The allure of Canada’s north, and the quest for a Northwest Passage connecting the country’s east and west coasts by way of the arctic, “lies at the root of our national identity,” says Dr. Robyn Woodward, professor of archeology at Simon Fraser University.
For the crew members who followed Sir John Franklin in 1845, it was a death wish.
The history of Franklin’s expedition, and the mystery behind the disappearance of two ships and 134 men, is part of a new exhibit at the Alberni Valley Museum.
Echoes in the Ice: Finding Franklin’s Ship will only be exhibited in two museums in B.C. this year, and Port Alberni is one of them.
Canada’s north only gave up the first of the ships in 2014, nearly 170 years after the HMS Erebus and Terror first departed England for their exploration expedition. Clues, artifacts and bodies, however, had been discovered over a number of years.
It took nearly two years for anyone to realize Franklin’s crew had not been successful in finding the Northwest Passage, and had in fact disappeared. They missed a planned reconnaissance in 1847. Between 1847 and 1859, according to Woodward, there were 32 search expeditions.
“The first evidence that all was not going well was found almost immediately with the discovery of three graves on Beechey Island in 1850, but these date to the first winter of the expedition,” Woodward said.
These three were dubbed the “Frozen Franklins”, and remain buried on Beechey Island.
“In some ways, these three were the lucky ones,” Woodward said. “They died in their bunks and were afforded a Christian burial. Not one of the other 125 officers and crew were so fortunate—some of their partial remains have been found strewn across the desolate shoreline of King William Island.”
To learn more about the Franklin expedition and the discovery of the two ships, visit the Alberni Valley Museum, located at 4255 Wallace St. inside Echo Centre. The museum will be open on Saturday, April 20 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during Easter weekend.
Echoes In the Ice will be at the museum until June 8.