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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.


Sverdrup’s parties led by dog sleighs to explore Ellesmore.
(Photograph by Frammuséet)
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 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.

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