Thursday, March 21, 2013

Return to Rae Strait

In August 1854, during a single prodigious Arctic expedition, the Scottish Orcadian superman John Rae solved the two great mysteries of 19th-century Arctic exploration. First, beating his way overland with his two hardiest men, an Inuk and an Ojibway, he discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage, the only channel navigable by the sailing ships of the day. Second, Rae correctly determined the fate of the Franklin expedition -- specifically, that the final survivors of that unlucky, two-vessel undertaking had been driven to cannibalism. I told the whole story in my book Fatal Passage. In the epilogue to that work, I described how, in 1999, with Cameron Treleaven and Louie Kamookak, I erected a plaque beside the cairn that Rae built in the High Arctic, overlooking the waterway he discovered. In August 2012, sailing this time with Adventure Canada, I revisited that hard-to-reach spot -- this time, with eighty or ninety voyagers keen to establish the site as a viable historical destination. Just in time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Rae's birth (September, 1813), this story turns up in the latest issue (April-May) of Canada's History magazine.

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