The Arctic's Final Frontier

When Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin departed Greenland in 1845, he was tasked with discovering the fabled Northwest Passage, a shortcut across the roof of North America between Europe and Asia that would herald in a new era of trade and prosperity.

Months later the navy commander, his two state-of-the-art ships, and their crew of 129, would vanish from the face of the earth in one of the Arctic’s most captivating and intriguing mysteries. That is until now.

With the discovery in September 2014 of the first of Franklin’s ships, HMS Erebus, followed by that of HMS Terror this past September, all eyes are now on the 36,000 islands that make up the beautiful but inhospitable Canadian Arctic - through which the Northwest Passage runs - and the secrets this frozen landscape may reveal.

With the discovery in September 2014 of the first of Franklin’s ships, HMS Erebus, followed by that of HMS Terror this past September, all eyes are now on the 36,000 islands that make up the beautiful but inhospitable Canadian Arctic - through which the Northwest Passage runs - and the secrets this frozen landscape may reveal. warming, it remains a perilous journey. A rich history come to life; captivating scenery and wildlife; and just a hint of potential danger has only served to make the Northwest Passage a must-attempt for avid expedition cruise fans.

A cruise through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is a step back in time. Itineraries land at Beechey Island, a tiny islet at the southern tip of Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island in the world, where Franklin and his crew wintered in 1845-46 before disappearing. Remnants of his camp, which was not discovered until 1851, include the grave stones of crew who didn’t survive the harsh winter. There are also the remains of an abandoned Royal Canadian Mounted Police barracks at Dundas Harbour, where unlucky recruits would be marooned for two years at a time, forced to hunt and live off the land; and a chance to cruise past Zenith Point, the northernmost tip of mainland North America, and beneath the towering glaciers of Croker Bay. 

The Northwest Passage is also home to the Arctic’s rare and unique wildlife, from the polar bears which hunt pods of beluga whales in the fridged waters of Cunningham Inlet, to packs of Arctic wolves, mushoxen, rare bowhead whales and even narwhals, the unicorns of the sea, all of which can be encountered from expedition ship and zodiac excursions.