It’s an international tug-of-war over a ship that has sat at the bottom of an Arctic fiord in Canada for the better part of a century.
The Norwegians own it and want it back, but the people of Cambridge Bay in Nunavut say it’s part of their heritage and should remain in its icy grave. And the Norwegians would need permission to move it from the Heritage Ministry, which has given no indication where it stands on the fate of the sunken ship.
The Baymaud was designed by famed polar explorer Roald Amundsen of Norway for a voyage to the North Pole. It was originally named the Maud after one of the country’s former queens. Amundsen made his name as the first person to reach the South Pole, and even if the Maud did not reach the North Pole as he’d hoped, it still made a famous crossing of the Northwest Passage and a host of important scientific discoveries. So it is special to the Norwegians, who intend to build a museum to house it.
But Cambridge Bay residents, or at least a good number of them, say they have been looking at the top of the Baymaud for 80 years. After Amundsen abandoned it in 1925, it was purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Company which used it as a floating warehouse. But the winter ice took its toll and it sank in the bay where it was anchored in the winter of 1930. Only a small area of the ship’s starboard side was left visible above the waves.
Sixty years later, the Norwegian community of Asker, a suburb of Oslo, bought the ship for $1 from the Hudson’s Bay Company. The intent was to raise it and return it to the port where it was built.
But a group of Cambridge Bay residents is circulating an online petition called Keep the Baymaud in Canada. While acknowledging the importance of the ship to Norway, the petition declares the wreck to be a Canadian archeological site that should not be moved.
“We’re saying ‘ownership, shmonership. It’s a wreck, it’s been abandoned. How can you suddenly say you own it now when you didn’t do anything with it for 80 years?’” Vicki Aitaok, a spokeswoman for the group, said in a telephone interview Monday.
“It’s the beginning of the Northwest Passage,” said Ms. Aitoak. “It’s the beginning of the North being opened up to the rest of the world.”
But the Norwegians are loath to give up their claim to the ship.
Queen Maud was the wife of King Haakon, “who was the first king of Norway after we got our independence in 1905,” said Jan Wanggaard the Norwegian project manager for Maud Returns Home.
“Amundsen and his ship played a significant symbolic role in the building process of a new independent nation,” he said. “Most people of Norway think it is a disgrace that the ship was never brought home long ago.”
A team of Canadian scientists which visited the wreck in 1995 and 1996 said it is falling apart and could completely disintegrate if nothing is done to preserve it.
“We wish to save her before she is totally lost to the elements,” said Mr. Wanggaard. The goal, he said, is to “save her for future generations to see the remains of this fantastic ship and learn about its incredible expedition …”
First, however, the Norwegians will have to get an export permit because the Baymaud and its contents are resting in Canadian waters and, therefore, fall under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.
When The Globe and Mail asked for a comment from James Moore, the Canadian Heritage Minister, his spokesman, James Maunder, said the Canadian Border Services Agency had received no request for a permit.
But the Norwegians say they have every intention of pursuing the issue. And the Cambridge Bay people say they will fight them, in part because the ship has become a popular shore expedition for the cruise ships that are starting to ply Arctic waters.
“It’s in our bay and we bring a lot of tourists to it and that’s important to us,” said Ms. Aitaok. “All of a sudden these Norwegians, this other guy, comes out of the woodwork and they want to bring it home.”
The history of the Baymaud (or the Maud, if you happen to be Norwegian).
1917 – Built in Norway by shipbuilder Christian Jenson for Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who wanted it to reach the North Pole. Named after Queen Maud of Norway.
1920 – Became the second ship to navigate the Northwest Passage after a three-year voyage but did not reach the North Pole.
1925 – Abandoned by Mr. Amundsen after two additional failed attempts to reach the North Pole.
1926 – Seized by Mr. Amundsen’s creditors in Seattle, purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Company, renamed the Baymaud, and retrofitted in Vancouver, the ship sailed to the western Arctic for the final time.
1926-27 – Operated as a floating machine shop, warehouse and wireless station by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Issued the first regular winter weather reports for Canada’s Arctic coast.
1930 – Developed a leak and sank at its winter anchorage in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Over the next five years, much of what remained above the water was salvaged. Some of it was used to build a new Hudson’s Bay warehouse.
1990 – Purchased for $1 by the community of Asker, Norway, which wanted to raise the ship and return it to Norway to be the central exhibit in a new museum.
Source: Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre