British Columbia

St. Roch to be scanned with lasers and digitally preserved

The RCMP schooner was the first to circumnavigate North America and is housed in the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

Now housed in the Vancouver Maritime Museum, RCMP schooner was the first to circumnavigate North America

George Liu of Absolute Space Engineering with the device used to scan the St. Roch (Vancouver Maritime Museum)

The RCMP schooner St. Roch is world-renowned for being the first vessel to sail the Northwest Passage from west to east and the first to circumnavigate North America.

Now — even if the physical ship housed in the Vancouver Maritime Museum crumbles into oblivion — the schooner will continue to go down in history, in digital form.

The St. Roch on display at the museum (Vancouver Maritime Museum)

The St. Roch has been nominated to be digitally preserved by non-profit organization CyArk as part of their initiative to preserve 500 cultural heritage sites over five years.

"It will capture exactly what it is today," said George Liu with Absolute Space Engineering, a North Vancouver company that is scanning the ship with laser technology.

Everything from the St. Roch's custom dry docks to its masts will be captured online.

"Nothing will last forever, and it's a great opportunity to capture the ship digitally and archive it somewhere safe," said Liu.

St. Roch to joins ranks of sites like Pompeii

CyArk's mission is to preserve and share the world's cultural heritage before it is lost to natural disaster, human violence, or the passage of time.

Their archive already houses more than 150 cultural heritage sites, with everything from historical places such as Pompeii to others of local significance such as the Frank Lloyd-Wright designed Beth Shalom Congregation.

Liu, who said his lasers can survey the St. Roch down to the measure of millimetres, will carry out his work at the museum over a few days in July.

The St. Roch trapped in ice. (Leonard McCann Archives. Parks Canada St. Roch Research Collection)

Vancouver Maritime Museum curator Duncan MacLeod said the St. Roch represents a significant piece of Canadian history.

It was built in the former Burrard Dry Dock in Vancouver, and was launched in 1928 with the purpose of sending food and supplies to RCMP detachments along the Arctic Coast.

St. Roch supported a covert WWII mission 

MacLeod said the reason the vessel became the first to cross west to east through the Northwest Passage was that it was supporting a secret government mission during the Second World War.

"There was a government plan to send troops to Greenland to occupy a Cryolite mine which was used in the production of aluminum, and was going to be necessary...for providing the troops with aluminum overseas, and Greenland also offered a strategic location for submarines."

MacLeod said the Canadian occupation of Greenland never materialized, but the St. Roch continued with its mission and became the first ship to cross west-east through the Northwest passage.

It's important for the St. Roch to be preserved digitally for research purposes and to allow those who can't visit the museum in Vancouver to discover this historic ship, he added.

"I hope they are able to get an idea of what life was like on this ship," he said. "At times through its life 19 people were living on this ship and spent a year living in the Arctic, or more. [There were] crammed quarters, limited access to food and outside contact."

With files from Vivian Luk