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Finding Franklin Symposium

Posted by Dr. Rose Fine-Meyer
8 June 2015 - 1:31pm

Finding Franklin: New Approaches to Teaching Canadian History Symposium Ottawa, Ontario: Thursday June 4 and Friday 5, 2015

* Two Day Symposium, two blogs by Dr. Rose Fine-Meyer

Day One: Blog One

We began the first day of the “Finding Franklin: New Approaches to Teaching Canadian History Symposium” in Ottawa at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Organized by John Lutz and Merna Forster, the event celebrated the launch of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History (GUMICH) 13th mystery, “The Franklin Mystery: Life and Death in the Arctic” website.

After a brief introduction by Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, who shared in the excitement by noting that the finding of the Franklin ship and the new website allowed “old ghosts to once again speak,” the audience was introduced to the beautiful new website. Present in the auditorium were Inuit teachers, knowledge holders and government representatives, including the Honourable Paul Quassa, Minister of Education, Nunavut, as well as members of the THENHIER community, students and teachers from the Ottawa area, representatives from LAC, Parks Canada divers and archaeologists who have been active in the search for the Franklin ships, and interested scholars and educators from across Canada.

There was excitement in the room, as historian John Lutz went through the history of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History, explaining the ways in which the new Franklin Mystery website provides important tools for teaching and learning Canadian history. Historian Lyle Dick gave a brief history of Franklin Mystery quest, and recognized the central voice of Inuit knowledge holders, elders and educators. Historian Louie Kamookak, who spent 30 years collecting stories from Inuit elders, explained the importance of Inuit knowledge in the Franklin mystery. Marc André Bernier, underwater archaeologist, from Parks Canada, was one of the first to see the HMS Erebus, and honoured the work of his 8 member team in uncovering the ship and its contents. The search, “over 1500 sq. kms, in uncharted territory” required advanced technology in underwater exploration, using sonar images, underwater lasers, and incorporated a 322 person days of field work. Diving equipment was brought to the arctic and the team spent 88 hours diving under the ice to excavate some of the buried artifacts, many which will eventually be on display to the public. The morning celebration also included the wonderful voices of the Ottawa Inuit Children’s centre, Kindergarten class which performed twice, including throat singing, and the event ended with tenor Ken Lavigne performing the Northwest Passage, a song written by Stan Rogers in 1981, that commemorates the Franklin expedition. It was truly a spectacular launch and the speakers and performers received a standing ovation from all present.

The afternoon of the Symposium took place at Parks Canada offices on Walkley Road in Ottawa. After a brief lunch, historian and educator Penney Clark, Director of THENHIER, provided the welcome, introducing and acknowledging special guest, Paul Quassa Minister of Education, Nunavut. Minister Quassa noted the importance of Inuit oral histories. John Lutz of the University of Victoria then shared the history of The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History, and his partnership, beginning in the mid-1990s, with historian Ruth Sandwell, to develop a murder mystery series, targeted for school age students and initially supported by Heritage Canada. The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History website has included many other mysteries over the years and has been researched and supported by collaborators all over Canada. Lutz noted that The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History website has around 2,500 visitors every day. Inuit historian Louis Kamookak spoke again about his work collecting histories, beginning with stories from his great grandparents and recording stories of the elders which reveal the importance of place-based names in Inuit culture. He shared some of the stories about Franklin expedition objects found on Inuit territory throughout the years. The stories he shared gave us a better understanding of the importance of Inuit stories to understanding the land. Steven High, Concordia University Professor and Co-Director of the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, spoke of the importance of oral history and reflected on its methodology and the central issues of ethics. New digital technologies provide a space for community based stories to be shared. High noted that “history lives from within each of us.” He played a short video from the website “Mapping Memories” which is an oral history project “Mapping the Memories and Life Stories of Montreal.”

Finally, Ryan Harris, an underwater archaeologist, spoke in more detail about the discovery of the HMS Erebus and search for the HMS Terror. Locating the missing ships and excavating the objects was a major exercise for Parks Canada. He noted that, since 2008, they have had multiple vessels using sonar through the ice “moving the lawn” of the ocean, as well as exploring the land. He spoke of the excitement he and his colleagues felt when they first found the HMS Erebus. He presented a wide range of historical documents that LAC, British, and American Archives have provided to support this mission.

It was a privilege for me to be present on this first symposium day, and difficult to imagine a second day that would match the excitement of the first. (Fortunately, it did!) I appreciated the attention to multiple perspectives, and it reminded me of the importance of engaging our students in oral histories in order that they develop a greater understanding of the significance of place-based knowledge. Most textbooks and school resources about the Franklin expedition contain Eurocentric and colonial perspectives, based on written historical documents, but equally if not more important, are the oral histories and stories that contain the knowledge and wisdom provided by the Inuit people.

My second post will share stories about our second day at the “Finding Franklin” Symposium.