Everyone should take a break here and consider the facts. As my good friend Kenn Harper observes, the "Northwest Passage" was an idea long before it was a reality; in fact, its essence is that of a quest, or a desire, rather than a fulfillment. Of course, other imaginary names have ended up on maps before (see for instance the Straits of Juan de Fuca, which were named after the man who sought the fabled Strait of Anián, a nonexistant route across the Americas, in 1592), but in point of fact there is no such waterway with this name. It was imagined as a singularity, but is in fact a multiplicity; there are any number of potential routes through the inland Arctic waters of Canada, including that taken by Sir Robert McClure, that taken by Roald Amundsen, that taken by the SS Manhattan, and many others since. A Government can, of course, name any physical feature what it wants, but the "Northwest Passage" is not a physical feature at all.
It is, in fact, a very Romantic idea, and ought to be celebrated in just that spirit, rather than pinned down to a map. And the finest emobodiment of this spirit, I am sure many readers of this blog will agree, is Stan Rogers' song of 1981, "Northwest Passage." It embodies the idea, and the passion of the Passage, connecting the exploits of Sir John Franklin, Alexander Mackenzie, David Thompson, and Henry Kelsey with Rogers' own symbolic passage, which was undertaken via the Trans-Canada highway as "this tardiest explorer." It's an extraordinary song, one which -- by Rogers' own account -- came to him as he lay in a darkened recording studio, with the thrumming of the amplifier tubes as his drones. It has been called Canada's unofficial national anthem, and with good reason: the significance of the Passage, and Franklin's death, and Rogers', are all bound up in it. In the efforts to assert Canadian sovereignty over its inland waters, it has been caught up as a sort of talisman, but that's not a purpose it should serve. Instead, I hope it reminds everyone -- in Canada and elsewhere -- of the power of a story wrought with sacrifice, fringed with fear, and concluding with the unity of a diverse Nation, brought together not with declarations of some body of legislators, but with dreams.