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Historic Nansen Sledge Gifted
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Seen in 2015 in the Newry, Maine barn of Mahoosuc Guide Service, this
Nansen sledge pulled by the last BAS Huskies to leave Antarctica in 1994
rests on top of a traditional qamutiq. Photo: Mahoosuc
Historic Nansen Sledge Gifted to Canadian Organization
by John Wright
As most FIDS (the short moniker for the 20th century British veterans of Antarctic service) will know, the Admirals dog team completed their final season down South with John Killingbeck and John Sweeny in 1993-94. The story of their removal from Rothera and final journey to Inukjuak, Arctic Quebec (now Nunavik) on the East side of Hudson’s Bay is told in BAS Club Newsletter No. 32 Winter 1994. Read the story here.
Kevin and Polly Slater, having played a major role in taking the dogs North, the dogs’ Nansen sledge returned to their Mahoosuc Guide Service barn in Newry, Maine.
During a visit to Mahoosuc in the summer of 2015, Mark and Sue Hamilton, got to see the sledge being stored in the Slaters’ barn. Kevin had always been very keen that the sledge should find a good home in a museum or similar location where it could help to tell the story of the dogs. He lamented that to date no suitable place had been found. Given their involvement with the BAS doggy men via their website, The Fan Hitch, Mark and Sue had become friends with BAS veteran Bob Burton. They suggested to Kevin that Bob might be able to make a proper home for the Nansen happen.
There was talk of the sled returning South to one of the historic BAS bases, Stonington being an obvious possibility. However things became bogged down and the sledge continued to gather dust in Kevin’s barn.
It was in January 2020 during an expedition cruise ship staff change that Bob Burton and I got talking about the sledge. Having recently become involved with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS), it occurred to me that the Society’s new headquarters in Ottawa could be a suitable location especially as the Operation Tabarin dogs came from Canada and it was to their ancestral homeland that the last team returned after a sad period of unexplained culling of Inuit Dogs by the RCMP. Subsequent discussions with BAS and in particular John Killingbeck indicated that the idea would be supported and that it would be a very appropriate location to help tell the story of the dogs in both the Antarctic and Arctic.
The RCGS and Kevin were very keen on the idea so all we had to do was make it happen. We are all grateful for hisguardianship housing the sledge since 1994. There were some delays while BAS formally handed ownership of the sledge to Kevin but that had the advantage that BAS Director Jane Francis was able to express her support for the project. Once Kevin had clear title to the sledge he formally gifted it to the RCGS and we had it shipped to my home in Ontario.
The Nansen has just been off-loaded from the commercial carrier at my workshop.
Photo: John Wright
The Nansen sledge arrived from Kevin at the end of November. I gave it a light restoration which consisted of removing all the lash lines and tow line then giving it a good clean and a light coating of linseed oil. I made some “field” repairs to the handlebars and reinstated all the lines as they were when I received the sledge. No lashings have been replaced so it looks well used.
On Thursday we wrapped the sledge in plastic to prevent a layer of Ontario winter road dirt adhering to the linseed oil, loaded it onto a flatbed trailer and took it to the RCGS headquarters in Ottawa where I handed it over to the very grateful and enthusiastic CEO John Geiger.
Plans for the future include a permanent display featuring the sledge and telling the story of the dogs in the Antarctic, the sad episode of the culling of Inuit Dogs to the East of Hudson Bay, the journey of the BAS dogs to Inukjuak and the reestablishment of dog teams in that area.
Once Covid is behind us there will be a lecture evening centred around the story of the sled and the dogs. Perhaps a BAS Club Canada reunion could be centred around the events. This may be preceded by a day of activities for school children.
John Geiger (left) and myself with the sledge at the RCGS. Note
that you can just see Ken Hedges’ BTAE Nansen sledge on display in the background
Photo Courtesy of RCGS, Ottawa
Once he saw the sledge complete with one sledge box, John Geiger was very keen that we should try to display it with a load: boxes, P bags – or even a tent! etc. Clothing would also add to the display. Donations of these items are being sought
John “Youth” Wright, GA – Halley 1977, Belgrano 1978
Photo Courtesy of RCGS, Ottawa