Amundsen’s Cold Recall

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen becoming the first person to reach the South Pole, the Royal Norwegian embassy in Ottawa, Norway’s Fram Museum and the University of Manitoba have opened Cold Recall. The exhibit contains photographs and lantern slides from Amundsen’s crossing of the North West Passage in the opening years of the 20th century and entries from the explorer’s journal, giving the photographs context.

Speaking at the exhibit’s opening in the Icelandic Reading Room’s (IRR) Thorlakson Gallery on Oct. 26, Her Excellency Else Berit Eikeland, Norway’s ambassador to Canada, said the lessons Amundsen learned from the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada were instrumental in his reaching the South Pole, and as such, Amundsen and Norway owed a great debt to Canada.

The exhibit displayed on the U of M campus is one half of the entire traveling display, featuring the images and journal entries that most relate to Amundsen’s scientific work while traveling through the North West Passage. According to Eikeland, the other half of the display — which was opened at the Legislature building on Oct. 27 — features the explorer’s close relationship with Canada’s Inuit peoples.

When you walk into the IRR, the naturally lit area’s modern metal, glass and wood stand in stark contrast to the rest of the Elizabeth Dafoe Library’s utilitarian appearance. Immediately to the left of the room’s entranceway is the Thorlakson Gallery, which is filled floor to ceiling with black and white phtographs and coloured lantern-slide images from Amundsen’s voyage set amongst text — translated into English of course.

The posters containing the photographs and entries are laid out in a linear format, telling a story as you walk through the gallery. While it is possible to randomly move from poster to poster, proceeding as the curator intended offers a rewarding experience that allows an observer to feel as if they have a personal relationship with the explorer. Editor’s notes make occasional appearances throughout the exhibit, adding clarity by expanding on historical details left out by Amundsen’s entries.

In glass cases interspersed throughout the gallery and just outside of it, old copies of of Amundsen’s accounts an be seen.

While Arctic exploration and photographs of thoroughly moustached Norwegians may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I have to admit that the exhibit stirred my personal interest. I felt myself getting into the head of a man who was truly traveling into the unknown.

I even began lamenting that following in the shoes of Amundsen — putting together a crew, finding a ship and declaring that you are going to do something first — is not possible in the 21st century.

Cold Recall offers a unique and personal glimpse into a time when there were still question marks on maps. It is worth checking out.

The exhibit will be displayed on the third floor of the Elizabeth Dafoe Library until Jan. 13, 2012.