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.
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.