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History Maritime History & Piracy

Sisters of the Ice

The True Story of How St. Roch and North Star of Herschel Island Protected Canadian Arctic Sovereignty

by (author) R. Bruce Macdonald

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
Apr 2021
Maritime History & Piracy, History, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2021
    List Price

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This book is a biography of two British Columbian ships that performed legendary service in the Canadian Arctic. The St. Roch, now on permanent display at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, is the better known of the two, although North Star of Herschel Island is still sailing and still adding to her legend. Historian Bruce Macdonald—who, along with his wife, owns North Star of Herschel Island—has meticulously researched the origins and service logs of each ship and created a book that will enthrall old Arctic hands, maritime history buffs and anyone who appreciates well-written Canadian history.

Under the command of Captain Henry Larsen, the sturdy RCMP vessel St. Roch spent years showing the Canadian flag in the Arctic, performing many duties including delivering medical supplies and taking census information in addition to enforcing the law in the North. St. Roch is world renowned for achieving many firsts, including being the first vessel through the Northwest Passage west to east, the first vessel to navigate the passage in both directions and the first vessel to circumnavigate North America. Inspired by St. Roch, renowned trapper and Inuit leader Fred Carpenter and his trapping partner, Fred Wolki, designed the elegant North Star, the ultimate ice vessel used to transport furs, winter supplies and people between remote Banks Island and the mainland. Together, these two iconic ships helped unify Northern communities, solidify Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic and create a living symbol of Canadian identity.

In Sisters of the Ice, Macdonald documents in vivid detail the adventurous histories of these two vessels, as well as the history of the Northern communities in which they gained renown. Detailing daring escapes from dangerous ice conditions to thrilling sea voyages to raucous whaling towns, Macdonald reveals the perilous and often lawless climate in which these vessels operated and the ties of Canadian identity that they helped forge.

About the author

R. Bruce Macdonald is a writer, sailor and artist with a passion for Canadian history. Macdonald has logged over 100,000 nautical miles and, for many years, has lived along the BC Coast aboard North Star with his wife and daughters. He is the author of North Star of Herschel Island and Sisters of the Ice(Friesen Press, 2012).

R. Bruce Macdonald's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“...Macdonald manages to entice this reader from beginning to end. Sisters of the Ice is the gripping story about the intertwined histories of two of Canada’s most iconic Arctic ships... With its wealth of data related to history, climatology, political developments [and] Canadian Arctic sovereignty, this is a must read for historians, ships’ lovers and politicians alike.”

Dr. Joost C.A. Schokkenbroek, PhD, FRCGS; past director at Vancouver Maritime Museum; Adjunct Professor, Simon Fraser University

“...well-researched and-written…packed with details, characters, history and Arctic episodes little-known to most Canadians...With plentiful sidebars, old photographs and full source material listing, Macdonald’s book will appeal to historians, Arctic lore enthusiasts and lovers of rollicking true adventure stories.”

Graham Chandler, <i>BC Bookworld</i>

“A gem of a find, full of diamonds and nuggets, rough seas, fascinating characters and barrels of history smuggled below decks.”

Chris Haddock, screenwriter, producer and creator of <i>Da Vinci’s Inquest</i>

“Macdonald’s book is a well-researched labour of love, one that will enhance our knowledge of Canada’s maritime history as well as the history of the north.”

Dave Obee, <i>Times Colonist</i>

“[Sisters of the Ice] wonderfully captures the path these two vessels forged in the Canadian Arctic. The strength of the character of the many individuals involved in these vessels is well captured and will endure because of [Macdonald’s] well-researched writing. Thankfully, these two sister vessels live on to this day as a wonderful legacy.”

Captain William Noon, CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier (retired) and chair of the Victoria Classic Boat Festival, Victoria BC

“…the Arctic and Canada’s place in it are taking a more conspicuous and deserved place in the consciousness of Canadians. Books like Macdonald’s should help with that process.”

<i>The Ormsby Review</i>

Sisters of the Ice is a lesser known indigenous success story that shaped Canada’s Arctic history through ingenuity, generosity and the power of perseverance.”

Bourton Scott, Emerald Sea Protection Society

“The author tells his tales with devotion and compassion, and the narrative is rich with illustrations (including Marilyn Monroe in a white fox fur stole and muff, also an Inuvialuit dogsled lashed to the roof of a pilothouse). Notes, bibliography, and index complete this testament to a world worth recalling in our history though fading from view.”

Barry Gough, <i>BC Studies</i>

“The raw history of two of Canada’s most important ships, Sisters of the Ice has given me a new understanding of their place in time and their critical role in establishing Canadian Arctic Sovereignty. All of Canada owes them a debt of gratitude.”

Rob O’Dea, President, Oarlock & Sail Wooden Boat Society

“...Macdonald weaves together the stories of the two craft and creates a fascinating dual account. These two ships worked together in the Arctic for years, and by telling their stories as a two-strand narrative, Macdonald enriches both tales and shines a useful light onto a little-known chapter in Canada’s colonial takeover of the Arctic…Highly recommended.”

Tom Sandborn, <i>Vancouver Sun</i>

“Meticulously researched, well referenced and provided with an index as well as a useful bibliography, the book is a welcome addition to the bookshelves of any professional historian with an interest in Arctic Canada... Overall, the book can easily be commended to both casual and professional readers.”

Ingo Heidbrink, <i>The Northern Mariner</i>

“Bruce Macdonald has written a superb history of boats, sailing, commerce, RCMP service, and people engaged in the Canadian Arctic through the middle years of the twentieth century—with a focus on the challenges of protecting Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic through the years when these territories were at political risk. This account is not only well-researched through primary and secondary sources, it also is enriched by the author's extensive personal involvement in the events he describes, and his sailing experience with one of the premium ships of Arctic service—the North Star of Herschel Island, Sister of the Ice to the St. Roch.... In short, if readers want a deeply engaged, well-informed, and grippingly-interesting tale of Arctic maritime history, this book is a must-read.”

George Egerton, Emeritus, History Department, University of British Columbia

Other titles by R. Bruce Macdonald