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‘Nobody likes him’: Historian says Arctic explorer Robert M’Clure overlooked

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He double-crossed his boss. He berated his sailors. Robert M’Clure, who advertised himself as the first through the Northwest Passage, is not remembered in history as a very nice person.

But in the September issue of Arctic Journal, Arctic historian Janice Cavell advocates for M’Clure — sometimes spelled as McClure — to receive a bit more recognition for his work charting the North.

“People wrote him off,” Cavell, an adjunct professor of history at Carleton University, told CBC.

Cavell hopes M’Clure’s role in charting new information about the North will add nuance to the way Canadians think about history.

“There’s a tendency to want heroes,” said Cavell.

“When you come to someone like M’Clure — nobody likes him. It would be impossible to make a hero out of him, and so there’s a bit of a tendency to look away from his achievements.”

Cavell thinks if people separated achievements from the character, people may see M’Clure in a different light.

Who found what first?

The very question of who “discovered” the Northwest Passage is rooted in expansionist history.

Inuit occupation once extended throughout the archipelago, and they still lived on Baffin, Victoria and King William islands in the 19th century.

In this file photo, a Parks Canada archeologist dives on the wreck of HMS Investigator in 2011. (Parks Canada)

Bernadette Dean, an Inuit traditional knowledge keeper in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, who has collaborated with the Smithsonian, says her people knew many features of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and used its waterways for a long time.

She added she’s seen markers in Inuktut (dialects of the Inuit languages) and sod house ruins on a High Arctic island.

“It tells me our ancestors lived and walked on the land,” said Dean.

But British explorers were looking for something else — throughways for their ships.

The British government offered up to 20,000 pounds for the first shipping company to find and sail through a northern channel from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean, also offering rewards for portions of the Passage.

Sir John Franklin is known for his disastrous attempt to find the Northwest Passage. He ended up dying near a Nunavut island in 1847. None of his men survived.

That’s where Sir Robert M’Clure comes in. M’Clure and his senior officer, John Collinson, went on an expedition from the West to search for Franklin. Each on their own separate ships, they set out in 1850.

HMS Investigator, left, is trapped in ice with HMS Enterprise in a painting by Lt. W.H. Brown of the Royal Navy. The ship was eventually abandoned and its crew rescued by a Royal Navy sledge team a few years later. ((National Maritime Museum))

But M’Clure quickly shook off his boss and sailed ahead to the Arctic with his crew.

He went up the Prince of Wales Strait and travelled on foot up to the entrance, and confirmed that it did connect with Viscount Melville Sound — but his boat couldn’t get through.

So, “after wintering there he did a very daring thing,” said Cavell, who has published two books on Arctic history.

M’Clure went around Banks Island to a strait that would later be named after him. He sought refuge in a nearby bay that he would later name Bay of Mercy (now Mercy Bay).

“They thought they would die there,” Cavell said. After nearly three years in the Arctic, the group was found in the spring of 1853 by another expedition that had come in from the east.

M’Clure did not appreciate their offer to save him.

“He didn’t want to leave, even though his men were in very, very bad shape,” said Cavell. “He was quite callous to his men.”

M’Clure was convinced to abandon his ship, HMS Investigator. The ship was later found in 2010 by archeologists’ sonar scan of the bay where his men took refuge. Divers found artifacts from the ship the following year.

M’Clure goes to Parliament

When M’Clure finally got back to England, he told the British Parliament that because his men had sledged through the Arctic and were rescued, they should be considered the first to travel the Northwest Passage fully.

A parliamentary committee agreed, saying that his men had “completed a last link in a chain of discovery.”

While M’Clure did not sail through his entire voyage, he found new waterways other British explorers had not, Cavell said.

But M’Clure’s legacy would quickly be tainted.

Franklin’s widow pushed back, saying her late husband made key discoveries that he was not alive to be honoured for, and that he had discovered a Northwest Passage before he died.

Now, Franklin is famous — sometimes infamous — for his failed attempt. But today, few remember the ambitious Robert M’Clure who put M’Clure Strait on the map.

M’Clure unappreciated?​

Cavell suggests that because of M’Clure’s dodgy character, he was “a little overlooked” despite his accomplishments.

But Arctic exploration historian John McCannon is not so sure.

“There’s always a limit to how many people and events can be crammed into the popular understanding of any historical topic, and dozens of polar explorers who were important in the 19th century have faded from public awareness,” said McCannon, associate professor of history at Southern New Hampshire University, in an email.

“M’Clure doesn’t stand out as having been unusually disrespected by historians, either in terms of being neglected or overly criticized,” said McCannon. 

“That’s the sort of debate and reassessment that historians routinely put important people [through] —​ whether they’re explorers, generals, kings, or what have you.”

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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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