Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Franklin discovery

Last week's big Franklin announcement - the finding of a significant shipwreck from Sir John Franklin's fated 1845-46 expedition in Canada's Arctic waters - left me rather cold (pun intended).  As a student of Canada's north, I suppose I should have been excited, but I must admit that I wasn't.

The story of the Franklin expedition is one that Canada loves to tell (hence Prime Minister Harper was on hand to help make the announcement).  It seems to say something about us.  A kind of national narrative.  Of course, if it says something about Canada, its message is rather oblique: after all, Franklin's expedition was British, not Canadian.  And as it was a mission to find the Northwest Passage, it's worth keeping in mind that the whole purpose of the journey was to avoid Canada.

But, that aside, it offers some suggestion about Canada that we seem to enjoy.  Perhaps because the Franklin expedition provides a message about the harshness of our country, about our northlands, about how we must observe humility in the face of this harsh northern region--because all hubris will be crushed.  But what if it's the wrong story to tell? What if it's too much of a cliche to still be telling that story in 21st century?  

One thing that I like about the news re. the Franklin discovery: it proved that the Inuit had it right all along. They knew where one of the ships could be found.  And maybe that should be the story: the story that we need to know and reflect on.

In the Opinion/Commentary section of The Toronto Star, Kathleen Winter had this to say: "How long do we refrain from challenging a national government that uses sad, outworn tales of lost Franklin ships like a magic lantern, superimposing a narrative of patriotic swagger over the real north — a land whose elements, people and animals are trying to tell us something about what it might really mean to be Canadian in this melting global world."

For Winter's full piece:

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