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"Arctic Archipelago" -- TOC

This work started out as an examination of John Franklin's life. And, while it is that; it turned into much more. For an understanding of Franklin's interest in the Canadian high north, I found it necessary to examine the early exploration, by taking an abbreviated look at The Early Explorers. Then, as things progressed, it was realized that The People Who Came Later, those who were in search of Franklin, were of considerable importance to the early geography of northern Canada: for they added, by the mid-19th century, a great and detailed knowledge of the Canadian High North, particularly the Arctic Archipelago. Thus this work is broader than just an exposition of Franklin's life, though it is, at this work's central core.

So, where is the Canadian Arctic Archipelago located? It is "north of the Canadian mainland in the Arctic. Situated in the northern extremity of North America and covering about 1,424,500 km2 (550,000 sq mi), this group of 36,563 islands comprises much of the territory of Northern Canada – most of Nunavut and part of the Northwest Territories."1 It has been described as the world’s largest high-Arctic land area. The terrain is a vast tundra, nearly level and treeless except in mountainous areas where nothing grows except glaciers. Most of this territory is uninhabited; human settlement is extremely thin and scattered, being mainly coastal Inuit settlements on the southern islands. (See Map)

Here is an observation of the High Polar North, made in the year 1857:

"There is an unusual dearth of birds and seals; everything around us is painfully still, excepting when an occasional iceberg splits off from the parent glacier; then we hear a rumbling crash like distant thunder, and the wave occasioned by the launch reaches us in six or seven minutes, and makes the ship roll lazily for a similar period. I cannot imagine that within the whole compass of nature's varied aspects there is presented to the human eye a scene so well adapted for promoting deep and serious reflection, for lifting one's thoughts from trivial things of everyday life to others of the highest moment."2
As for the people of the High Arctic, the Inuit or Eskimo3: "They constitute a very widely-diffused race, occupying all the shores of the Northern Ocean, and embracing nearly the entire circuit of the globe ... The affinity of speech, however, which is such as proves the dialects of all the Esquimaux to be mere varieties of one common language ..."4; John Richardson called them litteral people "neither wandering inland, nor crossing wide seas; yet the extent of coast-line which they exclusively possess is surprising."5

As a supplement to my main work, I have touched upon the early European Discovers of the Arctic Archipelago. Fair to say, from the earliest explorers to those of the era I cover, were driven to find a shorter way to the riches of the orient. Most of those in the know, were of the view that there was a north-west passage; it just needed to be discovered.

"... the conviction must have been more and more impressed upon their minds that this was the real pathway for ships striving to get from sea to sea, if only a gap to the eastward, which would connect it with the older discoveries on the Atlantic side, could be found."6

NEXT -- No. 01, John Franklin's Early Life & "The Battle at Copenhagen"


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Peter Landry