Personalities: Otto Julius Klotz

Otto Julius Klotz, 1901

One of the pleasures of archival research is encountering people through the records they’ve left behind. In some cases, documents can give only brief insights, but in others, they can reveal fascinating personalities. Dominion Astronomer Otto Klotz is one of the latter.

Our research led us to Klotz because of his membership in the Advisory Technical Board (ATB), which had been created to consider complex or technical matters brought to the attention of the Department of the Interior. We were trying to reconstruct the events surrounding Stefansson’s warning of the (non-existent) Danish threat to Canadian arctic sovereignty, and the origins of the planned government expedition in 1920. Klotz had been a member of the Board (and, it turned out, of its Arctic subcommittee), so we turned to his papers at Library and Archives Canada. Fortunately for us, Klotz was an inveterate diarist, who penned daily entries from 1866 until his death in 1923. He recorded details of his daily life, including his official duties. Even better, he did so legibly and with a delightfully wry sense of humour, making him a very useful and eminently quotable source.

In October of 1920, for instance, Klotz reported on the rapidly developing plans to counter the perceived Danish threat:

In morning meeting of our Advis. Tech. Board and we learned that our memo of last Friday about the Arctic Islands was changed by the Gov’t to an immediate “land expedition” by the Mounted Police to be followed in the spring by one by vessel. — We all smiled. We can see the Mounted Police charging “overland & overice” from Winnipeg to Ellesemere Land — 2000 miles in an fair line — establishing posts, law and order among the musk ox, and above all establishing sovereignty against the wily Danes until the exploring ship arrives next year. We authorized our chairman Dr. Deville to discuss with the Deputy Minister the matter rationally instead of plunging blindly into a wild ill-considered scheme. We all believe in obtaining the sovereignty for Canada, but use reason & common sense to attain the end.

(Otto Klotz diary, 20 October 1920)

A week later, he noted further developments, including the proposal to use an airship to transport people to Ellesmere Land:

Advis. Tech Board meeting in morning. Another resolution about Arctic Islands — recommending immediate effort with a ship to reach Bylot Island; also for a dirigible to proceed from Scotland to Ellesmere Land — some 2000 miles — which it is supposed to do in 70 hours! — and then what? plant the British flag — and impress the Eskimos if there are any — and the musk ox! … — Our whole business is a comedy.

(Otto Klotz diary, 27 October 1920)

In addition to his reports on the ATB’s activities, Klotz’s diary also contains a wide range of observations about his experiences and life in Ottawa. He commented on many aspects of his day-to-day life, including Shakespeare (“I always feel when seeing Richard III played like going on to the stage & murdering the arch fiend — the Duke of Gloucester”), or the date for Thanksgiving (“a most commendable custom”), which was not yet fixed by law (“But as the day has no fixture in our calendar, one can not plan long in advance for the occasion”). The diary’s a fascinating document, and it was one of the many happy discoveries during our research.

As with so many of the other figures in Acts of Occupation, Otto Klotz is buried in Beechwood Cemetery, and we found his family headstone when we visited there towards the end of our research. One of his sons (Max) predeceased him by two years, and is buried nearby. As he did with so many other things in his life, Klotz wrote about the sad event in his diary.

To learn more about Otto Klotz, see his entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, as well as his Wikipedia page. His papers, including the wonderful diaries, are held by Library and Archives Canada (R6645-0-4-E / MG30-B13), and there’s an online finding aid.

Journeys to the Ends of the Earth: Scholars explore connections between polar explorations, past and present

Polar map from The Quarterly Review, October 1817, page 214.

From the current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Over the past decade, global warming has melted polar sea ice down to record lows—but during the same period, thanks to a growing awareness of the climate phenomenon, the Arctic and the Antarctic have vastly expanded in the popular imagination. Nowhere is that clearer than in the broad recent interest in the European, Russian, and North American explorers who crisscrossed the poles in the 19th and early 20th centuries, searching for trade routes like the Northwest Passage and the mythical Open Polar Sea.

Amateur adventurers are following in the early explorers’ tracks: A six-man crew rowed 460 miles to the magnetic North Pole last year in a testosterone-fueled attempt to best Ernest Shackleton’s 1916 polar rowing record, and this summer, the New Bedford Whaling Museum sponsored a voyage to replicate the 1869 Bradford-Hayes artistic expedition up the coast of Greenland. Creative reinterpretations of the early polar narratives have been plentiful over the past decade, including this year’s Dead Men by Richard Pierce, exploring the legacy of the ill-fated Scott Antarctic expedition, and Mat Johnson’s 2011 novel Pym, a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1838 Antarctic nightmare The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Even the TV survivalist Bear Grylls is getting in on the act, claiming to have discovered relics of the British explorer John Franklin’s lost 1845 Arctic expedition.

Russell Potter, a historian of polar exploration at Rhode Island College and founder of the online Arctic Book Review, says he’s seen a major upswing in writing about the poles over the past 15 years. In the mid-90s, he would receive a handful of books on the subject each year; more recently, he’s received as many as 30. He attributes the interest to global warming as well as to a postmodern nostalgia for an imagined age of heroism. There’s an “elegiac sense of the passing of the era and the loss of the beauty and the danger of ice,” he says. “These stories from the heroic age with a reflection of how these things have changed today, that fascinates people.”

Read the rest of Britt Peterson’s article “Journeys to the Ends of the Earth: Scholars explore connections between polar explorations, past and present” in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Canada’s Far North was site of lifelong passion for Geoffrey Hattersley-Smith

Geoffrey Hattersley-Smith, from the obituary in the Globe and Mail

Geoffrey Hattersley-Smith, from the obituary in the Globe and Mail.

Noted glaciologist and polar academic Geoffrey Hattersley-Smith died just over a month ago at the age of 89. From Josh Wingrove’s obituary for Hattersley-Smith in the Globe and Mail:

At first, the ice didn’t interest Geoffrey Hattersley-Smith. The young man who grew up in southeast England instead wanted to study forestry. There was much, though, that he hadn’t planned on.

He left school to serve in the Royal Navy, because he felt he should, and later found himself serving during D-Day.

In the end, it was another subject entirely that caught his eye, a field far removed from forestry, rural England and the war – ice.

So began his trek as a glaciologist, Arctic and Antarctic academic and explorer (a term he loathed) – Hattersley-Smith became a leading pioneer of research in Canada’s Far North.

He climbed Nunavut’s highest peak, endured frigid and austere conditions and delivered the Canadian government, principally its military, an unprecedented understanding of the north during the heights of the Cold War.

Read the rest of the obituary on the Globe and Mail‘s website. There’s also an obituary in The Telegraph.

One of Hattersley-Smith’s accomplishments that garnered him attention outside of scientific circles was the recovery of explorers’ records from various cairns in the Canadian arctic. Among them were records left by the British Arctic Expedition of 1875-76, by Godfred Hansen in during his 1920 expedition to lay a depot for Roald Amundsen, and a section of Peary’s polar flag and records deposited in 1906. In one of Peary’s cairns, Hattersley-Smith also found a record left in 1930 by ill-fated German explorer H.K.E. Krüger and his companions. Hattersley-Smith discussed the discoveries he and his colleagues made in a 1955 article in Arctic, available online (pdf).

Update to Chapter 6 of Acts of Occupation

Captain Joseph Bernier aboard C.G.S. Arctic, 1923.

Captain Joseph Bernier aboard the C.G.S. Arctic, 1923.
Library and Archives Canada, PA-118126.

When researching Acts of Occupation, one of our main challenges was to unearth the relevant information from the labyrinth of old government files at Library and Archives Canada. Filing systems in the 1920s were a vast improvement over those used in the nineteenth century, but key facts would often be missing from the major files, only to be found lurking in a minor file whose title might or might not give a clear indication of its contents.

To our dismay, even after much searching we couldn’t definitively answer one very important question: how was the decision to send the first Eastern Arctic Patrol in 1922 made? The planned 1921 patrol was cancelled, but J.B. Harkin, Jack Craig, and Oswald Finnie of the Department of the Interior were all determined that in 1922 the CGS Arctic would carry a patrol north. However, their efforts to influence the new Minister of the Interior, Charles Stewart, seemed to have little effect – until, in May 1922, the Cabinet suddenly decided to send the patrol. The main Department of the Interior file on the Arctic islands (RG 85 vol. 583 file 571) was frustratingly silent on how this came about. We could only speculate that Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s entreaties about Wrangel Island had turned the new Liberal government’s attention to Arctic issues generally (p. 146).

As it turns out, we weren’t wrong, but the story has a surprising twist to it, involving the famous Canadian explorer Joseph Bernier. When doing research for another Arctic project, I (Janice) found the long-sought documents in file 2502 (“C.G.S. Arctic Explorations & Radio Messages, Reports & Pictures”). Jeff and I already knew that Bernier, his colleague Alfred Tremblay, and a few of their business associates had organized a company called the Arctic Exchange and Publishing Company, and that Tremblay contacted the government in February 1922 with an offer to occupy the Arctic islands in exchange for cash subsidies and the exclusive right to carry out commercial activities there. The file on the Arctic Exchange and Publishing Co. (file 928) shows that government officials disliked the idea and quickly rejected it. As far as file 928 indicates, that was essentially the end of the matter.

However, the documents in file 2502 show that early in May 1922, soon after Minister Stewart had met with Stefansson for the first time, another meeting was called – this one to discuss the Bernier plan. Bernier and his associates had persuaded the Minister of Marine and Fisheries, Ernest Lapointe, and a few other Quebec MPs to plead their cause with Stewart. In deference to his colleagues, Stewart agreed to give the plan a hearing. Those present at the meeting were Stewart, Deputy Minister of the Interior W.W. Cory, Harkin, Finnie, Craig, Bernier, Lapointe, and two MPs.

But Stewart too rejected the application, which was long on promises but short on practical details. Taking deft advantage of the situation, Harkin, Finnie, and Craig then persuaded him that the government itself must take action. A memo written by Craig on 10 May records the decision – unfortunately, without explaining just what arguments were used to win Stewart over.

Bernier personally had no reason to regret the way things went, for he was appointed to once again command his beloved ship, the Arctic. His associates weren’t so happy: for years they continued to send angry complaints that their proposal would have been successful but for the machinations of bureaucrats, and that the company would have done “twenty times as much good work to the advantage of Canada, as you have done with your expensive expeditions.” (Joseph Béland to Lapointe, 15 June 1925, on file 928).

“Arctic Discovery” float, July 1927

The "Arctic Discovery" float in the Historical Pageant, 1927

The “Arctic Discovery” float in the Historical Pageant, Ottawa, July 1927.

Historical pageants formed part of Canada’s diamond jubilee celebrations in July 1927, and included the stories of European explorers and settlers. While the primary focus was on early European arrival and exploration, one of the floats in Ottawa told the story of “Arctic Discovery,” and carried Captain Joseph-Elzéar Bernier as a visible symbol of these events. Here a crowd watches the float, complete with fur-clad passengers, roll down an Ottawa street.

This seemed like an image with appropriate historical ties to July 1st. Happy Canada Day!

“The Bernier float in the Historical Pageant,” July 1927.
Library and Archives Canada, PA-027603

Wrangel Island Today

Wrangel Island Tundra

Wrangel Island tundra – US NOAA photo, via Wikimedia Commons.

While parts of Wrangel Island appear today much as they would have in the early twentieth century when they featured prominently in Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s plans, humans have substantially changed other areas during the last hundred years. Attempts at settlement have left abandoned structures and piles of garbage and hazardous waste at various locations around the island. See more pictures and details at Siberian Rusty: Russia’s Despoiled Wrangel Island.

A Journey to the End of the World: Tracing Polar Explorer Shackleton’s Footsteps a Century Later

Medusa Kelp in Hercules Bay, South Georgia

Medusa Kelp in Hercules Bay, South Georgia (Rachel Sussman)

Explorer Ernest Shackleton is one of the people who puts in an appearance in Acts of Occupation. At one point there was the prospect of his leading a Canadian government expedition to the high Arctic, but these plans fell through. Instead, Shackleton headed south again, and died in South Georgia. Rachel Sussman’s article describes her recent visit there, and you can read more about her Antarctic trip in her blog, The Oldest Living Things in the World.