Kellett's Storehouse: Over a Century and a Half

Taissumani: 2007-12-14

By Kenn Harper

As described last week, Kellett's Storehouse was constructed by Henry Kellett and Francis Leopold McClintock of the British Admiralty on Dealy Island in what is now the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut in 1853 to store emergency supplies for the relief of other expeditions.

After their departure, it was first visited the following year when Lt. George Mecham of the Resolute passed by Dealy Island on his return from a sledge trip to Banks Island in search of Richard Collinson of the Enterprise, himself searching for Franklin. He noted, "The house we found in perfect condition, well banked up with snow on the outside, but the interior perfectly free from drift."

There were no further recorded visits for 54 years. In 1908, Capt. Joseph Bernier stopped at Dealy Island in August on an official Canadian government voyage in which his goal was to bolster Canada's claim to sovereignty over the Arctic islands. By this time the roof of the storehouse was gone and some of the stores were damaged. The two muskets left behind in 1853 were useless and Bernier replaced them with two Ross rifles. He wintered nearby at Winter Harbour. Before he left the following summer Bernier had his crew rebuild the roof of the storehouse in its original style. He also retrieved some of the original documents that had been left by Kellett. A year later Bernier visited the storehouse once again and observed that everything was as he had left it.

The fact that Bernier had repaired the structure indicates that he felt it still had the potential to fulfill its original purpose, that of providing emergency provisions for expeditions in distress.

In June of 1917, a party of the Canadian Arctic Expedition under Vilhjalmur Stefansson stopped at Dealy Island on their return to Banks Island by dog sled. Unfortunately, Stefansson and his men had little respect for the site or for its historical significance. Their expedition was not in distress, and their actions hastened the structure's deterioration. They removed the canvas roof, sagging under a heavy load of snow, but they did not replace it. They opened a considerable quantity of the food. Finding the flour edible, they used some of it for pancakes. They found the currants delicious, as was the chocolate. They found boots and clothing scattered about the site, probably by polar bears. Each one of Stefansson's men took a pair of mittens, a sweater and a jacket, items which they didn't need. Their appropriation of these items smacks more of souvenir-hunting than it does of necessity.

Twelve years later, Staff Sgt. Alfred Joy and Cst. Taggart of the RCMP, accompanied by their well-known Greenlandic assistant, Nukappiannguaq, visited on patrol. They badly needed dog food for their homeward journey, and found 200 pounds of canned meat in good condition, which they took with them. This was the last recorded visit in which the site was used for its original purpose.

In 1944, the RCMP schooner St Roch, under Henry Larsen, visited the site. Larsen reported that the cache was "partially destroyed and its contents scattered everywhere by marauding bears." His opinion was that nothing useful remained.

C. R. Harington visited the site in 1961 and tempted fate by eating from 108-year-old tins of roast beef and mixed vegetables, with no ill effects. But in his estimation less than a quarter of the supplies were still usable. After Harington's visit, other visitations were nothing less than tourist visits, which often resulted in plunder of souvenirs from the site. The structure's historical significance was largely unrecognized.

Gradually a realization dawned that this unique edifice was one of the few tangible remains of the Franklin search, which did so much to shape our knowledge of the far north. Robert Janes, then of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, visited the site in 1977 and began its archaeological and historical documentation. The following year the Government of the Northwest Territories declared the site to be of territorial historic significance. It remains today a protected site.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to


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