Thursday, September 30, 2010

Missing Amundsen photo turns up in Yellowknife museum

Here's the "final answer" as reported in The Gazette. . . .


A Yellowknife heritage centre holds the final answer to questions raised by the opening of an Arctic "mystery box" excavated from a cairn in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut.

The wooden box, according to those who opened it Friday in Ottawa, contained no items related to Arctic explorers Sir John Franklin or Roald Amundsen. Officials from the Canadian Conservation Institute and the Nunavut government said the box, excavated at the beginning of September, contained only bits of a cardboard box, plus "pieces of newspaper, and what appeared to be tallow" beneath sand and rocks.

Yet a retired Hudson's Bay Company manager, Eric Mitchell, had said that in the late 1950s, the wooden box contained an inscribed photograph left by Amundsen in 1905. He knew this because he helped put it there. So where did that photograph go?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

No Franklin, no Amundsen: Why the delay?

So the box contains no Franklin items. For that I was ready. But nothing related to Roald Amundsen? That was a surprise. But then my old friend Louie Kamookak clarified for me.  He was one of the two men with whom I once placed a plaque on the coast of Boothia Peninsula to honour the discovery, by John Rae, of the final link in the Northwest Passage. Louie is also the grandson of Paddy Gibson, the HBC man who dug up the Amundsen photo (of Neumayer) in 1927. George Washington Porter reburied it in the late 1950s. But then, in the late 1970s, Louie explained, another HBC man took the Neumayer photo and the slab of marble that Amundsen left and brought them to Yellowknife, so they ended up
in government storage. So that would be why the delay. Almost certainly, that HBC man left a note in the box before he reburied it -- a note explaining what he had done. So now, before they reveal the note,
those who dug up the box want to locate the Neumayer photo and the marble slab, so they can produce them at the same time.That's my thinking on it, anyway. Oh, and one more thing: Louie Kamookak would like to see the cairn honouring Paddy Gibson rebuilt. That doesn't seem a lot to ask.

Monday, September 27, 2010

U.K. authors battling for Public Lending Right

It's a bad movie that we don't want to see playing in local theatres any time soon. Authors in the U.K. are mobilizing to stop the government from making cuts to the national Public Lending Right, which provides authors with a payment of six pence each time one of their books is checked out from a U.K. library. Many prominent writers have added their names to a petition requesting that the government keep PLR, which they say “gives effect to a legal right and is not a subsidy,” intact. Crime writer Penny Grubb says in The Guardian  that a looming funding review will be a “dog fight,” but called for action to ensure that PLR money remains untouched: “With average earnings for writers so low, and with such a short shelf life for books in shops these days, PLR income for many writers is a vital part of their take-home pay.” There's more where that came from, but some of the ill-informed comments on the article are . . . disheartening.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

There WILL be bagpipes . . .

If you live in the Centre of the Universe, or even if you're just visiting, there WILL be bagpipes at this bookish bash . . . for reasons that may well be obvious. Come on down!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Would you believe another discovery of Franklin relics?

At first I was sceptical. But the more I looked at it, the more interested I became. A British adventurer, a TV-show-host named Bear Grylls, reports happening upon a possible Franklin site, complete with graves, on a tiny island in Wellington Strait, northeast of King William Island. That story turned up in the U.K. in The Independent, and was picked up in Canada in The Gazette. What Grylls did not know was that in May 1859, while searching in this vicinity on behalf of Lady Franklin, explorer Leopold McClintock passed through this strait, which is not to be confused with Wellington Channel. He sledged south along the icy shoreline of King William Island, then crossed the southern part of the strait to the southwest tip of Matty Island. There he found a deserted Inuit village of nearly twenty snowhuts. Also, he discovered "shavings or chips of different kinds of wood from the lost expedition." McClintock tried and failed to find the Inuit who had lived there, and he resumed his southward march. He did not visit the precise area Grylls describes -- though that tiny island would appear to be just a few miles north of the tip of Matty Island. This is intriguing, and worthy of further research.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How the Scots Invented Canada

Our Hero is heading for Halifax, Montreal, and Sherbooke to launch his new book, How the Scots Invented Canada. On October 12, his 7 p.m. appearance at Woodlawn Public Library (Dartmouth) will be televised for broadcast by Podium TV. Two weeks later, on Oct. 28, Ken will be in Montreal at the Atwater Public Library (12:30 p.m.). And the night after that (Oct. 29), he'll present the book at Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec. In Toronto, Adventure Canada will join publisher HarperCollins Canada in celebrating How the Scots at a party-time venue soon to be revealed -- and you just know that will be a party. Ken is already pumped for next spring, when he will sail around Scotland with Adventure Canada on Celtic Quest: A Voyage Through the Scottish Isles (May 31 - June 10). And before any of this happens, on Sept 15, Ken will drive out to North Bay to talk to the Canadian Club about Sailing in the Northwest Passage: Today and Yesterday

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Our "mystery box" goes national . . .

Click on the above title and look to the right to see how our mystery-box story looked when it turned up on The National . . . All that's left is the Great Reveal, which should happen around Sept. 29 . . .

VIDEO: 3:06

* Franklin Expedition box unearthed An Inuit family says a box that was hidden for more than 80 years in the Arctic contains logbooks linked to the doomed Franklin Expedition, the CBC's Jay Legere reports.

Read more:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Arctic mystery box linked to Roald Amundsen

So here's a follow-up article that has been picked up across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver.

By Ken McGoogan
Special to the Gazette

An old wooden box excavated from beneath an Arctic cairn is being flown unopened to Ottawa Monday from the Nunavut hamlet of Gjoa Haven.

The Nunavut-government launched the excavation after an Inuit family relayed oral history suggesting that the cairn contained records from the ill-fated 1845 expedition led by Sir John Franklin in search of the Northwest Passage.

But Canadian historian Kenn Harper, who has spent months researching the cairn, says the box will prove to contain records left in 1905 by explorer Roald Amundsen during the first-ever navigation of the Passage.

The box, which measures 14.5” x 11” x 6.5”, will be opened and its contents preserved at the Canadian Conservation Institute.

Harper, author of the best-selling Inuit biography Give Me My Father’s Body, and also Honorary Danish Consul in Nunavut, says the box contains papers that Amundsen buried after spending almost two years in Gjoa Haven tracking the movements of the North Magnetic Pole.

He began investigating the cairn after learning of the claim by descendants of George Washington Porter II, a Hudson’s Bay Company manager based in that hamlet on King William Island.

Harper says that Eric Mitchell of the HBC, the senior man in the territory, dug up the Amundsen records in 1958, with the help of Porter II. The two men found documents that had first been discovered in 1927 by William “Paddy” Gibson, an HBC inspector who reburied them.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Holy Grail of Arctic exploration history

The voyage came courtesy of Adventure Canada, which brought me aboard as a resource historian. The Montreal Gazette published the story on Sept. 3. The Vancouver Sun picked it up immediately. The excavation of the cairn may take three or four days.

By Ken McGoogan

Special to the Gazette

GJOA HAVEN, King William Island, Nunavut –

The search for the logbooks of the ill-fated Franklin expedition -- the Holy Grail of Arctic exploration history – has taken on new life.

An Inuit family based in Gjoa Haven, the only settlement near the spot where the 1845 expedition got trapped in the ice, is promising to unearth those logbooks on Saturday (September 4).

Researchers and historians have been searching for the logbooks since the 129-man expedition led by Sir John Franklin disappeared while searching for the Northwest Passage.

The expedition got trapped in pack ice at the northwest corner of King William Island, roughly 160 km from Gjoa Haven. In 1847, 105 sailors endured a horrific march down the west coast of the island before succumbing to scurvy, starvation and lead poisoning. The final survivors resorted to cannibalism.

Wally Porter and Ken
Descendants of George Washington Porter II, a Hudson’s Bay Company manager, say they will excavate the logbooks from beneath a cairn in the centre of Gjoa Haven (pop. 1,100). “Timing is everything,” said family spokesperson Wally Porter. “And the time has come to show the world these logbooks.”

Porter said in a recent interview that his grandfather, Porter II, buried the documents beneath the cairn when it was rebuilt in the late 1950s or early ’60s. The cairn had deteriorated since it was erected in 1944 to commemorate William “Paddy” Gibson, an HBC inspector who had died in a plane crash two years before.

Down through the decades, historians have often speculated that the Inuit on King William Island discovered the logbooks. But until now, the story has been that they scattered the pages to the wind.