Just five years ago, Port Alberni’s museum presented an exhibit about the search for and discovery of the ships from the Franklin Expedition, which vanished in 1845 during a search for the Northwest Passage. The fate of Sir John Franklin’s expedition was one of the Arctic’s most enduring mysteries, until the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were found in 2014 and 2016.
Today, the Alberni Valley Museum has opened up a new temporary exhibit, which explores the role of Inuit oral history in solving that mystery.
“The Ones We Met – Inuit Traditional Knowledge and the Franklin Expedition” is a travelling exhibition developed by the Canadian Museum of History in partnership with the Inuit Heritage Trust. Presented in Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, English and French — the four official languages of Nunavut — the exhibition will be on display at the Alberni Valley Museum until May 11, 2024.
The exhibition features photographs, illustrations and an animated map of routes charted by Europeans looking for a Northwest Passage in the 350 years before Franklin’s expedition. Visitors can hear stories of Inuit encounters with Franklin and his men, and of Martin Frobisher’s voyages to Baffin Island in the 1570s. The recordings include the late Inuit historian Louie Kamookak reflecting on the ongoing importance of oral histories and the bleak environment northwest of King William Island, where Franklin’s ships were first trapped by ice.
“Without the shared memories passed down through generations of Inuit — stories of sick and starving men, and an abandoned ship locked in the ice — we might still be searching for the Franklin Expedition,” said Caroline Dromaguet, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of History. “With The Ones We Met, the Canadian Museum of History is proud to bring well-deserved attention to the importance of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or Inuit traditional knowledge, in keeping history alive and ensuring that critical information is not forgotten.”
The Alberni Valley Museum (4255 Wallace Street) is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.