Greetings, Franklinistas. Today I bring you not one, not two, but three exciting developments on the Franklin Front. First, after a forced, two-year break courtesy of COVID-19, Canadian archeologists have returned to the Arctic to research the sites of our country’s most famous shipwrecks. A Parks Canada underwater archeology team has already started under-the-ice explorations of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. A second expedition will happen later this summer.
Steven Guilbeault, minister of environment and climate change, says “The resumption of research . . . represents an important opportunity to continue the investigation of the legendary Franklin story.” Amen to that. The big hope, of course, is that divers will retrieve cannisters containing written documents. Human remains would be number two on the list because of what they might reveal.
Second whammy: I draw your attention to a new YA (Young Adult) book by Sigmund Brouwer called TRAPPED IN TERROR BAY: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Franklin Expedition. What a wonderful introduction to the World of Franklin for anyone of any age.
Brouwer is a consummate professional and it shows. Not only that, but this is a spectacular production from Kids Can Press – beautifully designed and illustrated. The book is also daringly organized and I like that. It pays appropriate attention to the Inuit dimension of The Search and anyone can see it has been thoroughly vetted by experts. Brouwer acknowledges Inuit elder Simon Okpakok, Lyle Dick, historian/co-creator of the Franklin mystery website, Jonathan Moore of Parks Canada, and editor Kathleen Fraser.
Trapped in Terror Bay is a great place to enter “our world” because it constitutes an outstanding introduction to the New Orthodoxy. As such, it reiterates certain tenets of the Old Orthodoxy. Notably, it argues two familiar propositions — that Leopold McClintock was “the discoverer of the lost expedition’s fate” and that men of the Franklin expedition really did discover the Northwest Passage, observing (from an impossible distance) that “King William Land is not a peninsula but a large island.” Sigh. I refuted these positions in my books Fatal Passage and Lady Franklin’s Revenge and won’t rehearse the demonstration here.
The New Orthodoxy breaks with the Old in arguing that the root cause of the Franklin expedition’s demise was not lead poisoning but botulism — an idea advanced by Scott Cookman in his 2008 book Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin’s Lost Polar Expedition. Not to be contrary (who, me?), but I take a different position.
And that brings me to our third whammy. Faithful readers have remarked that my five Arctic books include four biographical narratives – one each focusing on John Rae, Samuel Hearne, Jane Franklin, and Elisha Kent Kane – and one sweeping historical narrative, Dead Reckoning, which highlights the Inuit contribution. Why, they wonder, have I not written “a big Franklin book?”
Answer: Well, I just have. After culling, it runs more than 100,000 words. I am sifting through possible titles and preparing to enlist my agent (Beverley Slopen / email@example.com) in seeking out a suitable publisher. Fingers crossed, eh?
[The photo immediately above finds me and Louie Kamookak at the John Rae Cairn in 1999.]