Parks Canada eyes National Historic Site in Nunavut for Franklin wrecks

Divers now poking around “Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site”

By JANE GEORGE

This map, part of Parks Canada's application to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, shows where ships and divers will look at the HMS Erebus and continue to scout around for signs of the HMS Terror.


This map, part of Parks Canada’s application to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, shows where ships and divers will look at the HMS Erebus and continue to scout around for signs of the HMS Terror.

Parks Canada underwater archaeologist Filippo Ronca measures the muzzle bore diameter of one of two cannons found on the site, serving to identify this gun as a brass six-pounder. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA)


Parks Canada underwater archaeologist Filippo Ronca measures the muzzle bore diameter of one of two cannons found on the site, serving to identify this gun as a brass six-pounder. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA)

A former fishing boat-turned-research vessel, the Martin Bergmann, a smaller 35-foot vessel, Parks Canada’s Investigator, the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier and some smaller zodiacs are now plying the waters outside Gjoa Haven, around Wilmot and Crampton bays, to see what they can find.

The goal, according to documents available on the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s website: to build knowledge about the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site.

This past April, Parks Canada said its officials were talking to the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Nattilik Heritage Centre in Gjoa Haven about “how other Inuit organizations and communities can become engaged in and benefit from this exciting project.”

But Parks Canada didn’t announce with any fanfare what the big picture was: the creation of the new National Historic Site.

To learn that, you’d have to read the Official Gazette of Canada and its April 8 Order Amending the National Historic Sites of Canada, which registered the 10-kilometre by 10-kilometre area around the place where Franklin’s ships are both thought to have sunk.

“The story of John Franklin has captured the imagination of Canadians and the HMS Erebus shipwreck is regarded as significant to the story of Canada, there is therefore a cultural benefit to Canada from protecting this important national historical site and its artifacts,” the order says.

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

“This will provide the federal government with the authorities to prevent unauthorized access to protect the site of the shipwreck, the shipwreck itself and its artifacts, as cultural and historical resources, and to allow for the application of enforcement powers, offences and penalties under the act,” the order says. This includes fines of up to $100,000.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Steven Harper did announce that Gjoa Haven, Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq’s home community, would get a Sir John Franklin centre for visitors, a development to help the community exploit the publicity generated by the 2014 discovery of the HMS Erebus, one of two ships used in the British explorer’s failed expedition through the Northwest Passage.

But Harper also sidestepped the information that an historic site around the wrecks of Franklin’s ships already exists.

To the NIRB, Parks Canada said no Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement has yet been negotiated for such a site, although the Official Gazette says “Parks Canada will work with local communities and designated Inuit organizations to fulfill obligations under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and in the preparation of a commemorative integrity statement and management plan.”

A management plan will be completed within five years.

Earlier this month a Parks Canada project called “Underwater Archaeology and Biology Study of the Wreck of HMS Erebus” got the go-ahead, without a screening (because of its status as an historic site), but was given a set of environmental conditions to follow.

Parks Canada’s 2015 project extends over six weeks to Sept. 19 — but the study of HMS Erebus is planned as a multi-year project, 2015-2020, Parks Canada told the NIRB.

Among the Parks Canada project’s partners: the Arctic Research Foundation, bankrolled by former BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsillie, which is supplying two vessels in 2015: the Martin Bergmann and a smaller vessel.

Summer dive operations involve both scuba-diving and surface-supplied diving from small vessels anchored to blocks carefully placed around the site.

Most of the archaeological work will involve site documentation and structural recording, through photo and video, and measurements.

And an underwater robot will conduct inspections of the interior.

Parks Canada’s website on the Mission Erebus and Terror 2015 also says “one research party will continue to comb Arctic waters in the ongoing search for HMS Terror.”

Additional biology work will consist of sampling of species, video and photo recording and placement of an underwater probe to record data on water conditions.

Parks Canada told the NIRB it planned to hire three Inuit for this summer’s six-week project.

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