APRIL FOOLS: Former Nunavut MP may have found second Franklin shipwreck

“I didn’t know Leona could scuba dive. Son of a gun”


This photo, emailed to us anonymously, appears to show former Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq cutting through ice prior to some winter scuba diving near Gjoa Haven.

This photo, emailed to us anonymously, appears to show former Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq cutting through ice prior to some winter scuba diving near Gjoa Haven.

Foolishly updated at 12:20 p.m.

Nunavut’s former MP, Leona Aglukkaq, thinks she may have found artifacts associated with the HMS Terror, one of the two ships lost with Sir John Franklin’s failed Northwest Passage expedition, which left England in 1845 and never returned.

Aglukkaq has called in some former colleagues at Parks Canada for verification.

Aglukkaq, who lost her seat to Liberal Hunter Tootoo in the October 2015 election, has been spending time at home with friends and family in Gjoa Haven and decided recently to try out her latest hobby: deep sea, under-ice diving.

In early March, after hours spent carving out a hole in the ice big enough to slip through, she came across a bell engraved with the words “HMS Terror” and the Royal Navy’s “broad arrow” insignia near a remote location in Queen Maud Gulf called Mangaapiit Island, or Fool’s Island in English.

The bell is a near replica of the famous Erebus bell, discovered in September 2014 near the sunken Erebus ship, and currently in storage in Ottawa.

Aglukkaq said she thinks she may have discovered the doomed sister ship.

Reached in Gjoa Haven April 1, Aglukkaq declined to take credit, saying only that she was a hobbyist diver and that she’ll leave it up to the experts to take it from here.

“This is just my way of honouring the Conservative legacy of tirelessly pursuing those Franklin shipwrecks. We didn’t do it for the glory. We did it for history. And for the Inuit of Nunavut,” she said.

When reached for comment on the seemingly miraculous but as-yet-unverified, secret historical discovery, Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo was caught off guard.

“Wow,” he said. “I didn’t know Leona could scuba dive. Son of a gun.”

Neither did anyone else outside her inner circle, apparently.

Ottawa insiders say Aglukkaq began taking scuba lessons at Sharky’s Scuba on Wellington Street in Ottawa when she was an MP and fell in love with it.

“I’ve never seen someone take to the water as aggressively as Ms. Aglukkaq,” said Sharky’s manager Gus Sodden. “She was one of our top students.”

She progressed from pool dives to the Ottawa River, he said, and this past winter, she went to Halifax to take a specialized course in under-ice diving.

Tootoo said he’s a curler, not a scuba diver, and that he used to curl for Team Nunavut.

“Had I not taken a seat in the House of Commons, I would have been in the Brier for sure,” said Tootoo.

“But yes, I will talk to the Prime Minister about mounting a search for that Terrible ship. The Liberals care about history too. And what’s a few more million added to the deficit? History is worth it. And so are Inuit. And plus it’s a ship and that falls into my fisheries and oceans portfolio.”

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna said the Government of Nunavut has been negotiating with Ottawa over a centre in Gjoa Haven to store the Franklin artifacts and this really seals the deal.

“With Leona’s discovery, there’s really no question that this bell belongs to Nunavut,” Taptuna said.

“A Franklin museum in Gjoa Haven will create jobs for Nunavummiut and it’s my job — it’s the job of government, among other jobs, of course — to create jobs.”

Taptuna even suggested that the Gjoa Haven centre could be named “Aglukkaq Bell” but when contacted, former Iqaluit councillor Kenny Bell said he was against the idea because it would make people think it was named after him as well.

“I’d rather dig my eyes out with my bare fingers than have it appear that I supported such a boondoggle,” said Bell, in a rare moment of passion.

In any case, Parks Canada said in March the agency would collaborate with Kitikmeot Inuit to establish such a facility to house the Franklin expedition’s artifacts, a project first announced by Aglukkaq last September during her re-election campaign.

Parks Canada said it’s working with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association to negotiate an Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement for the new National Historic Site around the Erebus and the Terror.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper took time away from his stamp collection March 31 to offer congratulations to his former heritage and environment minister.

“Way to go girl,” Harper said. “She’s such a good diver. Laureen said just the other day I should have put her into fisheries and oceans, not environment. And she was right!”

Parks Canada spokesperson Gilles LeFou confirmed experts with his department are now examining the bell, which had been placed carefully in a community freezer in Gjoa Haven for several weeks for safekeeping.

Once experts remove the caribou hair and maktaaq remains frozen to the artifact, they will have a closer look at the engravings to prove its origins, LeFou said, hardly able to contain his excitement.

But as for searching for the actual vessel, he said Parks Canada divers are not as intrepid as the former MP. They will wait for open water this summer to begin diving again for the Terror.

With files from Lisa Rogers, Sarah Bell, Jim Ducharme, Steve George, Jane Rohner and Thomas Gregoire

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