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Exploring Baffin Island: The Baird Expeditions

Cumberland Base Camp
Biological Camp
Camp A2/A3
Clyde Base Camp
Camp A2
Camp A
Sam Ford Fiord / Resevoir Pass
Camp Searle
Camp A1
Paddle Fiord


Baffin, the
largest of Canada's Arctic islands and the fifth largest island in the world,
lies on the southeast corner of the Arctic Archipelago. While inhabited by the
Inuit people since 900 AD, Baffin was first visited by Europeans in 1576. During
his search for the Northwest Passage, the British explorer Martin Frobisher
landed on
Baffin Island near present day Iqualuit. Finding iron pyrite which he mistook
for gold, Frobisher undertook two more voyages to the region, with the last in

Seven years later, Frobisher's
countryman John Davis charted the eastern coast of the island and by 1610 Henry
Hudson became the first to sail through the Hudson Strait off the island's
southern coast. In 1616 William Baffin charted Frobisher Bay, ultimately lending
his name to the island and discovering once and for all that the fabled
Northwest Passage did not lead through Baffin Island.

search for a
through the Arctic
throughout the 17th and 18th centuries as a number of
explorers searched the Baffin area without success. Later
surveys by the Canadian government using aircraft charted much of the interior
and improved maps. However, by the 1950s much of the island remained sparsely
populated and unstudied. The two Baird Expeditions (1950 & 1953) were an
attempt by the Arctic Institute and its partners to gain a better understanding
this largest of the Arctic

(Expedition Map)

Pat Baird was the first director
of the Arctic Institute's Montreal Office and, in the early 1950s, was responsible for organizing
two scientific expeditions into Baffin Island. The first, in 1950, went forward
with the support of the Canadian government and Air Force, the Geographical
Society and a number of other private backers. It was based at Clyde on the east
coast of Baffin and expanded inland to include a number of smaller research
bases and observation centres.

The party was conveyed there by
air, landing on the sea ice from May 19-20th. For 12 weeks the assembly of
scientists and adventurers studied the region's plant life, the water,
terrestrial animals and the breeding patterns of Arctic birds. Baird's team
consisted of glaciologists, zoologists, botanists, geologists,
and a host of other specialists drawn from universities
across North America and Europe. Joining them were mountaineers from
Switzerland, a photographer from Texas and an artist from Montreal.
Dr. Baird in a reconstructed stone circle

Three main camps established
transportation in the field the expedition depended almost completely on the use
of the Arctic Institute's Norseman aircraft, fitted initially with ski-wheels
and later with floats. Traveling by air, the group established three main camps
connected by radio transceivers. Camp A was the glaciological and
meteorological station, situated on the Barnes Ice Cap 100 miles inland
from the base at Clyde. Camp B was the biological headquarters, located at the
head of Clyde Inlet. Camp M was the mountaineer base which was first established
on Swiss Bay at Sam Ford Fiord and later moved to the head of Eglinton

By August,
longer trips were being undertaken to visit Lake Gillian and Bray Island near
the west coast of the island. An important
excursion to the south was also undertaken to visit Cape Searle,
the site of
an immense colony of fulmars (a breed of Northern sea bird) estimated to
number between 100,000 and 500,000.

Ice Cavern in foot of icefall on 27C at its junction with 27B - Ice flows from R to L then turns towards exit - Baffin Island - Qikitualuk Region
 Mountain tops explored
During their three months on Baffin the adventurers in the
party, consisting mostly of the Swiss mountaineers, summited 17 mountains
ranging up to nearly
6,000 feet. These included the spectacular Mt. Cockscomb (5,330 feet) which
dominated the area above the head of Eglinton Fiord. Climbing also gave the
party a unique opportunity to study the island's high altitude flora and fauna
as well as its unique geological features.

The camps were
finally evacuated by the end of August. The ice-strengthened C.D. Howe
picked up the party from its base at Clyde
and transported them south before the onset of winter. Apart from exploring a
vast swath of Canadian territory, the expedition brought back a great quantity
of scientific information pertaining to nearly every aspect of the Arctic
environment. The trip was such a success a second was soon being

THE SECOND EXPEDITION: 1953 (Expedition Map)

The second expedition to be
organized by the Arctic Institute focused further south in the Cumberland
Peninsula and took place from May until September of 1953. The expedition was
conducted on a slightly smaller scale than the previous

The Cumberland
region of Baffin Island had been first visited by John Davis in 1585. Yet, it
wasn't until the 1920s that Hudson's Bay posts and RCMP stations brought traders
and explorers to the area. By the 1950s however, the interior remained
relatively unstudied and for this reason Cumberland was chosen as the site for
the 1953 mission.
Highway Glacier 33 - Hans Rothlis berger surveying - Baffin Island

A Norseman aircraft, flying from Churchill Manitoba, was used to establish the expedition in
the field after the party and 4,000 pounds of equipment had been flown to
Frobisher Bay by the Canadian Air
Force on May 12th. The RCAF provided a great deal of assistance in moving
supplies and men and also in providing aerial reconnaissance of the area which
had been conducted over the previous decade.

Camps established

The main
expedition camp was the Base Camp at Summit Lake in the centre of Pangnirtung
Pass at 1,300 feet. Camp A1 was
established on the ice cap at 6,725 feet, and A2 at the head of Highway Glacier
at 6,300 feet; the latter was later moved to A3 at 3,400 feet and
subsequently all the way down the glacier to the Base Camp. The Biological Camp in Owl
Valley (600 feet) was established in June from a lakeside cache 1,800 feet above
it, the nearest point where the aircraft could land. A mountain cache was also
put down at Camp M at 4,500 feet.

A mountaineer reaches the top of one of Baffin's unexplored peaks.
 Again the party was made up of a
diverse selection of scientists from Canada, the United States, and Britain. The
Swiss-Foundation for Alpine Research again sent a team of rugged
scientist-mountaineers who eventually claimed another eight peaks. Indeed, the
Swiss were a group which displayed a combination of interests not regularly
found in any one individual: a love of geophysics and the desire to scale icy
and uncharted Arctic mountains.

Scientists study region
The mountaineers and scientists
spent four months on Baffin studying the region's flora and fauna, its geology
and the Penny Icecap. The party traveled largely by foot, ski, and large
man-hauled sleds. Over the course of the expedition, scientists traveled the
full length of Pangnirtung Pass, the Highway Glacier from the pass to the ice
cap, and June River to Padle
. An initial dog-team trip in the Padloping area also gave two McGill
scientists a chance to examine the birds and rocks of that

Explorer drowns

The trip was considered a success
and the camps were evacuated in August with personnel sailing from Pangnirtung
for Montreal aboard the C.D. Howe. But success had come at a high cost as
Ben Battle, a geomorphologist and Senior Fellow in the McGill University-Arctic
Institute Carnegie program, accidentally drowned on July 13th near the Base
Camp. Battle remains interred on the glacial ridge overlooking the finest part
of the pass where he had worked.

For a more detailed account of the Baird
Expeditions, please read the Arctic Institute's Field Reports:


Cumberland Base Camp
Biological Camp
Camp A2/A3
Clyde Base Camp
Camp A2
Camp A
Sam Ford Fiord / Resevoir Pass
Camp Searle
Camp A1
Paddle Fiord