1930s Snyder Expeditions

History has failed to record exactly who Harry Snyder was. During the 1930s, when much of the world was firmly in the grip of the Great Depression, he sponsored a number of expeditions to the Northwest Territories to gather animal specimens for southern museums.

There’s no doubt Harry Snyder was a very wealthy man yet we know little about him. In one document he’s described as “a wealthy oil man from Montreal”; in another he’s a “business man from Chicago” with a mobile home factory; while in a third he’s called Colonel Snyder so he may have also been an ex-military man. Apparently he also had some connection to the Eldorado Mine on Great Bear Lake (map).

In 1934 Snyder travelled, with a geologist and a biologist, into the South Nahanni’s Glacier Lake area. The National Museum of Canada and the American Museum of Natural History had agreed to accept mounted examples of a rare species of mountain sheep he planned to ‘collect’.

It’s certainly difficult from today’s perspective to understand the logic people used to justify killing what may very well have been the last of a species just to put the stuffed remains in a museum but it was certainly common practice back then.

The government, which had initially endorsed the Snyder expedition, began to change its view when it realized that Snyder had begun construction of a hunting lodge alongside Glacier Lake. Its response was to make the area around Glacier Lake a game preserve!

Shut out of the Nahanni, Snyder then turned his attention to the endangered wood bison and led an expedition in the summer of 1935 into Wood Buffalo National Park again to collect animals for southern museums. He had a standing order for at least two matching sets of wood bison – bulls, the bigger the better, cows and several calves. It took three separate trips into the Park, one in the summer, again in the fall and then in the following late winter, to hunt and kill all the animals required by these museums.

Harry Snyder also wanted to hunt rare and endangered muskox but the government quite emphatically said No! To his credit he then sponsored some solid scientific work in the Thelon Game Sanctuary by funding aerial surveys that recorded muskox ranges and populations.

By the late 1930s Harry Snyder’s ‘expeditions’ into the north came to an end. He retired to his Bar 75 ranch northwest of Calgary where the ranch house, a place he called “The Teepee”, was said to be full of rare books and paintings; stuffed animals from around the world, including the Northwest Territories; and Dene and Inuit artifacts which were the rival of some of the best collections in the world.

Unfortunately “The Teepee” burned to the ground and this valuable collection was lost. Harry Snyder then retired to Arizona where he died sometime in the late 1960s.