Early afternoon in Gjoa Haven, everyone gravitates to Qiqirtaq High School, a big modern building, for a cultural presentation. September 2017. I’m sailing in the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada as a resource historian, giving talks as we travel. I’ve been rambling around Gjoa looking for Louie Kamookak, my old friend and fellow traveler.
As I take a seat on one of the tiered benches overlooking the gym, finally I spot him in a crowd of standees. He catches my eye and gestures toward the main entrance and we make our way into the hallway. After greeting each other, we fall to our usual kibbitzing. By now, age fifty-nine, Louie is widely recognized as the leading Inuit historian of his generation. We commiserate about not getting to meet each other, as planned, at the Erebus site.
He mentions speaking recently with a local Elder, interviewing him, and I say, “Wait, aren’t you an Elder yet? When are you going to become an Elder?”
“I’m still too young,” he says, grinning. “Way too young.”
Then he comes back at me: “When are you going to write your big Franklin book?”
“My big Franklin book?”
“You’ve written about everybody else. Don’t you think it’s time?”
“No way.” I shake my head. “I’m still too young.”
Together we laugh.
That was our last face-to-face meeting — Louie jokingly complaining that although I had published five books about Arctic exploration, I had yet to focus on the most famous northern explorer of them all: Sir John Franklin. I wrote this book to rectify that omission. Searching for Franklin – merely average in size, Louie, sorry! — challenges old orthodoxies, incorporates recent discoveries, and interweaves two main narratives.
The first treats the Royal Navy’s Arctic Overland expedition of 1819-22, during which Franklin rejected the advice of Dene and Metis leaders and lost 11 of his 20 men to exhaustion, starvation, and murder. The second discovers a startling new answer to that greatest of Arctic mysteries: what was the root cause of the catastrophe – history’s worst Arctic disaster — that engulfed the two-ship expedition on which Franklin embarked in 1845. What we see here is the front cover. Douglas & McIntyre will publish the book this autumn. Pub date: Oct. 7, 2023. More details soon!