Now, readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse who happen to live in the Queensborough–Madoc-Tweed-Ivanhoe area will probably know what I’m about to get into here, because this very interesting story has been well-covered in our weekly newspapers recently. But since most of you live considerably outside the borders of Hastings County, I thought I’d share this very cool bit of local history. I mean, it doesn’t get much more Canadian-history than the Franklin Expedition’s search for the Northwest Passage, does it?
As most of us who can remember a bit of our Canadian history know, Sir John Franklin was head of a British expedition that in 1845 set off to try to find a way through the Northwest Passage, the elusive Arctic route that would have made 19th-century transportation between Asia and Europe phenomenally easier than it otherwise was (what with that long and pesky trip around South America and the Straits of Magellan and all that). Franklin’s ships, the gorgeously named Erebus and Terror, got stuck in the ice, and all 129 men aboard died.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I have always found the story of the Franklin Expedition and the Northwest Passage to be quite haunting. To imagine those poor men slowly dying of cold and starvation (and let’s not even get into the cannibalism angle that their desperation drove them to) in that vast frozen emptiness, all in the great cause of discovery and exploration – it gives me shivers, and has ever since I was a kid growing up here at the Manse in Queensborough, when I first learned the story in history classes at Madoc Township Public School.
The famous – and also haunting – song called Northwest Passage by Canadian folk-music legend Stan Rogers probably also has something to do with that frisson that I feel. I’ll get to that song in a bit, though I’m sure many of you are familiar with it and it’s already running around in your head.
Anyway, as you probably remember, the fate of the Franklin Expedition was not known right away, which is hardly surprising; at a time when any form of communication was slow even when it was’t scarce, there certainly would have been no way for the men on the stranded expedition to let the world know of their plight. And so rescue missions were sent out. And that’s where the Ivanhoe connection to the story comes in. I will let the plaque at the site marked by the sign on Highway 62 tell the story (and if you’re having trouble reading it, just click on the photo for an enlargement):
Now isn’t that something? A chap who served as a carpenter’s mate on a ship sent to find signs of the Franklin Expedition, and that mapped the Northwest Passage – a huge accomplishment – became an immigrant to Canada, a farmer at Ivanhoe, and one of the founders of the Ivanhoe Cheese Company. And he and his wife are buried on their farm, a place that is still being farmed all these years later.
And now, thanks to the work of the Madoc Lions Club, Gay Lea Foods (owner of Ivanhoe Cheese) and the Municipality of Centre Hastings, their graves have a historical marker and a plaque explaining the significance. You can watch the ceremony at which the tiny historic cemetery was dedicated this past September, in a video filmed by my friends at CHTV cable TV Madoc, here.
I think this is all very, very cool.
Here are some more of my photos of the site, in case you are not able to visit it yourself:I just think this is an amazing piece of local history, and I also think it’s wonderful that this tiny cemetery – where Henry Gauen, carpenter’s mate on a long and desperately dangerous mission to find the Franklin Expedition, lies buried – has been preserved and, now, suitably marked and honoured.
So hey, in the spirit of things, let’s listen to a group of young men from the University of Waterloo perform that haunting song by Stan Rogers about the Northwest Passage. And while you listen, think of Henry Gauen, who went from sailor and Arctic explorer to Ivanhoe farmer and cheesemaker. I’m sure he would agree with me when I say it seems like a safe and happy ending to an adventurous life. Tracing one warm line, so to speak: