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A Return to Sloop Cove

July 2, 2019

Sloop Cove, Churchill, Manitoba: August, 2015

Some years ago, I wrote a post that included images of some of the 18th century graffiti at Sloop Cove, which is on the west shore of the Churchill River estuary opposite Churchill. This turned out to be a topic of interest to quite a few people, and I always intended to follow up with more of the words and images that are scratched and carved into the hard Churchill quartzite at that site. In 2015 I was fortunate to have the chance to re-visit Sloop Cove, and took advantage of that opportunity to photograph almost all of the carved names, images, and dates. This post presents some of these more recent images.

A swarm of names, initials, and symbols on one of the quartzite surfaces. I’m not sure of the significance of the axe (or is it a hammer?) beside the name Smith.

To tell the story of why the Sloop Cove inscriptions exist, I don’t think I can do better than to quote my previous post:

“Then we saw what the fence was protecting: scratched into the quartzite were many signatures and other markings from the early fur trade days, not just Hearne’s! The great majority of these date from the mid 18th century, with a smattering of more recent examples (it appears that Parks Canada removes anything added nowadays, though). But why are they here?  And why did these men spend so much time laboriously carving into this famously hard and tough stone?

An overview shows names spread across the surface. The “erasures” mark places where Parks Canada has removed uninvited modern graffiti.

The answer lies in the use to which the cove was put in those early historical times. Although we like to think of land as stable and solid, the Hudson Bay Lowlands have been rising ever since the removal of a huge weight of glacial ice a few thousand years ago. Various estimates have been made for the Churchill area, but it is most likely that the river mouth has been rising about one metre per century, and as a result Sloop Cove has risen two metres plus since the 1750s (a pdf showing detailed analysis can be found here).

The mouth of Sloop Cove is now above the normal high tide level.

Back then, the bottom of the cove was probably flooded by salt water at very high tides, and in any case it was close enough to sea level that small ships (sloops) could be hauled out there. Of course this may have been done for maintenance, but most importantly this was the first really protected spot upriver from the Prince of Wales’ Fort, and it was essential to get boats out of the river in winter so that they were not subject to ice damage.

Mooring rings attached to the quartzite facilitated the hauling of small ships.

Even now the sea ice at Churchill can remain well into the time that southerners think of as “summer”, and as a result the men waiting to re-launch their little ships would have had many days of warm weather before they could set sail. What better way to pass the sunny hours than to leave your mark on the stone?  Permanently, as it turned out.”

The Royal Navy bomb ketches Furnace and Discovery spent the winter of 1741-42 at Sloop Cove during an unsuccessful search for the Northwest Passage.

The striations (lines) across the quartzite surfaces demonstrate that the bedrock at Sloop Cove was smoothed and shaped by glaciers during the Ice Age.

Samuel Hearne’s signature is the most famous and most frequently reproduced of all the inscriptions at Sloop Cove. Given the artistic quality of this work, and the auspicious date that was selected (exactly 100 years before Canada’s Confederation), I am suspicious that the date at least may be a more recent addition.

Perhaps “P” meant to come back and finish his name, but just never got around to it?

For more details, please refer to Lorraine Brandson’s excellent book:

Brandson, Lorraine E. 2011. Churchill Hudson Bay: A Guide to Natural and Cultural Heritage. Itsanitaq Museum, Churchill, MB.

Even now the sea ice at Churchill can remain well into the time that southerners think of as “summer”. This photo shows ice on Hudson Bay during our visit two weeks ago, on June 17, 2019.

© Graham Young, 2019

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian Scott permalink
    July 2, 2019 9:40 pm

    Very cool adventures…👍👍😎

  2. Brian Scott permalink
    July 2, 2019 9:41 pm


  3. Raymond Reichelt permalink
    July 5, 2019 9:05 pm

    Great post Graham

  4. Joseph Brown permalink
    November 4, 2019 1:59 pm

    Hi, Graham.

    I am hoping you can help me with a question about the identity of a very nice couple of fossils I found recently.

    I have found and collected several pieces (3..with one left in situ ) of marco calcarenite ( so identified by Jim Bamburak during a filed trip a few years ago) that contain what appear to be specimens of Actinocamax m., as well as the usual “pavement of clams/shells”..there have been dated/described by Jim as being the very latest Assiniboine and are calcareous.

    They are nearly complete, the largest specimen reaching a length of about 8CM., and about 0.5 cm. in diameter…only sharp end is usually preserved…somewhat oval shape, it looks like.

    A nice sample about 30X30 cm. of the pavement was collected and is at CFDC, on display accession number 1.2015.02.00…a Turonian bivalve, in a Favel pavement outcrop.

    Jim has posted a video of this site, calls it Assiniboine.

    Anyway, are you aware of these types of belemnites being found previously within the marco calcarnite?

    I have a good number of reference Actinocamax manitobensis ( is it now called Praeactincamax m.?) articles, starting with Jeletsky and some from Greenland by Christianson.

    My camera is on the fritz but I will try to send some pics soon.

    Any comments most welcome.. it seems these little critters are pretty rare, around here, anyway.

    Thanks. Regards, Joe.


    • Graham permalink*
      November 5, 2019 2:43 pm

      Hi Joe, can you please send me this information as an email to my Museum address, so that I can look into it when I am at work? Many thanks!

  5. Helen Gowans permalink
    March 30, 2020 7:23 pm

    Hi, I have always been fascinated by the tale of Alexander Mackenzie’s having carved his name on a rock when he reached the sea “by land” in 1793. In 2017 I got there! It’s pretty inaccessible so I chartered a boat from Bella Bella. It was a wonderful experience and I wrote a poem about it. It won a prize and can be viewed at
    I understand in the 1920s some surveyors repicked some of the letters…but that didn’t lessen the excitement.
    As a small child I visited Churchill but it was too windy to make it to the Fort. Maybe next year I can see Samuel Hearne’s stone! Thanks for this. Helen

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