Canada's History : 2020-08-01

TRADING POST : 37 : 37


B ack in 2017, while sailing in the Northwest Passage as a resource historian with Adventure Canada, I caught a presentati­on by Bernier. Speaking generally about the two Franklin ships, he flatly declared: “I expect to find human remains. Most likely bones, skeletons.” Bernier reminded his listeners that Inuit testimony speaks of at least one body on what would appear to be the and he added that he had seen flesh on bones before. “If sedimented, the remains could be very well preserved.” He cited the example of a wreck from 1770, HMS which researcher­s located in Patagonia: “They found a complete skeleton in uniform.” While Bernier showed slides about the Parks Canada search, we sailed into a blizzard. As our ship, the heaved and rolled, some of us shuddered to think about facing such conditions in a small wooden ship. And we found ourselves doing a quick calculatio­n. The is no multi-storey cruise ship, but it is still more than four times as long as HMS (137 metres to 32) and more than twice as wide (21 metres to 9). The was smaller still. The storm raged unabated into late afternoon. When Bernier finished presenting, he hurried up onto the bridge to confer. He had been planning to lead a visit to the site of the where some of us would go snorkellin­g. But, with the swell reaching 1.5 metres, the wind gusting to gale force (upwards of fifty knots), and the needing to navigate a narrow channel (0.3 to 0.6 nautical miles) to reach the site, the undertakin­g was clearly in jeopardy. At the evening briefing, Bernier and Adventure Canada’s expedition leader, Matthew J. Swan, relayed the bad news. We would not be visiting the site after all. Swan said the thought of putting Zodiacs into the water when the winds were blowing at more than 25 knots ... sending out passengers on a forty-minute Zodiac ride each way ... no, he couldn’t see it: “The Zodiacs would just flip.” Bernier revealed that several Inuit guardians had establishe­d a fivetent campsite on an island near the wreck, but, he said, “three of those tents have blown off.” Bernier regretfull­y rejected the idea that maybe we could wait out the storm where we were. Speaking from experience, he said these wind-and-wave conditions would already have stirred up sediment so badly that at best the wreck would become visible in three days. And, if the storm continued, we might have to wait a week. Swan could only shake his head: “We’re disappoint­ed, of course. But we’re motivated. We’ll try again next year.” So they did. But not until two years later, on its sixth attempt, did Adventure Canada get voyagers to the site of the There was no snorkellin­g, but passengers did travel by Zodiac through choppy waters to a Parks Canada barge positioned above the wreck, where they met archaeolog­ists and Inuit guardians and watched real-time video of divers at work below. Ushered into an artifacts lab on the barge, the visitors studied newly discovered objects, among them a ceramic bottle, a leather boot sole, a glass decanter, and tiny tongs that may once have been used for sugar cubes. Travel writer Jennifer Bain wrote later that, “Looking at these ancient objects transports us back to 1845, when Franklin and his men set sail from England on two ships, convinced they would find the fabled Northwest Passage.” Erebus, W hat happened to that expedition? Starting with the sailing from England in May 1845, the prevailing British narrative of the Franklin mystery tracks the final letters sent from the ships in July 1845 and moves through the discovery in 1850 of three graves on Beechey Island. Those graves showed that Franklin had wintered on Beechey in 1845–46, but an intensive search of the island begun by Scottish whaling captain William Penny and American explorer Elisha Kent Kane turned up no indication of where the two ships had gone from there. Subsequent search expedition­s sent by the Royal Navy, the Hudson’s Bay Company — whose charter stipulated exploratio­n — and Jane, Lady Franklin (widow of Sir John) produced no significan­t findings until 1854, when the Inuit made the first of many crucial contributi­ons to discoverin­g what came to be summarized as “the fate of Franklin.” In April of that year, on the west coast of Boothia Pen- Swift, Ocean Endeavour, Endeavour Erebus Terror Erebus, Endeavour Erebus Erebus. 37 AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 2020