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.

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    Time, Canada, to negotiate the Northwest Passage

    On my list of summer must-reads is Who Owns the Arctic? Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North by Michael Byers. Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at UBC and is a project leader with ArcticNet, a federally-funded consortium of scientists from 30 Canadian universities and eight federal departments.

    So when Michael Byers says something about the Arctic and about sovereignty, it is probably worth your while to pay attention.

    And this is a worthwhile read from him, not just for Franklin-o-philes and those passionate about the Northwest Passage, not just for those who accept the reality of a quickly melting Arctic, but for anyone in government who might have a chance to catch the ear of our Prime Minister.

    My hope is that all of Prime Minister Harper's bungling and sabre rattling and falsehood on the "threats" to our "sovereignty" in the Arctic was just electioneering in an ever-threatened minority government situation. And that now, with the stability he sold us on, he will start leading and doing the right things that actually protect and benefit the Arctic and his country.

    Michael Byers hopes so too. And he know of what he speaks.

    And of what he writes.

    Time, Canada, to negotiate the Northwest Passage

    By Michael Byers
    Special to CBC News
    Posted: Jul 5, 2011 5:51 PM ET

    With Arctic sea ice melting, at up to three times faster than scientists were predicting, the international battle over the polar region and the Northwest Passage, in particular, is also heating up. This week Moscow sent a nuclear-powered icebreaker to explore the extent of its northern continental shelf while Canada announced that this summer's annual military exercise in the Arctic will be the largest in recent history.

    UBC's Michael Byers, the author of Who Owns the Arctic? Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North, says it is time for the federal government to start formally negotiating the rules around the Northwest Passage with the international community, the Americans especially.

    Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia. He is a project leader with ArcticNet, a federally-funded consortium of scientists from 30 Canadian universities and eight federal departments and is the author of Who Owns the Arctic? Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North.
    It's never been easy for Canada to talk about the Northwest Passage with the U.S. The passage was the holy grail for explorers from Cabot to Hudson and Franklin, whose discoveries helped define our northern nation.

    The Northwest Passage also constitutes Canada's most significant long-standing dispute with the U.S. It's a source of both pride and anxiety in our close but asymmetrical relationship.

    Still, we've managed to talk before. In 1988, Brian Mulroney resolved the sovereignty challenge posed by U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers. In return for Ronald Reagan agreeing that such ships would request permission from Canada, Mulroney promised that permission would be routinely granted.

    Our current prime minister, however, seems to have missed that lesson in pragmatic diplomacy.

    In fact, during his very first press conference as prime minister back in January 2006, Stephen Harper took aim at then U.S. ambassador David Wilkins for having simply reiterated Washington's longstanding position — that the Northwest Passage is an international strait open to foreign shipping.

    "It is the Canadian people we get our mandate from," said Harper, "not the ambassador from the United States."

    It was a potentially damaging rebuke, for just a few months earlier, Paul Cellucci, Wilkins's predecessor, had revealed that he had asked the U.S. State Department to re-examine Washington's position.

    Cellucci's concern was that terrorists might take advantage of ice-free conditions to enter North America or transport weapons of mass destruction via its largely unguarded northern coast.

    Cellucci went so far as to suggest publicly that Canada's position — that the Northwest Passage constitutes "internal waters" where foreign vessels are subject to the full force of Canadian law — might now work for the U.S.

    Setting a precedent
    From where I sat, as the holder of a Canada Research Chair in international law at UBC, it looked as if the prime minister had just blown off an invitation to negotiate. My University of Montreal colleague Suzanne Lalonde and I decided to investigate.

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks with Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk while standing on an iceberg near Resolute, Nunavut, in August 2010. It was the Harper's fourth trip to the Far North in as many years. (Chris Wattie/Reuters) In Washington, we met with J. Ashley Roach, the straight-shooting diplomat then charged with U.S. policy on the law of the sea.

    We knew that Washington's position was based on a concern that any concession on the Northwest Passage might create a precedent for other waterways, such as the Strait of Hormuz where oil tankers steam out of the Persian Gulf and freedom of navigation is contested by Iran.

    Couldn't you sidestep the notion of setting an international precedent, we suggested, by accepting that the Northwest Passage is unique? We pointed to the passage's considerable length, the frequent presence of sea ice, and the consequent near-absence of shipping — indeed, only 69 full voyages had taken place since 1906.

    Roach's reply was that the Pentagon was especially concerned about setting a precedent, which we took to mean that the State Department might have a less rigid view.

    We pointed out that maintaining access to the Northwest Passage should not be a concern, since Canada would never deny entry to a close ally.

    "The United States understand that," Roach said.

    Thanking him for his candour, we left for our next meeting, with four diplomats at the Canadian Embassy.

    After we'd sketched the outlines of our discussion with Roach, they looked at each other with visible regret. "I'm glad you went to the State Department," the most senior of them said. "We're not allowed to talk about the Northwest Passage with the United States."

    Open waters
    Five months later, in July 2007, Harper bluntly stated that "Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty in the Arctic. Either we use it or we lose it."

    The message to the international community was clear: Canada wasn't interesting in compromising its go-it-alone position.

    But the scale of the challenges we face in the North changed dramatically in September 2007 when there was a massive retreat of Arctic sea ice and, for the first time, the entire Northwest Passage was open to shipping.

    It now appears possible that the thick, hard multi-year ice that poses the greatest risk to ships will disappear forever within five to 10 years. The Northwest Passage will then resemble the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where ice-strengthened vessels and icebreaker-escorted convoys can operate safely throughout the year.

    The prospect of increased shipping, of course, brings with it security and environmental risks like smuggling, terrorism and oil spills that often transcend boundaries.

    And the fact is that neither Canada nor the U.S. with its long Alaskan coastline is able to address these challenges adequately on its own.

    Perhaps with this in mind, the U.S. has now embarked on an unprecedented amount of Arctic co-operation. The State Department recently led the negotiation of an Arctic-wide search-and-rescue treaty designed to coordinate multinational responses to shipping and aviation disasters.

    The U.S. Air Force has partnered with Russia in testing a joint response to any hijacking of a civilian aircraft in international airspace. The U.S. Coast Guard has, for four summers now, sent an icebreaker to the Beaufort Sea to map the ocean floor in tandem with a Canadian vessel.

    The time is ripe
    Washington is also working within the Arctic Council and International Maritime Organization to develop co-operative mechanisms for oil spill clean-ups and fisheries management, as well as on safety standards for polar shipping.

    At the same time, the U.S. appears to understand that Harper's Arctic rhetoric has always been aimed at Canada's electorate and not necessarily its international partners.

    As a U.S. diplomat explained in a cable released by WikiLeaks: "The persistent high public profile which this government has accorded 'Northern Issues' and the Arctic is … unprecedented and reflects the PM's views that 'the North has never been more important to our country' — although one could perhaps paraphrase to state 'the North has never been more important to our Party.'"

    Perhaps now, with a majority government and a bit of partisan breathing room, the prime minister can finally pursue the opening created by Cellucci six years ago.

    It's time to negotiate the Northwest Passage dispute; to talk about the commitments — on access, policing and search-and-rescue — that the U.S. might wish from Canada, in return for recognizing our claim to this passage as "internal waters."

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    More details on 2011 searches

    Some of the details of the planned Parks Canada searches for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are being reported on. (Prior related post.)

    The two-phased search - phase 1 in July going back to the HMS Investigator wreck and phase 2 in August searching for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror - appears to be three phases, or at least the second phase for the search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror will be done in two parts: one part searching off the west coast of King William Island in the vicinity of where the ships were abandoned and one part searching in the Queen Maud Gulf region where Inuit testimony collected by Charles Francis Hall indicates one of the ships may have been wrecked. According to the Parks Canada backgrounder:

    The 2011 search for the Franklin vessels will shift northward from the O’Reilly Island area to Victoria Strait where the second vessel is thought to have foundered. This new area is a priority for CHS and CCG in their mandate to promote the safety of shipping though the principal navigation corridors of the Canadian Arctic and Parks Canada will take advantage of this opportunity to embark on the search for the second vessel.

    So that is good. More of the historical information does lead one to the Queen Maud Gulf region as the last resting place of at least one of the ships.

    Interestingly, according to this report, "the search area has been whittled down from notes and messages that were written by crew members before their deaths, by oral histories passed down through generations of Inuit, and by other means of archeological sleuthing. [...] “We do have clues,” said lead investigator Marc-Andre Bernier. “We know where the ships were abandoned." "

    Which, of course, is quite interesting because this is not actually altogether crystal clear according to David Woodman's investigations of Inuit oral testimony given to Charles Francis Hall and others. We may know where the ships were originally abandoned, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest the ships, or at least one of them, were re-manned and sailed again, likely to the Queen Maud Gulf region and perhaps even near O'Reilley Island. Which Parks Canada will fortunately be searching.

    On the search technology front, we now know that Parks Canada will deploy an unmanned underwater vehicle, courtesy of the University of Victoria, with frigid water search capabilities which will cover some 100-square-kilometres with surface searches covering another 200-square-kilometres. The underwater vehicle can run for 16 hours a day before needing to have its battery recharged, apparently. According to the Parks Canada backgrounder:

    In addition to technologies already deployed which included side-scan sonar and multi-beam bathymetry, the Parks Canada-led search for the Franklin vessels will enlist a sophisticated autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) supplied by the University of Victoria. The AUV uses a newly developed, high-resolution side-scan sonar and swath bathymetry sensor package which could allow the study of a larger area than that covered in the two previous years combined.

    So that is also good. The technology, the search area and building on three years of Parks Canada expedition research (as well as the research of many other explorers) will provide the greatest opportunity yet to find the wrecks of the missing ships or their last resting places.

    And perhaps find another piece of this 160 year old Arctic puzzle.

    Updates on the 2011 Parks Canada Arctic search expeditions will presumably be posted to or linked to from this Parks Canada site.

    The Parks Canada press release yesterday is here, with one of the backgrounders here. Some more media coverage here and here, though there is not much more information in those news reports.

    More details as I come across it.

    HMS Investigator, discovered last year by Parks Canada after 3 minutes of searching in Mercy Bay, Banks Island.

    Thursday, June 30, 2011

    Parks Canada confirms 2-phased searches for summer 2010

    Parks Canada has finally confirmed that there will be a search expedition this summer, two in fact, as well as some of the details of the search.

    The two phases will encompass a July re-visit to the site of the wreck of HMS Investigator, which was discovered last year, in Mercy Bay off Banks Island, and an August underwater search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror in the region west of King William Island in Nunavut. No greater detail of the search area has been provided yet for the Franklin ships phase. Whether "west of King William Island" means just west or west and south is not clear which is unfortunate as the areas south and west, particularly the Queen Maud Gulf area and O'Reilley Islands area, appear most promising from the historical data.

    The expedition will set sail on the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Sir Wilfrid Laurier as they did in 2008 and 2010. The HMS Investigator expedition will take place from July 10 to 25 and will deploy various underwater cameras. They'll also investigate McClure's cache and related terrestrial sites, including the rare, ancient Paleoeskimo site. The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror search is expected to launch on August 21.

    New Technology to be Deployed in the Search for Franklin's Lost Vessels

    Government of Canada continues Franklin search expedition in Canada's Arctic

    OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 30, 2011) - The Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, today announced that Parks Canada will be working with other Canadian researchers to deploy highly sophisticated underwater technology in the continuing search for polar explorer Sir John Franklin's lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. This summer's two-phased Arctic expedition will focus on further uncovering the story of the 19th century pursuit to find the Northwest Passage and will also include underwater exploration of the HMS Investigator shipwreck located last summer off Banks Island, as well as archaeological studies of related land sites.

    "The Government of Canada is proud to be working with a nationwide team of existing and new Canadian researchers in this search for two of the world's most elusive shipwrecks", said Minister Kent. "Our collective efforts will significantly enhance this year's search capacity through the use of new technology."

    The search for Sir John Franklin's lost ships under the direction of Parks Canada will enlist a sophisticated autonomous underwater vehicle to expand the search area, supplied by University of Victoria's Ocean Technology Laboratory.

    Beginning about August 21, depending upon local weather conditions, Parks Canada and the associated organizations will continue the search for Franklin's lost vessels in the region west of King William Island in Nunavut. The expedition is a collaborative effort among Parks Canada, University of Victoria Ocean Technology Laboratory, Government of Nunavut and Canadian Ice Service. As in 2008 and 2010, Parks Canada archaeologists will be operating from the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Sir Wilfrid Laurier alongside hydrographers with the Canadian Hydrographic Service.

    "The challenging search for a Northwest Passage has captured the public imagination for more than 400 years. As an integral part of our Canadian history and development as a nation, the Government of Canada is pleased to spearhead these important archaeological expeditions in Canada's Arctic," concluded Minister Kent.

    HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were lost during Sir John Franklin's ill-fated 1845 expedition to chart Canada's Northwest Passage and the vessels have been sought for more than 160 years, creating great anticipation for their possible discovery.

    From about July 10 to 25, Parks Canada archaeologists will further study the HMS Investigator wreck from a camp in Aulavik National Park, Northwest Territories near the western end of the Northwest Passage. The camp is near the location where Captain McClure and his ship HMS Investigator were trapped in the ice of Mercy Bay while searching for the lost Franklin voyage.

    While HMS Investigator was discovered last summer, underwater archaeologists plan to dive the wreck for the first time this summer using a variety of underwater cameras, with the purpose of bringing back new information and unique underwater images. Archaeologists will also investigate McClure's cache and related terrestrial sites, including a rare, ancient Paleoeskimo site.

    For additional information on the two-phased Arctic expedition and the 2011 itineraries, please see the accompanying backgrounders at under Media Room. As well, please visit the special feature on the Arctic expeditions at for regular updates over the summer.

    Canadian Government to Announce Franklin Ships Search Plans

    Some new news nearly here, just before noon, on Parks Canada's northern summer search plans seeking the Franklin ships.

    (Don't ask at all why I'm alliterative all day today. Could be connected to Canada Day coming.)

    Government of Canada to Unveil Details on Archaeological Expeditions in Canada's Arc
    Thursday, 30 June 2011

    The Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, will unveil plans for the summer 2011 archaeological expeditions in Canada's Arctic.

    Minister Kent will announce new details regarding the search for lost vessels of the Franklin Expedition, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, and information on the archaeological surveys of HMS Investigator and related land sites.

    Questions can be asked by calling in via teleconference at 1-877-413-4814 (toll free)

    Access code is 5125526

    To participate, media personnel must call at 10:50.

    Please note that this advisory is subject to change without notice.

    The details are as follows:

    Date: June 30

    Time: 11 a.m.

    Location: Parks Canada
    Ontario Service Centre
    1800 Walkley Road
    Ottawa, Ontario

    That would be in half an hour so I'm going to try to call in and will update if there is anything of substance.

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    A Kindle for Sir John Franklin

    This has only the thinnest thread of a tie-in with Franklin, but it's so neat that I couldn't resist.

    Perhaps if Franklin had had a Kindle of this sort, the Erebus wouldn't have weighed down so heavily and been able to free itself from the ice.

    h/t Nathalie Foy.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    Summer of Franklin, Take 2?

    Two bits of search-for-Franklin news.

    First, there is the intrepid and independent journey by Ron Carlson in his DeHavilland Beaver. Carlson is flying solo over the route travelled by the survivors with unique thermal photography equipment that he hopes will suggest where bodies from the expedition may have been buried, perhaps even Sir John Franklin's. Check Carlson's blog for background, updates and photos of his journey, including a discovery of a lost Hudson Bay Company outpost and an abandoned church with stainglass donated by Lady Franklin. Russell Potter puts this search in some context.

    Second, Parks Canada is quietly preparing for another search expedition this summer. After the numberous Franklin-related stories and discoveries from last summer, most especially the discovery of HMS Investigator, can we expect even more this summer? (Still waiting for any details from the very interesting and curious northwest passage of Bear Grylls and the discovery of a possible Franklin site find.)

    Search for ill-fated, historic Franklin expedition could continue this summer

    By Randy Boswell, Postmedia News
    June 19, 2011

    Parks Canada is quietly organizing a third season of searching this summer for the lost ships of Sir John Franklin — the 19th-century British explorer whose ill-fated expedition to the Canadian Arctic in the 1840s ended with the sinking of the ice-trapped HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, as well as the deaths of Franklin and all 128 men under his command.

    While a Parks Canada spokeswoman told Postmedia News that plans are “fluid” and that the agency isn’t yet ready to disclose details of the proposed mission, she said officials are working with several partners in the federal and Nunavut governments “towards obtaining various authorizations and securing the necessary logistical support to be able to have the most productive search possible.”

    Two previous searches in 2008 and 2010 were successful “in charting a navigation corridor to an area where we believe, through historic research, there is a high probability of finding the lost ships,” Parks Canada’s Natalie Fay told Postmedia News. “The area of surveying was approximately 150 square kilometres.”

    The disappearance of the Franklin vessels, a profoundly traumatic moment for Victorian-era Britain and its Canadian colonies, prompted a series of Royal Navy rescue attempts that failed to find the ships but mapped much of the Arctic archipelago, ultimately securing sovereignty over the vast region for the future Canada.

    The final resting place of the Franklin wrecks, which are believed to lie somewhere in the ice-choked waters off Nunavut’s King William Island, has eluded recent generations of searchers determined to locate one of the great global prizes of underwater archeology.

    The Canadian government announced in 2008 that it was launching an unprecedented, three-season hunt for the sunken ships, so central to the story of Canada that they’ve already been declared national historic sites despite their unknown location.

    Extensive sweeps of the Arctic sea floor were conducted in the 2008 and 2010 searches by Parks Canada and its partner agencies, including the Government of Nunavut, the Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Canadian Coast Guard.

    A planned search in 2009 was called off when the Coast Guard icebreaker required by archeologists for sea floor surveys was unavailable because of other commitments related to Canada’s increased strategic interest in its Arctic frontier.

    But federal archeologists said the resumed search for the Franklin ships in 2010 ruled out another large swath of seabed near King William Island and significantly narrowed the target zone for the 2011 expedition, which would begin in August if Parks Canada’s plans come together as expected.

    Last year’s landmark discovery of the most famous of the Franklin rescue ships — HMS Investigator, which was abandoned in the Western Arctic pack ice in 1853 — has buoyed hopes for an even greater find this summer.

    The Investigator — which had became hopelessly frozen in at Mercy Bay, just off Banks Island in today’s Northwest Territories — was finally pinpointed on the ocean floor last year by a Parks Canada team that won international acclaim for solving the long-standing mystery of that ship’s whereabouts.

    The Investigator’s commander, Capt. Robert McClure, had led his crew off the ice-locked ship onto Banks Island, where they deposited a cache of supplies that has also been excavated by archeologists.

    Both the shoreline area and the bay where the Investigator went down are today part of Aulavik National Park.

    McClure and his men, facing sickness and starvation, eventually trekked across the sea ice to Melville Island and were rescued, at last, by another British ship.

    But their combined travels by ship and foot marked a banner achievement in global exploration that Franklin and his doomed men had helped make possible — the traversing of the final link in the Northwest Passage, the polar sea route sought for centuries by European adventurers.

    “With the arguable exception of the vessels from the Franklin expedition, the Investigator is the most significant shipwreck in the Canadian Arctic,” Jim Prentice, the former minister for Parks Canada, said after the July 25 discovery last year.

    Though the Franklin ships vanished more than 160 years ago, the expedition’s many enduring mysteries have continued to attract attention from archeologists, wreck hunters, historians, songwriters and authors of popular books.

    Earlier this year, a team of British scientists announced that they had re-identified one of only two sets of human remains from the Franklin Expedition returned to Britain for burial.

    For more than 140 years, a sailor’s remains found on King William Island in 1869 — then transported to a memorial chamber in Britain — had been identified as those of Lt. Henry Le Vesconte, one of Franklin’s perished officers.

    But the first modern scientific study of the entombed bones and teeth determined that the skeleton probably belonged to another of Franklin’s officers: expedition naturalist and assistant surgeon Harry Goodsir.

    The study also shed fresh light on the theory that a disastrous illness, perhaps scurvy or tuberculosis, had caused or contributed to the demise of Franklin and his men.

    “No evidence of these diseases was found on the bones, and DNA tests proved negative for tuberculosis,” English Heritage, a British government advisory agency, stated in its summary of the new scientific findings.

    Another prominent theory about the tragedy — that lead poisoning from tinned food or the ships’ water supplies had sickened the sailors during their Canadian voyage — is still being tested using the bones.

    © Copyright (c) Postmedia News

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    Canadian Bookshelf - Canadian Books on Franklin

    [I was recently honoured to be asked to submit a list of Canadian books on Franklin to the Canadian Bookshelf, a great new blog and website and must read for any Canadian bibliophile, for their launch on June 7, 2011. The following is the list I submitted, which can be found here. Unfortunately, the site does not support hyperlinks, so for now you, the readers of Franklin's Ghost, get the to enjoy the exclusive privilege of reading the post here with the re-inserted hyperlinks. My original post was also edited a little bit with the introduction and conclusion merged to work with their "list" formatting.

    Unfortunately, they excluded Frozen in Time by Owen Beattie and John Geiger from the posting as the book is out of print (a travesty in its own right) and they aren't set up for out of print books. Something about the way the information loads up directly from their publishers. It will be added eventually once they figure a workaround.

    Obviously, the list is necessarily very limited by being restricted to Canadian books, as any more complete list of Franklin books would show. But there are two interesting observations I would make about the list.

    First, the early writing that renewed and reinvigoured interest in the Franklin expedition and inspired later generations of writers were Canadians. Most notably, Owen Beatie and John Geiger's Frozen Time and Pierre Berton's Arctic Grail. Many fine non-Canadian writers have written about Franklin, of course, both before and after the mid-1980s, but those two (especially Beattie/Geiger) opened up new channels of study and interest. And the late 1980s and early 1990s witnessed a relative flurry of Franklin-related writing insprired by those early writers. From Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler in fiction and cultural studies to Woodman in Inuit and historical studies.

    Second, while Ken McGoogan has persisted in carrying the flag in the North, most recent writing on the Franklin expedition has been by , to a greater extent, British, and, to a lesser extent, Americans. Just like with the original searches, I guess. And this research has been deep and getting deeper. Somewhat to do no doubt with the volume of papers and artifacts actually in the UK, most especially the Scott Polar Research Institute, with books of Crozer by Smith and Fitzjames by Battersby, but also a number of British historians unsatisfied with the overall modern perception of Sir John Franklin, his expedition and all of the British Navy's explorations of the north (and elsewhere). Books like Beardsley, Cookman, Lambert, for example.

    Opportunities abound for some enterprising Canadian writer.]

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Sir John Franklin set out from Greenhithe, England, on the morning of May 19, 1845to discover the Northwest Passage. He and his 129 member crew were never seen again. While bones and artifacts, and even graves, have been found, their ships have never been found and the mystery of their disappearance has endured for 150 years. With the discovery of the sunken HMS Investigator and the unexpected possible finding of the last resting place of the Franklin crew last year, and multiple new expeditions in search of answers every year, the Franklin story not only refuses to fade away, but grows yearly.

    The resurgent interest in the mysteries of the Franklin expedition in the last 25 years was initiated by, and continues to be spurred on by, Canadian writers. Here's a few of them.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 by Pierre Berton (1988)

    If you were to pick one book to start with, it really has to be The Arctic Grail, the classic book by the iconic Canadian writer and historian Pierre Berton. Following shortly on the heals of Owen Beattie’s foresic discoveries (see below), and no doubt inspired by them, it is an excellent survey of arctic exploration and the central role the Franklin Expedition and, more importantly, the decades plus search for Franklin had in mapping and exploring the Arctic.

    Frozen in Time: Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Geiger (1987 with a good updated edition in 2004)

    The groundbreaking archeological work of Owen Beattie almost single-handedly re-opened research and interest into the Franklin expedition. Beattie's first expedition explored King William Island, where nearly 150 years earlier Franklin's men abandoned their ships and supposedly started their long "death march" along the western coast. Strewn along the coast were the bones of dozens of European men from the mid-nineteenth century. Using modern day forensic analysis on the bones back at the University of Alberta, Beattie made two startling discoveries. The first confirmed what was already generally known: that the expedition survivors had indeed "been driven to the last dread alternative", cannibalism. But it was the second discovery that surprised: bone samples revealed extremely high and dangerous levels of lead. Frozen In Time then documents two subsequent trips to Beechey Island in which the bodies of the 3 found sailors were exhumed. The cadavers, frozen in the permafrost for a century and a half, confirmed the earlier results: the Franklin sailors were suffering from lead poisoning to such a degree that it was a contributing factor to their demise. The 2004 paperback edition updates their research to subsequent theories.

    Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony by David C. Woodman (1992)

    Historian David C. Woodman is one of the first modern writers to recognise the profound importance, accuracy and reliability of Inuit oral history and to analyse it in depth. He concludes from his investigations, among other startling discoveries, that the Inuit probably did visit Franklin's ships while the crew was still on board, that there were some Inuit who actually saw the sinking of one of the ships and that the crew, or at least some of them, may have lived for years longer than supposed. This is a book for the real Franklinophile. Consider also Woodman's harder-to-find follow-up Strangers Among Us (1995).

    Fatal Passage: The True Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forgot by Ken McGoogan (2002)

    No reading list of Franklin history or of northern Canadian exploration would be complete without at least a few books from historian Ken McGoogan. Two of McGoogan’s “Fatal Passage Quartet” related directly to the lost Franklin expedition. Hudson Bay Company chief explorer John Rae charted more of Canada’s northern coastline on foot than possibly any other. It was Rae who not only uncovered the true story of Franklin – the location of the disaster and cannibalism (the telling of which doomed his career and reputation) – but also, according to the author was the true discoverer of the Northwest Passage and received £10,000 for it. In Fatal Passage, McGoogan tries to re-cast Rae into his rightful place in history.

    Lady Franklin's Revenge: A True Story of Ambition, Obsession and the Remaking of Arctic History by Ken McGoogan (2005)

    The story about Sir John Franklin cannot be fully understood without knowing about his ambitious, determined, obstinate and opinionated wife, Lady Jane Franklin. But for her efforts to mount and continue the search for her husband, there would have been no search for Franklin and no mapping of millions of square kilometers in the north. More than that, in Lady Franklin's Revenge, McGoogan brings to vivid life Lady Franklin and her husband Sir John, and the events that led to his command of the fateful expedition.

    De Bon Usage des Etoiles [On The Proper Use of Stars] by Dominique Fortier (2008; translated to English in 2010)

    The lost Franklin expedition has inspired not only serious research and study by non-fiction writers, but a library of fiction as well. The science and history inspired a significant portion of Mordecai Richler’s Solomon Gursky Was Here (1990), Margaret Atwood’s short story “The Age of Lead” (1989) from Wilderness Tips (as indicated by the title, directly from Beattie, in fact) and more recently the Helen Humphreys short story “Franklin’s Library” (2005) and the mystery/detective novel by the late, prize winning Canadian author Dennis Richard Murphy in Darkness at the Stroke of Noon (2008). Most recently, Dominque Fortier’s captivating and elegant historical fiction, On The Proper Use of Stars, which won the Governor General’s Medal in 2008 and was beautifully translated in 2010 (by Sheila Fischman) shows us the magneticism of this slowly unraveling mystery.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    In a way, the historical and scientific writing, and the modern fiction it has inspired, is only catching up to generations of writing on Franklin by artists and folklorists and dramatists and poets. As Margaret Atwood noted in her 1995 book, Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature, though, the Franklin mystery has been told and re-told so many times that it has created a fundamental Canadian myth.

    Ted Betts is a Canadian lawyer and historian who occasionally writes at the Franklin's Ghost blog. If this short list has in any way piqued your interest, he has compiled an essentials reading list on Franklin history.

    Originally posted at Canadian Bookshelf.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    Owen Beattie in the news

    Ever wonder what University of Alberta forensic scientist and author of the ground-breaking Franklin book Frozen in Time, Professor Owen Beattie, has been up to since he retired?

    The retired professor's skills and experience remain of great value, though not just for our little Franklin world. He was called to testify as an expert witness in the bizarre first-degree murder trial of Mark Twitchell in Edmonton:

    An anthropologist says it's impossible to tell what killed a young man from his charred bones found in the bush near Draper Road. Owen Beattie testified Tuesday in the first-degree murder trial of 33-year-old Dax Mack. Mack is accused of killing his roommate, 25-year-old Robert LeVoir. Beattie says he and his team spent days uncovering 4,539 cremated pieces of bone, including 87 tooth fragments, from the site in April 2004. He says the remains were from a man aged 20 to 30, but he couldn't determine how the man died. Crown prosecutor Steven Koval told an Edmonton jury earlier this week he intends to prove Mack shot LeVoir five times, then burned his body over three days.

    More here.

    It's a truly grisly tale. Twitchell is accused of killing Johnny Altinger on Oct. 10, 2008, cutting up his body, burning the parts and dumping his remains down a manhole. The Crown alleges the crime followed one of Twitchell's movie scripts in which a man is lured over the Internet and attacked. Altinger was lured to Twitchell's house over the internet and was either attacked, according to the Crown, or accidentally killed, according to Twitchell, before being dismembered and stuffed in a duffel bag.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    Essential Franklin Reading

    My very first post here at Franklin's Ghost was a listing of what I considered to be some essential reading on the lost Franklin polar expedition and its participants. I promised then to eventually post a comprehensive bibliography of Arctic and Franklin related readings. I still plan (hope!?) to do that.

    For now though, with so many new titles in the last 3 years and since I've read so many more on the list that I had not yet read back then, I'm going to simply update my essential reading list. The list is also now a little more comprehensive and a start on that bibliography. I've also reorganized the list a bit into different sections which are hopefully a bit more reader-friendly.

    Consider the list your basic first course in Franklin related literature.

    Feel free to suggest others or argue against any of them in the comments. The big gap in the list is Inuit accounts

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    General Surveys on Arctic Exploration and the Search for the Northwest Passage

  • Berton, Pierre (1988) The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 -- If you were to pick one book to start with, I strongly recommend The Arctic Grail, the classic book by the iconic Canadian writer historian Pierre Berton. It is an excellent survey of arctic exploration and the central role the Franklin Expedition and, more importantly, the search for Franklin had in mapping and exploring the Arctic.

  • Fleming, Fergus (1998) Barrow's Boys -- Sir John Barrow, the Second Lieutenant of the Navy and the author of the Navy report that documented the story of the mutiny on HMS Bounty, was the driving force behind the many British expeditions of discovery in the North but also throughout the world. This is tale of his "boys" who sailed the world, and chief among them Sir John Franklin.

  • Sandler, Martin W. (2006) Resolute: The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage and John Franklin, and the Discovery of the Queen's Ghost Ship -- Despite the title, this is a good updated general survey of the search for the Northwest Passage, including a re-telling of the Franklin expedition and the searches for him, but one framed in the retelling of the fascinating tale of the ship Resolute which was abandoned after being beset deep in the northern Canadian archipelego in the ice while searching for Franklin but miraculously freed itself and was discovered in the Atlantic by whalers. The ship was returned by the US government to England and, years later when decommissioned, was used to make the famous Oval Office desk used by US Presidents since Kennedy.

  • General Franklin History

  • Beattie, Owen, and Geiger, John (first published: 1987, updated paper back edition: 2004) Frozen in Time: Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition -- Groundbreaking archeological work that re-opened research and interest into the lost Franklin expedition. The 2004 paperback edition updates their research to subsequent theories.

  • Cookman, Scott (2000) Iceblink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition -- While subsequent research has shown that it is highly unlikely that tinned food and food poisoning played any significant role in dooming the expedition, the rich and descriptive detail of Cookman's narrative style of writing and research almost puts you right into the hull of the Terror and Erebus.

  • Woodman, David C. (1992) Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony -- Woodman is one of the first to recognise the profound importance of the Inuit testimony and to analyse it in depth (John Rae or Charles Francis Hall should probably be recognized as the first, but Woodman is one of the first contemporary researchers). He concludes from his investigations, among other startling discoveries, that the Inuit probably did visit Franklin's ships while the crew was still on board, that there were some Inuit who actually saw the sinking of at least one of the ships, that the crew survived far longer than believed and actually split into two groups. Consider also Woodman's harder to find follow-up Strangers Among Us (1995) in which Woodman re-examines the Inuit accounts taken by Charles Francis Hall in the light of modern scholarship and re-evaluates the importance of Inuit oral traditions in his search to reconstruct the events surrounding Franklin's expedition.

  • Biographies

  • Cyriax, Richard J. (1939) Sir John Franklin's Last Arctic Expedition -- There has been an abundance of good biographies in recent hears, but anyone truly serious about learning about Sir John Franklin will need to eventually read Cyriax's 1939 biography. I still think the definitive biography of Sir John has yet to be written, but this remains, in many respects, still the most comprehensive and a good starting point.

  • Lambert, Andrew (2009) Franklin: Tragic Hero of Polar Navigation -- The first comprehensive biography of Franklin really since Cyriax's Sir John Franklin's Last Expedition in 1939. Lambert sets about re-casting Franklin's image of a bumbling sailor to a seasoned explorer and scientist. The latter especially is a too neglected part of Franklin's life. I reviewed this book here.

  • McGoogan, Ken (2002) Fatal Passage: The True Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forgot -- Rae uncovered the true story of Franklin and his career and reputation was doomed for being honest about it. McGoogan tries to re-place Rae into his rightful place in history. I reviewed this book here.

  • McGoogan, Ken (2005) Lady Franklin's Revenge: A True Story of Ambition, Obsession and the Remaking of Arctic History -- The story about Sir John Franklin cannot be fully understood without knowing about his ambitious and opinionated wife, Lady Jane Franklin, and her efforts to mount and continue the search for her husband. More than that, McGoogan brings her and Sir John, and the events that led to his command of the fateful expedition, to life.

  • Smith, Michael (2006) Captain Francis Crozier - Last Man Standing? -- The first (and only) comprehensive biography of Captain Crozier, captain of the Terror and, after the death of Franklin, commander of the expedition.

  • Battersby, William (2010) James Fitzjames: The Mystery Man of the Franklin Polar Expedition -- The first (and only) comprehensive biography of Captain James Fitzjames, Commander of the Erebus and third in command overall. I reviewed this book here.

  • Affect on Art & Culture

  • Atwood, Margaret (1995) Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature -- A survey of the writing and literature about Franklin and how it has created a fundamental Canadian myth.

  • Potter, Russel (2007) Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture -- Potter illuminates the nineteenth-century fascination with visual representations of the Arctic and brings us closer to understanding why the Arctic has held such magnetic appeal through history.

  • Moss, Sarah (2006) The Frozen Ship: The Histories and Tales of Polar Exploration -- A truly sweeping survey of art, culture, polar exploration and the human imagination from Medieval Norse sagas to Winnie the Pooh and children's polar fiction. Sometimes reads like her doctoral thesis upon which it is based, but I'm quite sure she's missed very little.


  • Franklin is not reserved only for the serious research and study of non-fiction writers. Someday I'll write up my own "essential" Franklin fiction reading list. The criteria for what is a "must read" is entirely different. For now, I'll leave you with a link to Professor Russell Potter's quite comprehensive list of Franklin-related fiction.

  • ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    For anyone already emersed in Arctic and Franklin writing, this list is obviously hardly the start of it. But they are a good start. Feel free to let me know your favourite, or to provide your own review or suggestions for further reading, in the comments or by email. You may also want to browse this quite comprehensive list of Franklin links and this comprehensive regularly updated bibliography of Franklin fiction and poetry, thanks for both to Professor Potter.

    Scanning this list you might notice something quite remarkable: just how much of the literature covering this nearly 200 year old event is so very recent. With new discoveries and expeditions every summer, comprehensive government-funded searches for the ships, ever more on the way. To say nothing about the plethora of fascinating blogs dedicated to all things Franklin.

    We are truly in the midst of a genuine renaissance of writing on the lost Franklin Expedition. I hope to help foster that interest with this website. And you have just become a part of it by visiting.

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    Canada’s northernmost atmospheric lab defunded

    What do you do when you don't like the results of science? When the science conflicts with your perceived view of the world? What do you do when you own a world class, furthest north, leading Arctic environmental research laboratory that is producing real data used throughout the world that conflicts with what you want to believe?

    Well, in Canada, the answer is easy: get rid of the science.

    This will be a real loss to a whole host of scientific fields that transcend the Arctic: environmental, atmospheric, climatology, etc.

    A few million dollars effectively spent loses out to hundreds of millions of dollars of pure porkbarrel politics, to say nothing of hundreds of millions spent on government self-promotion and the billions squandered on fake lakes and G20 primping.

    What I'm referring to is PEARL, a CANDAC facility for atmospheric research in Eureka, Ellesmere Island, a continuously operating research-level station with a large complement of instrumentation for measuring atmospheric properties from the ground to around 100km. The geographical location is: 80°N, 86°25'W, the most northerly atmospheric station of its kind.

    From today's Toronto Globe and Mail, the following editorial:

    Saving Canada’s Arctic atmospheric lab

    On Sunday, for the first time in four months, the sun rose over Eureka on Ellesmere Island, 10 degrees from the North Pole. The sun's return brings rays that break up ozone, and the Arctic climate and atmosphere are changing every year.

    But we are about to lose our main source of knowledge about these intricate, and life-altering, processes, because our northernmost environmental research laboratory, known as PEARL, is in jeopardy. If Canada is serious about scientific discovery, and its status as an Arctic nation, the lab must be saved.

    No one questions the lab's merit. Its instruments have collected Arctic surface and atmospheric data used by the world's major research organizations, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Meteorological Office. The lab houses Canada's northernmost high-speed Internet connection, allowing for rapid dissemination of results. Research done at the lab has already found, for instance, that water evaporation in the Arctic is far more complicated than had been thought. The lab is the only one of its kind in the high Arctic, and has produced 37 refereed publications and trained over 50 young scientists in 10 years.

    PEARL is in trouble because one of its main sources of funding, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, has lost federal support and is slated to wind down this year. A few of its instruments could, in theory, be moved, but our scientific heritage would be lost. As with the demise of the long-form census, data will no longer be comparable over long time-periods, making the data already collected less valuable.

    Atmospheric research is important for all of Canada, but northerners are particularly vulnerable. “It's in the Canadian High Arctic where the global warming process is proceeding most rapidly,” says Richard Peltier, professor of physics at the University of Toronto. In addition, pollution from the south (and from the North itself, as it industrializes) leads to ozone loss and threatens the North's more fragile ecosystems and populations.

    “How else would we expect to learn about the Arctic, if we don't do it ourselves?” asks James Drummond, professor of physics at Dalhousie University and principal investigator at PEARL. It's a challenge that puts the question of Canadian sovereignty in high relief, and deserves a response from our elected officials.