St. Roch National Historic Site
A True Canadian Adventure
Explore one of the world’s great Arctic explorers and a National Historic Site of Canada. Walk the decks, tour the interior cabins and wonder at the close-knit quarters. Take the helm and imagine yourself exploring uncharted waters like the brave men of the early twentieth century.
The St. Roch was the first vessel to traverse the Northwest Passage from west to east (1940-1942), the first to complete the passage in one season (1944) and the first to circumnavigate North America.
Built in British Columbia, named after a parish in Quebec, captained by a Norwegian immigrant, crewed by farm boys from across the country and helped by the Inuit, the St. Roch is a treasured piece of our maritime heritage.
One of the only ships in service in the Arctic in the early 20th century, the St. Roch is made of an unusual design featuring thick Douglas fir planks reinforced with heavy beams to withstand ice pressure and an outer shell made of some of the hardest wood in the world, Australian Eucalyptus “iron bark.”
Between 1928 and 1954, the St. Roch logged tens of thousands of miles in the Arctic, acting as a floating detachment of the RCMP in the north. As a supply ship, a patrol vessel and a transport, the St. Roch was the only link between the scattered northern communities.
For many years, it had been the dream of Captain Henry Larsen to cross the Northwest Passage, just as Roald Amundsen had for the first time in the Goja in 1903. But time and time again, the dream had to remain a dream.
Finally, with the outbreak of the Second World War and the Nazi invasion of Denmark (Greenland), the opportunity presented itself. Launched on its famous voyage on a secret mission to cross the Arctic during the war, this amazing vessel travelled through treacherous and uncharted waters to cross the Northwest Passage and the high Arctic, with only a small crew of steadfast men who had to rely on their skills, talents and no small amount of luck. Incredibly, they managed to make the crossing not once, but twice, and in only 86 days the second time!
The St. Roch is open for self-guided tours between 10:45 am and 4:30 pm Tuesday to Sunday.
Want to learn more about this amazing vessel? Check out the St. Roch Research Guide.
St. Roch Chronology
1928-29: Maiden voyage and the St. Roch’s first trip into the Canadian Arctic. The schooner sailed from Vancouver on June 28, 1928, wintered at Langton Bay and returned in the fall of 1929.
1930-34: The longest voyage in the history of the ship. The St. Roch spent four winters providing service to the Coronation Gulf area of the western Arctic before returning to Vancouver.
1935-37: St. Roch wintered at Cambridge Bay for two years.
1938-39: Sent once again to Cambridge Bay and recalled to Vancouver with the outbreak of World War II.
1940-42: Historic 28-month voyage through the Northwest Passage from west to east. The St Roch arrived at Halifax on October 11, 1942.
1943: A three-month voyage of supply to RCMP detachments in the eastern Arctic.
1944: The St. Roch’s “lucky” 86-day voyage on the more northerly route of the Northwest Passage from east to west, sailing from Halifax to Vancouver.
1945-46: Post-war voyage to Cambridge Bay. St. Roch participated in Operation Muskox. On the return voyage, Captain Larsen was arrested and detained overnight by the Russians when he anchored off Large Diomede Island.
1947-48: St. Roch’s last Arctic voyage, this time to supply the RCMP detachments in the western Arctic. The ship wintered at Herschel Island, but most of the crew were flown out for Christmas. On her return to Vancouver, the St. Roch was laid up.
1950: The St. Roch sailed from Vancouver to Halifax by way of the Panama Canal, becoming the first ship to circumnavigate North America.
1954: With Henry Larsen in command, St. Roch returned to Vancouver by way of the Panama Canal for preservation as a museum vessel.