Filming the “Northern Front”: The Motion Pictures of the Canadian Arctic Expedition


  • Sarah Cook Library and Archives Canada


CAE, Canada, Arctic, Stefansson, Film, Karluk, Wilkins, First World War, Canadian Arctic Expedition


The Northern Review 44 (2017): 427–455

The Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE) 1913–1918 was the first Canadian government-sponsored expedition of the Western Arctic. Led by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, two teams were to explore the southern and northern areas. With them was Australian cameraman, George Hubert Wilkins, who took still shots and motion pictures of the expedition. The CAE faced challenges from the start and within a few months the Karluk, the ship upon which Stefansson and the majority of the northern team were travelling, got stuck in the ice and later sunk. The CAE was mired in controversy, with the warring expeditions, massive cost overruns, and many deaths. Wilkins filmed thousands of feet of footage and photographs, but this footage was never edited into an official film, and it appears that it was never seen by audiences of the day outside of the Arctic. Placing the CAE official film footage within the context of film in Canada, the First World War, and the controversies surrounding the CAE and its own archival records context, this paper explores the history of this official audiovisual record and attempts to answer the question of why the Canadian government did not use this motion picture record to tell and promote the story of the CAE. This article is part of a special collection of papers originally presented at a conference on “The North and the First World War,” held May 2016 in Whitehorse, Yukon.

Author Biography

Sarah Cook, Library and Archives Canada







The North and the First World War