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(2024 - Spring/Summer Issue)


On an August morning, my Quark Expeditions luxury expedition cruise liner, Ultramarine, was thrust into a steady tempest of whitewater waves thrashing breakfast diners to and fro like wobbling high-wire acrobats in Nunavut’s Lancaster Sound. As we repositioned in tranquil Maxwell Bay on Devon Island’s south coast, I gazed in awe at the world’s largest uninhabited island at 55,247 square kilometres. The barren, rocky landscape evoked Mars with a touch of Mordor.

The almost-unnerving Arctic serenity was soon broken. Minutes after I boarded a Zodiac cruise, my guide spotted an impervious polar bear bobbing in the frigid water, his ominous black snout aimed toward us. As I watched the world’s largest land predator power across the bay, I knew I was in for more shock and awe on my epic cruise.

This bear encounter was only one of many experiences on what originally was a 17-day cruise aboard Ultramarine. But thanks to inclement weather, the adventure cruise fittingly dubbed “In the Footsteps of Franklin” ballooned to 25 days. Our goal was to commemorate the ill-fated 1845–48 expedition of Sir John Franklin, the British admiral who perished along with his crew, never to be found again.

That is, until ten years ago, when a team of Parks Canada underwater archaeologists dove into the murky, icy seabed in Wilmot and Crampton Bay to locate the HMS Erebus. Its sister ship, the HMS Terror was later discovered off King William Island in 2016.

Some expedition cruise ships will be Northwest Passage bound this summer for the 10th anniversary of the Erebus discovery. My own Franklin interest was re-established after watching AMC’s The Terror. The drama series, which incorporates Inuit mythology, reimagines the doomed bid to find the Northwest Passage to Asia.

As a history buff, I was thrilled to retrace Franklin’s quest. Unlike the on-board conditions of the British explorer, I’d enjoy the polar expertise of Quark Expeditions and the creature comforts of helicopter tours and à la carte dining. So what could go awry?

After boarding Ultramarine in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, our route quickly changed. Baffin Bay ice obliged us to extend our stay on Greenland’s west coast. So be it. I relished navigating between cathedral-sized icebergs off Illulisat, viewing the 550-year-old Qilakitsoq Mummies in Nuuk, and sampling Greenlandic shrimp and muskox soup in Sisimiut.

On our Atlantic crossing, I feasted on swordfish steaks and crème brûlée and sweated it out on the Concept2 rowing machine in the gym overlooking the wave-strewn Atlantic Ocean. In the Ambassador Theater, historian Ross Day explored Franklin lore, while biologist Fabrice Genevois provided seabird-watching tips. My Explorer Suite was kitted with a cosy double bed, rain shower and heated bathroom floor.

Since Baffin Island hamlets like Pangnirtung and Pond Inlet were off-limits due to sea ice, we sailed far west to Resolute, Nunavut. But, at least we weren’t trapped like Franklin.

Zigzagging across Lancaster Sound, there were wildlife and historical highlights aplenty. Hundreds of white belugas and long-tusked narwhals swam freely in turquoise-tinted Radstock Bay. Marauding polar bears and rough seas prevented our landing at Beechey Island, a National Historic Site where three Franklin crew members are buried.

Still, I enjoyed exploring Somerset Island’s Port Leopold. At this former Hudson Bay trading post, a carved rock commemorates Sir James Clark Ross’s 1849 visit in search of Franklin.

But when Ultramarine finally reached Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital, we had travelled an epic 7,800 kilometres. I was happy to head home with incredible memories, having escaped Franklin’s dark fate.

Insider Tip

Sample delicacies like cured reindeer with mushrooms in Quark’s Tundra to Table dining experience, with proceeds benefiting food-related charities in Greenland and Nunavut.

Must-Read Books

•          Erebus: The Story of a Ship (Michael Palin, 2018)

•          Searching for Franklin: New Answers to the Great Arctic Mystery (Ken McGoogan, 2023)

•          The Arctic Grail (Pierre Berton, 1988)

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