The Government of Canada Recognizes the National Historic Importance of the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror
September 2, 2017 Gjoa Haven, Nunavut Parks Canada
Over one hundred and fifty years ago two British Royal Navy ships went missing in the icy waters of Canada’s Arctic, only to be recently discovered resting on the ocean floor near King William Island, also known as Qikiqtaq.
Today the two vessels – the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror – are being commemorated as national historic sites with a plaque unveiling ceremony held at the Umiyaqtutt Festival in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, by Parks Canada and members of the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee.
By unveiling these plaques, we are commemorating not only historic sites, but the people and places of the North, and the Inuit collaboration that helped us understand the history of the Franklin expedition.
The locations of the vessels had been a mystery for over 150 years, after Sir John Franklin and his crew went missing in 1846 while searching for a Northwest Passage. Over time, Inuit traditional stories helped European searchers better understand the fate of the Franklin ships; and that same traditional knowledge – or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit – combined with the technology of modern searchers, finally uncovered the sunken vessels in 2014 and 2016.
Both boats were found underwater largely intact. In the HMS Erebus, a stunning array of artifacts was found – like brass cannons, a cast-bronze bell, and even the handle of a sword.
It’s important to protect and commemorate these sites of history, and Parks Canada is working with the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee to develop an Inuit Guardians Program for the two vessels. As of September 1st 2017, Inuit Guardians are posted at both wreck sites during periods with little ice to monitor the sites, report any unauthorized vessel traffic, and help Parks Canada ensure their protection.
But the landscape around the vessels also needs protection.
Today, the impacts of climate change are increasingly visible in the North. The melting of sea ice is affecting the way Inuit hunt and fish, and the flooding of low-lying areas is threatening their homes and communities. Eventually, the Guardians will play a key role in hosting visitors to the wreck sites to not only share the Franklin story, but to tell the story of climate change and the threat it poses to Inuit communities and their traditional way of life.
The discoveries of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror showed the world that modern science and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit can solve enormous challenges. Now, with the threat of climate change advancing, they will again have to be marshalled to an even greater degree.
From September 2-10, the first annual Umiyaqtutt (Shipwreck) Festival will take place in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. Focused on the theme of “Encounters along the Northwest Passage”, the week long celebration will showcase anniversary milestones of the discoveries of the Franklin expedition research missions, as well as the important role Inuit knowledge and community involvement played in the finding of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.
“Today’s designation commemorates the national historic significance of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. The discoveries of the wrecks were made possible thanks to the invaluable support, guidance, advice, and traditional knowledge shared so generously by the Inuit of Nunavut. We know that more can be done to tell the story of the Inuit and their key role in discovering and protecting these artifacts as well as the environment that surrounds them in Canada’s north. Our government is committed to renewing the relationship with Inuits and going forward we will work in partnership with the Inuit to support their culture, action on climate change and economic development.”
The Honourable Catherine McKenna,
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada
“Inuit traditional knowledge played a huge part in locating the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. I am pleased that the national historic significance of the wrecks is being commemorated and that Inuit have had a say in how Parks Canada has managed the national historic site to date, through the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee. As we work towards the completion of the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement, we look forward to the opportunity to showcase the tourism potential of the national historic site and the community of Gjoa Haven.”
Chair of the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee
As part of the centennial of national historic sites, Parks Canada invites Canadians to be inspired and captivated by the stories of the people, places, and events that shaped the Canada of today. Take advantage of the free admission to national historic sites in 2017, and discover truly Canadian places and stories with Parks Canada.
In 1992, the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were designated as a national historic site under the Historic Sites and Monuments Act, despite neither shipwreck having been found at that time. HMS Erebus was discovered in the waters of Nunavut in 2014 and HMS Terror in 2016.
Both wrecks are surprisingly intact and, with their historical shipboard articles, they provide fascinating new information on the events of the expedition.
Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change regarding the national historic significance of places, people and events that have marked Canada’s history.
Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Parks Canada Agency
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