||September/October 1999 issue
The Norwegian Connection
By Dane Lanken
|Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup
(Photograph provided by Frammuséet)
NORWEGIAN EXPLORER Otto Sverdrup ought to be better
known in Canada. That is the firm belief of Lynda and Graeme Magor
and, to aid their cause, they are prepared to spend a year in
an ice-locked boat in the Canadian High Arctic.
To make things even more challenging, they have taken along their
two-year-old daughter, Keziah, and two other couples.
The group will conduct studies in geophysics and climate change
and other matters just as Sverdrup and his crew did a century
ago. They will also retrace some of the expeditions Sverdrup conducted
among the far northern islands and search for a cairn he left
there that has never been found. The United States space agency,
NASA, will monitor the expedition — observing people over a prolonged
period of darkness, cold and isolation could benefit future missions
in interplanetary travel.
At the time of Sverdrup’s 1898-1902 travels,
the Arctic west of Ellesmere Island was unexplored by Europeans.
Sverdrup went there, he wrote, because "there were still
many white spaces on the map which I was glad of an opportunity
of colouring with the Norwegian colours".
|Sverdrup’s parties led
by dog sleighs to explore Ellesmore.
(Photograph by Frammuséet)
Sverdrup claimed the lands he found for his monarch, King Oscar
II of Sweden and Norway. Through centuries of exploration, Britain
also had laid claim to the Arctic Archipelago and, in 1880, turned
its claim over to Canada. But it was another two decades, right
around the time of Sverdrup’s arrival, before the Canadian
government exercised any sovereignty at all. The fact is, as one
historian put it, "if Sverdrup’s government had been
more interested in the claims he made for it, Canada’s title
to the area would have been seriously questioned" As it was,
Norway’s sale of Sverdrup’s maps and papers to Canada
in 1930, days before his death, meant that Norway had formally
abandoned its claim. But the abundance of Norwegian names there,
Grise Fiord, Bjorne Peninsula and Hendriksen Strait, The idea
for the Otto Sverdrup Centennial Expedition belongs to Graeme
Magor, 43, a Montreal native who studied biochemistry at Queen’s
University and medicine at McGill. His interest in the Arctic
goes back to his 20s: Magor has been up north a dozen times in
the past 17 years.
"It comes from a love of mountains" he
explained. "When you’re hiking, you get up high
enough, you get a panorama and that’s always exciting.
In the Arctic, you get that all the time. There are no trees,
just dramatic landscapes and rugged beauty." He adds
that in the North’s cold, dry climate, history stays
on the land. "You can see the path where a glacier
went, or a circle of stones from a pre-Dorset camp 3,500
years ago or, for that matter, a pile of wine bottles left
by Otto Sverdrup"
Graeme spoke as he and Lynda made a final tally of some
4,000 kilograms of foodstuffs they bought, weighed, packed
and sent off for the trip. It was late spring at their
home in the bush near Markdale, Ont., northwest of Toronto.
By midsummer they were in the Arctic, by early fall their
boat is expected to be locked in the ice off Ellesmere
Island. The food is largely vegetarian, dried beans and
loads of flour, plus dried meats and cheese and appropriate
amounts of wine and chocolate.
How do you get through the waning weeks of winter?