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Tragedies in Arctic hamlet sparking talk of a Franklin ‘curse’

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Some residents of an Arctic hamlet located near the Franklin shipwrecks have linked a spate of tragic deaths in the community to divers poking around the sea floor resting places of long-dead crew members.

“They feel the wrecks are cursed and should not be disturbed,” Parks Canada official Tamara Tarasoff said of the reactions of some Inuit living in Gjoa Haven, a Nunavut community about 1,000 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.

Local resident Jacob Keanik also confirmed that members of the community, still reeling from the unexpected deaths of six residents, were pointing the finger at the ships that took part in Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition to locate the Northwest Passage.

“People are superstitious. They feel there is a connection between the deaths and disturbing the wreck sites,” he said.

Both comments were made Aug. 24, during a teleconference between eight members of the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee (which includes Parks Canada staff), representatives of the Nunavut government and Inuit heritage organizations.

Louie Kammokak (left) and Jacob Keanik (right) in 2015 at the blessing of the wreck of HMS Erebus. (Parks Canada)

The committee makes recommendations on the investigation of the wrecks and potential related tourism. At the time the teleconference took place, the committee was doing preparatory work for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s pending visit to Gjoa Haven.

The committee decided to warn the minister about the so-called curse in case a resident asked her about it.

CBC News obtained minutes of the meeting through the Access to Information Act, and confirmed the observations directly with Keanik.

“People like to talk, you know,” he said in an interview. “People thought after … finding these shipwrecks … they seemed to notice we’re losing so many people and they thought it was from that.”

Keanik is president of the Nattilik Heritage Centre in Gjoa Haven, which is to expand by 2023 to showcase artifacts retrieved from the Franklin wrecks. He lost a brother and nephew to a boating accident in the recent string of deaths, all of which took place over two weeks in August. Two other men died in an all-terrain vehicle rollover, a community elder passed away and a staff member at a local school succumbed to a heart attack. 

All crew perished

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror left England in 1845 under Franklin’s command, seeking a Northwest Passage to the Pacific through the ice-choked Arctic. Every crew member perished, although the precise details of their fate eluded searchers for more than a century.

Canadian search teams eventually found the sea floor wreck of Erebus in 2014. Searchers found what was left of the Terror in 2016, on the bottom of Terror Bay at King William Island, west of Gjoa Haven.

The Franklin committee decided to respond to the community’s concerns by telling residents that no human remains had been found on the two wrecks.

“It is only artifacts that are being found and being taken off wreck sites and … there are plans in place that if any bodies are found, they will be left in place,” Fred Pedersen, of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, is quoted as telling the group. “[We] will not bring up or disturb human remains.”

The late Louie Kamookak, an Inuit oral historian and Gjoa Haven resident who helped find the Erebus, blessed the shipwreck site in 2015 with sand taken from the community and sprinkled on the sea.

Keanik, who also participated, said the brief ceremony carried out from a boat was meant “to have things better in the future.” (Kamookak died of cancer at age 58 in March this year.)

The whole King William Island has non-human people that we cannot see.– Jacob Keanik, resident of Gjoa Haven, NU, on his mother’s warning about supernatural beings.  

But the Terror shipwreck site did not receive a similar traditional blessing until two years after its discovery, following the deaths of the six Gjoa Haven residents.

The Franklin committee was told that the Guardians — Inuit caretakers appointed to monitor the Franklin shipwreck sites — felt that a blessing of the Terror shipwreck was needed.

“We have spoken to the Guardians and they feel the Terror wreck needs to be blessed, as so far only the Erebus has been blessed,” say the Aug. 24 minutes.

Parks Canada spokesperson Dominique Tessier said this second blessing has since been carried out.

“This summer, following the tragedies, elders blessed sand from Gjoa Haven and the Terror Guardians brought it to the wreck of HMS Terror, where they sprinkled it over the wreck and performed a blessing,” she told CBC News.

“Both of these blessings were led by Inuit from Gjoa Haven.”

Dismisses ‘curse’ theory

Keanik dismisses talk of a Franklin “curse,” saying the community has been touched by tragedy in the past. “It was always like that, even before these shipwrecks were found.”

But he said he does accept his mother’s warnings about invisible, non-human beings inhabiting King William Island, the Arctic island that harbours Gjoa Haven at its east end.

“My late mom told me even before these shipwrecks were discovered, she mentioned you have to watch out,” he said. “The whole King William Island has non-human people that we cannot see.”

He said his mother used to warn him: “Don’t let them get to you – just do what you have to do.”

Keanik said that when he travels with a friend across the tundra, he senses the presence of these beings.

The late Louie Kamookak was a Gjoa Haven historian who spent more than 30 years recording oral stories of Inuit encounters with the ships and Franklin’s men — stories that were key to resolving the nearly 170-year-old mystery. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

“It’s a funny feeling when once we get on the other side of the island … You sense that somebody’s around you, but there’s nobody around you,” he said.

“That’s a funny feeling we always have every time we get on the other side.”

Keanik said his mother never made it clear whether she thought the invisible beings are the spirits of the lost Franklin crew, or whether they haunted the dying crew members in the mid-19th century.

“I couldn’t answer that,” he said.

The tragic and mysterious Franklin story has inspired songs, paintings, books and even a recent AMC television series that imagined a menacing supernatural force tormenting the crew members.

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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