Winter Quarters at Herschel Island painted by John Bertonccini from the New Bedford Whaling Museum collection, 1971-15.
This painting shows the Arctic whaling fleet in their winter quarters at Pauline Cove on Herschel Island, Yukon. There are soccer and baseball games being played in the snow just below the ships.
1897: A pastime for whalers off of Yukon’s northern coast
By the late 1880s American whaling ships were forced to travel farther east along the Beaufort Sea coast in search of new whale stocks. In 1887, the harbour at Herschel Island, the only island off of Yukon’s northern coast, became the port of choice in the western Arctic. Between 1890 and 1907, twenty-seven whaling ships wintered on the island.
Winter life at Herschel Island included sports, games and a social life of sorts. Men performed minstrel and theatrical shows, and amused themselves by skiing and tobogganing into the hills. They also found time to play baseball.
On March 7, 1897, the men were playing a baseball game in unseasonably warm weather when suddenly a dark billowing cloud loomed over the island. Within minutes the worst gale that some of the men could remember was blowing. As they ran for the ships they could see only a few feet ahead and the temperature plunged toward minus 30 degrees Celsius. Unable to find their way, many of the men simply ran to the first ship or building and stayed all night while the wind shrieked around them. The next morning,they found that five of the men had not made it to safety.
-Information adapted from “Whaling” by John R. Bockstoce in Herschel Island: A Natural and Cultural History