The Northwest Passage is the circuitous sea passage, long sought by explorers, between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Though it was eventually found through a series of discoveries, it was not completely navigated until Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (1872–1928) explored it between 1903 and 1906. Numerous navigators, convinced of the existence of such a passage, attempted to find it during the early years of European westward sea exploration. Though unsuccessful, their determination led to the discovery of other important locations. French sailor and explorer Jacques Cartier found the St. Lawrence River, dividing Canada and the United States, between 1534 and 1535. English commander Sir Martin Frobisher discovered Frobisher Bay off the coast of Baffin Island and north of Quebec in 1576. English navigator John Davis discovered Davis Strait between Baffin Island and Greenland in 1587. English navigator Henry Hudson found the Hudson River in eastern New York State, and Hudson Bay, the inland-sea of central Canada, between 1609 and 1611. Following centuries of efforts Amundsen finally completed the first successful navigation of the Northwest Passage in September 1906, during a journey that lasted more than three years. The hash climate, however, makes the route impractical for commercial navigation.
NORTHWEST PASSAGE. First navigated during a voyage from 1903 to 1906 by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in his ship, the Gjoa, the Northwest Passage is the sea route that links the North Atlantic Ocean with the North Pacific Ocean. It extends from Baffin Bay, which lies between West Greenland and Baffin Island, to the Bering Strait, which lies between Alaska and Siberia, through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Sixteenth-and seventeenth-century explorers hoped to find a shortcut around America to eastern Asia through a passage north of the American continent. However, the passage eluded discovery for centuries because of the intricate geography of the archipelago, along with the obstacle of constant polar ice in the sea.
By the mid-nineteenth century, it had been proven that a Northwest Passage existed, but that it would be very difficult to navigate. After his successful navigation, Amundsen graciously credited British seamen with making his accomplishment possible with their centuries of attempts to locate and navigate the passage, as well as their subsequent maps of the intricate Arctic geography. William Baffin discovered the eastern approach in 1616 in Baffin Bay, and Robert J. Le M. McClure located the passage from the west during a voyage from 1850 to 1854.
Savours, Ann. The Search for the North West Passage. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
See alsoPolar Exploration .
Northwest Passage ★★★ 1940
The lavish first half of a projected two-film package based on Kenneth Roberts' popular novel, depicting the troop of Rogers' Rangers fighting the wilderness and hostile Indians. Beautifully produced; the second half was never made and the passage itself is never seen. 126m/C VHS . Spencer Tracy, Robert Young, Ruth Hussey, Walter Brennan, Nat Pendleton, Robert Barrat, Lumsden Hare; D: King Vidor.