Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Death in the Ice" comes to Gatineau!

Courtesy Canadian Museum of History
Next Thursday evening, March 1st, the exhibition "Death in the Ice" will finally open in Canada. I say "finally" without any sense of undue delay -- other than my own impatience! -- but only to answer the  question asked by so many Canadians as to when this remarkable, material embodiment of the Franklin mystery, combining relics from archives with those newly discovered aboard HMS "Erebus," would come home to a nation for whom this story has become so central, so generative. As Margaret Atwood has observed, the Franklin story has been 'adopted' by Canadians, for whom, as she says, blood and ice are part of the national mythos -- "You thought the national flag was about a leaf, didn't you?" as she puts it, "Look harder. It's where someone got axed in the snow."

And, while it's the second iteration of an exhibition that originally opened in the UK last summer at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, it's by no means a re-run -- the narrative here is uniquely and specifically Canadian, and includes a number of key items that were not part of the Greenwich exhibit. For one, the segment of the ship's wheel of Franklin flagship (shown above) is perhaps even more iconic than that same ship's bell. Here rested the hands that steered, here stood the eyes that scanned the horizon, here one fateful turn of those hands spun both ships into the pack ice, from which they were to be released only when all hope was gone, or nearly so. The charts, alas, showed (erroneously) that the eastern passage around King William Island dead-ended in a bay, and so the western one was chosen, in all likelihood before the ships encountered the heavy multi-year ice that streams down what's now known as the McClintock channel. And here, too, a table leg, from Franklin's own great cabin, upon which those fateful charts lay. For a true Franklinite, there can be very few items as richly significant as these.

And there are other surprises, too -- I won't give them all away! -- but let it be known that not all the forks and spoons and medals associated with Franklin's men are stored away in the UK! And, from the Greenwich archives, comes one item that has never before been publicly viewed in Canada -- Sir John Franklin's Guelphic Order of Hanover, the very one which shone upon his breast in the Daguerreotype by Richard Beard that was to be his first -- and his last -- photographic portrait.

I hope that many thousands of Canadians -- as well as those visiting Canada from abroad -- will find their way to the Canadian Museum of History to see this remarkable exhibition. There's a public opening reception at 6 p.m. with a cash bar (which, for the especially thirsty, opens at 5:30). I'll be there, as will many others -- curators, Inuit representatives, underwater archaeologists, descendants of Franklin's men, historians both amateur and professional, and modelers of ships. It will be a rare and wondrous occasion to take in, at one place and in person, the full sweep of this remarkable story.

No comments:

Post a Comment