Friday, April 24, 2020

Eric Harvie and the Franklin relics

Eric Harvie
Back in 2018, I revealed the re-discovery of the wooden anvil block recovered from the Franklin Expedition campsite at Beechey Island -- a wonderful and welcome return to the public eye, as the centerpiece of an exhibit that had just opened then at the Glenbow, "The Arctic: Real and Imagined Views from the Nineteenth Century."

Many since have wondered, though, how this storied object came to return to Canada at the point when most of the Franklin materials in the disbanded Museum of the Royal United Services Museum went instead to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. The answer comes with the name of one man: Eric Harvie, the millionaire oilman responsible for the founding of Glenbow, and still at the time of the anvil base's acquisition continuing a very ambitious program to expand the Museum's holdings.

When Harvie got word that the RUSI Museum's holdings were to be de-accessioned, his first impulse was to  attempt to acquire the entire collection of Franklin materials! That certainly would have been a magnificent addition, but there was considerable resistance to the Franklin relics' leaving the United Kingdom. Not to be discouraged, Harvie persisted, peppering the RUSI board, the High Commissioner for Canada, and the Canadian Ministry of Defense with more missives than Lady Franklin dispatched to the Admiralty in her husband's cause. At one point, exasperated, he declared to the Defense minister, “Canada is a member of the Commonwealth; has been for many years in joining in defense and maintenance of the Empire and, in fact, has very little by way of museum material to show for it."

Eventually, those handling the collection relented, and small but deeply symbolic group of items -- including the anvil base -- was shipped to Calgary. I had held out hope that, just possibly, other Franklin relics that have gone missing -- particularly the board that Schwatka believed came from within one of the ships with the initials "I.F" in copper tacks -- but alas, no. Now, thanks to Logan Zachary, I know that the board was not apparently among the RUSI items dispersed at its closure, though the anvil block was -- see his guest post at Alison Freebairn's wonderful blog, "There Stood No Friendly Finger-Post to Guide Us." The search goes on.


  1. For a former Calgarian for 20 yrs until almost 25 yrs ago, Eric Harvie was a household name! What an air of "déja vu" then reading this post ... with one of the oil tycoons no-one ever heard about (Calgary is a small town, literally @ 5x10 city blocks and figuratively next to USers "south of 49") staring straight at me... My ex mother in-law did his books for a while, as a for example LOL

  2. Thank you for the compliment, Russell. I can say that I never would have arrived at the doors of the RUSI were I not an avid reader of Visions of the North these past few years. The old Anvil can't be the last Franklin relic that we'll see resurface from the past.