Big shoutout to the Miramichi Reader, which has devoted its first “TMR STARRED REVIEW” to Searching for Franklin: New Answers to the Great Arctic Mystery. Thanks also to readers in the Canadian West who have been keeping the Big Franklin Book on the B.C. Bestsellers list, currently at Number Five. But here’s the review by James M. Fisher that turned up in Miramichi, the largest city in northern New Brunswick:
It’s mid-December and a balmy 0°C with a slight windchill. No snow on the ground, which was easily removed by the torrential rains a week ago when the thermometer was recording plus double-digits. I’ve just returned from a jaunt to the mailbox, which now involves a walk of about a kilometre (round-trip) since Canada Post did away with the community mailbox which was directly across the street ever since we moved here 16 years ago. No matter, it was a fine day for a walk, even though the box was empty.
Those who know me know that I am by no means an outdoor person, at any time of the year. I am a homebody. My work is my interface with people and the drive to the hospital the full extent of my nature commune1, aside from the random walk like today’s. At times, I miss our dog for walking, as it added a certain distraction to simply taking step after step. Every winter, my wife and I say that we should get back to cross-country skiing, which we often did when we were younger, back in Ontario at her grandparents’ farm and property north of Bancroft. We have yet to do that in Miramichi. Oh, I once went winter camping with two friends (again, back in Ontario). It was at a provincial park I no longer remember the name of, but it would have been well north of Toronto. We lasted a night, but we did it for the experience.
This brings me roundabout to the subject of reviewing the latest book from Ken McGoogan, Searching for Franklin: New Answers to the Great Arctic Mystery (Douglas & McIntyre, 2023).
The Franklin Expedition, and any Arctic or Antarctic exploration story, has always fascinated me. The determination of those men2 is nothing short of amazing, even though fame was the prime mover, discovering the elusive Northwest Passage the Holy Grail of the Arctic.
The questionable choice of Franklin to lead this expedition is thoroughly examined by McGoogan, who is no stranger to Franklin and the Arctic in general. Franklin was a Royal Navy man through and through and he answered to no one on his expeditions. A fault, and not an exemplary quality in a leader. McGoogan’s book primarily takes us through an overland expedition Franklin led in 1819. This gives us insight into the mettle of the man who would lead over a hundred men to their deaths a few years later, Franklin’s included and the loss of two ships, Erebus and Terror. They would not be found until almost 200 years later.
There’s lots of new evidence that has turned up since the discovery of both ships (and since Mr. McGoogan last wrote of Franklin). It’s all here: the mouldy pemmican, the eating of their boots, the lack of cooperation from the HBC and the NWC3, Franklin’s ignoring of Indigenous advice, murder, and of course, the cannibalism. Remember, these were days of zero communication, no motorized vehicles, no maps, and no modern means of surviving the cold. The expedition’s reliance on both the hardy Voyageurs (“Canadians”) and Indigenous peoples as expedition members were weighty, but back then went unrecognized for the most part. McGoogan more than makes up for this oversight and correctly situates both groups in their proper place, including the Inuit, whose vital oral history assisted in locating the lost ships. McGoogan’s tracking of the ill-advised journey to the mouth of the Coppermine River (and back) is a true page-turning read. His storytelling is engaging, to say the least.
Overall, an excellent and highly readable book, perfect for an armchair adventurer like me. Read it by a fire while the snow swirls and the wind howls outside.