for the first time. Here are five facts about the Northwest Passage.

1. There were nearly one hundred years between the passage being discovered, thus proving its existence, and it being navigated for the first time. Robert McClure was the first person to enter the route from the west in 1850, reaching a point that Sir William Edward Parry had arrived at in 1820. However, it wasn’t until 1906 that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundson become the first to navigate the passage in its entirety.

2. Although it ultimately ended in tragedy, the most famous attempt to discover the Northwest Passage, made by Sir John Franklin in 1845, taught us more than any other. It was during rescue missions to find the ill-fated HMS Terror and HMS Erebus that more of the route was found and that Parry made his breakthrough discovery.

3. Many of the explorers who were involved in the search for the passage are now honoured by place names in this region. Baffin Bay and Baffin Island were reached by William Baffin in 1616, Hudson Bay was the discovery of Henry Hudson in 1610 and Frederick William Beechey has Beechey Island named after him.

4. There is still an ongoing debate about which country the waters that make up the Northwest Passage belong to. The USA maintains that these are international waters and therefore any ship should be allowed to navigate through them, whilst Canada claims them as part of the Canadian Northwest Passage and wants to regulate all vessels passing through.

5. The largest island in the Canadian Arctic (the archipelago found in the Northwest Passage) is Baffin Island. It is also the fifth largest island in the world and is home to polar bears, arctic wolves, caribou and a wide range of Arctic birds.

If you want to discover the Northwest Passage for yourself, we have some great itineraries which sail through, visiting Greenland and Canada along the way. Contact us today to start your polar adventure.

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