Tuesday 18th September

After breakfast in the shadow of the CN Tower we explored the original city centre of Toronto. Here is Union Station where transcontinental passengers could break their journey at the Royal York Hotel (The Fairmont today). Along Yonge Street brownstone towers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were towered over by more modern structures. Here we found the Eaton Centre, which when first opened, was one of the biggest shopping malls. Not anymore! It was interesting to note that this is partly operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Nearby was the 19th century City Hall overlooked by its curved white concrete 1960s replacement and public skating rink. We returned to the hotel passing St. Andrew’s Church completely surrounded by glass and steel buildings.

We complete today’s Blog at Toronto Pearson International Airport, Gate C36 as we await the boarding of our Icelandair flight over the traditional route via Gander, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and finally Manchester. It is still sunny, warm and humid here and we hope that the North Atlantic storm is not going to “rain on our parade’.

We arrived home Wednesday lunchtime having travelled 11,800 miles. This is the area of Northern Canada where we spent our time in search of the Northwest Passage.


Monday 17th September

We made a record today by being at the front of the line for the opening of the day’s tours of the CN Tower. Built in 1976 on the former railway lands that supported the industries of Toronto, the CN Tower is named after the railway company that built it. It is a legacy of the analogue age as it was built to send television signals across the country and had to be of an amazing height to allow the signals to pass over the second largest country in the world and its mountains. It stands at 553.3m high and for 32 years, since its construction, was the world’s tallest free-standing structure. It still is, but west of Greenwich. It was overtaken by the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai in 2009.

We ascended the tower to the Observation Deck at 346m and afterwards visited the outdoor Observation Deck at 342m. The latter has the original glass floor which gives an amazing view down the leg of the tower. There is another glass floor on the upper level but a member of the team does not think this is as good!

Later we ascended to the Sky Pod at 447m. Above us is the telecommunication tower. In 1978, a member of the team used a film entitled “To the Top” which showed the construction of the tower and in particular, the sole construction worker more than 500m above the ground bolting on the last piece of the tower which was swinging from a helicopter that had lifted it from the ground.

The whole area around the tower has been tastefully landscaped and the industrial/railway heritage used to good effect. The tower may be a structure from the past but as an attraction it is outstanding.

We moved to the waterfront which today is new property built upon reclaimed land. Our hotel, for example, is on Front Street which is three blocks inland from the water but in the 19th century the waterfront was nearly two blocks further back.


On our first visit to Toronto the locomotive shed, or Roundhouse, and the carriage sidings occupied a lot of the land. Today this is a museum and the home of the Steamwhistle Brewery.

An early afternoon cruise took us around the harbour. The islands in the harbour were originally a giant spit of sand extending into Lake Ontario, but because these lakes are so big and act like seas, a giant storm in the 19th century broke the spit into many islands. Toronto took advantage of this and opened up the harbour and new islands for living and tourism.

An interesting fact from our cruise was that surface water from the lake is treated for daily use and water from the lake’s depths is used throughout the year for cooling and heating in winter for infrastructure in the city’s buildings.

As we write the sun is falling and we may be outside for a light show later.

Sunday 16th September

Today we drove from Brockville to Toronto in our hire car and after leaving it in the Rental Lot walked around the corner to the Intercontinental Hotel. We have been very lucky as our room overlooks the lakeside and the CN Tower. We are literally at its foot.

Saturday 15th September

We had an exploration of Southern Ontario today. We concentrated upon the Rideau River and its canal system which links Ottawa and the Ottawa River with the St. Lawrence at Kingston. Today this is used by pleasure craft but was originally built to ensure that Canadian products could be exported during times of civil unrest, such as with the French and the Americans. We started at the small town of Merrickville which has been an important location on the canal since 1793. The river falls down several small waterfalls here so a small staircase of locks had to be built here. One of these waterfalls around 1911 was used to produce hydro-electricity and the remains of one of the turbines is to be found on an island below the falls. Today there are boutiques, galleries and restaurants which all year round attract many visitors.

Next stop was Kemptville situated on the south branch of the Rideau. This small town is familiar to one of our party as the home of relations. Some of it is recognisable and in particular Grahame’s Bakery which has operated since 1885. It was lunchtime when we arrived here but we were lucky to see the oven, still wood-fired and brick lined which is thought to be the only one of its kind still in operation in Canada. Speaking to the baker he said ‘his bread was bought daily by the Geronimo Cafe’. Along the road we went (a little flashback to the wild west with timber and false fronted buildings) to have lunch and sample the bread. Delicious!!

Later in the afternoon we visited a series of waterfalls on the outskirts of Ottawa called the Hog’s Back. Even though the water was low it was still impossible to navigate.

Our last call was the village of Manotick, 15km south of Ottawa which is largely built on Long Island between the Rideau River and its canal. Near the Mill Tavern, where we ate dinner, is Watson’s Mill. This stone built flour mill has operated here for several hundred years. Nearby is the War Memorial and gardens with the names of those who lost their lives in two wars, inscribed in the stone pavement.


Friday 14th September

Upper Canada Village was the focus of our explorations today. It is a reconstruction of a village in this area in the 1860s. Buildings from across the area have been rebuilt here and are ‘peopled’ by workers and everyday people acting as if they were in that time. Upon entry one steps back to the 1860s. The village is built around a natural waterway leading to the St. Lawrence River. We saw a woollen factory which represents the emergence of the new mechanised factory system and a flour mill that used a horizontal waterwheel to turn large millstones of rock from France. This was imported because it was quartz free and therefore hard pieces would not get into the flour.

Nearby was a water powered saw for cutting lumber. Such sawmills were common but indispensable for such a community dependent upon timber.

A cabinetmaker was at work producing custom made fine furniture but also made things needed by local people. We saw this happen as someone came to his workshop with a small job for him to execute.

The printing office was interesting as we saw the weekly newspaper being produced as well as posters and other printing jobs. It was interesting that at this time the local office took delivery of international news from other newspapers that had a connection with the sub-marine cable from Europe.

The school teacher.

Canadian Cheddar cheese was made here but only in small amounts.

Christ Church is a stately white building but with a very plain interior for an Anglican church. There was so much more to see but we hope this gives a flavour of the visit.


Thursday 13th September

Today by way of the first cruise boat we toured the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River where it exits Lake Ontario. The cruise of one hour took us past lots of the islands, many of them with houses on them. All of them are granite roche moutonnes (sheep rocks) which were sculptured by the moving ice from roughly east to west during the last Ice Age. These are also found on land here but the beauty is that the islands stick out of the water which is very deep and that gives an idea as to the thickness of the ice at that time. The ice went on to sculpture the five Great Lakes.

Boldt Castle was built upon one of these islands and nearby was another large house connected to a smaller island by a bridge. This bridge is claimed to be the smallest international one as the border between the USA and Canada bisects it.

After lunch in the town centre we toured the centre identifying imposing 19th century buildings and their contemporary black and white photographs on information boards.

Soon our explorations took us to the Brockville Railway Tunnel which was constructed between 1854 – 1860. It is 1/2 km long and was Canada’s first railway tunnel. The railway itself (Brockville and Ottawa) was designed to link the Ottawa River near Ottawa to the St. Lawrence so that the then lucrative timber trade could export lumber harvested near Ottawa and Wakefield Quebec by ship from Brockville. The tunnel was needed to get under the high ground upon which the town centre stands and enable the railway to reach the docks. It was reopened as the Railway Tunnel Park for Canada’s 150th birthday in August 2017. It has an amazing lighting and sound system some of which represents trains rushing through. From the dockside the first section of the tunnel was built as cut and cover, in other words a big ditch was dug, the arch roof was built and the soil and rocks put back on top. Under the highest part of the town the granite rock did not need supporting. It took so long to construct that by the time the final section was being built the Greathead Shield was invented. An early version of this enabled the tunnellers to work in the protection of a timber tunnel shape which enabled bricks to be stuck in place to form the walls and arch. Groundwater seeps through the walls and the sedimentary rocks above the granite which washes out minerals to produce amazing formations in the unsupported central section.


Wednesday 12th September

Today we drove to Brockville, Ontario. It is a small town on the shore of the eastern end of Lake Ontario and where the navigable part of the St Lawrence River going downstream begins. There are a series of locks between here and Montreal where the Great Lakes – St Lawrence Seaway begins/ends. This massive construction feat was built in the 1950s/60s and enables sea going ships to use a water staircase using the river and the Great Lakes to get inland, as far as most of the Atlantic Ocean is wide, to Duluth at the head of Lake Superior. Having left the main 401 Highway we used the original road, that runs alongside the river, to see the waterfront communities and an oil tanker heading upstream at the Iroquois Lock.

For our evening meal we went to a waterside pub for chicken wings with an amazing range of coatings/sauces. Delicious!

Monday 10th & Tuesday 11th September

Overnight Sunday/Monday we returned to Pond Inlet on the north of Baffin Island. This was to be the starting point of the airlift by chartered aeroplanes to Montreal. We were to use the ship and all of its conveniences until called ashore to catch one of five aeroplanes to Resolute where we would change to fly to Montreal. We were due to leave the ship at 7:00 p.m. but before that we had an opportunity to go ashore and explore the settlement on a working day. The weather was very good and the views outstanding.


Locally known as the ‘honey lorry’ this collects sewage from houses when their septic tanks are full. The householders illuminate a light to ask it to stop.

Containers are left here by self-loading and unloading ships, but can only be moved around town by fork-lift truck. The van is helping to move the truck because the driver of the latter is unable to see where he is going!

We transferred at 7:00 p.m. to the Community Hall where we waited for our call to go to the airport which was within walking distance on the top of the hill above the settlement. There were delays resulting from late inbound flights which meant we didn’t get in the air until around 11:00 p.m. This first flight was on a 68 seater AVR turboprop, short take off and landing aircraft. The whole of the apron and runway was gravel and because of the ‘mud flaps’ that prevent stones from damaging the aircraft and engines when we boarded by the drop down stairs under the tail it looked as if it was sitting on the apron. An hour or so later we arrived in Resolute but because of the curvature of the earth we entered +6 GMT for this stopover. Resolute airport is one of the most northerly in the world and was completely covered by snow and ice but it was so cold and dry that no de-icing was necessary. On approach to the airport we could clearly see how our ship was prevented from sailing here. It was mostly pack ice with a few open channels and by this time we could see the first signs of daylight. We transferred to a Boeing 737-200 series built in the 1980s. It was in good condition, but a flying museum piece. The Far North of Canada is the home of the largest collection of these aeroplanes. We made a technical stop for fuel at Iqualuit before flying on to Montreal. We landed at the former Mirabel Airport at 10:00 a.m.on Tuesday morning and transferred to our city centre hotel. Here we changed our plans and stayed overnight in order to catch up on 30 hours without sleep.


Sunday 9th September

After breakfast we were at 72° 08´ North, 74° 58´ West off the northeast coast of Baffin Island and Cape Jameson. We are approaching the South Arm Fjord and will sail in between snow-capped, granite mountains to the glaciers at its head. The island is named after the English explorer William Baffin but it is thought to have been regularly visited by the Norse peoples from Greenland and Iceland, though we have not seen any archaeological evidence.

Upon reaching the head of the fjord we had a team photo opportunity at the bow of the ship. Whilst we were here a polar bear family (mum and 2 cubs) was spotted but unfortunately the ships engines made them run away.

Group photograph on Deck 5.

This isn’t much but if you look carefully you will see a mother polar bear leading her two cubs away from the ship.

The trail of Franklin went cold until 2008 when the Canadian Prime Minister gave Parks Canada funding for a three year effort to find the wrecks of Erebus and Terror. Underwater searches began and side-scan sonar but it was not until 2014 when an iron davit was found on an island in the Queen Maud Gulf on 1st September. The next day Parks Canada found the wreck of Franklin’s flagship Erebus. Further work continued until 2016 when a tip-off from the Inuit guide Sammy Kogvik led to the discovery of the well-preserved wreck of the Terror. Such modern archaeology is beginning to ‘fill in the gaps’ between supposition, theory and the artefacts recovered from local people by explorers such as John Rae. His collection of cutlery, personal effects, everyday artefacts and most importantly the medal of the Hanoverian Order of Merit that Franklin was wearing in the photograph taken prior to his 1845 departure proved where Franklin had been. McClintock found a skeleton of a uniformed naval steward and the Victory Point note mentioned earlier. These early recoveries of artefacts led the Admiralty to believe that all of Franklin’s expedition had perished and convinced the British public by the 1880s to believe there was no need for anymore searching. Franklin’s expedition dropped out of the news only to resurface in 2014/16. A major exhibition of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ artefacts were displayed at the National Maritime Museum in November 2017 and in March 2018 in the National Museum, Ottawa, Canada.

This new archaeology is helping to explain a contentious theory related to lead poisoning of members of both ships. Beattie and Geiger (Frozen in Time) describe their exhumation of the three bodies on Beechey Island. This was in the 1980s. Their exhumations showed that the men were suffering from scurvey, but that was not unusual on long voyages. What was unusual was the lead found in bones and tissue. They suggested that the supplies of food that were preserved in tins had been contaminated by lead being washed out of the solder by the salt preserving the food. Nearby was a cairn made from 600-700 gravel filled tins which indicated that Franklin may have determined that the food was poisonous and so disposed of the food and used the cans to inform people who came later. The evidence from 2016 concludes that lead poisoning takes a lifetime of permeation by the lead but a quicker way of infiltrating the body is possibly provided by the ‘state of the art’ desalination plant on both ships. New lead pipes with hot water regularly used and consumed is perfect for getting high levels into the body quickly. There has been some more evidence from bones and skeletons recovered of butchery and the use of knives to remove flesh from bones as well as ‘pot-polish’ in cooking pans used for boiling meat and bones before eating. One final use of science in archaeology is skull and facial reconstruction. These reconstructions when compared to the photographs that many of the officers had taken before sailing, is enabling the names of officers to be accurately matched with skull and photograph. E.g. Lt. H. L. Vesconte is now thought to be the ship’s doctor Goodsir. These up-to-date elements were provided by an onboard lecture on the Fram.

We end the day with amazing sunshine and associated change in colours on the two billion year old mountains. As we write we are entering Baffin Bay and heading to Pond Inlet, our point of departure from The Passage.

Saturday 8th September

We are still in Lancaster Sound at 74° 18´ North, 82° 01´ West. We are surrounded by floes of sea ice and enveloped in sea fog. We have spent the night here and were woken by the bow thrusters turning the ship into the wind just before 08:00. We came here last evening after receiving the news that the expedition leaders think that the ice is too thick for us to continue. There is great disappointment that since leaving Dundas Harbour several days ago that there seems to be little attempt to even try for such places as Beechey Island. Clearly the Captain is responsible for his ship but we are now just filling in time. We have a new airlift planned from Pond Inlet to Resolute Bay and then on to Montreal, but this is likely to be at night seeing us arrive at the hotel early in the morning of the 11th.

Lancaster Sound was named in 1616 by the explorer William Baffin after Sir James Lancaster who was one of the sponsors of his earlier explorations.

The cargo ship in the above photographs is navigating the main entrance from the east of the route followed by all of the explorers from Europe. It is in this area that the mystery of the disappearance of the Franklin Expedition is centred. In 1845 Sir John Franklin persuaded the Admiralty to let him lead another expedition to find the final missing link in the Northwest Passage i.e. the route into the Beaufort Sea. He left Greenhithe, London, on 19th May 1845. In 1846 the ships Erebus and Terror were trapped by heavy sea ice off the northwest coast of King William Island to the west of where we are now. A note that describes this entrapment was left in a stone cairn at Victory Point. It is dated 1847. Shortly after the death of Franklin which was thought to be 11th June. The cause of his death and the whereabouts of his body remain unknown at this time because archaeological work continues and with DNA they can find to whom the bones belong.

The Belgian artist F.E. Mussin’s 1846 depiction of the Erebus surrounded by ice.

British artist W. T. Smith’s depiction of Franklin and his crew dying alongside their boat. Both of these are to be found in the book Finding Franklin.

The photograph of the note shows that someone else had found it and annotated details of this. It was found in this condition by the McClintock Expedition to find Franklin in 1859 and there is still debate as to the reliability of these notes.

Source: Finding Franklin

By 1850 the Admiralty launched full scale searches and these expanded the knowledge of the region and improved the maps. In 1854 the Scottish fur trader working for the Hudson’s Bay Company, John Rae, was already familiar with overland explorations as part of his work. He approached the region from the southwest and spoke to and used techniques from the Inuit peoples. It is through these encounters that he provided the first account describing dozens of white men dying at what is now named Starvation Cove. It is thought by many historians that Rae is most likely to have been the first to navigate the passage but his report to the Admiralty was discredited by them and even leaked to the Times newspaper who published the most shocking revelations of cannibalism amongst the surviving men. This debate also continues with one author J.B. Latta claiming that there was a conspiracy that covered up and betrayed Franklin and all the private expeditions to find him. Was this covering up the Admiralty’s intransigence to accept help and advice from indigenous people? This was repeated with Scott’s failed mission to be first to the South Pole.

Source: Finding Franklin

The 1903-5 success of Amundsen in claiming the passage was clearly a product of all of the previous expeditions, their findings and mappings.

During the morning a few passengers made a landing on an ice floe. According to one person it was very cold and the horizontal snow coupled with the wind made her cheeks feel as if they had been sandpapered. By the afternoon the very small flakes of snow had accumulated on the ship. (Deck 7) We are currently making our out of the Lancaster Sound into warmer waters.