Monday, December 5, 2016

Misleading CBC story on Franklin relics

In my news alerts this morning, I found that CBC reporter Dean Beeby has come out with what I feel is a misleading story about the status of the new Franklin relics brought up, or to be brought up, from HMS Erebus and Terror. Beeby, drawing from government documents obtained under the Access to Information act, shows that there was, indeed, some considerable back-and-forth over the status of these relics in the past -- but neglects to mention that the ongoing talks have, in fact, produced broad areas of consensus. And, even when he (accurately) notes that, although Parks Canada had received legal advice that the new relics were not covered by the Nunavut Act, they decided to invite Inuit groups to co-administer their conservation and display, he then repeats the assertion that the UK insists that they are their property, which they don't.  So let's go over the basic facts:

• As items from the navy of a nation, these newly-recovered Franklin relics would have been the unquestioned property of Her Majesty's Government -- but in the 1997 memorandum of understanding between the UK and Canada, the UK transfers all claims in the wrecks and their contents to Canada (an exception being made only for any gold found on the wrecks) as soon as they are positively identified.

• For similar reasons, because a naval vessel is considered the property of the nation under whose flag it sailed, the materials are not covered by the Nunavut Act. And yet, as I've often said here, it is entirely right and just that the GN and relevant Inuit groups take a very active role in determining the disposition of these materials, in which Inuit histories are very much bound up with those of the UK and Canadians generally. Parks Canada agrees, and has taken major steps to create this dialogue and cooperation, and a plan to co-administer them, and yet the impression Beeby gives is that none of this has yet happened.

• Although Beeby implies that it's some sort of injustice that the items will be displayed in the UK prior to being shown in Canada, that's not at all the case. The 2017 exhibition there will come to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau in 2018, and indeed the entire exhibit is being curated by the CMH. While, due to various individual issues, some items on display at one of these exhibits may not be present at the other, the whole thing is being undertaken in the spirit of cooperation, not contention, and fulfills the language of the 1997 memorandum that objects "of special significance to the history of the Royal Navy" be made available to the UK for display. They are, in essence, one exhibition, not two. And, although it will be in the UK during the sesquicentennial year of 2017, that's actually to Canada's benefit, as they will be the centerpiece of a series of events in London, co-ordinated by Canada House, marking this important anniversary there.

• It's important to note that, even with the new co-operation between Parks Canada and the GN and Inuit groups, these new objects require conservation and careful storage prior to, during, and after display. At present, Nunavut does not have any facility capable of these tasks; the official Nunavut Collection at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is full, and does not have an on-site administrator. The GN has a current agreement with the Canadian Museum of Nature to serve as its repository in the meantime, and it's to there that the Franklin relics would most likely go. Their potential display in Nunavut is certainly desirable, but will require building or leasing new facilities; it's to be hoped that the often-spoken-of heritage centre in Gjoa Haven, once constructed, will have that capacity, and will become a regular stop for Franklin-related tourism.


  1. Very few journalists let the facts intrude on a good story.

  2. Sad that all this energy is directed to "stirring the pot" rather than being a positive energy for Franklin research. Not sure what purpose this story serves except to get people worked up.