Why The St. Roch? Why The Northwest Passage? Why 1940? New Answers To Old Questions

  • Shelagh D. Grant
Keywords: Archives, Foreign relations, Government, History, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Sovereignty, St. Roch (Ship), World War II, Canada, Greenland, Northwest Passage


For almost half a century, the reasons behind orders sending the RCMP schooner St. Roch through the Northwest Passage during the Second World War have puzzled historians and other scholars. True, there were rumors of a defence-related mission, but there was no hard evidence, no tangible proof. Nor did the captain, Sgt. Henry Larsen, provide many clues other than "Canada was at war and the government had realized the need to demonstrate the country's sovereignty over the Arctic islands" ... a statement not verified in official documents. Then unexpectedly last year, during research on Canadian wartime relations with Greenland, two memos were found in RCMP archival files that directly linked the voyage of the St. Roch to a government plan to defend and occupy the island in the spring of 1940 .... Although these memos might appear to contradict Larsen's own explanation, careful study of the documents and related circumstances suggests that the reference to sovereignty in the autobiography published posthumously could also be defined in very broad terms to include security considerations. Omission of any reference to the initial motive behind the orders was entirely in keeping with his responsibility as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to maintain a confidence in the national interest. Today, the rationale for that secrecy is no longer valid, and the once-secret documents explaining the circumstances and events are now accessible to the public. Perhaps it was a stroke of fate that his information should come to light during the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the venerable ship's historic voyage through the Northwest Passage. Along with pride of achievement is now added new pride of a greater purpose. ...
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