Where is Franklin’s body? His­to­rian thinks he knows

Waterloo Region Record - - CANADA - Bob We­ber

GJOA HAVEN, NU­NAVUT — The man who guided searchers to the wreck of John Franklin’s flag­ship may have one more sur­prise left up his parka sleeve.

“I be­lieve that Franklin is in a vault on King Wil­liam Island,” says Louie Kamookak, an Inuit his­to­rian who has spent 30 years cor­re­lat­ing sto­ries col­lected from el­ders with Euro­pean log­books and jour­nals.

The mys­tery that sur­rounds the Franklin Ex­pe­di­tion is one of the great leg­ends of Arc­tic ex­plo­ration. The ships Ere­bus and Ter­ror set out from Eng­land in 1845 with 129 men to search for the North­west Pas­sage, but they never re­turned.

Lit­tle by lit­tle, the Franklin story is com­ing to­gether.

Ar­ti­facts and graves found through­out the 19th and 20th cen­turies were joined by sev­eral more bod­ies dis­cov­ered in the 1980s. The ships were found in 2014 and 2016.

But where is the grave of John Franklin?

Kamookak re­lates two sto­ries passed down through gen­er­a­tions that may of­fer tan­ta­liz­ing clues.

“One group of Inuit said they saw a burial of a great chief un­der the ground, un­der stone.”

This was re­mark­able for the hunters, as Inuit tra­di­tion­ally buried their dead on the sur­face, wrapped in cari­bou skins and un­der a cairn. They in­ves­ti­gated the site, ex­pect­ing to find some­thing sim­i­lar. All they found was a flat stone.

“They said he was a great shaman who turned to stone,” says Kamookak.

In an­other ac­count, a group of trav­el­ling Inuit came across a large wooden struc­ture.

“They man­aged to get a cross piece they took for a sled. The man who was telling the story said there was a flat stone and he could tell the stone was hol­low.”

Given that other ex­pe­di­tion graves have been found on land, Kamookak be­lieves Franklin’s is there, too.

“I don’t think they would have an ocean burial for him.”

If he’s right, Franklin is prob­a­bly still ly­ing be­neath the tun­dra on King Wil­liam Island’s rocky and windswept north­east coast.

If he’s wrong, chalk up one more mys­tery in a tale that’s been gen­er­at­ing ques­tions for 170 years.

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