Loomings Illustration

Ellesmere, known by Inuit as Nunangata Ungata, “Land beyond the land of people,” and Umingmak Nuna, “Land of muskoxen” and probably by other names, had been visited by Greenland Norse for centuries before being “first” sighted by William Baffin aboard aptly named HMS Discovery in 1616. The English explorer and navigator had hoped to find a Northwest Passage but concluded one did not exist.

Capt. William Parry’s later, 1819 search for the Northwest Passage was perhaps the most successful British attempt—nobody died and he almost made it through, a feat which would not be accomplished until 1905 by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen aboard the sloop Gjøa. Parry’s two ships, HMS Griper and the distinctly named HMS Hecla, were forced to winter over, and to amuse themselves the officers produced a weekly newspaper called The North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle that was subsequently published in England. Fast Paradise borrows their motto, Per Freta Hactenus Negata, which appears in the above banner with the Gazette’s fanciful escutcheon,and approximately translates, “To reach a place whose existence had been denied and to keep going.”

Nineteenth century Ellesmere was uninhabited except for Inuit hunting parties, but the existence of a Northwest Passage was well known when Sir John Franklin set out in 1845 to navigate it with two ships, prophetically named HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. There were no survivors of his expedition, but Sir Edward Inglefield aboard Lady Franklin’s private steamer Isabel was searching for the expedition’s remains in 1852 when he named Ellesmere in honor of Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere. Which seems to confirm the early 20th century Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s pronouncement that, “A land may be said to be discovered the first time a European, preferably an Englishman, sets foot on it.”

Well into the 20th century, European—and American—explorers continued to perish “discovering” all of Ellesmere, and by 1912, the Canadian poet Robert Service could properly call the North, “That land that measures each man at his worth.”

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