Canada’s Forgotten Arctic Hero: George Rice and the Lady Franklin Expedition, 1881—1884

Jim Lotz

By Jim Lotz, $19.95 (pb) 978-1-89541-594-0, 182 pp, Breton Books, November 2009

Historian Jim Lotz has written an account of George Rice, a Canadian photographer who traveled and died on the Greely expedition formally known as the Lady Franklin Bay expedition. Most of the text is comprised of direct quotations for Rice’s journal.
Noting Rice is unknown in his Cape Breton hometown, Lotz emphasizes Rice as a Canadian who should be known across the country. Perhaps Rice should be known, and Lotz’s writing interspersed with Rice’s is readable and interesting. But it could be argued that Rice was more American than Canadian: he studied at Columbia; chose a girlfriend, Helen Bishop from Washington, D.C., rather than Maud Dunlop of the telegraph house in Baddeck who also had an infatuation for him, among five other women; Rice was the only Canadian on the trip as Greely’s men travelled across the Arctic naming mountains and valleys after America and Americans and indeed, seeing calm water among some icebergs early on in the trip, Rice noted it seemed “as placid as the waters of Central Park.”
As a tale of a Canadian of American background then, the story is fascinating. The men travel up a waterway in search of something they cannot get at a la Heart of Darkness, but even more like the manipulative and intelligent water planet in Stanislaw Lems’s Solyaris: “George described the ice as if it were a living presence which ‘appears determined to drive us to a more southerly position.’” As time goes on and the group is left deserted in the Arctic, Rice becomes more Canadian, noting May 24th —his last one alive as it happened—along with American Thanksgiving, and thinking back to his home in Cape Breton along with the green grass of Washington.
This book is released among two other recent books on the Canadian Arctic from Brian Payton and Glyn William, and the March 2010 and last issue of The Beaver as named also has a special Arctic feature, supporting the point that the Canadian Arctic is becoming an ever stronger genre for writing and collecting. —Michael Goodfellow