Unlike the US and UK coastal guardians, Canada's Coast Guard is neither law enforcement nor military. Responsible for the longest coastline in the world (202,080 km), our unarmed boys and girls in the distinctive red and white ships, such as CCGS Samuel Risley pictured above, are dedicated to life-saving, ice-breaking, and supporting scientific expeditions in the waters of our three oceans and inland rivers and lakes.
The current version of our marine guardians was formed in 1962. They offer support to the Royal Candian Navy, border enforcement, the RCMP, and provincial law enforcement agencies, but their primary responsibilities have to do with non-military shipping, fisheries, environmental research and clean-up, and navigation support, including maintenance of buoys and lighthouses. Sambro Island, Canada's first lighthouse, is one of the crown jewels in the agency's portfolio of properties.
In the summer of 2014, the Coast Guard supported one of the most exciting discoveries in recent Canadian history. The Franklin Expedition disappeared in 1845, failing in its attempt to find the Northwest Passage, a route through the Arctic ice which would allow shipping from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean. Rear Admiral Sir John Franklin and 128 men set sail in two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, seeking the route to Asia. In 1848, the ships were stranded, locked in the ice off King William Island and the surviving crew abandoned them to try to walk to safety. Inuit stories told of emaciated Europeans encountered wandering in the wilderness and of ships, disintegrating between ice floes, with hordes of canned goods still on board.
Beginning in 1850, numerous British, American, Canadian, and other expeditions tried to discover the fate of Franklin's ships and men. Franklin's widow, Jane, Lady Franklin, never gave up hope that her husband would be found, but she died still wondering what had become of him. Graves, caches of tinned goods, and the remains of iron ship parts on Arctic beaches were tantalizing clues but it wasn't until the summer of 2014 that a ship was found on the sea floor in the Victoria Strait off King William Island. The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, enthusiastically supported the search for Franklin's ships because he knew that finding them would boost Canada's claims to sovreignty over the Arctic in the face of increasing Russian incursions. In the end, the discovery of HMS Erebus was an exciting event for every Canadian interested in science and history, and a victory for research and marine archaeology. The log of Captain Bill Noon, commander of the Coast Guard icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier, is a fascinating and touching account of this significant search.
When you are on the water and you need assistance, there is nobody else to call: the Coast Guard will come to your aid, no matter how rough the water or how dark the night.