Franklin wreck floats economic opportunity
Gjoa Haven, small town close to sites of Erebus and Terror, makes plans to seize interest
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.”
Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, is perfectly positioned to cash in on the growing number of visitors to the shipwreck sites.