Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879-1962)

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Vilhjalmur Stefansson
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Arctic explorer.

Born at Arnes on 3 November 1879, son of Johann Stefansson and Ingibjorg Johannesdottir, he was educated at Preparatory Department and State University of North Dakota (BA), State University of Iowa (1903), Harvard Divinity School (1903-1904), the Harvard Graduate School (1905-1906, LL.D), and University of Michigan (1921).

He undertook his first archaeological expedition to Iceland under the auspices of the Peabody Museum of Harvard in 1905. From 1906-1907, he accompanied the Leffingwell-Mikkelsen ethnological expedition to the Inuit of the Mackenzie Delta. From 1903 to 1912 he made a series of ethnological surveys of the Arctic coast, ending with a year’s residence among the Inuit. From 1913-1918, he headed a Canadian Arctic Expedition, making a 600-mile overland journey with sleds and dogs in 1914. He discovered new islands and learned much about the Inuit.

After 1919 he wrote and lectured about the Arctic from a base in the United States. Stefansson wrote extensively. His major works include My Life with the Eskimo (1913), The Friendly Arctic (1921), The Northward Course of Empire (1922), Hunters of the Great North (1922), and Ultima Thule (1940). In 1937, he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Manitoba. His library went to Dartmouth College in 1951. His autobiography appeared posthumously in 1964. Microfilm of his Arctic diaries (1906-1918) are at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections.

He died in the United States. He is commemorated by the Stefansson Monument near Arnes, Manitoba.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Vilhjalmur Stefansson Monument (Arnes, RM of Gimli)

Review: Gisli Palsson, Travelling Passions: The Hidden Life of Vilhjalmur Stefansson by Christopher Trott
Manitoba History, Number 51, February 2006

Vihljalmur Stefansson and the Arctic by Alexander D. Gregor (1978).

Stefansson and the Canadian Arctic by Richard Diabaldo (1979).

Stef: A Biography by William Hunt (1986).


Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 9 September 2019

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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