The Franklin Expedition and Operation Northern Quest

My summer internship at The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum ended rather serendipitously. In my last few weeks in the archives, the curator and I came across a scrapbook of “Operation Northern Quest”, featuring a couple of our current volunteers. Operation Northern Quest took place in the summer of 1973 and its main goal was to find anything to do with the lost Franklin expedition of 1845-46 when Franklin and his two ships were locked in ice and perished in their search for the North West Passage.[1]   Approximately 25 men from 1 RCR split into three patrols took part in this mission, facing the extreme cold and dangerous conditions of getting stuck in the ice.[2] In the end, 1 RCR found a full skeleton which they brought back to The National Museum of Man (now the Canadian Museum of History).[3] We each found this scrapbook incredibly interesting and posted the photos of our volunteers on mission to social media immediately. How cool!

The men of Operation Northern Quest on the tarmac at the Clinton Airport, read to depart. Photo courtesy of The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum archives.
The men of Operation Northern Quest on the tarmac at the Clinton Airport, ready to depart. Photo courtesy of The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum archives.

I was given the opportunity recently, to speak with Captain John O’Quinn (ret’d) who was part of Operation Northern Quest, about his experience. At the extent of John’s voyage (he was in the patrol that went south), his group of men were locked in by ice. While the initial days of the operation were on open water, the group soon found themselves stuck, unable to contact Base Camp and running out of rations. The men had no choice but to supplement their rations with fish, ducks and geese.[4] You can check out a brief part of the talk we had on The Royal Canadian Regiment Facebook page.

So you can imagine my surprise when not a week later, the curator receives a call from Nunavut, looking for help in locating the lost Franklin expedition.  Here we were just finding the scrapbook and now a call for help was coming in! She sent maps from the scrapbook to help with location and had a number of lengthy phone calls with an expedition leader.

It gets better. On September 1st 2014 a davit from one of the ships was found by Parks Canada and on September 9th, one of the ships, the HMS Erebus was found near King William Island, in the same region 1 RCR had searched in the 1970s.[5] This is the same ship that Franklin is believed to be on when he died.[6] Reading about this has been pretty exciting. If you’d like to do the same, you can check out the Captain’s Log here.

This is a pretty cool moment for Canadian History and I encourage you to keep following the story (or checking back here if more is found)!

[1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/franklin-expedition-ship-identified-as-the-erebus-1.2760644

[2] Interview with Captain John O’Quinn (retired). The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum. September 22 2014.

[3] Operation Northern Quest. The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum Archives. 1973.

[4] Interview with Captain John O’Quinn (retired). The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum. September 22 2014.

[5] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/franklin-expedition-ship-identified-as-the-erebus-1.2760644

[6] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/franklin-expedition-ship-identified-as-the-erebus-1.2760644

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7 thoughts on “The Franklin Expedition and Operation Northern Quest

  1. Did you manage to get any more detail on where the skelton was located, other than that it was between Gladman and Tullock Points?

  2. You might be interested in a short article that I found in the Canadian Forces magazine Sentinel, for May 1974: Quest in the North, 10(5), p 23-24 by Sgt. R. T. Walsh.

      1. I also found an interview with Chief Warrant Officer John O’Quinn on YouTube, but only Part 1. Do you know where I can find Part 2?

  3. The skeleton found by this expedition doesn’t seem to be in the Museum of History (Man). I heard a rumour that they buried it again. Any information you might have would be useful in finding the remains of this unfortunate soul. He might now be identifiable because of his DNA.

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