Do We Have an Inferiority Complex about Great Canadians?

A new Canadian fisheries vessel will be named after English Royal Navy officer and explorer Sir John Franklin, who disappeared into the Arctic in 1847 with two ships and 128 of his men.

Do We Have an Inferiority Complex about Great Canadians?

By Jack Knox | January 17, 2017

Here’s a question: Why name a federal research ship after a foreigner synonymous with disaster when you could celebrate Canadian achievement instead?

Which, in a nutshell, is what critics are asking as Canada prepares to launch the Sir John Franklin next winter.

The ship, a replacement for the Nanaimo-based W.E. Ricker, is the first of three offshore fisheries research vessels being built for the Canadian Coast Guard by Seaspan in North Vancouver.

As construction began in June 2015, Ottawa announced the 63-metre vessel would be named after Franklin, the explorer who famously (or infamously) disappeared into the Arctic with both of his ships and all 128 of his men after sailing from England in 1845.

The ships’ whereabouts remained one of the world’s great mysteries despite dozens of attempts to find them over the years. Franklin’s wife, the indomitable Lady Jane Franklin, drove a series of searches that failed to locate her husband (she actually spent a month in Victoria in 1861), but that did have the effect of gradually filling in the map of the north, cementing Britain’s — and subsequently Canada’s — territorial claims.

Eventually, the fate of the sailors emerged: After becoming stuck in the ice of Victoria Strait in 1846, they set out overland in April 1848 in a desperate attempt to reach Fort Resolution, 1,000 kilometres away. None survived. Although remains of crew members were found (indications are some resorted to cannibalism) the location of the ships was unknown — until a couple of years ago.

The Franklin mystery was big news in 2015, given that the expedition’s flagship, HMS Erebus, had just been found intact on the ocean floor the previous September. (The Victoria-based coast guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier played a central role in the discovery; in March 2015, two dozen members of the crew were awarded medals by Sen. Nancy Greene Raine at Sidney’s Institute of Ocean Sciences.) The second sunken ship, HMS Terror, was found last year.

If the romance of it all made politicians keen to slap the Franklin name on the new research ship in 2015, some historians and scientists are balking today. Who wants to serve on a vessel whose name conjures up an image of nautical disaster? That would be like sailing on a nuclear submarine named USS Chernobyl. Why not honour a successful Canadian instead?

“It’s a complete puzzle to me,” says Robie Macdonald. “It’s a sad thing that they have taken an opportunity to do something good and turned it into a negative.” … Why not give the ship an indigenous name, Macdonald asks. Or why not honour one of the many deserving women in ocean research? (Coast guard ship names tilt to the masculine.) “There are a lot of people they could have named it after.” …

Read the rest of this article at the Times-Colonist: