Monument proposed for Bernard captains who explored Canada’s north

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TIGNISH -- A West Prince committee is hoping to erect a monument next year to recognize a pair of northern explorers who hailed from Nail Pond.

David LeGallant, president of the West Prince Heritage Complex Association said 2013 is a fitting time for a monument to be erected to recognize the work Captain Pierre (Peter) Bernard and his nephew, Captain Joseph Bernard carried out in Canada’s North, as both men were active in the north 100 years earlier, and are recognized nationally for their part in establishing Canada’s sovereignty of the North.

The association has applied to the Heritage Sites and Monuments Board of Canada for funding assistance for the proposed monument.

Pierre sold his schooner, the Mary Sachs, to the Canadian Arctic Expedition, and served with the expedition for three years. Joseph with his own schooner, Teddy Bear, sailed deep into the arctic on commercial expeditions. There are several landmarks and rivers in the north named after one Bernard or the other, including Bernard Harbour, Bernard Island, Bernard Creek as well as Teddy Bear Island and Sachs River and Sachs Harbour.

Both men hailed from Nail Pond, P.E.I.

According to LeGallant’s extensive research on the Bernard explorers, Pierre, who was born in 1860, had already spent much time in Yukon and Alaska, first panning for gold and subsequently as a fur trader and sea captain before coming home for a visit in 1900. It was then that his nephew, Joseph, 22, became interested in an Alaskan adventure. Alaska would later become Joseph Bernard’s home.

Together, they launched a schooner to transport people and goods between Alaska and Siberia and later they started trading with the Inuit in Canada’s Arctic.

Pierre and another member of the expedition, Charles Thompson, were on a mission to bring supplies to the expedition’s camp during the winter of 1916 but they never arrived. Thompson’s body was found the following spring, but Pierre’s body was never found. A commemorative plaque in Ottawa bears the names of 16 men, including Peter Bernard and Thompson, who died while part of the Canadian expedition.

Although Joseph Bernard was not part of the expedition, he sailed in some of the same waters and learned from the expedition’s zoologist how to collect artifacts and specimens. His contributions are now in university collections in Canada and the United States. He donated his memoirs to the University of Alaska.

He continued to trade in the Arctic until 1929 when he made his home in Cordova, Alaska. There, he worked at shipbuilding, fishing and as harbormaster. He died in Sitka, Alaska 1972, at the age of 93.

The West Prince Heritage Complex Association is still conducting genealogical research on the two explores. They don’t believe Joseph ever married but they know Pierre was married twice (Marie Arsenault and Etta Hurley) and had at least one child, a daughter, Mary Catherine. LeGallant said the association hopes to hear, via email (captsbernard@gmail.com) from anyone whose genealogy reaches to either of the Bernard explorers.

Organizations: West Prince Heritage Complex Association, West Prince committee, Heritage Sites and Monuments Board of Canada Canadian Arctic Expedition University of Alaska

Geographic location: Canada, Alaska, Arctic Bernard Island Teddy Bear Island Sachs River Sachs Harbour Yukon Siberia Ottawa United States Cordova Sitka

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  • Bud Bernard
    June 17, 2013 - 16:05

    Just finished C R Bernard's book "chasing Alaska" A great book about Alaska and Joseph and Peter Bernard

  • Kari O'Rear Bernard
    May 15, 2013 - 23:58

    Peter was my great,great,great,great uncle on my fathers side. He was also born on P.E.I, M e and my 5 siblings were raised in Cordova, Alaska. It is a quaint little town, and I can understand why Joseph chose it. I am proud to know that my ancestors did such an amazing thing so long ago!