Bowdoin Students Explore the Arctic

Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center

Exhibition: Bowdoin Students Explore the Arctic



Hubbard Hall foyer
Since 1860, Bowdoin students have been traveling to the Arctic, often on faculty- and staff-led expeditions, to conduct research. Gaining first-hand experience in the field, collaborating with one another, meeting community members, and spending time on the land and sea has been a transformative experience for many undergraduates. As the Arctic becomes increasingly important on the world stage, Bowdoin students participating in these trips gain important insights that are difficult to communicate in the classroom or laboratory.


In 1860, three Bowdoin College undergraduates sailed to Labrador and Greenland on an expedition led by Professor Paul Chadbourne. Theirs was perhaps the first Arctic expedition to include students. In 1891, Alpheus Packard, Jr., who participated on that expedition, published his influential book, The Labrador Coast, in which he reminisced, “How we college boys cooked and ate, rambled and slept in those seven weeks … They were days of rare pleasure, of continuous health, and formed an experience whose value lasted through our future lives.” Left: Unidentified artist, Alpheus Spring Packard, Jr. Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 33. Wikimedia Commons. Top right: Unidentified artist, Poor, Walter Stone (Bowdoin 1860). Local call number 4967, Bowdoin College Archives. Bottom right: Unidentified artist, Evans, Simeon Adams (Bowdoin 1860). Local call number 3607, Bowdoin College Archives.
Bowdoin Professor Leslie Lee led a group of students and recent graduates to Labrador in 1891. These four, Austin Carey ’87, Ernest Young ’92, W.R. Smith ’90, and Dennis Cole ’88, were put ashore at the mouth of the Grand River to search for a reported waterfall, said to be one of the most spectacular in the world. At one point, Carey and Cole cached their canoe and equipment and walked – succeeding, barely, in reaching and measuring the falls at 316 feet (later surveys reduced this to 245 ft). While they were away from their campsite, their supplies and canoe were destroyed in a fire. They were forced to walk 225 miles to the coast to meet up with the ship that would bring them home. Unidentified photographer, Grand Falls Expedition Party, Cary, Young, Smith, Cole, Labrador, 1891. Courtesy of the Farnsworth Museum.
In 1934 seven Bowdoin students accompanied Professor Alfred O. Gross to Labrador to conduct ornithological research, sailing with MacMillan aboard the Bowdoin. Four of the students spent a week on the Button Islands, at the northernmost tip of Labrador, collecting ornithological specimens, many of which are still used in teaching today. Donald B. MacMillan, Button Island Party [l-r: Howard Vogel, Jr. ’36; Dr. Gross; Laurence B. Flint ’34; Luther Holbrook ’34; Ay-yah-o, their Inuit guide; and Robert Wait ’34], Labrador, 1934. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
Albert Barnes ’49, seen here standing on an ice floe with fellow crew member Paul Eitel and a walrus, was already on his third trip to the Arctic in 1948 when this photograph was taken. He sailed north in 1940 with Captain Robert A. Bartlett aboard the Effie M. Morrissey, and he was also a member of MacMillan’s 1947 Bowdoin expedition. Donald B. MacMillan, Albert Barnes and Paul Eitel on Ice Pan with Walrus, Davis Strait, 1948. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.