Column: Franklin expedition opens window on the North

The whole Franklin story not only represents Canadian and Arctic history but the entire saga of colonial exploration and trade.

The discovery of one of the ships of the Franklin expedition was stunning news this week. Talk about the Holy Grail of marine archeology! The whole Franklin story not only represents Canadian and Arctic history but the entire global, sometimes tragic, saga of colonial exploration and trade. The idea of a shorter, northern passage to China was right in line with 19th century economic expansion.

The discovery has launched a grocery list of things that archaeologists hope to find. Having found one ship, there’s huge momentum to locate the second one. And given the quality of this vessel’s preservation, researchers can’t wait to see what treasures lie inside.

The scientists are an eclectic group from Parks Canada, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Arctic Research Foundation, Canadian Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Government of Nunavut as well as an alliance of public and private organizations.

Captain Sir John Franklin set sail in May 1845 from Greenhithe on the River Thames estuary, England, with HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, both sturdy vessels outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment. Their steam engines were sourced from London-based rail companies that allowed a steady clip of 4 nautical kilometres. Creature comforts included steam heating for the 134-member crew, a 1,000-book library, and food for three years that included 8,000 lead-soldered tins of preserved supplies. In tow on their way to Greenland were two other vessels HMS Rattler and a transport ship Barretto Junior.

On Greenland’s west coast, they dropped anchor to slaughter 10 oxen for fresh meat carried on the transport ship, transfer the last of the supplies to Erebus and Terror, and write final letters home. Five men were discharged and sent home with the support ships before Franklin set sail westward with a final crew of 129.

Franklin was no seafaring rookie. He had begun his career at age 14 and was a seasoned Royal Navy officer and explorer by the time, at age 59, he commanded this, his fourth and what would be his last, Arctic exploration.

He wouldn’t have known then but the Northern Hemisphere was starting to pull out of the Little Ice Age, a period of three hundred to four hundred years of glacial expansion driven by increased volcanic activity and changes in ocean chemistry and circulation. The Arctic in his sight was still deep in the clutches of advanced glaciers, the sea ice didn’t always melt in summer, and his vessels were no match for what lay ahead as he set sail for Lancaster Sound to eventually became icebound in Victoria Strait near King William Island in 1846.

Many search expeditions tried and failed to find the lost Franklin ships and those searches continued from 1848 to 1859. But enough tantalizing clues surfaced over the decades, including a cairn with a note inside confirming Franklin’s demise on June 11, 1847, human remains, and pieces of a ship. Each was a clue to a mysterious past that was cemented in time and place by Inuit oral stories of ships locked in ice and starving men struggling to survive.

Now, with the discovery of one of the lost ships, what is next? It’s no secret Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a history buff. He’s obsessed with the North, the whole Franklin experience, exploring the Arctic, mapping the floor. All that knowledge added to the accumulated information on the Arctic that had been gathered in so many past searches and likely far more than Franklin himself would have gathered had he been successful.

Ever the politician, Harper no doubt sees this all-Canadian find strengthening his endgame of strategy and sovereignty. He wanted the Franklin mystery solved on his watch. Will the Arctic  be his legacy?

Just Posted

The theme for this year’s Fraser Valley Regional Library Summer Reading Club is “Crack the Case” and Katie Burns, community librarian at the Chilliwack Library, is encouraging people of all ages to sign up. She is seen here at the Chilliwack Library on Friday, June 18, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crack the case, read, win prizes with FVRL Summer Reading Club

‘Immerse yourself in other worlds and have a bit of fun while you do it,’ says Chilliwack librarian

Vanessa Dueck.
Snapshots of a Chilliwack father from his loving daughter

Father’s Day memories of special moments shared together

Rachel is a six month old Labrador retriever cross who was found at large. She is seen here at the Chilliwack SPCA on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Find Me My Furever Home – Rachel at the Chilliwack SPCA

6-month-old puppy found at large, now at Chilliwack SPCA, needs special home

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Volunteers will gather at South Gate Shopping Centre on Fathers Day before fanning out to help clean up downtown Chilliwack. (Facebook photo)
Kindness Chain Chilliwack Association organizes Fathers Day cleanup

Volunteers will spend 90 minutes fanning out to gather trash in downtown Chilliwack

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A police pursuit involving Abbotsford Police ended in Langley Saturday night, June 20. (Black Press Media file)
Abbotsford Police pursuit ends in Langley with guns drawn

One person arrested, witnesses say an officer may have been hurt in collision with suspect vehicle

Pedestrian hit by police vehicle in Langley

Injuries described as serious, requiring surgery

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Most Read