Joseph-Elzéar Bernier

In 1895 Bernier became governor of the Québec jail, a position which gave him leisure to pursue his interest in polar navigation.

Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, explorer
During his career Bernier commanded over 100 ships. He knew more about navigating the difficult arctic waters than any contemporary mariner (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-6672).
Claiming the Archipelago, 1909
Captain Bernier (with the young muskox) lays a plaque to Parry's Rock, Winter Harbour, proclaiming Canada's jurisdiction, 1 July 1909 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-29604).

Bernier, Joseph-Elzéar

  Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, arctic mariner (b at L'Islet, Qué 1 Jan 1852; d at Lévis, Qué 26 Dec 1934). Captain of the government steamship Arctic, Bernier led seagoing expeditions into the Arctic between 1904 and 1911, certifying Canada's claim to the northern archipelago. Bernier left school at age 14 to sail as a cabin boy on his father's ship. Three years later he was captain of his own ship, carrying timber from Québec to England. For 25 years he commanded sailing vessels all over the world.

In 1895 Bernier became governor of the Québec jail, a position which gave him leisure to pursue his interest in polar navigation. He devised a plan for reaching the North Pole, a feat not yet accomplished, but at the last moment in 1904 he and his ship Arctic were pressed into government service patrolling the eastern Arctic.

On annual cruises Bernier explored the archipelago and collected customs duties from whalers and traders. In July 1909 he unveiled a plaque on Melville Island which officially claimed the Arctic Islands for Canada. After 1911 Bernier carried on private trading on Baffin Island and during WWI he commanded an Atlantic convoy ship. After the war he returned to the arctic patrol, retiring in 1925.

During his career Bernier commanded over 100 ships, crossing the Atlantic 269 times. He knew more about navigating the difficult arctic waters than any contemporary mariner. His 3 Reports on the Dominion Government Expeditions to the Arctic Islands and Hudson Strait, 1906-1910 (1910-11) are classics of Canadian arctic literature.


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