Who really discovered the Northwest Passage?

Gotta love the latest issue of Canada’s History. Check out the portrait of Arctic explorer John Rae by contemporary artist David Seguin. The question they asked me was: Who discovered the Northwest Passage? Editor Mark Reid writes that, in answering that question, I have “set the record straight” and sorted “the contenders from the pretenders, once and for all.” Dagnabit, I do believe he’s right. The piece begins like so . . . .

The ledger stone is brilliantly placed. It reads: “John Rae /
1813–1893 / Arctic Explorer.” Made of red sandstone from Orkney, it was installed
last September at Westminster Abbey in London, and is situated directly beneath
an elaborate bust of Sir John Franklin, which has stood there since 1875.

            The effect is one of
completion, since John Rae completed the collective work to which Franklin had made
a considerable contribution — the discovery of a navigable Northwest Passage.
The story behind the centuries-long quest for that passage has been attracting
renewed attention since last autumn, when a Canadian expedition located the Erebus,
one of Franklin’s lost ships.

            In 1846, Sir John
sailed that ship and one other, the Terror, south down Peel Sound from
Parry Channel. At the northern tip of King William Island, he turned west and
got trapped in the perennial pack ice. According to Inuit testimony, the Terror
was crushed by ice and sank off King William Island. Over the next two or three
years, the pack carried the Erebus south and then east into Queen Maud
Gulf, where it sank.

            The Erebus was not seen again until
September 2014, when Canada’s Victoria Strait Expedition located it on the sea
floor with an underwater search vehicle in one of the most significant
archaeological discoveries made in Canada. This finding has already changed how
we reconstruct the fate of the Franklin expedition. But it offers no answer to the question, who discovered the Northwest Passage? . . . .

To read the rest, you will have to pick up the June-July of Canada’s History.



  1. Season Osborne on February 1, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    Terrific! Can't wait to pick me up a copy.

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