Straddling the Arctic Circle, the Great Bear Lake, in the Northwest Territories of Canada, is the largest lake entirely in Canada, the fourth-largest in North America, and the eighth-largest in the world. At just over 12,000 square miles, it is bigger than Belgium. Its maximum depth of 1,463 feet makes it deeper than Lake Superior. Its crystalline waters turn into ice from late November to July. Known for its fishing and hunting, this remote and isolated area is also known for its mineral deposits of uranium and silver, discovered at the turn of the 20th century, making it at the time also a destination for adventurous prospectors. Mines were developed on the southeast shore of the lake, and the communities of Cameron Bay and Port Radium were established. About 200 miles away, on the southwest side of the lake, the communities of Fort Franklin (known nowadays as Déline) and Fort Norman (now Tulita) had been major trading posts since the 19th century. Vic Ingraham was one of the owners of Murphy Services in Cameron Bay, which provided a store, post office, and mining office services to the community. However, with the decline in mining in the 1930s, the company bought a schooner (the Speed II) to haul freight and passengers on the lake from Ft. Franklin and other communities in the area as another way to make income, since there are no roads that connect the two communities. Unfortunately, on its last trip of the season in 1933 from Ft. Franklin, the schooner was caught in a severe storm on Great Bear Lake and the eleven men aboard were presumed lost.
Henry Winston (“Harry”) Hayter, a bush pilot with a base at Cameron Bay, was changing his small Curtiss Robin plane from floats to skis when the Speed was lost. Since part of the lake would be already frozen at this time, neither floats nor skis would be useful during that time of the year. Hence, flying a rescue mission would be extremely dangerous under those weather conditions. At the same, he knew that the men needed to be rescued. This is his account of the ordeal. I have transcribed it in Anniversary Gregg for the blog.