Friday, December 30, 2011

Arctic Books

Christmas, in our household, is a time of family and giving... giving books, that is. Lots and lots of books.

Here's my haul, with a delicious mound of Arctic-related books to add to my ever expanding library, as well as a bunch of map and Canadian history books.

I have a lot of reading ahead of me in 2012. I'll have my own reviews of these as I go through them so come back for my thoughts over the course of the new year. For now, I'll leave you with the publisher's summary.

Arctic Haul
Historical Atlas of the Arctic, Derek Hayes (2003)
The vast empty spaces of the Poles were the last frontier to be assailed by explorers intent on achieving a geographical goal. But long before the North Pole was finally attained, men sailed the seas searching for an easier and shorter path to the riches of the Orient. The mapmakers of the day translated sparse information into often fanciful, sometimes stunningly artistic maps.

Author Derek Hayes documents the international race for the Pole involving expeditions on foot, by hot air balloon and by airplane. Along with the detailed historical maps, Hayes provides insightful commentary, and describes the aspirations and motivations of explorers and the harsh realities they faced. Hayes also presents a number of revealing and often beautiful scientific maps produced at a time when the military and those in search of oil probed the ocean and the ice of the arctic frontier.

Arctic Giants, Neil Christopher(2011)
This book is the only full-length volume on the giants of the North. It is based on Inuit oral tradition and has been extensively and meticulously research. These authentic myths will take you back to a dangerous time of epic battles, shape-shifting animals and dark magic. For hundreds of years these Inuit legends have been carried down from generation to generation, whispered quietly in the night. Unsparingly told in the vein of the Brothers Grimm, this powerful cultural legacy is bound to become part of Canada''s fairy tale canon. This rich and dramatic Arctic folklore with its spectacular illustrations will cast a spell on children and adults alike.

The Magnetc North: Notes from the Arctic Circle, Sara Wheeler (2011)
A Globe and Mail Best Books of the Year 2011 Title

More than a decade ago, Sara Wheeler traveled to Antarctica to understand a continent nearly lost to myth and lore. In the widely acclaimed, bestselling Terra Incognita, she chronicled her quest to find a hidden history buried in Antarctica’s extreme surroundings. Now, Wheeler journeys to the opposite pole to create a definitive picture of life on the fringes. In The Magnetic North, she takes full measure of the Arctic: at once the most pristine place on earth and the locus of global warming.

Inspired by the spiraling shape of a reindeer-horn bangle, she travels counterclockwise around the North Pole through the territories belonging to Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, marking the transformations of what once seemed an unchangeable landscape. As she witnesses the mounting pollution concentrated at the pole, Wheeler reckons with the illness of the whole organism of the earth.

Smashing through the Arctic Ocean with the crew of a Russian icebreaker, shadowing the endless Trans-Alaska Pipeline with a tough Idaho-born outdoorswoman, herding reindeer with the Lapps, and visiting the haunting, deceptively peaceful lands of the Gulag, Wheeler brings the Arctic’s many contradictions to life. The Magnetic North is an urgent, beautiful book, rich in dramatic description and vivid reporting. It is a singular, deeply personal portrait of a region growing daily in global importance.

The Northwest Passage, Scott Chantler (2010, reissue)
After Fort Newcastle is brutally captured by invading French mercenaries, Charles Lord and a band of his surviving soldiers, trackers, and explorers embark on one last, great adventure to unite the people of Rupert's Land to reclaim their home. This rollicking historical adventure fights its way on land and sea, all in search of and control of the mythic Northwest Passage.

Other, non-Arctic-related books:

Canadian History

  • Nation Maker: Sir John A. MacDonald, His Life and Times, Richard Gwyn (2011)

  • Historical Atlas of Canada: Canada's History Illustrated with Original Maps, Derek Hayes (2006)

  • 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal, Christopher Moore (1998)

  • Elusive Destiny: The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner, Paul Litt (2011)

  • Other Map-related

  • From Then to Now: A Short History of the World, Christopher Moore (2011)

  • Maphead, Ken Jennings (2011)
  • Friday, September 9, 2011

    BBC Article on Franklin Expedition

    I was interviewed last week by the BBC on the Franklin Expedition - does that put me in the exulted stratosphere of now being considered an "expert"? Whooot! - and here is the resulting article by Kate Dailey.

    I'm pleased to see she interviewed my friends, and true experts on this, William Battersby and Russell Alan Potter, as well as Marc-Andre Bernier of Parks Canada and Ron Carlson.

    Franklin expedition: Will we ever know what happened?

    By Kate Dailey

    BBC News Magazine

    The Franklin expedition was last seen near Greenland in July 1845.

    Canadian explorers have drawn a blank in the latest hunt for the remains of Captain Sir John Franklin's fatal expedition, 160 years after he took 129 men deep into the Arctic. But will the mystery of the doomed crew ever be unravelled?"

    In 1845, Capt Franklin, an officer in the British Royal Navy, took two ships and 129 men towards the Northwest Territories in an attempt to map the Northwest Passage, a route that would allow sailors to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the icy Arctic circle.

    Stocked with provisions that could last for seven years, and outfitted with the latest technology and experienced men, the two ships - HMS Erebus and HMS Terror - were some of the biggest, strongest, vessels ever to make the journey.

    But the men vanished into the frozen Arctic, leaving a few clues but no explanation as to what went wrong.

    The first search party set off in 1848 and searches involving teams from Canada, the UK, and the US have continued ever since. Last week, representatives from Parks Canada announced the results from their search this summer, which proved unsuccessful.

    Captain Sir John Franklin had sailed the Arctic three times prior to his fateful trip "What people have been looking for has changed. We've given up looking for survivors, we've given up looking for bodies. Now we're just looking for any answers," says William Battersby, who wrote the biography of James Fitzjames, the captain of the Erebus.

    "The extraordinary thing is that despite all this effort, after 160 years and by thousands of people, we still don't know where the ships are, and what happened on the expedition, or what happened to most of the men."

    Scattered remains

    Explorers have found rock cairns with messages from sailors who abandoned ship. They've taken oral history from Inuit people whose ancestors saw the ships get stuck in giant ice floes. In several cases, they've dug up the bones and preserved bodies of the ship's crew. But they've found no ships, no logs, and no sign of Franklin himself.

    In subsequent years, a rough sketch of the troubles emerged. During the first winter, the crew disembarked, travelled south to hunt. Franklin left a reassuring message in a rock cairn, signed "All well". A month later, he was dead.

    A year later, the crew returned to the cairn and updated the note. By that time, 15 sailors had died.

    "If it had just been that, it would have been one of the biggest disasters of Arctic exploration," says Ted Betts, a Toronto lawyer and author of the blog Franklin's Ghost. But it wasn't just that.

    From that time on, things only got worse. The men, sickened from scurvy, tuberculosis and lead poisoning, got weaker and weaker. They reportedly abandoned ship in 1848, only to meet a cold death elsewhere.

    In 1859, an explorer sent by Franklin's wife travelled to the spot where the ships had been abandoned. He didn't find the Terror or the Erebus. Instead, he found a small whaleboat, full of books, chocolates, and the skeletons of two sailors.

    The boat, says Russell Potter, professor of English at Rhode Island College, was pointed towards where the abandoned ship once sat.

    "Maybe they weren't trying to get away, but to get back to their ship and die in comfort," he says. "It's a very poignant arrangement."

    Two other locations offered a concentrated amount of remains, says Battersby. "They do seem to be associated with men who just abandoned ship, gave up hope of ever being rescued, and sadly, gradually, cannibalised the bodies of their comrades."

    A few fully-preserved corpses have been found in the snow as well. But the bodies of others, including Franklin, are missing.

    "They simply disappeared. It's like Apollo 13 went around the moon and never came back again," says Battersby.

    "They never had a date of death, a place of death. They're immortals who are trapped between life and death. Are they ghosts? How long did the last one live? We just don't know."

    Desolate and desperate

    For Ron Carlson, a Chicago architect and licensed bush pilot, it's easy for him to understand why, after all these years, the ships are still missing - and how desolate the last days must have been for men on that doomed ship.

    "It's vast. When I flew, I could look out over Victoria Strait and see 50 miles of ice pack in all directions," he says. "It's like the surface of the moon, but without any marks."

    The broad and punishing size of the search area dwarfs the high-tech equipment and meticulous research used by the Parks Canada team, and the other explorers before them.

    The fate of the ships inspired artwork, music and literature, including this sketch by Owen Stanley "Both of the ships were caught in the ice for two years but slowly drifting south in a very large body of water," says Marc-Andre Bernier, chief of underwater archaeology services at Parks Canada.

    That could mean that the ships are hundreds of miles apart. "For us, it's just as important to know where they're not," he says, so that future searches can start fresh.

    For sailors on the Terror and Erebus, the barren landscape and dim prospects possibly only added to an increasing sense of foreboding.

    "It seems very clear from several sources that the men on these ships suffered from terrible lead poisoning, which leads to depression," says Battersby, who read the records from an earlier trip by the Terror to the Arctic.

    "The account of the Terror's voyage of that year says how bad the atmosphere was, how demoralised people were and how depressed they all were."

    Battersby believes that the ships themselves, which had an internal pipe system to melt ice and provide fresh water, was the source of the poison.

    Finding the ships could prove this theory. It would also bring to a close a search first launched in the time of Queen Victoria. But it wouldn't end the mystery.

    "It's really just the beginning," says Betts. The papers, artifacts, and infrastructure will provide a whole new raft of information and leads - and more fodder for followers of the Franklin expedition's sad fate.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    Arctic airship deal signed

    Hmmmm.... Now where have we heard this idea before?

    I certainly hope these well-intentioned folks have studied their history.

    Arctic airship deal signed

    The idea has been floating around for years, but a deal between a northern aviator and a British manufacturer could finally see giant airships sailing through Arctic skies within three years.

    "It’s been the next big thing for a long time," said Rolf Dawson of Yellowknife-based Discovery Air, which recently signed an agreement in principle with the United Kingdom’s Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) to develop and bring in the first specially adapted airships to the land of bush planes and ice roads.

    "We’re working toward a commercial agreement which will stipulate how many aircraft we’re going to commit to buying, what the timing of the delivery and what the payment terms are going to be."

    Airship boosters have long suggested that using lighter-than-air craft to haul equipment and supplies could change the economics of development in remote areas.

    Airships require neither ice roads nor runways. Both are expensive to build and increasingly tough to maintain in the warming northern climate. Airships use far less fuel than planes and have massive lift capacity. The HAV design can haul 50 tonnes — about twice the payload of a Hercules airplane.


    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    Artifacts recovered from HMS Investigator

    Well, looks like another season passes and nothing further on the Erebus and Terror front, but perhaps we are getting closer and closer as each acre is painstakingly ruled out year after year.

    Not a complete lost summer by any respects. Especially since some artifacts have been recovered from HMS Investigator, including a musket, some rigging, some sheathing, and the sole of a leather shoe.

    Talk about being, um, frozen in time!!

    Divers find Northwest Passage discovery artifacts

    CBC News Posted: Sep 1, 2011 11:16 AM CT Last Updated: Sep 1, 2011 1:59 PM CT

    A musket and other artifacts from HMS Investigator, the ship abandoned in the Canadian Arctic in 1854 during the hunt for Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition, have been recovered by divers. The ship is credited with discovering the Northwest Passage.

    Shoes, a musket, a copper sheet, and parts of the ship’s rigging were among the items brought up over nine days this July from the wreck discovered last summer in Mercy Bay, off Banks Island in the Northwest Territories. Divers were lucky enough to find the usually ice-covered bay largely open water during the expedition.

    John Franklin's party disappeared while searching for the Northwest Passage in 1848 following their captain's death partway through the expedition. Their ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, haven't been found, despite numerous searches.

    HMS Investigator, captained by Robert McClure, was sent in 1850 to search for Franklin's crew and their ships.

    After more than two years trapped in the ice at Mercy Bay, crew members were rescued by a Royal Navy sledge team, who took them to another ship.

    In the end, McClure and HMS Investigator succeeded where Franklin failed — they are credited with finding the Northwest Passage.

    Marc-André Bernier, the Parks Canada scientist who led the expedition, said that “to dive on that shipwreck that is literally frozen in time... with artifacts on the deck” was the highlight of his career of more than 20 years.

    Archeologists photographed and mapped the ship using sonar and video to determine its state of preservation.

    "Although the hull is basically survived up to the main deck, the main deck is a litter of timbers,” Bernier said at a news conference.

    The ship continues to be damaged by ice, he said, but there was a lot of sediment within the interior of the ship.

    “This is basically the best conditions to preserve artifacts,” he added.

    The buried artifacts were left untouched, but about 16 lying outside and on the deck were recovered because they were exposed, and researchers feared they could become damaged before an expedition could return to the site.

    Bernier said the most exciting was the copper sheeting, which protected the ship's hull from marine organisms. That's because the copper can be chemically tested and compared to copper found at other sites to figure out whether those pieces originally came from HMS Investigator, or compared to the copper on other ships.

    He added that some of the items, such as the shoes, are of interest because they appear to include waterproofing or other modifications for use in the Arctic.

    The collected artifacts included copper sheathing that protected the hull of the ship - considered by archeologists to be the most important find. Chris Rands/CBCResearchers also conducted land surveys as part of the expedition, collecting an inscribed wooden barrel top, an arrow and a tin can near a cache linked to Robert McClure, the captain of HMS Investigator.

    They identified four new archeological sites, including a small aboriginal camp and rock cairn.

    At one point, the researchers responded to a search and rescue call that brought them near a previously known archeological site believed to have been used as an observatory by Franklin's crew between 1846 to 1848. There, they checked up on the site and collected artifacts that included bottle glass, copper nails, twine or rope, tent canvas, and pieces of tobacco smoking pipes.

    Franklin search to continue: Kent
    However, as previously announced, they did not manage to locate HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, Franklin's long-lost ships, in the third year of a three-year hunt for them.

    Environment Minister Peter Kent gave his assurances that government-funded expeditions will continue to visit the Arctic each summer to continue the search and map the Arctic waters that are becoming increasingly ice-free and navigable.

    "Certainly, I can assure you that this will be an ongoing project," he said.

    Kent noted that while HMS Investigator was trapped in a bay, where it stayed put, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror may have drifted very long distances to two very different sites, based on Inuit oral history indicating their locations.

    Bernier said the area that needs to be searched is enormous, but that large swaths are ruled out each year.

    "We are getting closer because we have covered more territory," he said.

    HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are considered by Parks Canada to be National Historic Sites, Bernier added.

    "They are the only National Historic Sites for which we don’t know the location," he said, adding that the department has the mandate and the responsibility to find them.

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    HMS Terror found

    New Franklin discovery! HMS Terror found!

    Well, not the actual ship, of course.

    A previously unknown painting of HMS Terror , by non other than Royal Navy artist-turned-admiral Sir George Back, has been discovered and is to be auctioned off in September. They are expecting the painting to fetch $25,000.

    It's a beautiful and dramatic watercolour as you can see above. Back painted it (or, more likely, sketched it before painting it later back in England) during his trouble-plagued voyage to Hudson Bay in 1836. That expedition was to cross the Melville Peninsula overland and explore the opposite shore. After being beset and nearly crushed against rock cliff outcrops and colliding with icebergs on the voyage home, HMS Terror was sinking when it was beached in Ireland in 1837.

    The painting had been in the Back family until its owner passed away and the estate discovered it.

    Who knows. Maybe the original will have been found by the time it goes to auction.

    Painting of lost Arctic vessel HMS Terror comes to light after 175 years
    By Randy Boswell, Postmedia News July 14, 2011 1:55 PM

    A dramatic and previously unknown watercolour scene of Canada painted during the golden age of Arctic exploration by that era's most legendary artist has come to light in Britain after 175 years.

    The image of an enormous iceberg towering above the famous Arctic expedition ship HMS Terror and one of its rowboats was painted by Royal Navy artist-turned-admiral George Back, who captained the vessel during a trouble-plagued voyage to Hudson Bay in 1836.

    The painting, which has emerged from the obscurity of a Back family collection to be auctioned in London by Bonhams, is expected to fetch up to $25,000 at a maritime art sale in September.

    By then, the very ship depicted in Back's long-lost painting may have been located lying on the Arctic seabed in western Nunavut.

    Parks Canada announced earlier this month that it will undertake a new search in August to locate the lost ships of the Franklin Expedition — the Terror and its sister vessel HMS Erebus, which were sunk by pack ice during a disastrous voyage led in the 1840s by Back's friend and mentor, Sir John Franklin.

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Nunavut defends rejecting Franklin search bid [Updated]

    The Nunavut Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth (CLEY) has come out to defend its decision to reject Ron Carlson's application for a permit search for Franklin sites from his airplane.

    I remain quite unconvinced.

    Doug Stenton, the department's heritage director, and the bureaucrat specifically highlighted in particular by Carlson on his blog because of the personal jail-time threats, is quoted as saying: "We feel for that reason that it's very important that these sites are investigated by individuals who have the proper experience, the proper qualifications, training. I can't think of any reason why a well-resourced, competent, professional team wouldn't get a permit."

    Excuse me, but... baloney.

    If that is the case then:
  • Why was the Procom expedition not approved two years ago? They had more than adequate resources, experience and professional qualifications and training. They are one of the leading underwater search experts.

  • Why was Carlson only rejected once he got there? They had nearly a year to determine whether he had the qualifications or not. Carlson was well qualified for what he was planning to do. In both cases, well-resourced, competent and professional teams were trying to advance knowledge at their own expense, for the benefit of all, agreed to provide Nunavut/Canada with all of their research and to keep it from the public so it was not misused. Each had long pedigrees of showing respect for archeological sites.

  • Why was Carlson rejected after the Inuit community actually on King William Island had approved his plans?

  • Once Carlson's permit was rejected, why threaten him with jail time for merely flying over King William Island, something CLEY had permitted him to do a few seasons ago and something they only have questionable authority to do (for just a fly-over and photography)?

  • [Update]As noted in the comments, David C. Woodman was also rejected by CLEY despite being one of the leading experts with more than adequate search history and credentials. Really makes you think something else is going on here.

  • I am somewhat grateful for CLEY coming forward instead of hiding behind a great wall of bureaucracy. And I completely understand and share the concerns they have about tourists and greedy excavators.

    But why pretend to offer permits if they are not going to be issued? They should at least clarify what the criteria are because, even according to their own criteria as stated, it seems they are rejecting fully competent expeditions.

    I completely agree with McGoogan on this. There ought to be some way to find a compromise. Most of the great advances in Franklin research has come from private enthusiasts like Robert Rondeau and Ron Carlson. Their spark and curiosity has not only resulted in most of the "finds" but also in the sense of importance of this archeology and the need to protect it, not to mention the expeditions now being conducted by Parks Canada itself.

    Nunavut defends rejecting Franklin search bid
    CBC News Posted: Jul 13, 2011 3:50 PM CT Last Updated: Jul 13, 2011 3:50 PM CT

    Nunavut government officials are defending their decision not to give a Chicago man an archeological permit to search for Sir John Franklin's grave in the Arctic.

    Nunavut heritage director Doug Stenton says the territory is not overly trying to protect high-profile undiscovered archeological sites. CBC
    Ron Carlson, a Chicago-based architect, pilot and Franklin history buff, had wanted to fly over King William Island with his DeHavilland Beaver aircraft and use thermal imaging equipment to look for the British explorer's grave.

    But Carlson told CBC News this week that his application for a territorial archeological permit was rejected just as he had arrived in Nunavut late last month.

    The territory's Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, which is responsible for issuing the permit, ruled that Carlson was not qualified.

    Doug Stenton, the department's heritage director, said many people want their name associated with Franklin, whose doomed 1845 voyage and disappearance in the Northwest Passage has fascinated historians for almost 170 years.

    "We feel for that reason that it's very important that these sites are investigated by individuals who have the proper experience, the proper qualifications, training," Stenton told CBC News on Tuesday.

    Nunavut is home to about 12,000 known archeological sites, and Stenton said his department needs to ensure the people who study those sites have the expertise and tools required to do the job.

    Skulls of members of the Franklin expedition were discovered by William Skinner and Paddy Gibson in 1945 at King William Island in Nunavut. National Archives of Canada/Canadian Press
    "We take that responsibility very seriously, and we review and consider every application on its own merits," Stenton said.

    Carlson is not the only potential Franklin searcher to have been denied a territorial permit. In 2009, Stenton's department rejected a private group's application to locate Franklin's lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

    Nunavut has supported the Canadian government's expeditions to locate Franklin's ships. Archeologists with Parks Canada are set to search in an area west of King William Island next month.

    Carlson said he feels the Nunavut government never seriously considered his application and is intentionally blocking private searchers from accessing Franklin sites.

    But Stenton insisted that it's not a case of overly protecting high-profile undiscovered archeological sites.

    "I can't think of any reason why a well-resourced, competent, professional team wouldn't get a permit," he said.

    Author and historian Ken McGoogan, who has written four books on Arctic exploration, said he does not think there was any conspiracy on the Nunavut government's part to keep Franklin searchers out.

    "I am torn with regard to the story of Carlson," McGoogan said.

    "Obviously, the government has a major role to play in making sure the sights are undisturbed. But he was only going to be flying over, so I think a compromise could have been worked out."

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    CBC reporting on bureaucratic interference with Carlson's expedition

    Ron Carlson's plans have been foiled by bureaucrats.

    And now it is hitting the news.

    If you have been following Ron Carlson's very interesting and different search for Franklin graves using fly-over thermal photography closely on his blog (as we have), then you will already know the almost Kafka-esque permitting mountain he attempted, and failed, to climb.

    Carlson provides the gory details here (short version) and here (long version). Carlson remembers that he is not the only one to receive this kind of treatment from the Nunavut Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth (CLEY) here.

    Carlson wonders if CLEY and Parks Canada are jealously protecting Franklin relics and possible Franklin finds (most especially the lost ships themselves) for themselves. And even if they are, in fact, going so far as to collect possible search expedition sites and technologies from the elaborate and detailed applications for permits they have no intention of providing.

    Perhaps that is why we haven't heard a single word from or about Bear Gryls "find" in the James Ross Strait area.

    Maybe with this kind of publicity, we will get some reaction from the bureaucrats at CLEY. Even if they don't explain themselves, and why criminal charges and threats of jail time were necessary for such innocuous activity, they could at least lay out some clearer criteria for when they may actually issue a permit.