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New directions

Jim Balsillie, the co-founder of BlackBerry, has set his sights on a fresh challenge — finding the lost Franklin ships
  • Jul 16, 2014
  • 419 words
  • 2 minutes
Jim Balsillie Expand Image

HE’S ONE OF CANADA’S BEST-KNOWN BUSINESSMEN, but since leaving BlackBerry, the iconic company that invented the global smartphone business, Jim Balsillie has been quietly pursuing another interest — the fate of the 1845 Franklin Expedition. Balsillie founded the Arctic Research Foundation, along with businessman Tim MacDonald, and has outfitted a research ship, the Martin Bergmann. It has since been at the centre of the Parks Canada-led search for Franklin’s lost ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

On first learning about Franklin
I had a general but vague knowledge of it from high school and Canadian studies. But you get drawn deeper and deeper into it when you’re in the Arctic.

On his interest in the search
The Franklin story is fascinating, but I wouldn’t get stripes for being a Franklinophile. The expedition is fascinating because it embodies almost all the complex narratives that apply to Canada’s Arctic today: science, commerce, geopolitics, courage, aspiration, innovation, climate and weather. Other countries are interested in finding the wreckage. I’m a bit dumbfounded we’d let that happen. I don’t want someone to snag the prize from right under our nose.

On why the ships haven’t been found yet
It takes time to get all the pieces in place. Last year, we covered more ground than ever before, 80 per cent of it on the Bergmann. This year will be far bigger, but we still haven’t covered that much terrain yet. I’ll be disappointed if we’ve fit all the puzzle pieces together and still haven’t found the ships. Then we’ll look to plan B. But we’ve not exhausted plan A yet.

On where he thinks the ships are located
My theory is that one of them is in Victoria Strait. The problem is that it’s hard to get to because it’s far away and the ice cover there is some of the last to disappear.

On the importance of Canada’s search for Franklin’s ships
The Arctic is a strong part of Canada’s identity, and fits very importantly into where we belong in the world, where we can play a role and exert power. With BlackBerry, Mike [Lazaridis, company co-founder] and I believed you could take Canadian assets and play powerfully in the world, and aspire, grow and thrive. How do we do that as a nation? What are our narratives? The Arctic is a natural extension of that. We’re an Arctic nation, and I think we should be an Arctic power. The Franklin Expedition is part of that journey.


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