C.T. PEDERSEN & CANALASKA
Christian Theodore Pedersen first came to the Arctic as part of the crew of a whaling ship that wintered at Herschel Island in 1894/95. After this initial experience he continued in the whaling industry in different capacities, eventually commanding the whaling schooner Challenge, that wintered at Point Barrow, Alaska in 1908-09.
After the collapse of the whalebone market, which began in 1906, Pedersen continued to work as a ships captain engaged in the fur trade along the coast of Alaska. Pedersen made his first attempt to go into business for himself in 1912 when he purchased a schooner that he named Elvira. Unfortunately Elvira was crushed in ice in her second season of whaling and trading along the coast of Alaska. It was at this time that Pedersen began a long professional relationship with George Washington Porter, a man of European and Inupiat descent who served as a deck hand on the Elvira. Porter would later play a key role in Pedersen’s Canalaska business in the Kitikmeot.
INUINNAQ FUR TRADER
C.T. Pedersen (Northwest Territories Archives / N-1986-002-0066)
Pedersen returned to the western Canadian Arctic in 1914 when he was hired by the H. Liebes Company of San Franscisco to command their supply ship Herman to resupply their trading posts in Alaska and to conduct whaling and trading voyages in the Beaufort Sea. He continued coming north in the open water season, and whaling and trading in the western Arctic as the captain of the Herman until 1922.
As captain of the Herman, Pedersen developed a reputation among Inuit and Euro-Canadian residents of the north as an honest and reliable trader who provided goods at a reasonable price. This reputation served him well when he resigned from the H. Liebes Company in 1923 over a salary dispute, and he embarked upon his own trading voyage in his new motor schooner Nanuk. He was so successful that he drove his old employers out of the western Arctic and his new company the Northern Whaling and Trading Company was born.
Shortly after establishing his new business the Canadian government invoked an existing regulation that prohibited coastal trade by foreign ships. Before this legislation was acted upon, Pedersen would sail along the Beaufort Sea coast and make a number of stops to trade as far east as Baillie Island. He now had to land his goods at Herschel and pay duty on them. In order to comply with these new conditions Pedersen built a bonded customs warehouse at Herschel Island in 1924 and a trading post in 1925. To continue his Canadian trade practices, he formed a Canadian subsidiary of the Northern Whaling and Trading Company - the Canalaska Trading Company - with Vancouver business interests. Canalaska took delivery of goods at Herschel and conducted the coastal trade from the smaller overwintering schooners Nigalik and Emma that were under Canadian registry.
Canalaska gas schooner Emma. Cambridge Bay, September 1929. (L.T. Burwash / Library and Archives Canada /PA 99650)
Canalaska Trading post with company's trading schooner Nigalik in front. Cambridge Bay, 1931. (Library and Archives Canada / PA 100686).
By 1925 Pedersen’s business was so successful that he had to replace the 261-ton Nanuk with the 580-ton former Coast Survey vessel Patterson. He had two small schooners, the Nigalik and Emma and established trading posts as far east as Gjoa Haven on King William Island. There his agent, George Washington Porter, Jr., received furs from as far east as Somerset Island in the eastern Arctic. The Nigalik and Emma met the Patterson at Herschel Island annually to exchange furs and trade goods.
Canalaska was a successful fur trading business, competing head to head with the HBC. Unfortunately there was a decline in trading activity along the arctic coast after the beginning of the Great Depression in 1930. At this time the HBC continued to expand and relocate its posts. Pedersen failed to persuade his partners in Canalaska to expand to meet the challenge, and had to recommend that the company be sold to the HBC. Canalaska was sold to the HBC in 1936. Its stock was bought by the HBC at locations where they had competing posts, and the schooner Nigalik was purchased for $10,000. Canalaska discontinued operations in the Kitikmeot in 1938.
Patterson in shipyard at Oakland, California almost ready to sail for Herschel Island. (Library and Archives Canada / C 26527)