Benjamin Franklin "Ben" Ackerman
August 25, 1920 - March 4, 1997
Inventor and explorer, Lieutenant Commander (Royal Canadian Navy). Born in Peterborough August 25, 1920; died of bone marrow cancer on March 4, 1997 in Picton, Ont., aged 76.
Ben Ackerman began inventing at a very tender age. He took two favourite childhood toys, his model train set and a toy dog, and built from both of them a train that would stop, go forward or in reverse at the sound of his voice. It presaged a lifetime of ideas, inventiveness and exploration.
Ben's father, Charles, had served as a major in the First World War and prospected for gold in northern Ontario. His mother Hilda was a daughter of A. W Hepburn, head of a Picton family prominent in shipping and politics. Ben got his Radio Operator's License before joining the Canadian Navy at the outbreak of war in 1939.
He had many adventures during the war. He once jury-rigged a defence against German radio torpedoes by connecting an aerial to his electric razor. He narrowly prevented the shore defenses at Halifax from firing on the Bangor class minesweeper HMCS Medicine Hat when she failed to respond to a request for identification. He saw action in the St Lawrence as an anti-submarine control officer, and served in corvettes escorting convoys to Britain.
After the war, Ben and his brother Arthur had a short-lived venture into the glove-making business. When this failed, he rejoined the navy, and trained as a specialist in mine counter-measures. He was promoted to Officer in Charge of the newly-formed diving unit of the Canadian Navy on the West Coast.
It was then that Ben developed his love of the arctic. Shortly before his retirement from the Navy in 1965, he organized a search for the ships of the lost Franklin expedition of 1845. They found a nail stamped with a broad arrow from a naval ship of that period, as well as a magnetic anomaly indicating a large quantity of iron under the ice in Cambridge Bay. He always wanted to go back and confirm his belief that Franklin's ship was there.
After his retirement, Ben started a company to develop cold-water diving equipment and portable recompression chambers. In 1969, he started Arctic Canadian Continental Shelf Exploration Services (ACCESS), which designed and built TUDLIK, a two-person submersible which was used for underwater surveying in the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of Mexico. The company also designed NARWAL, a submersible developed for arctic seismic and geophysical survey.
In the last two decades of his life, Ben spent most of his time in and around Picton, Ontario. He was an active volunteer in his community, most notably with the Prince Edward County Historical Society, the South Bay Mariners' Museum, Community Care for Seniors, the Economic Resources Committee, and with many other organizations.