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Roald Amundsen ship Maud near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Kitikmeot Heritage Society photo
Roald Amundsen ship Maud near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Kitikmeot Heritage Society photo

Globe Editorial

If we won't save our Arctic heritage, let the Norwegians do it Add to ...

If the Norwegian interests that own the Maud – the wreck of an expedition ship once commanded by the legendary polar explorer Roald Amundsen – can raise the funds needed to recover and restore the vessel, the Canadian government should issue the necessary permits and bid it adieu.

A group from Norway has acquired ownership of the wreck, which sank at Cambridge Bay in 1930. They have ambitious plans to restore the Maud, which sailed under Amundsen on a North Pole expedition in 1918 and was named for Norway’s queen. Eventually, they hope the ship will form the centrepiece of a museum in Norway. The idea seems fanciful, as the vessel has deteriorated seriously over eight decades, and the cost just to recover the Maud and transport it would run into many millions of dollars.

Amundsen is, however, a towering figure in polar exploration. In 1905 he became the first to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage, a feat that had eluded the British for much of the preceding century. In 1911, he also became the first to reach the South Pole, beating out Captain Robert Falcon Scott. It was Amundsen’s experience with dogs and sledges in the Canadian Arctic that gave him the edge over Scott.

An expedition ship that belonged to this great explorer should, one would have thought, have been deemed by Canada a national treasure. In fact, like so many other heritage sites in the Arctic, it has been left to indifference and neglect. The same story applies to other significant wrecks, expedition sites, and abandoned Hudson’s Bay Co. and RCMP outposts throughout the Arctic.

Some Cambridge Bay residents have belatedly awoken to the value of the Maud, and a few dozen people have added their names to a Web petition asking the federal Heritage Department not to issue a permit allowing for the Maud’s removal. This is a welcome development, but it hardly amounts to a national awakening. Canada pays little heed to the non-indigenous heritage of the Arctic and should not stand in the way of those who do.

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