Gordon, Demarcation Point

Gordon, Demarcation Point

by | May 12, 2023

Gordon is the site of a historical trading post situated near Demarcation Point, a 2.5 miles (4 km) long barrier spit separating Demarcation Bay to the south from the Beaufort Sea to the north, about 210 miles (338 km) northwest of Inuvik, Northwest Territories and 63 miles (102 km) southeast of Kaktovik, Alaska. Sir John Franklin named the point in 1826 because at that time it was located at the boundary between British and Russian dominions on the northern coast of America. The trading post was named for Thomas Gordon who partnered with Charles Brower in Barrow, or Utqiagvik, to establish the remote station in 1917 for H.B. Liebes Company of San Francisco. The area is part of a coastal plain that extends along the base of the Brooks Range and is mostly composed of unconsolidated Pleistocene sediments originating as shallow-water deposits. The plain is generally low relief with an inland elevation between 260 and 590 feet (80-180 m) and terminates at the Beaufort Sea as tundra bluffs 3 to 50 feet (1-15 m) high. The Alaska Beaufort Sea extends 507 miles (816 km) from Point Barrow to Demarcation Point and consists of four barrier island chains which occupy 52 percent of the coast. Sediment is supplied to the barrier system from erosion of tundra bluffs and reworking of existing barrier islands. Along the entire coast, all barrier systems including islands, spits, and inlets are migrating to the west, driven by the northeast wind and waves during only three ice-free months of the year.

The coast from Barter Island in the west to Cape Bathurst in the east, including the Mackenzie River Delta, is the traditional territory of the Mackenzie Inuit or Inuvialuit. The archaeological record indicates that the ancestors of the Inuvialuit were the Thule people that moved eastward from Alaska about 1000 AD. They were the most easterly group to maintain trading and cultural ties with the Alaskan Inupiat to the west. In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie first descended the great river which now bears his name and reached the waters of the Beaufort Sea. In 1826, a party of British explorers led by John Franklin traveled westward from the mouth of the Mackenzie River along the Arctic coast. They crossed the 141st meridian of west longitude and named it Demarcation Point, in honor of a political boundary agreed on between Russian and British diplomats a year previously. The group explored the coast for 370 miles (595 km) to the westward attempting to rendezvous with Captain Frederick W. Beechey on the HMS Blossom at Icy Cape but turned back 160 miles (258 km) from Point Barrow. In 1883, Ned Herendeen of the Pacific Steam Whaling Company invited Charles Brower from New York and George Leavitt from New Bedford to join a small party departing from San Francisco to investigate coal mining possibilities near Cape Lisburne in the Arctic. Attracted by the lure of adventure, they accepted the invitation and remained at Point Barrow where Leavitt was a whaling captain and Brower a trader.

Brower established a trading post at Barrow and married two Inupiat women and had 14 children. The Inupiat and the Mackenzie Inuit became involved in whaling and the fur trade during the 19th century, indirectly at first with Russian traders and later working at posts like Barrow. By 1893, Brower and partner Tom Gordon from Glasgow started the Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Company. In 1917, Gordon and his brother-in-law Andrew Akootchook moved to Demarcation Point with their families. The Gordon family later moved west to Barter Island, and Gordon’s son Mickey took over the trading post and continued to run it until the late 1920s. In the early 20th century, five trading posts operated between Beechey Point and Demarcation Point providing locations where furs could be traded for manufactured goods. Following the crash of the fox fur market, some Inuit families moved to Mackenzie River villages where they have remained. Other families moved to Barter Island or Barrow. Many Inupiat, Inuit, and Dene Athabascan people from the region still visit Gordon since it serves as a stopover for people taking boat trips to Canada to visit friends and relatives. The trading post is gone but the area is a good base for fishing and hunting waterfowl, caribou, and polar bears. Read more here and here. Explore more of Gordon and Demarcation Point here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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