Renovations continue. Thanks for your patience.



In 1893, brothers Joseph Burr Tyrrell and James Williams Tyrrell (of the Geological Survey of Canada) led the first documented exploration of the barrenlands of northern Canada.
In 1955, Arthur Moffatt set out to retrace and document the central portion of that trip. He is known to have accessed both their books and to have possessed other material (for example JBT’s maps), and he had corresponded with JBT. I was able to access much of this material, but my best efforts failed to find two important items, namely JBT’s journal and his response to Moffatt’s first letter.
Reference. Ancillary 7. Tyrrell sources, Moffatt’s and mine,

Guide and comments.
Guide to the literature. I split the results of my literature search into five categories.
The primary accusatory literature.
The secondary accusatory literature (which is based on the above).
The primary Moffatt literature.
The secondary Moffatt literature.
The Tyrrell literature.
Comments regarding the accusatory literature.
A virtually universal feature of that literature is the failure to cite evidence, even so much as provide a source beyond the obvious. And so some sleuthing was required; I did what I could.
Some items are listed more than once.
A peripheral item, listed only for completeness.
Osgood, Larry. Letter to George Luste (23 February 1996).

The primary accusatory literature.

The following lists items with primary basis in the publications of the participants.
Publications based on those items are listed in what I call the secondary accusatory literature.
The order is chronological.

The Sports Illustrated article.
Issues of
9 March Man against the barrens grounds (pp 68-76) and
16 March 1959 Danger and Sacrifice (pp 80-88).
Reader responses were posted at
Contents include edited material from Moffatt’s journal, plus much accusatory material.

Inglis, Alex.
Northern Vagabond. The Life and Career of J B Tyrrell – the Man Who Conquered the Canadian North. McClelland and Stewart. (1978).
Thanks to Mike Gray for informing me of it and for lending his copy.
Quite understandably, Inglis’s book went unmentioned in the other Moffatt literature.

Grinnell, George J.
Art Moffatt’s Wilderness Way to Enlightenment, Canoe, July 1988, pp 18-21 & 56.
Written by a participant. Listed in both the primary accusatory literature and the primary Moffatt literature.

Assertions made by unidentified persons in or before 1996.
Quoted by George Luste in Grinnell’s book (first edition, next reference).

Grinnell, George (James).
First edition, in my possession.
A Death on the Barrens. A true story. Northern Books, Toronto (1996).
The publisher (NOT the editor) was George Luste.
Contents include much personal, introspective material, plus comments by Luste.
Listed in both the primary accusatory literature and the primary Moffatt literature.
Unwanted images pop up and so I don’t provide URLs for the reviews that I found, namely those at,,, Amazon (1556438826), etc.
Second edition, not in my possession.
A Death on the Barrens. Heron Dance Press (2006).
Third edition, in my possession. Death on the Barrens. A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley (2010).

Murphy and MacDonald.
Articles by James Murphy and Andrew MacDonald, asserted to be reviews of Grinnell’s book (1996 edition).
Che-Mun. Canoelit section. Moffatt, Myth & Mysticism. Outfit?, Spring 1996, pp 5 & 11]
Murphy’s article is available online ,
MacDonald’s apparently not.

Mahler, Charlie.
Comments from Bob Thum and others are included.
Publication 1.
Down a Dead Man’s River, Che-Mun. Outfit 122, Autumn 2005, starting on page 4.
Publication 2, believed identical to the above.
Feature Story in the Advanced Paddler section at
The URL that was active when I announced the opening of the blog to public view.

Kingsley, Jennifer.
Article 1.
In a most dreadful sort of paradise. Up Here. May 2012; pp 88, 90 & 91.
Article 2.
Back and Beyond. Lake. Issue 6 (2013); pp 12-14.
Paddle North. Adventure, Resilience and Renewal in the Arctic Wild. Greystone Books, Vancouver/Berkeley (2014).
Reviews are provided at,,,, and likely elsewhere.
Aside. Not to be confused with Paddle North: Canoeing the Boundary Waters-Quetico Wilderness, Greg Breining, publisher? (2010).

The primary Moffatt literature.

The following lists all known participant publications, available to me or not. For lack of a better place, I include also the evidence of George Luste and that of my previous Moffatt publications and posts.
The order is sort of chronological.

Moffatt, Arthur.
Moffatt’s journal.
Edited excerpts were published in the Sports Illustrated article (1959).
Pessl kindly supplied several complete entries; those for 4 August, 5 August, 10 September and 13 September come immediately to mind.
Moffatt’s correspondence with J B Tyrrell.
Thanks to Pessl, I possess copies of his two letters to JBT. But I lack JBT’s response (known to have been made) to the first; I had thought the response to be held at the Dartmouth College library, but the kind and helpful staff there were unable to find it.
Aside. I lack also JBT’s journal, known to have been possessed by Moffatt. Dartmouth staff were unable to find it either.
The evidence suggests that both items would provide a deeper understanding of Moffatt’s preparations, most importantly the circumstances that led to his death.

Lanouette, Ed.
Aside. Lanouette was Moffatt’s bowperson.
Item 1. A faithfully condensed version of his journal for 14 September was published in the Sports Illustrated article of 1959.
Item 2. Later, Lanouette kindly provided me with his full journal for that day and assisted in the transcription of it. Ancillary 2. Lanouette excerpt.
Item 3. Private correspondence.
Item 4. His daughter Elizabeth Emge transcribed and provided his full journal for the trip. It is now posted at Canadian Canoe Routes. When I find time, I’ll convert the htmls and post the result here, in a separate Ancillary.
Post 1 of 8. 16 June to 1 July.
Post 2 of 8. 2 July to 16 July.
Post 3 of 8. 17 July to 28 July.
Post 4 of 8. 29 July to 7 August.
Post 5 of 8. 8 August to 20 August.
Post 6 of 8. 21 August to 2 September.
Post 7 of 8. 3 September to 10 September.
Post 8 of 8. 11 September to 16 September.

LeFavour, Bruce.
Item 1. Material based on his journal was published in four articles (27 through 30 December, 1955), Evening Recorder, Amsterdam NY. I possess only the third, kindly and generously supplied by him. It provides what I assess to be exculpatory evidence (the advice provided by J B Tyrrell) regarding the cause of Moffatt’s death.
Item 2. Private correspondence.

Grinnell, George (James).
For the convenience of the reader, I repeat some items provided above.
1. Grinnell’s Canoe article.
Art Moffatt’s Wilderness Way to Enlightenment. Canoe, July 1988, pp 18-21 & 56.
In my possession.
2. Grinnell’s book, first edition.
A Death on the Barrens. A true story. Northern Books, Toronto (1996).
In my possession. Contents include much personal, introspective material, plus comments by George Luste. I emphasise that Luste was the publisher, not the editor.
Listed in both the primary accusatory literature and the primary Moffatt literature.
Opinion. The most influential component of all the 55 years of the accusatory literature.
Reviews. Unwanted images pop up and so I don’t provide URLs for those that I found:,,, Amazon (1556438826), etc.
3. Grinnell’s book, second edition.
A Death on the Barrens. Heron Dance Press (2006).
Not accessed.
Comment. It appears not to have influenced the Moffatt literature.
4. Grinnell’s book, third edition.
Death on the Barrens. A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic.
North Atlantic Books, Berkeley (2010).
In my possession.
Comment. It too appears not to have influenced the Moffatt literature.
5. His post at the blog
Foreword and Forum.
6. An email message.

Pessl, Fred (“Skip”).
Item 1. Three Canoes. 1.46 Bold Journey. Prod. no. 474. ABC Broadcast of Monday 8 July, 1957. Hosted by John Stephenson.
Not available to me.
Synopsis. Fred Pessl, Jr. narrates the films of a canoe trip from Athabaska Lake in southwest Saskatchewan to Hudson Bay. He and five other explorers spent three months working their way through a region rarely visited by white men. In the last rapids the leader of the expedition, Arthur Moffat was thrown from his canoe and died of exposure in the icy waters. [RF]
Item 2. Kesselheim’s Canoe&Kayak article (2012).
Contents include an interview with Pessl, plus the latter’s comments regarding the tragedy and the resulting literature (in particular Grinnell’s contributions thereto).
Item 3. The Fateful 1955 Dubawnt River Trip. Nastawgan. Summer 2013. Vol 70, No 2.
Item 4. Barren Grounds. The Story of the Tragic Moffatt Canoe Trip. Dartmouth College Press (2014).
Contents include excerpts from the journals of Pessl and Franck, photographs (many in colour), an account of events following the tragedy, an Epilogue, a timeline comparing the progress of the Tyrrell and Moffatt trips, and Endnotes [pp 178-180].
Item 5. Copious private correspondence beginning in the fall of 2014 and continuing.

Luste, George.
Item 1. Art Moffatt, following Tyrrell’s notes, was not expecting the rapid in which he swamped and then died [Grinnell book, p 284]
Item 2. Referring to unpublished accusations made prior to the publication of Grinnell’s book (1996), Luste wrote the following. It seems as if a liberal amount of imagination has been invoked by these writers to change the facts so they fit their preoccupations and desires for culpability. [Grinnell book, pp 293&294].
Aside. These two Luste evidences (which I assess to be exculpatory) were mentioned in none of the accusatory literature that followed. Deserving of explicit mention here are what James Murphy and Andrew MacDonald alleged to be reviews of Grinnell’s book.
Item 3. Private correspondence and conversations.

Jacobs, Allan.
Article 1. The Second Annual Luste Lecture.
Nastawgan. Vol 41, Winter 2014, pp 16-19.
Contents include a review (requested by the editor) of Pessl’s lecture given at the Canadian Canoe Museum on 25 October 2014.
Comments and corrections.
I was unable to access the Sports Illustrated article by the deadline date, and so this first attempt of mine to understand the tragedy is seriously incomplete.
Kesselheim’s Moffatt … a name that, in canoe-tripping circles became synonymous with incompetence is a statement of the perception; it is decidedly not an accusation of incompetence, as I unfortunately suggested on p 17 (left column, item 3a).
Only one tent was destroyed by the storm; and I scrambled some references.
CCR announcement of the opening of the blog.
Aside. It was opened a few days previously, so that I could provide advance notice to several persons whose names appear there.
Article 2. Announcement of the opening of the blog, accompanied by an incomplete list of not-so items from the accusatory literature, and a photograph of Arthur Moffatt. Nastawgan, Vol 43, Summer/Fall 2016, p 9.
Article 3. A second announcement, plus a summary of accusations made of Moffatt. Nastawgan, Vol 44, Summer 2017, p 19.

The secondary accusatory literature.

This literature is based on the primary accusatory literature, rather than directly on the evidence of the participants. It consists of publications in which the Moffatt trip is mentioned only incidentally.
The efforts of Moffatt’s defamers were highly successful, for their redactions of exculpatory evidence, their falsehoods, their fabrications and their deceits misled the entire paddling community, including many prominent members of it, for 55 years regarding the cause of his death.
Let me be explicit, let me express my conviction that
Jennings, Hodgins and Small,
Morse, and
all acted in good faith.

Jacobson, Cliff.
Expedition Canoeing. A Guide to Canoeing Wild Rivers in North America.
Chapter 4. Loose Threads; p 22, left column. Falcon / Globe-Pequot Press (2005).
I have not examined the 2015 edition Canoeing Wild Rivers.
Comment. Unfortunately, the source for some Jacobson comments was not the faithful condensation of Lanouette’s journal for 14 September, as provided in the Sports Illustrated article (1959) [pp 85-87]. His source was rather the redacted version of that condensation, as provided in Grinnell’s book (1996) [pp 201-204]; please note the ellipsis near the top of p 202. To be explicit, Grinnell redacted the passage This surprised us. Art had figured we had already shot the last two rapids before Marjorie Lake. Actually, what we had gone down were only riffles, and what lay ahead was the real beginning of the first rapids.
Opinion. The redacted material is exculpatory, and such was Grinnell’s motivation for the redaction.

Jennings, John. Bruce W Hodgins and Doreen Small (editors).
The Canoe in Canadian Cultures. Natural Heritage Books (1999).
Unfinished business. Page numbers will be provided.

Johnson, Alissa.
Meet Bob O’Hara. (undated).
Referring to Canoeing with the Cree [Eric Sevareid; MacMillan (1935)], the staff of provided the following.
O’Hara and his friends were so inspired they embarked on a trip of their own in 1967, paddling from Norway House, a Northwest Fur Trading Company outpost on the northeast shore of Lake Winnipeg, to York Factory on Hudson Bay. Disregarding warnings of flood stage waters and advice from local authorities to scrap their plans, the inexperienced whitewater paddlers set out with 1:250,000 scale maps. False starts and wrong turns set the tone right from the start, but these minor occurrences were quickly eclipsed by water so high that an entire island – an island with a portage around a waterfall, no less – had disappeared. In the excitement that ensued from this discovery, O’Hara swamped his canoe above the falls.
With respect to that incident, staff provided the following quote from O’Hara: It’s amazing how fast you can think sometimes. I instinctively grabbed the canoe, rolled toward it, and tucked my feet up. I thought hey, my legs are going to be dangling down and I don’t want them to get snagged. So I tucked them up and went over. Got my feet onto a gravel bar and pulled us to shore.
With respect to Moffatt’s death, the staff of provided the following: O’Hara credits a 1955 Sports Illustrated article detailing the death of Arthur Moffatt on the Dubawnt River with scaring everybody off. The canoeist’s party started their trip late in the season, and they grew careless scouting rapids as they raced winter to the end of the river. After swamping his canoe, Moffatt died of hypothermia.
Let there be no doubt. The assertion that the Moffatt party grew careless scouting rapids as they raced winter to the end of the river is a falsehood. But full responsibility for it attaches to the staff at, explicitly none to O’Hara.

Kesselheim, Alan.
57 years Ago. Canoe & Kayak, May 2012, starting on p 46.
Six men. Seventy five days out. Food almost gone, weather desperate. The end of the expedition more than a week away.
Aside. Pessl’s contributions to the article are listed elsewhere.
With respect to the assertion that food was almost gone, I believe that Kesselheim was misled by Moffatt’s defamers in the matter.

MacGregor, Roy.
Canoe Country. The Making of Canada. Random House Canada, first edition (2015). pp 48&49.
…The Far North held many lessons of what could befall the unprepared. Perhaps the best known of all folly expeditions was the Moffatt expedition of 1955, which today stands an example of what not to do when heading into the northern wilderness. Arthur Moffatt, a thirty-six-year-old filmmaker and Dartmouth College graduate, talked five young Americans–two of them still teenagers—to join him on a paddle down the Dubawnt River, which runs through the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The Dubawnt is considered a very difficult, even dangerous river. Two of the five had limited experience; one had never paddled a canoe.
Ill-prepared and poorly supplied, the six paddlers ran into terrible weather and fought and argued their way along the nearly impossible journey. Short of food and faced with snowy weather, arguing their time was limited, they tried to make up time by running a long rapid without first scouting it. Two of the canoes went over. Moffatt froze to death on the banks while waiting for the others to be rescued.

Opinion. Like so many others, MacGregor was misled by Moffatt’s defamers.

Morse, Eric W.
Freshwater Saga. Memoirs of a Lifetime of Wilderness Canoeing in Canada. University of Toronto Press (1987).
…we had an example before us of what happens without a proper schedule, for at Baker Lake we would be seeing the grave of Arthur Moffatt who, leading a group of young Americans, let the days slip away too easily on the Dubawnt River in 1955, later forcing the party into risks that proved fatal. [p 84].
As well, incidental mention is made of the party’s visit to Moffatt’s grave. [p 104]
Comment. Morse did not identify a source, but the only publication available at the time was the Sports Illustrated article of 1959.

Peake, Michael.
1955: A Tale of Two Trips. [Che-Mun, Outfit 99, Winter 2000].
Item 1. “…the Moffatt trip is now best remembered for the death of its leader. Arthur Moffatt drowned on September 14 on a rapid they had no business running that late in the year. He is buried in Baker Lake. [p 4]
Item 2. The Tragic Trips…1955 – The Moffat Dubawnt River trip.
“1955 – The Moffatt Dubawnt River trip. Arthur Moffatt, a seasoned traveller, took a group of young men on a slow and undisciplined trip down the Dubawnt. Their lack of schedule meant they took risks to catchup on time and Moffatt died of exposure after they dumped in a large rapid they did not scout. He is buried in Baker Lake.” [pp 5&6]
Google images.
Opinion. Peake was misled by the falsehoods of Murphy and MacDonald.

The secondary Moffatt literature.

Items provided for completeness.

Report of an interview with Peter Franck.
Soph Describes Fatal Canoe Mishap. Canadian Accident.
The Harvard Crimson. September 29, 1955. “NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED.”

Harp, Elmer Jr.
The Moffatt Archeological Collection from the Dubawnt Country, Canada.
Item 1.
Only the first page (412) is available for viewing by the general public.
Item 2.
Harp’s interest in the Moffatt expedition is mentioned on page 128 of Pessl’s book.
Before we left the States, Art had arranged that Elmer Harp, Dartmouth College Archaeology Faculty, would have a look at whatever we could collect…
Item 3.
Professor Elmer Harp of Dartmouth College made an archaeological collection at Grant Lake on the Dubawnt. [Lentz, North, 1970] [Hodgins and Hoyle, p 107]

Hodgins, Bruce W; and Gwyneth Hoyle.
Canoeing North into the Unknown: A Record of River Travel, 1874 to 1974. [Dundurn, 1997]
A party of Americans led by Arthur Moffatt…canoed from Black Lake to Selwyn Lake and down the Dubawnt River and across Dubawnt Lake. Following an accident in the rapids entering Marjorie Lake, Moffatt died of exposure and is buried in Baker Lake. The rest of the group completed the trip down the Dubawnt and Thelon in late September. [p 107]
Sources were the Sports Illustrated article (1959), a personal communication from Grinnell, and Grinnell’s Canoe article (1988).
Opinion. A completely faithful representation of the evidence.

Moffatt and the J B Tyrrell literature.

The following provides references to J B Tyrrell literature in which incidental reference is made to Moffatt’s death.
Inglis, Alex.
Northern Vagabond. The Life and Career of J B Tyrrell – the Man Who Conquered the Canadian North. McClelland and Stewart. (1978).
Primarily a biography of J B Tyrrell, the book is mentioned also above, under Primary accusatory literature.
Robertson, Heather.
Measuring Mother Earth. How Joe the Kid Became Tyrrell of the North. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto (2007).
A second biography of Joseph Burr Tyrrell. The Tyrrell-Tyrrell expedition of 1893 is described, starting with Chapter 8 (p 136). I provide two excerpts regarding the Moffatt trip.
Excerpt 1. …in 1955, an American, Arthur Moffatt, died running a rapid on the Dubawnt River… [p 315].
Excerpt 2. A Death on the Barrens, by George James Grinnell, Northern Books, Toronto, 1996, tells the haunting story of Arthur Moffatt’s death in the context of Grinnell’s own existential crisis as one of the six men on Moffatt’s expedition. [p 333].
Opinion. A completely faithful representation of the evidence.

Appendix. Material related to Pessl’s book.
URLs of reviews.
A Review of Barren Grounds: The Story of the Tragic Moffatt Canoe Trip by Fred “Skip” Pessl
Texts of some reviews.
Source. The back cover of the book.
1. Skip Pessl delivers a vivid on-the-ground account of northern canoe adventure, from a time before GPS, composite boats, sat phones, and expedition blogs. His riveting day-by-day chronicle fires up the youthful exhilaration and fierce joy of traditional expedition life in the Far North. It also reveals, with refreshing honesty and humility, the fear and tragedy survived by the Moffatt party. Pessl brings a lifetime of contemplation to bear in his analysis of that awful, mortal moment on the cold river, far from help. Essential reading for those who warm to the flame of northern adventure. [Alan Kesselheim, author of Let Them Paddle.]
2. Skip Pessl’s book…is needed, welcome and superb. I’m saying this as someone who canoed the same arctic Dubawant River in 1969 and was involved in an earlier book about this trip. Skip’s account focuses on reality and evidence, not on personal opinion or mythology. To repeat, this new book is needed and sincerely welcome. [G. J. Luste, Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of Toronto, and founder of the Wilderness & Canoeing Symposium.]
3. Skip Pessl’s candid and long-overdue account of the ’55 Dubawnt trip gives us a balanced view of this historic event. In “Barren Grounds”, Skip faces some of the toughest moments of his life with courage and tenacity. This book is welcome closure for anyone affected by Art Moffatt’s tragic story. [Aleks Gusev, editor of Nastawgan Journal.]
4. Skip Pessl provides a rich and nuanced account of the Moffatt expedition. Drawing on his extensive journals and those of expedition member Peter Franck, Pessl shares a mesmerizing tale of exploration and discovery, of friendship and loss, the stark beauty and utter indifference of the North. [Jeff Moag, editor of Canoe & Kayak magazine.
The headings Wharton Lake for the Pessl/Franck entries of 8 September [pp 127&128] are incorrect. Wharton Lake was reached on 11 September, as evinced by the following excerpts from Moffatt’s journal, kindly, immediately and generously provided by Pessl,
10 September.
In spite of strong winds and snow squalls, made it with help of strong current down to the falls above Wharton Lake. Ice on paddles, hills still white.
11 September.
Shot last run of rapid below falls, rough at first, green water over boulders; then shallow, wide channel, hard to see in poor light, another rapid, and Wharton Lake.
I emphasise that the contents are correct [Pessl, private correspondence]; it is only the headings that are not.
Correspondingly, the entry for Moffatt, 1955 in the table on p 129 should read September 11.

Internal URLs.

These URLS are provided for navigation within the blog.
URLs for accessing the following items from outside the blog are provided elsewhere.
Foreword and Forum.
Main text.
Appendix 1. Reality.
Appendix 3. Equipment.
Appendix 4. Experience.
Appendix 5. Pace and Weather.
Appendix 6. Food.
Appendix 7. Schedule.
Appendix 8. Rapids in general.
Appendix 9. The fatal rapids.
Ancillary 1. Accusations.
Ancillary 2. Lanouette excerpt.
Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt.
Ancillary 4. Distances.
Ancillary 5. Loose ends and the future.
Ancillary 6. Addenda.
Ancillary 7. Moffatt’s Tyrrell sources.
Ancillary 8. Evidence regarding the tragedy.
Ancillary 10. My sources.
Ancillary 11. Canoe&Kayak manuscript.
Ancillary 12. Acknowledgements.

With the exception of quoted material, copyright to the above belongs to Allan Jacobs.

Edition of 16 June 2018.

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