Government of Canada Receives Historic Gift of Franklin Shipwrecks from United Kingdom

News release

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror now jointly owned by Canada and Inuit

April 26, 2018                 Gatineau, Quebec                  Parks Canada Agency

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 Government of Canada received the historic gift of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror from
Her Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The two shipwrecks of the 1845 Franklin Expedition are now jointly owned by Canada and Inuit through Parks Canada and the Inuit Heritage Trust. Catherine McKenna, The Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, accepted the gift on behalf of the people of Canada. The Minister accepted the vessels along with Torsten Diesel from Inuit Heritage Trust, at an event with Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque CMG, the British High Commissioner to Canada.

The
Government of Canada announced its commitment in 2016 to joint ownership of the Franklin artifacts with Inuit. And with this gift from the United Kingdom, the Inuit Heritage Trust becomes co-owner of the shipwrecks and all remaining artifacts.

This exceptional gift is a significant milestone in the Franklin story and is the culmination of over 20 years of collaboration between the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom will retain the 65 artifacts already recovered from HMS Erebus by Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team as a representative sample of their importance and symbolism. All yet-to-be discovered artifacts from HMS Erebus and HMS Terror – along with the wrecks – will now be jointly owned by Canada and Inuit. This agreement ensures that these historic treasures will be available to Inuit, and the public and researchers in both Canada and the United Kingdom. 

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.

Parks Canada’s upcoming investigation of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, in collaboration with Inuit, will usher in one
of the largest and most important underwater archaeological projects in Canadian history. Parks Canada experts anticipate that the thousands of artifacts remaining on the two shipwrecks, which may include written documents, will help further unravel the mystery of the British expedition that set out to find a Northwest Passage. 

With a commitment to reconciliation, and direction from the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee, the Government of Canada will continue to collaborate with Inuit to share the story of the Franklin Expedition, and the important role of Inuit in the discovery and on-going protection of the Franklin wrecks. Today, Parks Canada is working with the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee to develop an Inuit Guardians Program for the two vessels. Inuit Guardians will be 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.


Quotes

“I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the United Kingdom for this exceptional gift of the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and all yet-to-be discovered artifacts. Moving forward, we will work with the Inuit Heritage Trust to ensure these historic treasures are protected, and that the intriguing and expanding story of the Franklin Expedition continues to be shared with Canada and the world.”

The Honourable Catherine McKenna
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada

“We have deep historic links with Canada and this gift is testament to our prospering relationship. The story behind these vessels is both fascinating and incredibly important to the history of both our nations. The United Kingdom joined forces with the Canadian government and Inuit population to search for these ships for 172 years and I’m delighted they will now be protected for future generations.”

The Right Honourable Gavin Williamson CBE MP
Secretary of State for Defence, Government of United Kingdom

“The Inuit Heritage Trust is very pleased by today's historic gift from the United Kingdom. With this transfer, Inuit become joint owners of these important artifacts and we look forward to working with Parks Canada to conserve and present these important pieces of Inuit and Canada's history.”

William Beveridge
Executive Director, Inuit Heritage Trust

“As Chair of the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee, I am very pleased with today's gift by the United Kingdom.  Canada and Inuit will be joint owners of the artifacts going forward which provides a great opportunity for Inuit to be involved with, and guide, how the rest of the story unfolds.”

Fred Pederson
Chair, Franklin Interim Advisory Committee

Quick facts

  • The locations of the Franklin Expedition vessels had been a mystery for over 150 years, after Sir John Franklin and his crew went missing in 1847-1848 while searching for a Northwest Passage. HMS Erebus was located in 2014 and HMS Terror was located in 2016. 

  • HMS Terror was recently added to the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site, ensuring legal protection for the wreck site under the Canada National Parks Act. The wreck of HMS Erebus was added to the National Historic Sites of Canada Order in 2015.

  • The Franklin Interim Advisory Committee, comprising Inuit members and representatives from the Government of Nunavut and the tourism industry, advises on the management of the wrecks.

  • The sites of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are not open to the public at this time and a permit is required to enter the protected areas; however, Parks Canada and the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee are working to develop visitor experience activities that support the long-term protection of both wreck sites.

Associated links

Contacts

Caroline Thériault
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
819-938-3813
caroline.theriault2@canada.ca 

Media Relations
Parks Canada Agency
855-862-1812
pc.media@pc.gc.ca


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