“It is the most sought after shipwreck in Canadian history, if not the world,” Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said at a press conference yesterday. Yes, there have been movies, books, plays, and songs written about it. We can still imagine the band playing on, the gentlemen playing cards in the smoking room after getting the first class women on the boats, and the poor Irish immigrants trapped below decks as the ship splits in two… wait, no. That describes the RMS TITANIC, which famously sunk 102 years ago this past April. Thanks to Celine Dion, James Cameron, Halifax, and E.J. Pratt, Canada has some famous ties to the shipwreck (it was found in Newfoundland too!). But, what Aglukkaq was talking about was another shipwreck, perhaps one of the ships from Franklin’s lost expedition to explore the Northwest Passage.
He did it. Prime Minister Harper did it, well he helped. Not personally; of course (except for the odd photo op). Years of slicing funding to Parks Canada, cutting staff and support, and shoveling the pittance that remained of Parks Canada’s budget into the search for two ships lost nearly two centuries ago have finally paid off and Harper’s mania has been sated.
At least one of the ships may have been found. Please highlight the word ‘may’ as they haven’t confirmed if it is HMS EREBUS or HMS TERROR or either of them. Really it could be another ship belonging to the Royal Navy. There were over 40 expeditions launched to search for Franklin in the 19th century alone and other countries could have tried to make the passage too!
Stevie seemed pretty pleased with himself announcing that the great mystery of what happened to Franklin and his crew had been solved at a press conference today. Although we have finally, maybe, found one of the ships (well Parks Canada did) we already know what happened to the expedition through the earlier searches for Franklin and Inuit lore. The expedition became trapped in the ice and after Franklin died and his crew succumbed to tainted food and scurvy they abandoned ship, trying to make for the nearest Hudson Bay Company post over 1,000 miles away. We know these facts from cairns, messages and graves found in the 19th century by the expeditions which followed Franklin-who told part of the grissly story. The rest was filled in by the discovery of tools and human remains which had been munched on by other humans. So to say the expedition was “lost” would be somewhat inaccurate for we know what happened to them, we just didn’t have the ship. Now we do. Or maybe we do.
The announcement was preceded by Aglukkaq and the Premier of Nunavut announcing that new artifacts had been found-which some touted as the first proof of what had happened. Does nobody in the government do research on these things…they were not the first artifacts to be found. And the ships would have been found a lot sooner if the government had actually listened to the Inuit lore, for the ship sunk right where they said it did! But what else is new.
Prime Minister Harper made the announcement in English at a press conference this morning to whoops and cheers. He then said that they should let him repeat it in French as well, which he did to more whoops and cheers. Because Quebec loves hearing about the British navy. They have had a close relationship since 1779.
An image of the wreck was presented by Parks Canada and Harper thanked them for their tireless efforts. Although considering that their operating budget was crushed by an icy conservative government, and they were forced to use what little they had to invest so strongly in the search for Franklin’s lost ships. Behind the conference table was a map of Canada, in Conservative colours and the Conservative expression “A Strong Canada” “Un Canada Fort” spread across it. Not partisan at all! The Prime Minister has been driven to obsession, a la Captain Ahab over the Franklin case for years. This is an important discovery, if either the Erebus or the Terror have been found, but by touting his own government’s role and claiming that it is a victory for Cosnervative Canada muddies the importance of the find. History can be written by the victors but rarely should disasters be so politicized. History has been trivialized here, and that is the real shame. What should be a moment of pride, has been tainted by partisan politics and grandstanding. Don’t believe me? Name the person, the scientist who actually found the wreck-without looking it up. Few of the media outlets even record the name of the expedition’s leader…let alone list its members; except for the Prime Minister and much earlier Peter Mansbridge.
If this is a great day for Canada, for all Canadians, why is a politician making the official announcement? Reagan didn’t announce it when Ballard found the Titanic .
Queen Catherine might have announced that Columbus had found America herself; though she was a Queen. Perhaps Harper really does see himself as King? Forget about Harper’s face before every image of the ship. Remember the men who lost their lives exploring our North, for whatever reason. Remember and respect the natural world which was they failed to triumph over.