Parks Canada divers continue Franklin search in Nunavut waters

Ottawa must negotiate IIBA with Kitikmeot Inuit for national historic site


A 19th century artist’s imagined representation of Sir John Franklin’s lost ships, the Erebus and the Terror, which left England in 1845 on an Arctic expedition under the command of Sir John Franklin. (FILE IMAGE)

A 19th century artist’s imagined representation of Sir John Franklin’s lost ships, the Erebus and the Terror, which left England in 1845 on an Arctic expedition under the command of Sir John Franklin. (FILE IMAGE)

The Government of Canada is set to resume its search for the final resting place of the lost Sir John Franklin ship HMS Terror, dispatching a multi-jurisdictional team of scientists and ships that was to have headed for Arctic waters in late August.

This year’s continuation of the project marks the first search for Franklin relics since Parks Canada agreed to demands from the Government of Nunavut that any recovered relics from Franklin’s two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, remain in the territory.

Parks Canada divers famously discovered the wreck of the Erebus in September 2014 — 169 years after her crew, alongside the Terror, sailed from England on May 19, 1845 to search for the Northwest Passage.

A CBC report found that Nunavut refused to authorize diving permits for Parks Canada to explore the waters off the Kitikmeot region in 2015 and again in 2016 unless the department agreed that any relics from the Terror would stay in the territory.

Parks Canada’s underwater archeology team will use the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfred Laurier, the Royal Canadian Navy’s Shawinigan and the Arctic Research Foundation’s research vessel, the Martin Bergmann, to visit the site of the Erebus and to search for the Terror, Parks Canada said Aug. 23 in a news release.

Parks Canada says team members will visit some northern communities to share information on the 2016 mission, but they did not specify dates or communities.

Regular mission briefs will also be distributed to media, Parks Canada said.

Right now the proposed name for that new historic site is “Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site.”

Last April, an Order Amending the National Historic Sites of Canada registered the 10-kilometre by 10-kilometre area around the place where Franklin’s ships are both thought to have sunk.

Adding the Wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site of Canada to the National Historic Sites of Canada list provided the site with the protections afforded by the Canada National Parks Act and its regulations.

Now, a newly-formed body called the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee will manage the proposed historic site until the federal government negotiates an Inuit impact and benefits agreement with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

The advisory committee will accompany the Parks Canada team this year to the wreck of the Erebus, Parks Canada said.

“Our national historic sites tell the stories of who we are, including the history, cultures and contributions of Indigenous Peoples,” the federal minister responsible for Parks Canada, Catherine McKenna, said in a statement.

“[The mission] offers a unique opportunity for historical exploration and to further the deep connections of northern communities with the story of the Franklin Expedition.”

The Parks Canada statement did not specify where exactly the research team would search for the Terror.

Conventional knowledge places the wreck somewhere northwest of King William Island, in Erebus Bay near the Victoria Strait.

However ice-floes could have relocated the ship, which was crushed by ice sometime after 1848.

The exact location of the Erebus, discovered east of the Adelaide Peninsula in the Queen Maud Gulf, has never been publicly released.

However, the discovery of the Erebus validated scores of Inuit recollections collected since the disappearances of the Franklin ships, most famously catalogued in David C. Woodman’s 1991 book, Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony.

Woodman weighed in on the latest search for the Terror in a short essay published earlier this year.

“The clear implication is that the Terror lies, with a crushed side, in the waters of Erebus Bay,” Woodman wrote, and within sight of “the boat place,” where 19th century Inuit hunters discovered several cannibalized skeletons and two boats beached on King William Island near Graham Gore Peninsula, ashore from Erebus Bay.

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