Ed Mooney, the Ruin Hunter and author of Ed Mooney Photography on WordPress has got me going. He promises a ruin hunter badge. Well, we don’t have many ruins in Canada but we do have some interesting history such as that of The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay. It was founded in 1670 as a fur trading and exploration enterprise, and now is known as “The Hudson’s Bay Company” or more succinctly “The Bay,” a very successful Canadian retail establishment.
While visiting Kirkwall in the Orkney’s, I walked between the beautiful Gothic pillars of St. Magnus, an old and historic Viking Cathedral. Originally built in 1137 it is named after a martyred Norse earl, Magnus Erlendsson who had converted to Christianity.
At the end of the center aisle I found a great surprise and one I’m ashamed to say, I had not read or heard about in my history books during school days. In a shadowed corner to the side of the main sanctuary there rests a man in leather and furs with a rifle and a book beside him. Tired from his endeavours he has fallen peacefully asleep.
It is John Rae, not a saint but rather an unsung hero, and another intrepid Scottish explorer of the “new world.” He was born in the Orkneys, near Stromness, studied medicine in Edinburgh, and in 1836 joined the Hudson’s Bay Company of Adventurers exploring the northernmost regions of Canada. Rae, became one of the first Europeans to winter in the arctic without a supply ship by living in the manner of the native Inuit.
In 1845 The Franklin Expedition set out to look for a Northwest Passage through the Arctic. Months became years but they never returned. Search parties were finally sent out in 1849 to no avail. In 1854 John Rae heard stories from the Inuit and with them was able to locate a few relics and some of the remains of the lost explorers, including what appeared and was later confirmed to be, cannibalized human bones. His private report to the British Admiralty on the tragic fate of the Expedition was “shocking and unwelcome.”
Rae returned to England in his later years. He was awarded the Royal Geographical Society Founder’s Gold Medal and ten thousand pounds for solving the Franklin mystery. However, he was never given the recognition he deserved, because of Lady Franklin’s effort to suppress the findings and to glorify her husband’s expedition in the public eye.
He died in London in 1893. His body was brought back home to the Orkneys and is buried in the kirkyard cemetery. His statue reads “John Rae, Arctic Explorer.”