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Great Excursions gives adventurers a sense of local flavour.

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Adventures in History

By Ken McGoogan


Last September we got chased off Beechey Island by a polar bear, a massive creature capable of outrunning a race horse. It came loping in our direction around a bay as we strode along the beach while our fellow passengers lingered at the best-known gravesites in the Arctic. As soon as we retreated to the Zodiacs and fired up the engines, however, the bear changed its mind and trundled off in the opposite direction. Fortunately, we had already visited the gravesites of the three first men to die during the 1845 expedition of Sir John Franklin – those three who were later exhumed and studied.

Several of us had been making our way towards theremains of Franklin’s abandoned stores and, not far from them, the beach where Elisha Kent Kane had been standing in 1850 when a seaman came tumbling over a snowy ridge, shouting “Graves! We’ve found graves! Franklin’s winter quarters!”

We could picture the scene vividly because history is alive in the High Arctic in ways that elsewhere, it has become invisible, lost to successive waves of development.

Where once the explorer John Rae trekked over “young ice” along the coast of Boothia Peninsula to discover both the fate of Franklin and the final link in the Northwest Passage, today we can glide along in open waters, knowing the coastline is virtually unchanged. At Fury Beach, where John and James Clark Ross lost a ship in a howling gale, we sail past on a calm, sunny afternoon – yet there it lies beneath an ominous cliff: Fury Beach! Proceeding through Bellot Strait with nary an iceberg in sight, you marvel to think that William Kennedy and Joseph Rene Bellot discovered this channel by hauling a sledge through it. Where now the heavy ice and blowing

To sail in the wake of the polar explorers, viewing the present through the lens of the past, is to encounter an urgent contemporary reality. Global warming has transformed the High Arctic. Realizing this, you can’t help but wonder: shouldn’t we be doing something about this?

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