Government of Canada Announces Details of Multi-year Investigation of Franklin wrecks

News release

Minister McKenna and British Deputy High Commissioner to Canada scheduled to visit wreck of HMS Erebus

September 5, 2018                           Gjoa Haven, NU                       Parks Canada Agency

After Sir John Franklin and his crew went missing while searching for a Northwest Passage in the 1840s, Inuit shared stories and knowledge that helped the world better understand the Arctic and the fate of the Franklin ships and their crews. That same profound knowledge of history and the natural world – or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit – combined with western science and the perseverance of a broad group of partners, led by Parks Canada and involving Inuit and the Government of Nunavut among many others, led to the discovery of the wreck of HMS Erebus in 2014 and then HMS Terror in 2016. These storied ships of the Franklin Expedition now comprise the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site – the first national historic site in Nunavut cooperatively managed with Inuit.

Today, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, Catherine McKenna, and the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee are pleased to announce details of the archaeological research to be conducted on HMS Erebus and HMS Terror this summer. Formed in 2016, the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee reviews and advises on research planning every season.

Parks Canada and Inuit will work collaboratively to explore, study, and protect the Franklin wrecks. This investigation will be one of the largest and most complex underwater archaeological undertakings in Canadian history. In early September, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team will be at the site of HMS Erebus for up to two weeks and will continue to map the debris field around the ship. The excavation and artifact recovery will begin in accessible areas of the lower deck where the crew lived. The work will focus on specific zones that relate to officers, lower ranking crew members, and Royal Marines. Important underwater infrastructure will also be installed to facilitate the archaeological work with the invaluable assistance of the Canadian Coast Guard and CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

RV David Thompson, Parks Canada’s newest research vessel, will serve as the main operational platform for the continued investigation of the wrecks of the 1845 Franklin Expedition.

Minister McKenna and Mr. David Reed, British Deputy High Commissioner to Canada, along with Inuit partners, will be visiting the wreck site of HMS Erebus, with the advice and support of the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee. They will see first-hand the archaeological work. Earlier this year, the United Kingdom made a gift to Canada of all of the yet to be discovered artifacts from HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. The artifacts of the 1845 Franklin Expedition are now jointly owned by Canada and Inuit through Parks Canada and the Inuit Heritage Trust.

If weather and ice conditions permit, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team may also visit Terror Bay to collect images, videos, and scans of HMS Terror. The data will be used to develop an archaeological plan for future study of the shipwreck. In addition, visible artifacts and the structures of the upper deck will continue to be inventoried and examined and a micro-ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) will be used to explore the ship’s interior.

For the second year, Inuit Guardians will be posted at both wreck sites throughout the open-water period to help Parks Canada ensure the protection of the two shipwrecks.


“HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were discovered thanks to Inuit knowledge, western science, and the commitment of a number of partners. Now, Parks Canada’s world-renowned Underwater Archaeology Team has begun to reveal the secrets of the Franklin Expedition lost for 170 years. In close collaboration with Inuit, Parks Canada has embarked multi-year investigation of the Franklin wrecks. It is believed that there are potentially thousands of artifacts remaining on the wrecks that will unveil more of the Franklin story. I am honoured and privileged to have been invited to witness this ground-breaking archaeological work first-hand with our Inuit partners and representatives of the British Government.”

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

“Inuit have been an essential part of the Franklin story. Now, the discovery and exploration of the wrecks is opening up exciting opportunities for employment and tourism and for Inuit and Nunavut communities to share their knowledge and experience with the world. The Franklin Interim Advisory Committee looks forward to seeing what artifacts are retrieved from HMS Erebus this year and working with Parks Canada to continue to share the important role of Inuit in this fascinating history.”

Fred Pedersen
Chair, Franklin Interim Advisory Committee

Quick facts

  • The Franklin Interim Advisory Committee, comprised of community members and representatives from the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, Inuit Heritage Trust, Government of Nunavut and the heritage and tourism industry, advises on the management of the wrecks until an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement is finalized between Parks Canada and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

  • For the work on HMS Erebus, the RV David Thompson will tow the archaeological support barge Qiniqtiryuaq, which houses three containers for a lab, storage and equipment space, and a hyperbaric treatment chamber.

  • In the Arctic, climate change is having a tangible impact on Inuit and northern communities. Rapidly melting sea ice is affecting access to hunting grounds and is altering migration patterns of animals central to Inuit life and culture.

  • Eventually, the Inuit Guardians will help host visitors to the wreck sites to not only share the Franklin story, but to tell stories of the land and Inuit culture. Their observations will also provide first-hand accounts of the impacts of climate change in the Arctic.

  • 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 while sharing these extraordinary discoveries with Canadians and the world.

  • HMS Terror was added to the Wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site in 2017, 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.

Associated links


Caroline Thériault
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Media Relations
Parks Canada Agency

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