Ernest J. "Scotty" Gall

by John MacFarlane 2002

Scotty Gall

He was born at Fraserborough Scotland in 1903. He joined the Hudson's Bay Company as an Apprentice Clerk in 1923 from his native Scotland for a salary of $240 per year. He signed a five-year contract because there was little opportunity for a young man at that time in the UK. Although he was not a mariner by inclination he had some knowledge of diesel engines and was soon running the Arctic transportation for the Hudson's Bay Company. He had taken a course in diesel engines back in Scotland which proved invaluable.

He found the Arctic to be what he considered as a primitive operation - the nearest post was at Fort MacPherson. The whalers were doing all the trading and it was very lucrative for them - better than whale hunting. They were coming into Canada from the United States, the HBC built posts to compete with them. To stock the posts was a biglogistical problem for the HBC which had very little experience the Arctic - their presence was all in northern Canada. Dealing with Eskimos in an area without any trees was also initially troublesome. So they hired "squaw men" - sailors who had jumped ship and started native families in the Arctic: John Gruben and Kogmallik Pete Pedersen as their managers. As an Apprentice Gall's job was to go around and to transfer their crosses and marks in the ledger for the accountants (into dollars and cents). As a result he got lots of Arctic travel. The first year, in 1923, he was stationed at Demarcation Point. There were Siberian traders there who had been expelled by the Bolshevik Government in Russia. Gall felt that Stefansson was responsible for the inflation in the Arctic by paying huge salaries and high prices for vessels. When Scotty arrived the only native born Canadians in the Arctic were in the RCMP. All the trapper traders were Finns, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, Siberians and Americans - no Englishmen or Canadians.

In 1924 he went by dogsled over the Brooks Range from Herschel Island to Fairbanks Alaska to get fur prices, moneyand radio parts. He left in November and arrived in Fairbanks in December - and stayed at Joachim for Christmas. Ittook 14 days from Herschel Island to Old Crow with an Eskimo guide who knew the way. He could see the Old Crow Mountain for two weeks, only 30 miles away but the willows were so thick it took him two weeks to cover the distance. He had no money for the guide so he gave the guide his new Savage rifle. On the way back it only took three days to cover the same distance. There was a hot spring on a ridge steaming away - a promise of comfort. "We had to haul the toboggans and dogs up by rope as there wasn't any other way," he recalled. "We were out of food. It was blowing awfully. Dog food was out. We saw some mountain sheep. The indian guide was a better shot than I was so I gave him my new rifle - he got two of them. We camped right away, got a fire going - and the dogs got fed. We came down at King Point. Its really steep there and we had to rope the toboggans together to get to Herschel Island. After we fattened up the dogs for two weeks I was off to Bernard Harbour. I got back to Kittigazuit in May. I was on the go all winter."

Scotty Gall served as Second Engineer in the HBC vessel Aklavik on the voyage from Fort Smith to the Arctic Ocean. The Aklavik was built in Vancouver and transported overland to Fort McMurray. She was floated down to Fort Fitzgerald where she was hauled out (still without her engines installed). A winch with multiple blocks nested inside each other was used so that progress was very slow - "We moved about an inch every hour it seemed like." Mickey Ryan portaged her with mules - cracking whips but they couldn't move her. The American competitors Lamson Hubbard used two big tractors and pulled her through for $1000 per day. The HBC was "mad as hell that the mules couldn't do it." he recalled. Going down the bank was easier - jacked down skids. Shear legs allowed them to lower the engine in for installation at Fort Smith. It was an old Wolverine from a tug back east equipped with igniters instead of spark plugs. It was started with gasoline and after it got going it was switched to cheaper distillate as fuel.

The vessel was empty - therewas literally nothing inside except the engine - no finishings of any kind. Scotty built some finishings later on and many others contributed over the years. Bunks were built into the foc'sle but most of the space was kept for freight. As they went down the river they met Pete Norberg. He came over the mountains at Fort Simpson. They had to go through the Sans Sault Rapids and hit many of the sandbars with their six foot draught. One mast was broken but with the Jolly Boat and the two canoes lowered over the side and filled with weight to make her heel over to draw less water - she made it through the rapids. Pete Norberg took over as skipper to Aklavik and then Henry jorn took over after that. He recalled that "to kid just outfrom Scotland this was high adventure. It seemed as though it couldn't get any better."

He was Master of the vessel Emma J. which had been wrecked in the eastern end of Amundsen Gulf. They got stuck in the ice when the wind came up dragging the anchor. They were driven onto the beach where they were broken up. They got most of the trading goods ashore and had to wait until the ocean froze before they could get away from there. At one point the HBC was stuck for a Master and Engineer for the Aklavik. Scotty hauled her out - the transom had sprung a leak. Apparently she was left in the ice and opened up. He built a canvas and mud dam around the leak, transferred weight to the bow so the transom lifted up out of the water for repairs. The Fairbanks-Morse engine was under water and needed to be completely repaired. He felt that he didn't have the needed skills to fix it - rings and all. But the Baychimo arrived and they had brought a Shipwright up from Moose Factory. He served in the Aklavik and served in the Baychimo and Baymaude. He worked with Captain Mack the post Captain of the HBC to sound the coast from Kittiagazuit out to Tuktoyaktuk. They found a channel 12' deep safe enough for a ship and a harbour as well. Scotty met his first wife,Anne, at Nome AK on her way to Seattle WA USA. She was working on the "outside."

He spent two years in Toronto with North American Mineral Exploration (headquartered in Toronto) involved in coordinating air transport in the North. He wanted to become a pilot and was promised training by the company to be given flying lessons - but they ceased operation before that happened.

Silver Cigarette Box

With the cessation of exploration by the company he returned to seafaring with the HBC in 1930. As a skipper he was earning $150 per month, all-found which he considered good pay. The company was interested in extending their influence and in creating commercial sealinks in the Northwest Passage. In an experiment he took the Hudson's Bay Company schooner Aklavik through a partial Northwest Passage in 1937, through Bellot Strait, the first Company vessel to do so. She carried cargo for the HBC Nascopie (coming from the easern Arctic which was exchanged at Fort Ross. The Aklavik returned through Bellot Strait after the meeting and returned to the western Arctic. The Hudson's Bay Company presented Gall with a silver cigar box as a token of reward on 02/09/1937. (He had hoped for something more tangible but in 1991 he considered it as one of his most prized possessions.

Aklavik and Nascopie

The voyage was the last thing Gall did as a vessel Master. After that he became a land-based manager when he was promoted to run a shore post at Cambridge Bay. In some years there he took in 10,000 fox pelts. He always felt that those times were the interesting ones because they were, in his own words, "the pioneer years.' He had a strong sense of history but took a jaded view of how it was often mis-represented by later writers. He felt that the Arctic history was 'romanticized' and often factually wrong. But he always beamed with pride even when he recalled these short-comings. He retired to Victoria BC where he lived until his death.


  • MacFarlane,John M. Interview with E.J. Gall and Sven Johansson 27/08/1991 at Victoria BC;
  • MacFarlane, J.M. (1992) Northwest Passage Challengers. In Resolution.Spring Issue. Maritime Museum of British Columbia;
  • Johansson, Sven. (Personal communication with John M. MacFarlane 06/06/1991 Victoria BC)

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2012) Ernest J. Scotty Gall. 2012.


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