People & Culture

From the prairies to the North Pole to NASA: Remembering Dean Hadley

Dean Hadley was the youngest member of the crew that first navigated the Northwest Passage west to east in 1940. He passed away last Friday at the age of 98.
  • Jul 19, 2018
  • 347 words
  • 2 minutes
Dean Hadley, centre, was the youngest crew member aboard the RCMPV St. Roch when schooner sailed through the Northwest Passage in the early 1940s. (Photo: VMM. Leonard McCann Archives. Parks Canada St. Roch Photograph Collection. HCSR-40-18. 1942 crew in uniform.) Expand Image
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Eugene (Dean) Hadley of Weyburn, Sask., was 20 years old when he applied to be a radio operator with the RCMP in 1940. Hadley had always been mechanically-minded and he enjoyed tinkering with radios; it would be a perfect fit.

For the next two years, he swapped prairie skies for ice floes and served as the radio operator and clerk aboard the legendary RCMP Arctic vessel, the St. Roch. Hadley was the youngest man in the St. Roch’s eight-man crew, who made history as the first expedition to navigate the Northwest Passage from west to east under the guidance of Captain Henry Larsen, nearly 40 years after Norwegian Roald Amundsen made the opposite journey

During the two years that he spent aboard the St. Roch, between 1940 and 1942, Hadley did all the paperwork that came through the mobile police station and controlled the northern airwaves. He would pass winter hours of boredom while the ship drifted in Arctic pack ice by watching the crew’s engineers repair the schooner’s diesel engine.

Hadley’s mechanical mindset would influence his life after Arctic exploration as well. Upon his return to southern Canada, he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force until the end of the Second World War before going on to study engineering at the University of Toronto. After graduation, Hadley rejoined the RCMP for another spell in communications before moving into aerospace engineering.

He worked for NASA through the 1960s, contributing his engineering expertise to the legendary Apollo 11 lunar mission which put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in 1969. He also assisted in the development of deep-space monitoring facilities in California and Australia.

Hadley was recognized by King George VI in 1943 with the Polar Medal for his role in the historic St. Roch expedition, and was inducted into the Northwest Passage Hall of Fame at the Vancouver Maritime Museum in 2017.

He died peacefully in his sleep on Friday, July 13, 2018. He was 98.

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