If Louis Riel is known as the father of Manitoba then perhaps Jens Munk should be known as our province’s grandfather.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of one of the first European explorers to reach Manitoba.
Just a few years after Henry Hudson sailed into the bay that now bears his name, he was followed by Danish adventurer Jens Munk who made a landing around the area that is now present-day Churchill. Like so many sailors, Munk was on a quest to discover the reclusive Northwest Passage.
His expedition consisted of two ships, the Unicorn, with 48 men, and a smaller boat, the Lamprey, with 16.
Events did not turn out well for either Hudson or Munk. At the end of a brutal winter, Hudson’s crew mutinied and cast him and his son adrift in a small boat.
Munk’s crew, on the other hand, succumbed to scurvy, food poisoning and exposure during the winter of 1619-1620, leaving only three of them alive come spring. Miraculously they managed to sail their way back across the Atlantic in the smaller boat, the Lamprey.
After they left, the local indigenous people took a closer look at the big ship left behind. They discovered dozens and dozens of dead bodies and shallow graves. And maybe worse, they also discovered kegs of black powder, not knowing what it was until their torches sparked a disastrous explosion.
Unlike Hudson, who was never seen again, Munk was meticulous with his record-keeping and his journals have proven a remarkable tale of human endeavour and spirit.
It tells tales of going ashore, meeting the natives and shooting reindeer. He was also the first person to make a detailed map of the great bay that perhaps should have been named after him instead of Hudson.
Many years later, the French voyageurs named the river mouth where he wintered the Riviere Danoise — the Danish River — today we know it as the Churchill River.
Alas, making it home was not the great relief Munk may have expected.
Making landfall in Norway, at the town of one of his great rivals, he was jailed after one of his surviving crewmen went on a drunken rampage.
He then found his wife had taken a lover in his absence and, to top it off, the Danish king demanded he return to Manitoba to bring back the other ship.
In 1991, the Manitoba Heritage Council installed a commemorative plaque in Churchill to mark Munk’s expedition.
There have been several local events to celebrate this anniversary.
Otto Christensen, a Dane who lives in Gimli, came to town and gave a lecture at the Millennium Library in June and Travel Manitoba recently presented an exhibition at The Forks. The Millennium Library is also hosting an exhibit until the end of August.
Trevor Smith is a community correspondent for River Heights. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
River Heights community correspondent
Trevor Smith is a community correspondent for River Heights.