Fort Conger: A Site of Arctic History in the 21st Century
Fort Conger, located at Discovery Harbour in Lady Franklin Bay on northern Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, played an intrinsic role in several High Arctic expeditions between 1875 and 1935, particularly around 1900–10 during the height of the Race to the North Pole. Here are found the remains of historic voyages of exploration and discovery related to the 19th century expeditions of G.S. Nares and A.W. Greely, early 20th century expeditions of R.E. Peary, and forays by explorers, travelers, and government and military personnel. In the Peary era, Fort Conger’s connection with indigenous people was amplified, as most of the expedition personnel who were based there were Inughuit from Greenland, and the survival strategies of the explorers were largely derived from Inughuit material cultural and environmental expertise. The complex of shelters at Fort Conger symbolizes an evolution from the rigid application of Western knowledge, as represented in the unsuitable prefabricated Greely expedition house designed in the United States, towards the pragmatic adaptation of Aboriginal knowledge represented in the Inughuit-influenced shelters that still stand today. Fort Conger currently faces various threats to its longevity: degradation of wooden structures through climate and weathering, bank erosion, visitation, and inorganic contamination. Its early history and links with Greenlandic Inughuit have suggested that the science of heritage preservation, along with management practices of monitoring, remediation of contamination, and 3D laser scanning, should be applied to maintain the site for future generations.