The weather remains cold here, and this morning we woke to frost rather than more snow. In fact it looks like hoarfrost in the distance. Of course I can't get out there to get closer pictures, but it was pretty for a couple of hours anyway.
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Saturday, January 30, 2021
Yesterday I delivered my first ever presentation via zoom, for the Thornbury Library. It was on the waterfalls of the Beaver Valley and Owen Sound area. We have one of the best collections of waterfalls in the whole province around here. My talk was recorded by the only other participant, the technician at the library, and will eventually be made available on YouTube, once she's done all the editing. It went well so I'm thinking of more things like that that I can do.
Thursday, January 28, 2021
We're having a slight January cold snap today, down to -9°C, not really cold actually. But the fresh snow continues to fall so there's at least 16" on top of the planter now, deep fluffy snow that's no good for making snowmen unfortunately. But it would be great for xc skiing or snowshoeing. Today I'm working on the Tallurutiup Imanga, the Quttinirpaaq and such. In the meantime a further selection of ice pictures from down at the harbour, courtesy Mrs. F.G.
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
It's been a week since I shared pictures of our continuing winter here. The weather continues cold and snowy. One day last week we actually went out for hot chocolate (the Tim's variety) and a couple of donuts. We then went down and sat by the harbour to have our winter snack.
Not cold enough for any solid ice, though that might change this week, but certainly way too cold for fishing, at least in my mind!
Monday, January 25, 2021
In 1845 Sir John Franklin set sail in the largest and best equipped expedition ever sent to the Arctic, determined to map the remaining gap among the islands and waterways of the Northwest Passage. We later learn from the only note he ever left, that he entered Lancaster Sound and proceeded west without trouble until he ran into ice. After spending the first winter on tiny Beechey Island (where three graves were later found) he turned south down Peel Sound between Somerset and Prince of Wales Islands and emerged into the southeast corner of McLintock Channel. So far so good. Beechey Island is now a National Historic Site and a popular stop for today's cruise ships.
The ships he took, the Erebus and Terror, were well suited to the trip. They were 'bomb ships', built extra strong to withstand the shock of firing cannons, and then strengthened further to withstand the ice. They had steam engines added for this trip. They had already been to the Antarctic on an earlier trip. These two ships become a big part of the Franklin story, which we will pick up on later.
We do not know exactly where Franklin got frozen in the ice, but he did, and spent two years there. Whether he sailed south and got trapped or got trapped and the ships moved south with the ice pack is unknown. Even though these sailing ships had auxillary steam engines, they were no match for the power of the ice. In any case, as we now know the ships remained frozen throughout the summer of 1847, bringing the risk of starvation ever closer. Sir John himself died in June of 1847.
As a point of interest we have lots of paintings and drawings of the Erebus and Terror, some totally fictitious, and some accurate because the artists painted the ships while seeing them in London. None of the artists were actually on the trip though.
By early spring of 1848 the 105 men remaining abandoned ship and moved to the shore of King William Island, hoping to trek south to the mainland. All of them starved to death, never asking the native Inuit for help.
The missing expedition set off the biggest burst of arctic exploration ever and Lady Jane Franklin became the biggest influence, cultivating a huge public following as she pushed England to find her husband or his fate. In the following two decades at least 30 expeditions set sail in search of the missing Franklin.
In 1848 the Admiralty sent out three searches, all of which proved unsuccessful. Richardson and Rae (more about Rae later) approached overland from the south but ended up far west of Franklin's location. John Ross sailed from the east but got frozen in ice far to the north. Henry Kellet sailed around South America, up past Alaska and approached from the west. None found any evidence of Franklin or got close to where we later learned the ships were lost.
Lady Jane Franklin
At this point Lady Jane Franklin upped her crusade to have her husband found, or his fate determined, even funding expeditions out of her own modest fortune. The result was all the Arctic expeditions of the following years. In 1850 alone 20 vessels set out to find Franklin, though none of them were successful. Numerous voyages occurred in succeeding years.
Notable was Robert McClure's expedition which entered the Arctic from the west. Although McClure and his crew spent four years locked in the ice in Misery Bay on the north shore of Banks Island, (he was heavily criticized for his management of the trip) he did discover the Prince of Wales Strait far to the northwest of Franklin, which became a key alternate route through the Arctic. At the time he was given credit for discovering the Northwest Passage, even though a key part of this route, below Melville Island, was ice-clogged and impassible.
McClure and crew were rescued by Henry Kellet, mentioned above, and he was knighted and rewarded for his discovery. But he had to abandon his ship the HMS Investigator, only found in 2010 during the recent Parks Canada search for Franklin's ships. The Prince of Wales Strait is a popular alternate route today as the Arctic climate warms and there's less summer ice cover.
In the meantime, a neighbour referred us to a series of videos on the Arctic under the title 'Canada Over the Edge'. We found them on the Smithsonian Channel on YouTube, and have really enjoyed them. I recommend the ones on the High Arctic and the Central Arctic. You'll have to search for them on YouTube.
Sunday, January 24, 2021
There was a long gap between the Baffin/Bylot expedition in 1616 and the first explorer to reach the Arctic overland, Samuel Hearne, travelling as a fur trader on behalf of the Hudson Bay Company in 1770. Alexander Mackenzie did the same, but working for the Northwest Company following the Mackenzie River in 1788.
Then there's an interruption again as the Northwest Company and the Hudson bay Companies feuded over the fur trade further south. The HBC eventually won, with British connections and more money and took over the NWC in 1821. The Hudson Bay Company is still around today, mainly as a department store chain.
At the same time the British Royal Navy was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars. When these ended and the Royal Navy was looking for other challenges to keep itself busy, Arctic exploration from England began anew. In 1819 two expeditions were sent out, one led by John Franklin and one by William Parry. Franklin was to approach the Arctic coast from the south via the Coppermine River, and Parry was to sail from the east into Lancaster Sound. Four years later Franklin led another overland expedition, this time going down the Mackenzie River.
First we turn to the stories of Samuel Hearne and Alexander Mackenzie. Hearne joined the Hudson Bay Company in 1766, working out of Churchill as a fur trader. Stories about natives to the northwest using copper had been heard for some time, but when a visiting native arrived at Churchill with lumps of copper, it was apparent that someone should go and investigate this.
Hearne reached the Arctic coast but did not explore along it. However, by travelling north from Hudson Bay he had proven that no western-heading water route to the Pacific existed. The copper turned out to be just a few small lumps, so no booming copper mine emerged, but both the river and the settlement at its mouth were named Coppermine after the native use of the area.
Alexander Mackenzie, whose name is much more known to Canadians, was the next explorer to reach the Arctic coast, but he did so by mistake. He had been searching for a route to the Pacific. Another fur trader, but an employee of the North West company, he headed down the waterway from Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca in 1788, hoping to reach Cook Inlet in Alaska. Finding the Arctic Ocean instead he named the river the River Disappointment.
On the other hand, this was the man who 5 years later did successfully reach the Pacific, by way of the Peace River, and an upper stretch of the Fraser. Warned by natives that it was impassible downstream on the Fraser River (think Hell's Gate!), he headed over the Coast Mountains instead, emerging on the Bella Coola River at Bella Coola, the first white man to reach the Pacific overland. The famous Lewis and Clark expedition in the U.S. was 12 years later.
Thus we come to the British Naval Officer, John Franklin, the next explorer, more than two decades before he was frozen in the ice on his final voyage. The British Navy was looking for things to do after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and decided to get back into arctic exploration. By this time there was no reasonable expectation of finding an easy ice-free Northwest Passage, but it was still a story that intrigued the public and might help the navy's reputation. And Franklin was looking for a personal challenge that would enhance his own reputation.
In fact Franklin's two trips to the Arctic coast in 1819 and 1823 were what won him his heroic reputation and a knighthood, not his later unsuccessful voyage. On these occasions Franklin was sent not in a ship but overland. He first followed Hearne's route to the mouth of the Coppermine, and explored east and west along the Arctic coast, the first white man to do so.
Franklin had had access to Hearne's journals, and had received personal advice from Mackenzie, but it wasn't enough. Perhaps the Royal Navy relied too much on promises of support from the Hudson Bay Company. In any case the locals later criticized Franklin for his poor planning and organization. Unfortunately the expedition didn't get very far along the coast, lapsing into starvation, as the caribou migration had been unusually early that year. Eleven out of 20 men died on this expedition, and the others only survived by eating the leather of their boots.
Franklin had taken an evangelical religious book along for daily reading, and he later wrote that it had provided great comfort in his times of enormous distress. In any case the public showed geat interest in his story when he returned home, seeing him as a 'hero who had survived with Christian fortitude'. Three years later he travelled down the Mackenzie River to the Arctic coast on a trip that was much successful, perhaps because provisioning was handled by the Hudson Bay Company rather than the Royal Navy!
While Franklin was exploring from the south the Royal Navy sent Captain William Parry from the east. Franklin and Parry knew each other, and the two separate efforts were seen as a major joint effort by the Royal Navy. Parry didn't give up in Lancaster Sound but pushed his was west through the ice, through Barrow Strait and into Viscount Melville Sound, the farthest west anyone had reached by ship. Perhaps 1819 was a relatively ice-free year. Together with McClure Strait to the west this route became known as Parry Channel, one of the modern routes through the Northwest Passage now that ice conditions are moderating.
They wintered on Melville Island, frozen in for 10 months, 3 months in total darkness, and survived temperatures that reached -54°F! They only floated free in early August 1920 and barely made it out of the Arctic before the ice froze around them. But it was the most successful expedition in search of the Northwest Passage yet, and they only lost one man.
Going back to our overland explorers, John Simpson came next, travelling north a decade after Franklin. His goal was to fill in the two gaps in shoreline mapping, to the west and east of Franklin's trip. Simpson did this successfully, He travelled down the Mackenzie the first summer, mapping as far west as Point Barrow. Then he travelled down the Coppermine the following year and explored east as far as the base of the Boothia Peninsula, surveying as he went.
Thus the entire Arctic coast had been mapped to the mouth of the Back River in the east by overland explorers and Parry had mapped the Northwest Passage as far as Melville Island by sea. There remained the 500 mile gap between these routes, the unknown blank in the middle of the Arctic map. This was the area that Franklin targetted in his fateful voyage of 1845.
Saturday, January 23, 2021
I've divided the Arctic explorers into three groups, first the very early explorers who sailed between 1576 and 1616, second a group who approached overland from the south in later years, and finally those who came in search of the frozen Franklin after 1845.
Martin Frobisher sailed in search of the Northwest Passage three times, between 1576 and '78, never getting further than the southern end of Baffin Island where Frobisher Bay is named after him. During his first voyage he got distracted by thinking he had found coal. At one point his fleet was blown into what is now Hudson Strait, but Frobisher named it Mistaken Strait, thinking it would not provide a route west. Instead he believed the narrow Frobisher Bay (which went nowhere) would be the route.
His third voyage was a fleet of 15 ships no less, in search of the 'coal'. Gathering a good supply he sailed home with his valuable cargo, only finding out on his return to London that it was worthless rock.
Friday, January 22, 2021
I have debated which comes first, the maps or the explorers and others for whom features on the map of the Arctic were named. Historically the explorers come first, and the names of islands and waterways come second, but to understand the stories you pretty well have to know the names of where these people went. I hope a little of that made sense, so here we go.
This is the one of the best general maps I have found of the islands and waterways of the Canadian Arctic. It also shows some of the communities, but not all, and still uses English names for most of these.
This has been a somewhat dry and detailed post, but I hope it helps you as we move on to more interesting stories.
After posting and reading yesterday's post, I thought it was far too detailed and academic, so I'll try to keep it simple! But after all, I was an academic, so this is my style. It's been very much like preparing lectures, but I hope you get something out of it. I certainly have!
I'll repeat the map from the first post here if you want to refer to it.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I have been reading about early Canadian explorers, and so far I've focused my interest on the Canadian Arctic, including the tragic story of Captain John Franklin and his doomed men. It astonishes me when I think about it that I did not learn a single thing about all this in school, certainly one of the most interesting stories to be told about Canadian history.
This is my own personal project this winter and it's been a good one for me. I'm not a historian, so I'm just reporting on what I have learned in my reading. I should add that doing all this has been excellent pain medication. It distracts me completely from my chronic nerve pain. Obviously I am totally dependent on using maps and illustrations from the internet in doing this. I do so knowing it's for a legitimate educational purpose. I am particularly indebted to both Wikipedia and the Canadian Encyclopedia.
So I'm going to share the very superficial knowledge I've gained with you, and tell you about the Canadian Arctic. As I've written these posts, they keep expanding, so I've broken it into two groups, first five posts on Arctic exploration. and secondly 4 or 5 posts on the Arctic today which I'll post later. If you're not interested just rejoin us after a week or so.