To Find the Hand of Franklin Reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Myth and magic. Tragedy and terror. The path of history to the legendary passage through the High Arctic where so many sought gold and glory. The Vikings first reached Ellesmere and Ruin Islands to hunt and trade with the local Dorset Inuit before the Little Ice Age began in 1300. Then a parade of colonial explorers from both east and west attempted to find the elusive route – Captains Cook, Cabot, Sir Francis Drake, Frobisher, Gilbert, Bering and Hudson, Beechey and Parry and then Franklin – many left their names - and their graves on the land but none completed the passage.
Not until 1906 was the first true passage made by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in the sloop Gjoa – it took him and his 6 crew three years to conquer the Arctic. Then came the spectacular discovery of the ill-fated 1845 Franklin Expedition on the HMS Terror and Erebus – the wrecks found in 2014-16 in Terror Bay, with graves found previously on Beechey Island.
The Northwest Passage lives on today in Nunavut – embedded in the land and sea in the cairns and the wrecks; in the memories and stories passed on from Inuit elders of the strange men in stranger ships. Adventurers can visit the islands and sail the straights – over vast expanses of ocean and ice, past remote wilderness areas and breath-taking landscapes in Qausuittuq, Similik and Auyuittuq national parks, visiting local towns and hamlets where Inuit art and culture thrives beyond the legends of ships and passages.
Some of the welcoming communities and unique places of interest on the path of the Northwest Passage are Kugluktuk, Gjoa Haven with the Northwest Passage Trail; Resolute (named after the HMS Resolute, abandoned in 1850 while searching for the Franklin Expedition), and the nearby Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area. Cruises go past Beechey Island - where visitors can see the graves of the crew as well as sail to the shores of King William Island and the HMS Terror and HMS Erbus' final resting points.
For many visitors, a trip to Nunavut exploring the Northwest Passage and the land, cultures and people who live here will be an adventure into history but for others it will be the trip of a lifetime that leads to a different place and time.