Government Announces Details of Multi-year Investigation of Franklin Wrecks

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September 5, 2018 – After Sir John Franklin and his crew went missing while searching for a Northwest Passage in the 1840s, Inuit shared stories and knowledge that helped the world better understand the Arctic and the fate of the Franklin ships and their crews. That same profound knowledge of history and the natural world led to the discovery of the wreck of HMS Erebus in 2014 and then HMS Terror in 2016. These storied ships of the Franklin Expedition now comprise the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site – the first national historic site in Nunavut cooperatively managed with Inuit.

Today, the Minister of Environment and the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee are pleased to announce details of the archaeological research to be conducted on HMS Erebus and HMS Terror this summer. Formed in 2016, the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee reviews and advises on research planning every season.

Parks Canada and Inuit will work collaboratively to explore, study, and protect the Franklin wrecks. This investigation will be one of the largest and most complex underwater archaeological undertakings in Canadian history. In early September, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team will be at the site of HMS Erebus for up to two weeks and will continue to map the debris field around the ship. The excavation and artifact recovery will begin in accessible areas of the lower deck where the crew lived. The work will focus on specific zones that relate to officers, lower ranking crew members, and Royal Marines. Important underwater infrastructure will also be installed to facilitate the archaeological work with the invaluable assistance of the Canadian Coast Guard and CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

RV David Thompson, Parks Canada’s newest research vessel, will serve as the main operational platform for the continued investigation of the wrecks of the 1845 Franklin Expedition.

The minister and Mr. David Reed, British Deputy High Commissioner to Canada, along with Inuit partners, will be visiting the wreck site of HMS Erebus, with the advice and support of the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee. They will see first-hand the archaeological work. Earlier this year, the United Kingdom made a gift to Canada of all of the yet to be discovered artifacts from HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. The artifacts of the 1845 Franklin Expedition are now jointly owned by Canada and Inuit through Parks Canada and the Inuit Heritage Trust.

If weather and ice conditions permit, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team may also visit Terror Bay to collect images, videos, and scans of HMS Terror. The data will be used to develop an archaeological plan for future study of the shipwreck. In addition, visible artifacts and the structures of the upper deck will continue to be inventoried and examined and a micro-ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) will be used to explore the ship’s interior.

For the second year, Inuit Guardians will be posted at both wreck sites throughout the open-water period to help Parks Canada ensure the protection of the two shipwrecks.