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Arctic Trading Schooner Anna Olga
A Poulsbo Vessel
by George Duddy 2017
The Anna Olga was a vessel that touched the lives of many of Canada's western arctic residents and sojourners in the early half of the twentieth century.
Anna Olga, a schooner, at sea. (Photo credit Wikimedia Commons)
Much of early fur trapping in Canada's western arctic region was conducted by Americans. Many were ex-whalers from the Beaufort Sea region, entering by way of the Alaskan coast west of the Canadian boundary. As late as 1896 they maintained a wintering community at Herschel Island in the Yukon close to the international boundary.
In the first half of the nineteenth century 'motor schooners' were the prime tool that allowed the fur trade and hence the practical Canadian boundary to be carried across the Arctic Ocean. These hardy vessels were wooden, of various sizes, mast and sail plans, and filled an important role in the arctic fur trade. They transported people, dogs and equipment, trading supplies and the harvested fur. As well, fuel and building materials were also brought to the area, the arctic being an area mostly devoid of trees suitable for cabin-building and fire wood collection.
Anna Olga's history under subsequent Canadian ownership continued to 1945 when aircraft and steel ice- strengthened vessels had largely replaced the wooden vessels.
Poulsbo Whaling and Trading Company Venture
An interesting example of an American venture from 1912-1914 involved the schooner Anna Olga which was financed and built in the small Puget Sound community of Poulsbo in Washington State.
In 1912 the community of Poulsbo, located on the west side of Puget Sound, was populated mainly by Norwegian-Americans. At the time it was the base of an Alaskan cod fishing and processing business. Captain Steen (sometimes spelled Stein) was of Norwegian birth and lived at Herschel Island with his Inuit wife and family and visited the community to convince George C. Teien and Nels Sonju - two partners in a cod fishing business - about the rich potential of fur trading in the Canadian Arctic. Steen was much influenced by his encounter with Roald Amundsen during the winter of 1905-1906 when Amundsen had wintered his famous schooner Gjoa near Steen's home at Shingle Point on completion of his famous voyage through previously un-navigated waters of the Northwest Passage. Teien and Sonju put up $1,500 each to match Steen's investment and the venture known as Poulsbo Whaling and Trading Co. was created. A local shipbuilder Einar Nilsen was engaged and the vessel Anna Olga was built, outfitted and finally registered in the spring of 1912. A four-man crew made the initial voyage to the arctic with Captain Steen: Teien's 17 year son Clarence as cook, John Sundbiad from Minnesota who was a good friend of George Teien and served as engineer and John Erland, an older yet very experienced Finnish sailor, as mate. Lastly, Mr. Wagoner, who was supposed to be their pilot, turned out to be a fraud and was left ashore at Nome.
Registration Record for Anna Olga. She was sold after 1914 to Martin Andreasen, a friend of Neils Sonju. His name as "M. Andersen" appeared as owner as late as June 1925. In the January to June 1926 US records she is listed under "Vessels Sold to Aliens (British)."
Stories of Anna Olga's voyage to the arctic, her use in trapping on the Mackenzie Delta during 1912-1913, her return to Teller Alaska after wintering on the northern coast in 1913-1914 and the return of members of the crew with their furs to Seattle is richly told in an NAHA (Norwegian -American History Association) on-line article story collection "Questing for Gold and Furs in Alaska" by Svene Arestad (Vol 21, Page 4). The collection also contains the story of George Teien and Nels Sonju's unsuccessful attempt to bring replenishment supplies to Anna Olga at Cape Barrow in 1913 (note: The stories are mixed with other accounts and readers have to scroll within the article to find the fur trade ones).
Anna Olga's two-year arctic fur-trading venture should have been a financial as well as an operational success but the failure of the crew to take advantage of a generous offer by Mr. Swanson of the trading schooner Red Wing while wintering on the coast and the precipitated fur price collapse brought on by WW I left the partners with a small loss for all their efforts.
The return of the Anna Olga in the summer of 1914 to Teller Alaska was nothing short of a remarkable feat as it had to be done strictly under sail having lost her propeller before entering Clarence Lagoon. At Teller she was stored for future use or sale. Steen quit the venture and presumably returned to his home and family while the remaining crew members returned to Seattle with the fur by commercial steamer. No trace has been found in the record about the fate of the schooner Red Wing.
The second owner of the Anna Olga was Captain Martin Andreasen (referred to as Andersen in the on-line article).
Anna Olga owned by Martin Andersen (sic) at Anchor Baille Island. (Photo credit Frances Gladys O'Kelly's on-line photo album for the maiden voyage of the Lady Kindersley in 1921 - album property of Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary)
Martin Andreasen and his younger (half) brother Ole are thought to have come to the arctic on a whaling ship. The brothers were both Norwegian born. Henry Larsen, of St. Roch fame, reported that Ole came from a village close to where he was born near Olso. The brothers settled on the north arctic coast area becoming trappers and fur traders. They operated over a large area along the Alaskan and Canadian coasts and the Mackenzie delta. Martin Andreasen had also been convinced of the potential of arctic fur trade by Roald Amundson in 1906. North Star was built in Poulsbo in 1908 and sailed to the arctic coast bringing out a fortune in fox pelts. Andreasen is reported to have made a profit of $150,000 from the furs he brought out. No doubt Steen's visit to Poulsbo was tempered by his almost certain knowledge of the success of the North Star .
The crew of the Anna Olga encountered the Andreasen brothers at the Clarence Lagoon on the Canadian side of the Yukon-Alaska border in the late summer of 1913. Here, where Martin maintained a small trading post, they were forced to winter because of impassable ice conditions to the west, blocking their passage to Cape Barrow. Trapped with them was the Alaskan trading schooner Red Wing. Arrayed against them along the Alaska coast was a small armada of ships striving to make Herschel Island before the summer shipping ended. These included Vihijalmur Steffansson's ships of the Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE): Arctic, Mary Sachs and the ill-fated Karluk; Captain CT Pedersen's ill-fated trader Elvira; Captain Lane's Polar Bear and Captain Cottle's Belvedere - the last of the old steam whalers. The Polar Bear had several American adventurers and academics on board completing an arctic cruise while the Belvedere was under contract to bring supplies to the expedition as well to the Herschel Island settlement.
During the winter of 1913 two perilous overland transits - over the northern Alaskan mountains - were made by crew members escaping the ice-trapped fleet. The first was made by the adept and well-liked San Francisco-based trader Captain CT Pedersen of the abandoned Elvira and Captain Olaf Swenson a well-known arctic trader and part owner of the Belvedere. Using hired native guides and their dog teams, Pedersen's and Swenson's mission was to carry news of the difficulties of their ships, the CAE and the disappearance of the Karluk and to arrange relief supplies. They left Icy Reef on October 21st and reached Fairbanks on November 15th covering an estimated 630 miles.
Photo of Elvira, appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle December 22, 1913, covering Pedersen's epic journey. (Credit: Newspaper.com)
The second trip was made Captain Louis Lane who had "urgent business" in Seattle and three crew members of the Polar Bear. A description of their ordeal is found in Will E. Hudson's book "Icy Hell".
The Anna Olga's arrival at the Lagoon coincided with that of the two Andreasen brothers on the schooner North Star sporting a fine cargo of fur. Having expended their trading goods, the brothers were bound to Nome for replacements. Unable to proceed, they sold their furs to the trading schooner Red Wing for a good price (reported to be about $45 per skin) and obtained fresh supplies. Martin Andreasen returned east with the North Star to pick up more fur, assisted by a local Inuit as Ole elected to remain behind. Ole had a cabin west of the border in Alaska that was visited by some of the Stefansson party. Shortly after, Ole was hired by Stefansson and joined the expedition. He and Storker Storkenson, together with Stefansson, completed a remarkable ice journey to the north discovering new islands for Canada. Information about the brothers, the North Star and Stefansson's desire to purchase her based on a 1912 encounter are contained on the website: "The Story of the Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913 - 1918."
Martin Andreasen returned the North Star to the Lagoon for wintering after further trading to the east before freeze-up. He transported the new furs by sled to the Elvira where he sold them to Captain Pedersen. They were subsequently lost when the Elvira was abandoned and sank. Martin Andreasen's prized season was not yet over, however, as Stefansson showed up at the North Star wintering site in early 1914 and purchased the vessel and all of the trading outfit for $13,000.
Martin Andreasen, who later purchased the Anna Olga as a replacement vessel to the North Star , had early ties to Poulsbo as evidenced by the Teien narratives, " the boat was later sold to one Mr. Anderson (sic), Sonju's friend who took her up from Teller, Alaska, back to the arctic." Martin Andreasen had North Star constructed at Poulsbo as a shallow draft vessel to his specifications to suit fur trading in the arctic. The purchase of the Anna Olga as a replacement vessel was a logical one for Andreasen. She was about 7.0 feet longer and about the same width but also seems to have been built as a shallow draft vessel. Her registered depth was 4.6 feet; only 0.3 feet more than North Star . It is interesting to speculate about the possible difference in cost paid for Anna Olga and what he received from Stefansson for North Star .
US Registry 1915 showing North Star
Martin Andreasen's and Anna Olga's final involvement with the CAE occurred in 1919. In accordance with a September 25th Associated Press release of that year, the last participants Martin Killin and Adelbert Gumaer left the arctic on the Anna Olga bound for Nome. Martin Andreasen continued to use Anna Olga in his fur trade business until his death of a heart attack in the winter of 1922-1923. It appeared that he was successful in his fur trading and trapping endeavours to the end of his days. This is reflected in an excerpt from Sven Johansson's and John MacFarlane's 1990 Nauticapedia article "Captain Christian Theodore Pedersen and the Arctic Fur Trade" describing Pedersen's encounter of the Anna Olga in 1923.
They then steamed into Amundsen Gulf where there was no sign of ice. Steaming toward Coronation Gulf, Pedersen sighted a small schooner in the harbour at Pierce Point. It was the Anna Olga with only the engineer, Pete Brandt aboard. The owner, Captain Martin Andreassen, had died of a heart attack while in winter quarters at Coppermine. They had more than 1,600 white foxes on board.
Hoping to profit from this unexpected turn of events Pedersen offered to help them get the Anna Olga to Baillie Island and then to Herschel Island. He hoped that the RCMP Inspector at Herschel Island would put the skins up for sale. Arriving at Baillie Island he saw the Arctic unloading all of the supplies for the RCMP buildings there instead of at Cambridge Bay. Inspector S. T. Wood was there and took the skins back to Herschel Island with him. Pedersen made a brief foray for bowhead whales in the area to the east of Baillie Island but soon started to head home. The Arctic had already left for San Francisco from Herschel Island. Inspector Wood asked the Hudson's Bay Company manager and Pedersen to bid on the fox skins. Pedersen bid $2,000 more than the HBC and was able to purchase the entire lot.
1923 marked the last year that foreign-registered vessels, including those commanded by the well-liked and expert ice navigator Captain CT Pedersen, were permitted to trade in the Canadian arctic east of Herschel Island. RCMP Inspector Stuart Taylor Wood, who was well-respected and served at Herschel Island from 1919 to 1924, had responsibility for enforcing this new order as well as a myriad of other duties including dealing with the Anna Olga situation.
Ole Andreasen became the third owner of the Anna Olga. Based on Sven Johansson's experience (a modern-day arctic explorer and former master of the North Star of Herschel Island), formal registration and transfer of ownership of vessels in the Canadian arctic was not enforced, obscuring owner histories. However his ownership appears confirmed by references in Bruce MacDonald's book "North Star of Herschel Island". This quote at page 32 is from an Inuit source.
"Yeah! When we get out to Qikiqtatruk (Herschel Island) with Ole Andreasen's boat named Ann Olga (sic). When we arrived Pedersen's big ship used to arrive."
It is known from Richard Finnie's book "Lure of the North" and one of his photographs that Ole travelled to Herschel Island in 1930 where Finnie managed to capture a photo of him.
Photographs of Ole Andreasen are hard to find. This one is in a photo album in The RS Finnie collection at Archives Canada. Finnie's trip to the arctic is described his book "Lure of the North".
Yukon coast between Herschel Island and Shingle Point, c. 1930. Fishing for char. The boats are the Anna Olga and the Blue Fox. (Photo credit Archives Canada MIKAN 364912)
Ole Andreasen's and his Inuit wife Susanah, with an address of Atkinson Point N.W.T., became naturalized Canadians on March 2, 1927. The Anna Olga remained on the US vessel registry with her home port in Seattle Washington in 1925 under ownership of M. Andersen (sic). However in 1926 she was listed under "Vessels Sold to Aliens" (British). It is likely that the transfer occurred as a result of the settlement of Martin Andreasen's estate.
Details of Ole Andreasen, his family and his life as a trapper and fur trade at Shingle Point in the Yukon and Atkinson Point and Richardson Islands in the North West Territories are revealed in the article "The people of the CAE" under the banner "The Story of the Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913 - 1918". Ole Andreasen's hallmark was generosity. He is said to have made a fortune in his fur trading business but gave most it away without discrimination to natives or foreigners. From knowledge he acquired during the CAE, he encouraged and assisted local Inuit to travel to Banks Island where there was superior trapping potential. Throughout most of his trapping and trading career he worked with Captain CT Pedersen. A lover of the isolation of the Arctic, Ole was a self-effacing personality who accomplished extraordinary things. The last was as mate of the St. Roch when she made her historic east-to-west crossing of the Northwest Passage in 1944.
In the 1930's Ole Andreasen moved his family to Richardson Island near the south shore of Victoria Island in Coronation Gulf. Records held at NWT Archives in Yellowknife document his fur trade work for CT Pedersen from 1931 to 1935. It is not clear what his business arrangements were after Pedersen's Canalaska Company was sold to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1936. Based on photographs found in the Hudson's Bay Archives, Ole owned the schooner Lady Richardson in 1942. It is not known at this time whether this vessel was a replacement for the Anna Olga. Bruce MacDonald's book at page 188 provides a reference that in 1947, after Ole's death, the Lady Richardson was bound for King's Bay on Victoria Island in company with two other vessels and was wrecked and lost in a storm. One of the other vessels, the Krochik, was tossed on the shore and smashed. The other, the Blue Fox, made it but had her bow smashed in.
"Lady Richardson in winter quarters at Richardson Point 1943." (Photo credit Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, Hudson's Bay House Library photograph collection subject files, HBCA 1987/363-E-393/7, photographer L.A. Learmonth)
During the war years when Henry Larsen was looking for crew for the St. Roch to make the now famous east-to-west Northwest Passage voyage, RCMP Commissioner Stuart Taylor Wood remembered his old western arctic colleagues and recommended that Ole and Rudolph Jacobsen be made special constables for the undertaking. Jacobsen was also a well-known personality. He had served as engineer on the Hudson's Bay Company vessel Fort McPherson. Both men were engaged, flown to Halifax to join the vessel and completed the voyage to Victoria in 1944. Jacobsen served as second engineer while Ole served as mate. Both received the Polar Medal.
After Ole died, in Victoria on December 8th 1947, he received "full Mounted Police honours". It was a doubly important recognition for him considering thirty years previously he had been one of three ice travelers of the Stefansson party who had travelled far to the north to find new islands for Canada.
The last and presumably fourth owner of the Anna Olga was the well-known trader Slim (FL) Semmler. He had travelled to the arctic via the Mackenzie River from a farm in Alberta and ended up trapping in the Coronation Gulf area. Here he met the fabled arctic adventurer Pete Norberg, Pete's pretty daughter Agnes and son Johnny. Pete Norberg and his mate Otto Torrington (some reports say Henry Bjorn) had made arctic history by sailing off in an old unpowered yacht the El Sueño and a powered barge named the Hobo and established the first trading post on King William Island for the Hudson's Bay Company in 1923. When they left on this adventure, Pete had already survived an attempted poisoning and by being crushed in a fur press by angry natives on the Kent Peninsula. He drowned shortly after Slim and Agnes' marriage in 1930 while attempting to run Bloody Falls on the Coppermine River in a canoe - his body was never recovered.
R.S. Finnie, in his delightful book "Lure of the North" describes the circumstances leading to the hastily arranged wedding that was performed by Rev. J.H. Webster after the Hudson's Bay Company supply ship Baychimo arrived at Coppermine. The book includes a wedding photograph showing, left-to-right "Otto Torrington, Eskimo bridesmaid and child, Pete Norberg, Richard Finnie, Agnes Norberg, Fred (Slim) Semmler and the Rev. J.H. Webster".
The wedding party (Photo credit Archives Canada, R.S. Finnie 1930 Photo, MIKAN 3607299)
From 1932 - 1946 the Semmler's operated their popular main trading post at Cape Krusenterm in the Coronation Gulf area. They moved their business to the Tuktoyaktuk area in 1945 and eventually to the new town of Inuvik in the Mackenzie Delta in 1956. Here, as in their other locations, they were well-regarded and added to their fame for their exploits and community service in the arctic. Agnes was particularly well-known. In 1967 she received the National Council of Jewish Women award as the ‘Woman of the Century in the North’. She became the first woman Justice of the Peace and the first woman member of the government of the Northwest Territories..
The Anna Olga was wrecked on reef near Tuktoyaktuk while delivering trading supplies to Slim's post. While some reports indicate the year to be 1944 and reports of other details such as the state of the weather at time of the wreck do not all seem to be consistent, Slim is quoted in the following newspaper account that it was in 1945. He and his crew were rescued and part of the cargo was recovered by the schooner North Star (Second vessel of this name subsequently re-named North Star of Herchel Island ) under Captain Fred Carpenter.
The Greenville News (Greenville, South Carolina) Sun Aug 27, 1972 (Credit Newspapers.com)
The story of this vessel over a forty-year period provides a unique thread as it ties together personalities and events that enabled change in the lives of native and immigrant inhabitants and propelled the state of arctic settlement and culture to what exists today. Anna Olga's story represents the myriad of multi-cultural contributions that helped to built the arctic.
Ole Andreasen greets Vihijalmur Stefansson and his wife Evelyn shortly before his death in 1947 (Photo credit Glenbow Archives)
References and Acknowledgments:
Most of the books, websites, archival sources and articles used for reference purposes are mentioned directly in the article or shown as notations on the exhibits and watermarks on the photographs.
The following books were used as sources for the article:"The Friendly Arctic" by Vihijalmur Stefannson, "Arctic Trader" by Philip H. Godsell, "Lure of the North" by R.S. Finnie, "The Big Ship" by Henry Larson, "The Making of an Explorer - George Hubert Wilkins and the Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913- 1916" by Stuart E. Jenness and "North Star of Herschel Island" by R. Bruce MacDonald.
Thanks to Sven Johansson for his insights and comments who, at age 93, still has direct knowledge of the end of the schooner age in the arctic and experience in navigating the Northwest Passage. Grateful acknowledgement (with apologies to any inadvertent omissions) is also made to the following individuals who supplied information or helped with the review and publication of the article: Robin Weber (NWT Archives), James Gorton (HBC Archives), Doug Cass (Glenbow Archives), Helen O’Neill, and Nauticapedia colleagues John MacFarlane and Lynn and Dan Salmon. The author referenced Ancestry.ca for some genealogical information pertaining to the Andreasen family.
To quote from this article please cite:
Duddy, George (2017) Arctic Trading Schooner Anna Olga from Poulsbo Nauticapedia.ca 2017. http://www.nauticapedia.ca/Articles/Anna_Olga.php
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