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Uffish Thoughts: The Current Search for Franklin’s Ships Comes at a Bad Time November 25, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Uffish Thoughts.
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Uffish Thoughts: The Current Search for Franklin’s Ships Comes at a Bad Time

By Dan Davidson

August 29, 2012

– 750 words –


“Oh for just one time

I would take the Northwest Passage

To find the hand of Franklin

Reaching for the Beaufort Sea …”

– Stan Rogers


Now as much as I love Stan Rogers’ music and enjoy covering some of his songs myself, including the a capella “Northwest Passage” if I can find a couple or three good voices to work the harmonies with me, Stan got it wrong, as do most of the monuments to Franklin around the world.

He did not discover the Northwest Passage. He was a poor example of a Northern Explorer whose results seldom justified the expense lavished on them. He led four expeditions to the North. On the first he was defeated by pack ice and had to turn back. On his second he lost half his 20-man crew and it is probable that some of them staved off starvation by cannibalizing their dead mates.

His third expedition was a river journey on the Mackenzie and seems to have been his most successful.

Before his next he was briefly the Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and, while the record seems to say that he was an enlightened fellow there and did good work, the government terminated his appointment after just seven years.

He is remembered primarily for his disastrous fourth Arctic Expedition, in which all hands and his two ships, the Erebus and Terror, were lost. Trapped in the ice in 1846, they never sailed again, and a note that was eventually found indicated that Franklin died the next year. The entire crew perished from starvation, hypothermia, tuberculosis, lead poisoning and scurvy.

This was confirmed by a study of some of the bones from the crew in 1997, but Dr. John Rae, exploring on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Co., found out what happened to them in 1854. However, his report included evidence of cannibalism (also confirmed in 1997) and Lady Franklin enlisted the assistance of no less a wordsmith than Charles Dickens to make sure that no one took Rae’s report seriously.

Over the next 40 years no less than 25 expeditions, some of which also came to grief, went in search of Franklin’s missing ships and crew. As mentioned, some remains were discovered on Beechey Island, along with remains of material goods which certainly called the sanity of the crew into question.

Now we’re off looking for Franklin again – well, for the ships at least. Prime Minister Harper referred to them recently as “our greatest undiscovered national historic site.”

I don’t object to searching for these ships. I’m sure there’s a great deal of oceanographic data than can be collected during this attempt, Science, and perhaps even our knowledge of history, will be advanced, no matter what the outcome.

But this year? Now? It is surely fiscal folly to engage in this type of expense in the same year that the federal budget has gutted Parks Canada across the nation, reducing staff, eliminating the capacity for onsite curatorial care across the nation (Dawson’s hundreds of thousands of artifacts will be looked after by two persons from Ottawa), shutting down visitor access to Dredge No.4 and both the SS Keno and the SS Klondike (which are National Historic Sites of which we do know the locations), and terminating skilled workers left, right and center.

Apparently, under the new rules, Parks will retain the ability to tell the stories that make up the history of our nation, but lose the ability to know if they continue to tell the story correctly, or add to it by significant new finds.

Parks Employees who have not yet been terminated have been gagged by order of the Minister, Peter Kent, but when the local superintendent is forced to go to Dawson’s town hall to ask the council to consider forgiving Klondike National Historic Sites the $11,000 bill than it costs them to be part of the town’s fire monitoring system on its two dozen buildings, and further notes that he will probably have to downscale the security contract on KNHS properties when the current season expires, then you have to conclude that something is massively wrong and that Mr. Harper, Mr. Kent, Mr. Leef and Mr. Lang need to give serious thought to their policy on Parks Canada and revise their talking points.

I’ll be happy to lend a hand, pro bono.






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