Exploration

Searching for Franklin with Ken McGoogan

Episode 81

The Arctic historian discusses his latest book and the famous expedition that set out to find the elusive Northwest Passage

  • Published Apr 23, 2024
  • Updated May 08
Author Ken McGoogan and podcast host David McGuffin recording their Franklin expedition conversation in the Sir Christopher Ondaatje Fellows Reading Room at the RCGS Headquarters in Ottawa. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Can Geo)
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“Canada’s claim to the Arctic derives from the Franklin expedition and the search that evolved out of it.”

We’ve touched on the Franklin expedition in several other Explore podcast episodes, so we’re excited to be taking the first proper deep dive into the story now with Ken McGoogan, an author who has been passionately writing about this topic for decades. We also discuss Ken’s latest book, Searching for Franklin: New Answers to the Great Arctic Mystery, which examines Franklin’s legacy from a contemporary perspective.

Dust jacket design: Dwayne Dobson. Detail from Edwin Landseer's 1864 painting Man Proposes, God Disposes.
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In the 1800s, Sir John Franklin led two Arctic expeditions 20 years apart, both ending in death and disaster. The second claimed his life along with all members of his Royal Navy crew.

In 1845, Franklin set off with 129 officers and men onboard the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. 

His mission was to find the elusive Northwest Passage, a dreamed-of shortcut from Europe to Asia, through the dangerous sea ice of what is now the Canadian Arctic.

Both ships disappeared, seemingly without a trace, and everyone on board perished. 

It sparked a massive international search and rescue effort, unprecedented in scale and duration.

The two Franklin ships were only found on the Arctic Ocean floor in the last decade, 160 years after their embarkment. Their discovery was largely due to Inuit oral history, especially the work of Ken McGoogan’s friend, the late Louie Kamookak, a one-time RCGS Honorary Vice-President.

Searching for Franklin focuses on the often overlooked Inuit role in the search for the missing expedition. He also suggests a compelling new theory on why the death toll was so high. This theory echoes an earlier and highly praised Franklin book, Frozen in Time, by our own RCGS CEO, John Geiger. 

Ken and I begin our chat with the story of John Rae, a great Hudson’s Bay Company explorer and arguably one of the greatest Victorian explorers. He found the first traces of the dead from the Franklin expedition, which had dire consequences for his career.

Ken McGoogan and Inuit historian Louie Kamookak at their own "Boat Place" on the coast of Boothia Peninsula. (Photo: Cameron Treleaven)
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HMS Erebus in the Ice (1846) by François Etienne Musin, which imagines scenes from the icebound Franklin expedition.
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