Franklin searcher eager for more info

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo Tom Gross presents his findings garnered over the course of 20 years of trips to the Arctic in search of Sir John Franklin's lost expedition at an event at the Hay River Museum Saturday night.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Tom Gross presents his findings garnered over the course of 20 years of trips to the Arctic in search of Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition at an event at the Hay River Museum Saturday night.

Tom Gross is not surprised at the rumours he’s heard about where one of Franklin’s ships was found earlier this month – it’s where he’s been looking for 20 years.

“It’s like I’m in the middle of this book that’s being written,” he said. “Every year, I come back from my trip and read more and then I have to go back the next year to check out new theories.”

A federal government expedition found what is suggested to be one of two ships lost on Sir John Franklin’s last Arctic voyage in the 1840s. The hunt for evidence of the lost expedition has haunted the Canadian consciousness for generations and has been the pastime of Hay Riverite Tom Gross for the last two decades. He spends his summers quadding through the tundra looking for clues left behind on land and his winters buried in books and other documentary evidence looking for the same in written and oral accounts.

“It’s great that they’ve found the ship,” he said, adding that although the federal government has not released the exact location of the wreck, he has heard it’s near O’Reilly Island, just south of King William Island, where Gross has been looking. “They found it right where the Inuit said it was, and I’ve been going off Inuit testimony from the very beginning, so that just backs it up.”

Gross lived in Holman, Nunavut and Cambridge Bay, Nunavut before moving to Hay River 20 years ago and said his time there was essential to what became a passion.

“There was no radio there at the time, no TV, so we spent a lot of time out on the land,” he said.
“That was really my apprenticeship and I couldn’t have done this without it.”

That experience was hard earned, as Gross’ latest expedition partner Tom Makepeace learned trying to keep up with the
more-seasoned adventurer.

“He asked me to go on his trip with him,” said Makepeace.

“I had been putting it off and putting it off … and now I’m finally retired and I could go.”

Makepeace said the trip over the tundra on a quad hauling a sled behind him was harrying, but well worth the effort.

But such trips may be limited in the future. Gross said he was the only one he knew of making such regular trips to the Arctic, looking for Franklin, but now that the federal government has pushed through in earnest, he suspects the permits he needs from the Government of Nunavut will become more difficult to come by.

“I mean, the government is really the only ones who can do this,” he said. “They have all the state-of-the-art equipment and resources.”

-Sarah Ladik