British Columbia

Vancouver Maritime Museum joining largest ship to sail Northwest Passage

The Vancouver Maritime Museum will host an exhibit on Crystal Serenity as it sails through the Northwest Passage this summer, the largest ship to ever do so. But what does the mere possibility of this trip say about the state of the Arctic?

Critics say the journey shows all is not well in Canada's north

The cruise ship Crystal Serenity is shown in a handout photo. It will become the largest ship to transit the legendary Northwest Passage. (The Canadian Press)

The largest cruise ship to ever sail the Northwest Passage will begin its journey from Anchorage, Alaska to New York on Saturday and the Vancouver Maritime Museum will be along for the ride.

Crystal Serenity will be carrying more than 1,700 passengers and crew on the 28-day-long journey and will become the largest ship to ever sail the Northwest Passage through Canada's Arctic.

Ken Burton, executive director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum, will be one of those passengers, and will be bringing along some of the museum's exhibits from the first trip through the passage back in 1940.

"They thought, if everything worked, it would take them 90 days [but] it was a full two-and-a-half years to get through," Burton told On the Coast of that first journey, taken by the RCMP schooner St. Roch, which has long been on display at the museum.

This journey promises to be quite different, and Burton will be running an exhibit on Northwest Passage topics that includes artifacts from early exploration attempts.

'Extinction tourism?'

However, the journey of this big ship has caused some observers to have big concerns about its impacts on the environment and local Inuit communities.

There are also concerns about what the feasibility of this journey says about the health of the Arctic climate, with UBC Michael Byers calling it "extinction tourism": tourists rushing to see it before climate change takes it away.

Burton downplayed those worries.

"You can apply any sort of lens to any set of circumstances and come up with a theory or a conclusion," he said. "You attach a snappy slogan to that, and you generate a lot of emotional response around the issue."

"Things change all the time, and we have to remember the search for the Northwest Passage was actually driven by commercial interests."

Burton says the Maritime Museum is partnering with the cruise operators to educate passengers about the Arctic while they travel through it.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: 'I would take the Northwest Passage' : Vancouver Maritime Museum joining largest ship to sail Arctic route