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Henry Larsen (1899 - 1964)

Canadian Arctic Explorer

A national Canadian historical monument stands at the entrance to False Creek in Vancouver. Next to the Maritime Museum stands an A-frame building and in it, protected from the elements, stands a small wooden ship. So small and fragile looking, it is with great awe that one wonders at first sight the incredible history of this vessel. For this is the St.Roch, the second ship to sail the Northwest Passage, and the first ship to sail it both ways in a single season.|

The Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, a Freemason, made the first conquest of the passage. It took him three years, from 1903 to 1906 to navigate his ship, the Gjoa, through the straights and channels between Hudson Straight and the Beaufort Sea. More than thirty years elapsed before another mariner successfully challenged the passage; it was a fellow Norwegian, Henry Asbjorn Larsen, who was born in 1899, in Norway, near the mouth of Oslo Fjord.

Henry Larsen was from a sea faring family and, as a young boy, Larsen was fascinated by the exploits of the great polar explorers especially those of Amundsen, Nansen, and Vilhjalmur Stefansson. When he was fifteen he sailed on a lumber ship captained by his uncle. He worked on a number of sailing ships during World War I, and in 1919 he signed on his first steamer, the Vinstra, as a boatswain. The following year he graduated from Navigation School and spent the next two years in compulsory service in the Norwegian Navy.

Henry Larsen got his first view of the Arctic Seas in 1924, when he sailed aboard a two masted schooner named The Maid of Orleans, later renamed The Old Maid. He spent two years in the Arctic, where he encountered the Eskimo, whom he liked a first sight. Confirmed in his conviction to become an Arctic Explorer, he formed the opinion that the way to achieve this goal was by becoming a Mounted Policeman.

In 1927 Larsen took out Canadian citizenship and in 1928 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It was at this time that a new R.C.M.P. patrol vessel, the St. Roch, was near completion at Burrard Dry-docks in North Vancouver. Larsen was assigned as its master.

The first years of service for the St. Roch, and Larsen as well, were relatively uneventful. For eleven years he patrolled the western Arctic region, supplying northern outposts and providing a floating detachment available for emergency service. Larsen's opportunity for Arctic exploration did not present itself until the outbreak of World War II.
The Canadian government became concerned about asserting its sovereignty over the Arctic seas, and decided that one way to do so would be to send a Canadian ship through the Northwest Passage.

Larsen who had now obtained the rank of sergeant was ordered to leave from Vancouver with supplies for eighteen months, to visit the northern outposts, and then attempt to navigate the St. Roch through the passage from west to east with the aim of reaching Halifax.

With her crew of nine men, she left Vancouver on June 23, 1940. Conditions were bad and the ship spent two winters in the ice before reaching Halifax on October 11, 1942. It was decided to fit the St. Roch with a more powerful engine for the return trip, but owing to wartime commitments of the Halifax shipyards, this could not be done in time for a return trip in 1943. In July, 1944 the ship was finally ready for the return trip. She set sail from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, on July 22, 1944.

Taking a more northerly route through Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait, and encountering unusually favorable ice conditions they arrived in Vancouver on October 16, 1944. The voyage was completed in the amazingly short period of 86 days, in which time she logged some 7,295 miles and only used steam for 1,031 hours and 34 minutes.

Henry Larsen stayed with RCMP until 1961, making his way upward to the rank of Superintendent, in 1953. He retired in 1961. On October 18, 1954, a dinner was held by the Grand Lodge of British Columbia at the Georgia Hotel, in Vancouver, BC to honour Larsen and celebrate the 10th anniversary of his historic voyage.

A broad cross section of Freemasons was in attendance. Amongst those present was Vancouver Mayor Fred Hume, The Grand Master MW Bro. Karl Warwick, members of the Bar, Medicine, Marine, R.C.M.P., Vancouver City Police, Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, Parks Board, and the Provincial Legislature.

Henry Larsen received the Polar medal and bar, and was a Gold Medallist and Fellow Royal Geographical Society.
Henry Larsen was a member of Mount Newton Lodge No.89, A.F.& A.M., B.C.R.; Royal Arch Chapter; Western Gate Preceptory, K.T.; and Gizeh Temple A.A.O.N.M.S.

Henry Larsen passed away October 29, 1964, at the age of 65 years. His ashes were sent to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cemetery in Regina.