Polar Exploration and Science
The standing structures, building foundations, and artifacts present at Fort Conger are legacies to the achievements of several remarkable expeditions, as well as the hardships suffered by their participants. The British Arctic Expedition of 1875-76 was the first of these, followed less than a decade later by the better-known Lady Franklin Bay Expedition (1881-84). Under the command of Lieutenant Adolphus Greely, this expedition was able to amass a considerable amount of scientific data, despite the harrowing escape and rescue of its few surviving members. In early 1899, American Polar Explorer Robert Peary arrived and used Fort Conger to stage a series of attempts to reach the North Pole.
Fort Conger is also a place where indigenous knowledge and western science met to mutual advantage. Following the tragic conclusion of the Greely expedition, many explorers studied Inuit approaches of traveling, hunting, clothing, and shelter based on Greenlandic Inuit (Inughuit) traditional knowledge. He employed Inughuit families from northern Greenland as his primary work force because of their extensive experience living in the High Arctic. At Fort Conger, Peary relied heavily on indigenous technology, as can be seen in his use of Inughuit architectural practices for the construction of his winter headquarters, using the remains of an earlier building brought north by the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition.
Parks Canada approached Dr. Peter Dawson, Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary to inquire about the possibility of using laser scanning to create a 3D digital archive of the site. In the summer of 2010, Chris Tucker and Peter Dawson used a Z & F Imager 5006i laser scanner, equipped with a motorized M-Cam camera retrofitted to the scanner for automatic color mapping, and a Minolta Vivid 910 laser scanner to capture 3-dimensional mages of Fort Conger for the purposes of conservation, preservation, and community outreach education. This was the first time laser scanners had been used in the Canadian High Arctic. Dr. Richard Levy, University of Calgary, then created 3D models and animations. Utilizing all of this data, CyArk created a web portal integrating the highly accurate laser scan data with a rich collection of documentation, including photographs, video footage, drawings, and historic documents assembled by Parks Canada’s Margaret Bertulli and Lyle Dick.
Fort Conger Today
Fort Conger’s historic connections, heritage resources, and enduring sense of place are the reasons for its many designations and honors as a heritage site. In particular, the three standing structures built by Robert Peary in 1900 have achieved the highest level of designation made by the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office as Classified Federal Heritage Buildings, the same level accorded Canada’s Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. A legacy of inorganic contaminants left behind by the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition (arsenic, copper, lead, zinc, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) presently threatens the site. These substances were used for maintaining 19th century scientific instruments and preserving natural history specimens. It is sobering to realize that such elevated contaminant levels stem directly from the very same historical connections that have engendered For Conger’s status as a heritage site of national and international significance.