Honourable Senators, There are moments in history when remarkable discoveries capture the attention of the world and give great credit to the visionaries who led the way.
One was the remarkable discovery of the wreck of one of the famous British explorer’s vessel in Arctic waters on September 7 – an expedition led by the Parks Canada Agency in collaboration with the Government of Nunavut, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Hydrographic Service, the Canadian Ice Service, the Canadian Space Agency, the Royal Canadian Navy, Defence Research & Development Canada, the Arctic Research Foundation, The Royal Canadian Geographic Society, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, One Ocean Expeditions and Shell Canada.
This find is epic. As Canada’s eloquent pundit Rex Murphy described it, the discovery was ‘rife with marvel and magic. It was about ‘the heroism, the foolhardiness, the desolation and the bravery…charged with mythic power.’ Above all, it was as Murphy says, one of Canada’s great foundational stories, an excellent moment for lovers of Canadiana.’
Yes, it is Canada’s story, because it is about Canada’s Arctic. And it is about Canada exercising its sovereignty over our Arctic.
And it is also about Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his unprecedented passion for and dedication to the Arctic, about his current Minister responsible for Parks Canada and our first Inuk cabinet minister, Leona Aglukkaq, and it is most of all about Inuit oral historians, particularly Louie Kamookak, of Gjoa Haven, who interviewed 10 elders from Gjoa Haven, the closest community to the lost ship, gathered their stories, and advised searchers where to look. They knew, from history passed on for 150 years, where the ships likely were when they foundered in crushing ice, and persisted even though they weren’t always given credence.
After the find, Louis Kamookak told Nunatsiaq News: “I am very happy. After so much previous searching, they had decided to reopen the search, based on Inuit theory. This proves oral history is strong with the Inuit, and it puts Inuit on the map, for the world.”
Another remarkable figure in this amazing story is himself a mariner, BC ferry captain, David Woodman, who gathered records of Inuit testimony from 1850, remarkable stories published in his 1991 book, Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony, and a 1995 follow-up called Strangers Among Us. Mr. Woodman also launched nine privately – funded searches.
Also interviewed by Nunatsiaq News, Mr. Woodman said that this month’s discovery of one of the shipwrecks ‘….couldn’t have been done’ without the testimony of Inuit. ‘We wouldn’t know where to look, and we never would have found the ship. No one would have bothered to look, because the area was just so large.’
Yes, this is a find on par with the discovery of the Titanic.
And this story is not over. Is the found ship the Erebus or the Terror? The hull seems to be in good condition. Will further investigation reveal the ship’s logs, safely sealed in copper tubes, as was the Royal Navy practice?
Honourable Senators, please join me in congratulating Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Project Search Leader and Senior Underwater Archaeologist from Parks Canada Ryan Harris, Premier Peter Taptuna and the Government of Nunavut, Senior archaeologist and Heritage Director Doug Stenton, Jim Balsiliie and the Arctic Research Foundation, John Geiger of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy. In particular, congratulations to the Inuit whose oral history helped close this chapter in our Nation’s history.
Some anonymous bloggers claim that the search cost millions which should have been spent on housing; others complain that a Russian made vessel was utilized in the search; others say why search for a dead British explorer?
Well, the search represented a small investment of public funds, through Parks Canada, under their existing mandate for historic sites, and in effective partnerships from Blackberry founder Jim Balsillie’s Arctic Research Foundation, the Weston Foundation, and other private partners.
And the Russian – flagged ship involved in the search was chartered and operated by One Oceans Expeditions. It was used as an alternative to the Coast Guard, so that it could accommodate the many private participants in the Franklin Search, who are not authorized to use Coast Guard vessels by government policy.
Also, this discovery is not about the British Royal Navy – the site of the wreck is already a Canadian Historic site. Amazingly, it was declared so in 1994 by Canada’s Historic Sites and Monuments Board, even before the location of the vessels’ foundering was known. Already, the people of Gjoa Haven are eagerly anticipating increased visits to their new Visitors’ Centre and a revival of cruise ship and historic tourism.