1928 William Hoare and the Thelon Game Sanctuary

There are an estimated 80 to 90 thousand muskox in Canada, a remarkable number considering that just a hundred years ago they were believed to be on the brink of extinction. Ten thousand years ago muskox could be found across northern Europe, Asia and throughout North America. They became extinct in Europe and Asia thousands of years ago and were believed to be extinct throughout the world. It was with some surprise that a small herd of muskox was spotted by early explorers on the shores of Hudson Bay in 1720.

In the later half of the 19th century large numbers of muskox hides were brought to fur trading posts in the Northwest Territories. By the late 1890s reports began coming out of the north that there were perhaps only a few hundred muskox left alive and demands were made for the Federal Government to create a sanctuary to protect the last of these elusive beasts. In 1917 muskox hunting was banned, yet poaching still threatened the remaining herds so in 1927 the government created a huge game sanctuary along the Thelon and Hanbury rivers northeast of Great Slave Lake (map).

The plan was to establish a game warden’s post in the middle of the Thelon Game Sanctuary and to have wardens conduct regular patrols of the area to curb poaching. The first warden was William Hoare, an experienced northerner who used to be a lay preacher at Aklavik.

In 1928 Hoare, and his assistant John Knox of Fort Smith, built a wardens station at a place on the Thelon River now known as Warden’s Grove. From there they began to patrol the Thelon Game Sanctuary. They chased all the Dene from the Sanctuary and told them that they would be sent to jail if they were caught hunting or trapping within the boundaries of this huge game reserve.

Dene had been hunting in the area for thousands of years and had a difficult time understanding why these white men didn’t want them to hunt on their traditional lands. This was especially difficult to understand when they saw Hoare and Knox hunting in the Sanctuary when their supplies began to run low.

Hoare and Knox only remained in the Thelon Game Sanctuary for two years. The report Hoare prepared for the Government made special reference to the concerns of the Dene and their traditional hunting areas. His report resulted in a considerable reduction in the size of the Sanctuary and the Dene were able to resume hunting caribou, but not muskox, in much of their traditional territory.

Hoare’s report opened a lot of eyes to the plight of the muskox. Herd sizes slowly began to increase and their numbers have now reached the point where they are beginning to populate areas where they haven’t been seen for well over a hundred years!