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Polar expedition re-enactment documented in Ely area

Feb 28, 2020 07:45AM ● By Editor
Captain Robert Bartlett (actor Erik Simula) left, and Explorer Matthew Henson (actor Marcus Landrum) take a break with Inuit sled dogs from Wintergreen Lodge and a replica komatik sledge.  Photo: H. Lundborg

By Keith Vandervort of the Tower Timber Jay - February 28, 2020

Big piles of snow removed from the streets of Ely and the open spaces of a nearby frozen lake provided the backdrop for a re-enactment of Robert Peary’s dogsled expedition to the North Pole, which was successfully filmed here last week.

Actors, including guides from Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge on White Iron Lake, were dressed in period costumes, complete with fur parkas, as scenes were filmed by Voyage Digital Media.
“Dogsledding is such a unique element of Ely’s identity, it was great that this piece of our tradition, Ely’s connection with polar dogsled expeditions, was tapped for a historic film the very week we celebrated Ely’s 50th year of dogsled racing,” said Wintergreen Lodge owner Paul Schurke. 

Wintergreen’s Canadian Inuit sled dogs, the same breed used on Peary’s 1909 expedition, were used to pull an exact replica of his 12-foot komatik dogsled laden with furs and supplies.
“Our dogs have always been harnessed two-by-two in a tandem hitch for threading through the boreal forest,” Schurke said. “Initially, we worried how they’d do in the traditional Arctic fan hitch where they are splayed out in front of the sled each with its own long tether. With fingers crossed and hoping for minimal chaos, we configured them into a fan hitch and off they went without a glitch. We were blown away to see that ancient instinct click into gear.”

Schurke said the site of the snow pile, created by the city of Ely Public Works Department this winter as the season’s snow was removed from city streets, worked as a suitable environment. “It looked just like the sea ice present near the North Pole,” he said.

Schurke added, “The 1986 dogsled and ski expedition that Will Steger and I led to the North Pole replicated elements of Peary’s expedition but we didn’t do it with period costume sand sleds, and we weren’t wearing caribou parkas.”

Film producer/director Richardo Lopes, with Voyage Digital Media and the National Maritime Historical Society, has produced numerous television commercials, documentary films, off-Broadway plays and the foreign policy series “Great Decisions” for PBS. 

“Thank you very much for your hospitality, support and tremendous talents,” Lopes said in an email. “Wintergreen, your handlers and dogs, KidZibits, the re-enactors, all brought your professionalism and passion, and I hope we have captured that visually. We’re going through our footage, which is terrific due to you, your dogs, and colleagues’ efforts. I’ll speak for myself, I’m still exhausted from trekking in the snow and cold temps, so caps off to your amazing stamina.”

Schurke said he was told that the documentary footage filmed in Ely is destined for a six-part series that may air on PBS and/or the History Channel. “It may then be distilled to a feature-length film for theater showing, and a possible screening at Ely’s newly refurbished Historic State Theater,” he said.

Schurke added that the film’s replica Peary sled, the only one known to exist, could find a home at Ely’s proposed Minnesota Canoe Museum. Erik Simula, who’s heading that initiative and was a re-enactor in this film, has proposed expanding the MCM concept to include Ely’s dog sledding legacy as well.

To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the Tower Timberjay website.,16042
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