Saturday, August 14, 2010

CPAC Documentary on HMS Investigator

The world of new-media "insta-documentaries" is getting more and more "insta" by the minute -- the Parks Canada Twitter Feed now announces a documentary of the rediscovery of HMS Investigator is soon going to be broadcast -- you can see the trailer here -- and will air on August 22nd, 25th, and 28th. From the tone of the trailer, a leading note will be the sovereignty issues related to the ship's discovery ...


  1. Hi Russell, thanks for keeping us up to date with each new development of this exciting discovery. I'm puzzled by the emphasis on sovereignty in the reporting -- or rather, I'm puzzled by what people think the discovery adds to that debate. The Investigator's voyage and resting place were already well known, and have never been disputed (never mind the ship itself, the graves alone would have been sufficient to confirm the location if it were ever seriously doubted), so the discovery of the wreck does not add any new information relevant to the sovereignty issue that was not known and universally acknowledged before.

    I'm also surprised how much of the wreck still seems to be there. I remember a recent Canadian TV interview (c. 2005) with a member of an Inuit band whose ancestors had, he said, regularly travelled across Banks Island to salvage material from the Investigator, seemingly for many successive years, but the pictures seem to indicate they didn't substantially reduce the bulk of the wreck. Of course the material they retrieved may have been mainly from the interior, which I assume is now filled with sediment to the same level as it shows on the exterior and thus is likely to be inaccessible to detailed examination for quite a while to come. The copper of course would have been largely inaccessible beneath the waterline or the banked up ice unless the ship had heaved significantly up out of the water, as you say, so perhaps the amount of that remaining is not such a mystery.

  2. Jonathan, great to hear from you here. I agree on all points; the drumbeat of sovereignty is a curious addition to the mix, and I don't think it adds anything to what is, all on its own, a fascinating story.

    You're right, too, that sediment is probably quite deep inside the ship; this may in fact have the effect of preserving materials even more -- but clearing it out without damaging fragile items would sure be quite a challenge!

  3. The Canadian government has made the sovereignty of the North a big part of its focus and pushes this issue into anything to do with the North.

    There are some few bona fide sovereignty questions (like the border between Canada and the US as it extends out from the coast) that have real economic and political ramifications (mostly oil related). There are also some martime issues that the government, in an attempt to ramp up the emotional debate and look like tough defenders of Canada, deliberately blurs as a sovereignty issue, most notably the northwest passage and our (Canada's) ability to control it vs. international laws on international waterways. They have held photo-op military shows, cabinet meetings in the north, claimed there are some who are challenging our sovereignty (somewhere, they never say exactly), claim there is some notion of "use it or lose it" tied to our sovereignty, etc.

    It is all pretty much just for optics and a show of toughness to non-northern voters. Canadians are quite sensitive to our sovereignty so if you can wrap any issue around the flag and, even better for the Conservatives, wrap it in a cloak of toughness, it sells quite well to voters. (Interestingly, the Liberal leader this took them to task on this: all this show and he hasn't done anything for the actual people of the north.)

    It is a periodic thing too. The Candian government goes through fits and spurts of sovereignty displays in the north. In the mid-1990s, they armed a bunch of Inuit and gave them military and scouting training to patrol our territory. I just finished reading Farley Mowat's The Snow Walker in which he writes of another moment of insecurity back in the 1930s in which the government decided to re-locate whole Inuit families and tribes to geographically inhabitable but politically advantageous locations to bolster claims of sovereignty to different islands and territories.

    It is expense, very damaging (especially to Inuit), misdirects our northern priorities and spending, leads to a worsening understanding of the international issues that genuinely are at stake in the north and is ultimately bunk because no one is actually questioning our sovereignty to any land and our sovereignty over land does not bear on the question of ownership/use of the northwest passage.

    But try to talk some sense into the discussion and you are quickly tarred and feathered, by the government surely but by the media and anyone else with anything less than a partial understanding of the issues, as being unpatriotic and undermining our claims in the north.

    When they tire of this campaign trick, there will be at least more attention being given to the north, even if at the moment it is misdirected attention.

  4. I never thought I would ever bother getting a Twitter account. But now Parks Canada offers its lead archaeologists on the Franklin search, saying that they will take questions posted before midnight on August 18th via the hashtag #Franklin.

  5. Lastest news from PC twitter feed:

    Arctic ice, weather conditions looking favourable for Parks Canada in #Franklin vessel search area.

  6. It's difficult to see how Investigator relates to the issue of sovereignty. Other than the Canadian government is responsible for the wreck site.

    Thanks to Ted for the insight. Down here in the US most news sources rarely mention anything to do with Canada.