by David J. Bercuson
May 21, 2019
American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may be the most unpopular U.S. diplomat in Canada in many a generation, and his diplomatic language more suitable for the alley than for high-level matters of state, but he is surely correct in reminding Canada that the so-called Northwest Passage (there are actually two routes through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago) is an international waterway. And Canada, as a trading and maritime nation, ought to recognize that, and work with the United States to establish a long-term solution for how the passage is to be used.
The old European dream of a northwest passage goes back some 500 years and dates from the time of the westward voyages of Christopher Columbus, which began in 1492. Columbus was not looking for and did not expect to find a “new world.” He was looking for a shorter sea route from Portugal to Asia and ran into “America” instead. In subsequent voyages he charted other routes to the Caribbean and was followed by other explorers seeking a “middle passage” to Asia.
More northern kingdoms such as France and England concentrated on finding a northern route to Asia. As late as the mid-19th century, by which time the existence of America had long been proven, Britain’s Sir John Franklin set out with two ships to find a northwest passage from Europe to Asia. He and all his men died and the passage was not found until Norwegian Roald Amundsen sailed it in 1906.