It seems like a lifetime ago, but I once played bass for a Halifax cover band. We played tunes by Canadian acts like Blue Rodeo and the Northern Pikes but also covered some classics, including an a cappella version of Stan Rogers’ “Northwest Passage.”
I certainly wasn’t in the band for my dulcet singing voice, so our lead vocalist assigned me a low- end harmony part; in retrospect, I likely sounded like a broken didgeridoo.
In the ensuing decades I’ve forgotten the verses, but the chorus still comes instantly to mind:
Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.
I recently caught myself humming Rogers’ song as I edited this issue’s story on the doomed Franklin expedition. Writer Ken McGoogan believes that we will soon discover what actually killed many members of Sir John Franklin’s crew — but you’ll have to read “Solving the Franklin Mystery” to learn his theory.
Elsewhere in this issue, we examine how Canada was forever changed by the Second World War, and recount the tale of a Victoria parrot who fought the forces of progress — and won.
As I write this note, provinces are taking steps to open up their economies and their societies after weeks of COVID-19-induced isolation.
Indeed, much of the magazine you’re reading today was created by the Canada’s History team while working from home. Throughout the pandemic, editors and designers have collaborated via teleconference and email from makeshift offices in their kitchens and living rooms.
We’re lucky — our isolation was relative. The Franklin expedition’s was literal: two ships worth of officers and crew became trapped in Arctic ice and languished there for more than a year and a half before succumbing to disease, cold, and starvation.
There were no Zoom calls or smartphones in the 1840s. Those poor souls spent two hellish winters living in the bowels of their ships, waiting for help that never came, before starting a death march south that ended in ruin. Now that’s isolation.