Is there taxpayer value in Canada’s search for lost ships?

“This is the moment for Canada to drop the nonchalance and be nerdy and proud.” -Kate Heartfield.

So they found Sir John Franklin’s ship 170 years after it, its sister ship and 129 men vanished in the Arctic while searching for the Northwest Passage. So what?

I mean, for years, Parks Canada has squandered how many millions of taxpayer dollars using the latest in underwater detection gear to find some rotting wreckage on the ocean floor. We already know what happened to Franklin and his men. Let’s move on!

That, I’m sure, was the response of some Canadians upon news of the discovery of the wreckage of HMS Erebus in September even though Prime Minister Stephen Harper thought it important enough to personally announce that the search, for Franklin’s flagship at least, had been successfully concluded.

Then there are those who feel the money was a poor allocation of priorities. As Ele Gibson wrote in the Times-Colonist (I’m quoting, not carping), “While we are spending to solve the puzzles of our past, we are cutting spending to find solutions for our future development, including research into medical, scientific and environmental initiatives…”

Negative though these viewpoints be, at least they’re tangible responses as opposed to those Canadians so selfimmersed that they don’t even care enough to be informed of current events let alone with issues of their Canadian birthright.

Where am I going with this? We who cared enough to fight to save the Kinsol Trestle from demolition faced these very arguments and apathy. But the Kinsol was saved and, today, it’s the crown jewel of the Cowichan Valley’s recreational attractions for residents and visitors. There’s nothing else like it on the continent. It attracts thousands of visitors each year. Yet we came within an ace of losing it. In South Wellington, we’re fighting the same battle, against an uncaring government, to save the last surviving structure of historical significance of Vancouver Island’s 80-year coal mining industry.

So, why should you and I give a tinker’s darn about finding relics of Sir John Franklin and company more than a century and a half later? For one, his was the most ambitious scientific expedition of its time, sponsored by the government of the mightiest nation on the face of the earth. They were out to find a shortcut

across the top of the world to Asia. This search for a sea lane through the Arctic had held the world’s imagination for centuries. It was the equivalent of our own race for the moon.

To try to put the Franklin expedition into its true historical context, I quote Ottawa commentator

CHRONICLES See IF WE DROP, Page 14 and former diplomat Harry Sterling (also in the T-C): “…The muted response of many Canadians to the discovery of the remains of one of Franklin’s lost ships is a sad reminder of the lack of interest concerning Canada’s history. Add to that the reluctance, especially in the education system, to inculcating a knowledge of our history in its evolution into a modern society.”

Despite that, he noted the potential for historical research to promote the study of current climate change in the Arctic:

“This…historic discovery [of Franklin’s ship] will clearly focus greater interest in the vast Arctic region and the role it has played in Canada’s own past history and the significant role it might play in the foreseeable future with unpredictable global consequences…

“This [discovery] could play a timely role in emphasizing the growing importance of the Arctic, not just for this country’s own future, but for the global community.”

And another Ottawa columnist, Kate Heartfield: “This is a great moment in Canadian history… This is the moment for Canada to drop the nonchalance and be nerdy and proud. We own this moment. Space is cool. Science is cool. History is cool.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If, through not caring, we fail those millions of men and women, mostly unsung, who built this Canada that we’ve inherited with their blood, sweat and tears, we not only fail them but we fail ourselves, and all those who follow because we’ve dropped the torch.

I rest my case, for today. As someone once said, the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.

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