(Randy Boswell/Postmedia News, 19 September 2010) — A British adventurer has piqued the interest of the Canadian government after reporting the discovery of skeletal human remains on a small, unnamed island in Arctic waters close to where members of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition are known to have disappeared more than 160 years ago. Bear Grylls, star of the popular Man vs. Wild outdoor survival TV series, claims to have found bones, charred wood and other artifacts earlier this month during a charity-fundraising expedition to cross the Northwest Passage in a rigid inflatable boat. At the expedition website, Grylls described how he and his team members discovered the remnants of a mysterious campsite on Sept. 2 on an tiny island in Wellington Strait east of King William Island — the place where some of the survivors from Franklin’s ice-locked ships Erebus and Terror took shelter in the late 1840s before they eventually succumbed to cold and starvation. “We found the rocky outline of a grave set by some stranded visitor long ago,” Grylls wrote at his expedition blog. “And at the grave, we saw bones. And a small piece of felt or fabric. And then as we looked there was another grave. And another, and a fourth.” Such sites are not unheard of among Canada’s Arctic islands, where extreme cold and dry conditions can preserve archeological remains intact for generations or even centuries.
An old wooden box excavated from beneath an Arctic cairn is being flown unopened Monday to Ottawa 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 inches, will be opened and its contents preserved at the Canadian Conservation Institute.
Harper, author of the best-selling Inuit biography Give Me My Fathers 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.
Gibson wrote in The Beaver magazine of finding the records, which included a signed photograph of Georg V. Neumayer, a German scientist who had sparked Amundsens interest in the North Magnetic Pole.
Harper predicted that the Saturday excavation would turn up an old HBC ammunition box. Andrew Porter, who runs a tourism business in Gjoa Haven, says that just such a box was found three feet beneath the cairn.
Harper says the unopened box contains a metal canister in a bed of tallow. Inside the canister, conservators will find the Amundsen documents in an envelope sewn into an oilskin packet and wrapped in pages from a 1950s Nautical Almanac and an Edmonton newspaper.
Harper, who has lived in the Arctic for over 30 years, doubts that any Franklin documents will be found. He believes that oral history has confused Franklin and Amundsen.
Original article here
(CBC News, 25 August 2010) — Residents of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, held a special flag-raising ceremony with Norwegian officials this week to honour Roald Amundsen, who spent two years in the community during his famed quest through the Northwest Passage. The Norwegian ambassador attended Monday’s ceremony, in which the Canadian and Norwegian flags were raised near the Amundsen Centenary Cairn in Gjoa Haven. Also in attendance was Gier Klover, the director of the Fram Museum in Oslo, Norway. “I’ve been interested in polar histories since I was a kid, so Gjoa Haven, that’s the place I’ve read about for 30 years,” Klover told CBC News on Tuesday. “Just to be here, and the incredible friendliness and hospitality of the community, is very touching.” Klover said his museum is dedicated to polar explorers like Amundsen, who set sail for the Northwest Passage in 1903 in his ship, Gjoa. The museum is building an extension to house the Gjoa, he added. Amundsen spent two winters near King William Island, in what is now Gjoa Haven, learning from local Inuit as he prepared for his expedition. “He perfected the skills, making him the ultimate polar explorer,” Klover said. “He had huge respect for local learnings and local knowledge, and he spent every day trying to learn as much as possible there, as opposed to many other explorers.” Amundsen made history when he completed the east-to-west voyage across the passage in 1906. Klover said Monday’s ceremony commemorates the growing partnership between his museum and the community of Gjoa Haven. He said he brought some photographs that were taken by Amundsen, as a gift to the community.