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Geologist finds relic from Franklin search

Canadian geologist Francis Manns was prospecting for lead and zinc.
The mid-summer day was bright and literally endless -- 24-hour sunlight.
Manns was working his way along the Abbott River in the middle of Cornwallis Island, some distance north of Resolute Bay, when he spotted a cairn on a ridge or pinnacle.
"It was two or three feet high," he told me earlier today. "You couldn't miss it."
Manns went to investigate, picked up a couple of loose rocks, and found three identical pieces of paper. Maybe I should mention that he did this forty-odd years ago, between June 20 and August 20 of 1973.
The high-rag-content pieces of paper had been deposited there, in the middle of Cornwallis Island, in 1851 by a search party from the Felix, under the command of Sir John Ross. The previous year, Ross had been present off Beechey Island during the discovery of the gravesites of the first three men to die from the lost Franklin expedition.
Together with several other captains, Ross had wintered over and resumed searching north up Wellington Channel -- along the east coast of Cornwallis Island. As the Manns discovery shows -- and though I, for one, have not been able to locate the Abbott River -- Ross's men ventured some distance inland during their hunt.
"The paper lasted because it is very good quality," Manns said, "and the Arctic is a desert. The pages were just loosely placed -- gently folded and nestled in the rocks. A high wind blows constantly, and the rain when it comes is sparse and horizontal and dries in minutes. I would guess that the cairn had never been wet inside."
When he got home to Toronto, Manns sent the two other copies he found to the national archives in Ottawa . . . and never heard a word.
"We used to go out in pairs," he recalled at his home in the Beaches, which is where in Toronto all the cool folks live. "A helicopter would put us down and we'd go prospecting and mapping." This was before GPS, of course, but even their compasses were useless. "The North Magnetic Pole was just off Little Cornwallis Island," Manns explained. "It's now a thousand miles away."
One geologist with whom he was working -- Malcolm Wilson -- came upon another cairn on a different traverse. He never said a word about it back at camp, but inside that cairn, he found a piece of paper identical to the three pages Manns had discovered -- only this page had been dated and signed. Wilson published an article about it in a Saskatchewan-based journal called The Muskox. In recent decades, Manns has looked for that article a few times, but has never managed to lay hands on it.
Ken McGoogan
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Polar Bears explain the Fate of Franklin

What happened to the Franklin Expedition? Researchers have been debating that since 1847, two years after Sir John Franklin disappeared into the Arctic with 128 men. From the note found at Victory Point on King William Island, we know that in April 1848, 105 men left the two ice-locked ships. The note tells us that already, nine officers and fifteen seamen had died. That represents 37 per cent of officers and 14 per cent of crew members. Historians have wondered: why such disportionate numbers?
Researchers have spent vast amounts of time and energy inquiring into the deaths of the first three sailors to die, whose graves remain on Beechey Island. Did lead poisoning kill them? Botulism? Zinc deficiency leading to tuberculosis? But wait. Maybe those three early deaths were anomalies. Perhaps the nine officers and twelve other sailors died as a result of some accident or injury. Some have wondered if the dead men ingested something that others did not.
But nobody, to my knowledge, has publicly invoked the calamitous Munk expedition of the early 1600s, which lost sixty-two men out of sixty-five. In 1619-20, while seeking the Northwest Passage, the Danish-Norwegian explorer Jens Munk wintered in two ships at present-day Churchill, Manitoba. In Dead Reckoning, drawing on Munk’s journal, I detail the unprecedented miseries that ensued. During my research, I had turned up an article by Delbert Young published 44 years ago in the Beaver magazine (“Killer on the ‘Unicorn,’" Winter, 1973). It blamed the catastrophe on poorly cooked or raw polar-bear meat.
Soon after reaching Churchill in September 1619, Munk reported that at every high tide, white beluga whales entered the estuary of the river. His men caught one and dragged it ashore. Next day, a “large white bear” turned up to feed on the whale. Munk shot and killed it. His men relished the bear meat. Munk had ordered the cook “just to boil it slightly, and then to keep it in vinegar for a night.” But he had the meat for his own table roasted, and wrote that “it was of good taste and did not disagree with us.”
As Delbert Young observes, Churchill sits at the heart of polar bear country. Probably, after that first occasion, the sailors consumed more polar-bear meat. During his long career, Munk had seen men die of scurvy and knew how to treat that disease. He noted that it attacked some of his sailors, loosening their teeth and bruising their skin. But when men began to die in great numbers, he was baffled. This went beyond anything he had seen. His chief cook died early in January, and from then on “violent sickness . . . prevailed more and more.”
After a wide-ranging analysis, Young points to trichinosis as the probable killer —a parasitical disease, unidentified until the twentieth century, which is endemic in polar bears. Infected meat, undercooked, deposits embryo larvae in a person’s stomach. These tiny parasites embed themselves in the intestines. They reproduce, enter the bloodstream and, within weeks, encyst themselves in muscle tissue throughout the body. They cause the terrible symptoms Munk describes and, left untreated, can culminate in death four to six weeks after ingestion.
So, back to the Franklin expedition. Could trichinosis, induced by eating raw polar-bear meat, have killed those nine officers and dozen seamen? And galvanized the remaining men into abandoning the ships? And rendered many of them so sick that they could hardly think straight or walk. And made the faces of some look black, so that they had to be quarantined into a separate tent?
In recent years, while visiting Beechey Island with Adventure Canada, more than once my fellow voyagers and I have been driven off by polar bears. We retreat into the zodiacs at first sign of approach. In that same situation, how would Franklin’s men have responded? They would have killed those curious bears and eaten them -- perhaps bringing some of the meat onto the ships. That undercooked polar-bear meat, unevenly distributed among officers and crew, might well have led to the lopsided fatality statistics . . . and to all the rest.
So, anyway, I suggest in Dead Reckoning. Within the next few years, Parks Canada will almost certainly turn up some decisive evidence -- written records or human remains or both -- as divers investigate the Erebus and Terror. Until then, my money is on polar-bear-meat-induced trichinosis.
Ken McGoogan
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Say goodbye to defenders of the Royal Navy narrative of the Northwest Passage

A few days ago, in the comments section below the Globe and Mail review of Dead Reckoning, I placed a link to my rejoinder. The review's author, Janice Cavell, has responded in that same forum. She says nothing about my two main criticisms, and so apparently concedes -- first, that her review short-shrifted the Inuit, failing to name even a single Inuk, and second, that it suggested white males are interchangeable. Instead, Cavell again takes up the cudgels in defence of the Royal Navy narrative of the Northwest Passage -- a story that does change to suit new information, but that ALWAYS manages to keep those old familiar naval officers front and centre.
Ever since Lady Franklin in the 1850s, the defenders of Official History have relied on geographical confusion and misunderstanding to make their case. But check the map attached, taken from the endpapers of Dead Reckoning. As you can see, despite Cavell's contention, Bellot Strait is more than 100 km northeast of King William Island. It played no role whatsoever in the first navigable Northwest Passage, as established by Roald Amundsen in 1903-06. Click on the map and check out the route he took.
Far from denying that John Franklin “discovered” Franklin Strait -- which is simply the southern extension of Peel Sound, south of Bellot Strait -- I argue and show clearly that Franklin sailed directly through that waterway. By so doing, he established a navigable passage through those waters, all the way south to near the top of King William Island (KWI). Whether the coastline was charted is irrelevant. In January 1830, travelling with several Inuit, James Clark Ross had crossed the ice from Boothia to the northern tip of KWI -- but surmised, in snowy conditions, that the waters to the east of that island ended in a bay. The map Franklin carried showed precisely that, which is why he turned west and got trapped in the ice.
In 1854, after travelling overland across Boothia with an Inuk, William Ouligbuck, and an Ojibway, Thomas Mistegan, John Rae determined that what James Clark Ross, and so Franklin, had believed to be a bay was in fact a strait: Rae Strait. Aware of Rae’s discovery, which had been verified by Leopold McClintock, Amundsen followed in the wake of Franklin to KWI, then veered east through Rae Strait to Gjoa Haven, before proceeding onward. So, once more with feeling: Dr. John Rae -- that Orcadian Scot, that Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader, that first great champion of Inuit oral history -- John Rae discovered the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage.

Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.