Video will display here shortly...
03 March 2009, 13:17
On the third leg of his adventure, Billy goes onboard a cruise ship to make the eight day journey through the Northwest Passage and he meets the people who live in this remote, isolated part of the world which spends nine months of the year surrounded by frozen sea.
He learns about the explorers whose footsteps he is following in and visits the sites where they lived and died. He then moves south and hitches a lift with an ice-trucker before panning for gold at the site of a great gold rush.
Billy starts the third part of the series in Resolute Bay – a weather station that is so cold that snow is on the ground at the height of summer. Here he boards the Akademik Ioffe, a Russian cruise ship with 100 tourists to begin the voyage at the heart of his journey – through the Northwest Passage.
He stops off at Beechey Island, a popular spot with polar bears, where the first explorer to look for the Northwest Passage, Sir John Franklin, became stranded for two years due to the harsh weather conditions.
Franklin and his men had to make a home on the island, trapped by ice. Three of the man died there and Billy explains how their graves were exhumed and one of them was found to have lead poisoning in his blood, indicating that he could have been killed by eating too much food from cans containing lead.
Billy says: “What a grim little place, awful and cold even now, in summer. Franklin and his men were held prisoner by the winter ice here. Three of his men died and were buried. They thought ‘If I can just sit the winter out then it will get there and we’ll be the boys.’
“Can you imagine, standing here and going ‘Oh my God – will I never go home again?’ I can’t imagine what that must feel like. I’ve never found myself in that position, I hope I never do.”
Billy visits a bird sanctuary during the cruise and the ship is forced to change direction due to the Bellot Strait they were going to go through being frozen.
Billy says: “I just love the fact that it isn’t a given that you can do the Northwest Passage...I can see lots of ice up ahead too. The wind has moved the ice over and we can’t get through because they tried to get in touch with an ice breaker to come and break the ice which would have been brilliant. So we’ve had a change of plans.”
And there is great excitement onboard the ship when a polar bear is spotted on a nearby island.
Next Billy moves onto King William Island and tells how Franklin and his men set up camp there after being forced to abandon their ships. One hundred and twenty six men are presumed to have died on the island and ten years later Victorian Britain was shocked when stories of cannibalism were suggested.
Billy visits Gjoa Haven, the only settlement on King William Island, where, 50 years after Franklin and his men had been there, another explorer stopped off on his way to find the Northwest Passage.
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first person to successfully get through the passage, but before he did it he stopped off at Gjoa Haven for over a year to learn all about the people living there.
When Billy arrives at the village his cruise ship is only the second one to stop there in six years and the natives are delighted, showing off their traditional dancing and their furs.
As he leaves the cruise ship, Billy’s next stop is a town on the edge of a continent – Tuktoyaktuk. The town is self-sufficient as only in winter does it have an ice road so supplies have to be either shipped or flown in and any fresh food has to be caught.
Billy goes fishing with James Pokiak and then helps him to store their catch in a man-made fridge dug deep into the frozen ground. He also finds out about a more contemporary leisure activity popular among the community - interactive bingo which is beamed live into television sets in residents’ homes. To claim ‘house’, winners telephone the caller in the hut from which the game is broadcast. Another highlight is a trip out to climb a pingo, which is a small hill formed from ice.
As he starts his journey south, Billy hitches a lift along the spectacular Dempster Highway with Bill Rutherford an ice-road trucker who makes regular 5000 mile round trips delivering fruit and vegetables on roads which are frozen for most of the year.
They stop off at Fort McPherson a trading post where Billy visits the graves of four Mounties who died after getting lost in temperatures of -48 degrees in 1910. Before their deaths they were forced to eat eight of the 15 dogs they had with them to try to stay alive.
In 1897 George Carmack dipped his pan in the river at Dawson City and found gold. Word spread prompting a gold rush as 100,000 people headed to the area, with only roughly a third completing the arduous journey. The town became known as the ‘Paris of the north’ and Billy takes an interest in the history of the brothels that once operated there.
He also visits the site of the rush and looks at a dredging machine which was used to extract as much as 50 lbs of gold every two days. He meets local miner David Millar whose father made half a million dollars a year finding gold. David shows Billy the process of extracting gold and shows him a cup containing about an ounce of gold, which he says, is worth a staggering $1200 as he jealously guards it from an eager looking Billy.
Last updated: 03 March 2009, 13:17