Franklin wreck floats eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity

Gjoa Haven, small town close to sites of Ere­bus and Ter­ror, makes plans to seize in­ter­est

Toronto Star - - NEWS - BOB WE­BER THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

GJOA HAVEN, NU­NAVUT— It’s cool and cloudy as Don Ses­sions, wear­ing a toque and a good, solid jacket, hops off an in­flat­able boat that has fer­ried him from his cruise ship to shore.

The wel­com­ing fa­cil­i­ties in Gjoa Haven, Nu­navut, are rus­tic — a stretch of peb­bly beach marked off with yel­low po­lice tape. Ses­sions and his fel­low tourists will walk up a dusty dirt trail into town to stroll its dusty dirt roads. He’s hav­ing a ball. “I’m lov­ing the trip,” says Ses­sions, a self-de­scribed Franklin Ex­pe­di­tion nut who has trav­elled from St. Louis to visit the Arc­tic ham­let near the site of Sir John Franklin’s ship­wrecks. “When you were a kid, this is what you dreamed about, if you dreamed about the North.”

That’s mu­sic to Bob Cheetham’s ears. “It’s go­ing to be huge,” says Cheetham, Gjoa Haven’s eco­nomic devel­op­ment of­fi­cer. “There’s a lot of in­ter­est on the cruise ships now.”

Ses­sions’ ship, the 166-pas­sen­ger French-flagged Le Bo­real, is one of six that will stop in Gjoa Haven dur­ing this year’s six-week sea­son — two more ships than last year.

Ad­ven­tur­ous sailors are also com­ing. Gjoa (pro­nounced “Joe”) Haven’s pretty lit­tle bay had four yachts moored there at one point in Au­gust.

“They’re buy­ing gro­ceries. They’re buy­ing sup­plies. They’re buy­ing fuel. They’re vis­it­ing our her­itage fa­cil­ity here where a lot of the carvers have their stuff on ex­hibit and for sale,” Cheetham says.

Franklin’s ships Ere­bus and Ter­ror set out from Eng­land in 1845 with 129 men to search for the North­west Pas­sage, but they never re­turned.

Gjoa is uniquely placed to take ad­van­tage of the dis­cov­ery of the ships. It’s the clos­est com­mu­nity to where both the Ere­bus and the Ter­ror fi­nally went down.

It’s an eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity in a place that doesn’t have many of them and the com­mu­nity is mak­ing big plans to cap­i­tal­ize.

The first Umiyaq­tutt (Inuk­ti­tut for “ship­wreck”) Fes­ti­val — two weeks of danc­ing, com­mu­nity feasts and lec­tures from Parks Canada and In- uit ex­perts — be­gan Sept. 2.

Then there’s an ex­pan­sion of the lo­cal Nat­ti­lik Her­itage Cen­tre to in­clude Franklin dis­plays, ex­pected to take a large share of the nearly $17 mil­lion bud­geted by Ottawa in 2016 for con­ser­va­tion, re­search and pre­sen­ta­tion of the ar­ti­facts.

Cheetham says new fa­cil­i­ties for Gjoa’s highly re­garded carvers and tours to the Ere­bus site are also in the works. “It’s huge rel­a­tive to what we had in the past and it’s grow­ing.”

Gjoa Haven is re­mote and ex­pen­sive to visit. It of­fers lit­tle in the way of ameni­ties — restau­rants, for ex­am­ple. But be­cause it’s so small, even a lit­tle eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity can go a long way.

“Baby steps here,” Cheetham says. “We’re in the early stages of mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tion.”

JA­SON FRANSON/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Gjoa Haven, Nu­navut, is per­fectly po­si­tioned to cash in on the grow­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors to the ship­wreck sites.

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