The Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St. Roch was the second vessel to traverse the Northwest Passage. She was the first vessel to traverse from West to East, and the first vessel to circumnavigate North America.
The vessel was especially constructed to survive being frozen in ice. She was built of Australian ironwood, a very strong tropical hardwood. During its first voyage she was commanded a civilian captain, on contract to the RCMP. For the next fifteen years she was under the command of Henry Larsen. For the first decade of her service the vessel's mission was to support and supply the RCMP officers who staffed remote stations in the Western Arctic.
At that time RCMP officers were practically the only Government presence in the North.
During the winter Larsen would allow the vessel to be frozen in to the ice, and her crew would patrol the via the dog teams she carried.
War-time traverses of the Northwest Passage
During World War Two the vessel was assigned the mission of traversing the Northwest Passage. Larsen followed Amundsen's original route, but from West to East. The St Roch narrowly escaped being crushed in the dangerous ice conditions. The St. Roch's voyage took twenty-eight months, where Amundsen's voyage took three years.
When the St. Roch arrived in Halifax she underwent an extensive refit in the Naval dockyard, expanding and improving her living compartments, and replacing her original auxiliary engine with a more powerful engine.
The next year the St. Roch proceeded to traverse the Northwest Passage from East to West. This time Larsen explored a new, more Northerly route. The St. Roch traversed the passage in a single season, in under three months. The original route was only possible for vessels of relatively shallow draft, like the Gjoa or the St. Roch, whereas the new route could be traversed by deep-water vessels.
The St Roch continued to serve the RCMP in Arctic waters for another decade. She made two traverses of the Panama Canal, making her the first vessel to circumnavigate North America, albeit not in a single voyage.
Vancouver Maritime Museum
The St. Roch has been the central exhibit in the Vancouver Maritime Museum, being housed in a purpose-built pavilion.
- Duncan E.J. Currie (2007-08-05). Sovereignty and Conflict in the Arctic Due to Climate Change: Climate Change and the Legal Status of the Arctic Ocean. Globelaw. Retrieved on 2008-08-14. “In the early 1940s, the Canadian vessel RCMPV St Roch was the first vessel to transit the Northwest Passage in one season and through the northern deep water route, and was also the first to sail it in both directions.”